Interview: Jodi Essex
Christian-rock artist Jodi Essex has just released her album 'Irreverent'. We've always been big fans of Jodi here at Louder Than The Music, so we decided to have a long chat with her and find out what really makes her tick! Read on to hear Jodi explain how she started out in music, gave it all up, then discovered God wasn't finished with her yet! From wondering the halls of Abbey Road Studios to being "unswayable in our faith", this fascinating interview takes us inside the life of a rebel-rock-artist.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
Yes, of course! But first things first! I really want to start off this interview by recognizing how supportive LTTM has been of my music since day 1. I am truly grateful for all the features, mentions and interviews published on your platform, including this one for the release of my album! You all have been incredible, so thank you, thank you!
Thanks Jodi! Glad we can help.
We’ll first have to rewind back in time a little bit. I‘ve been into music for as far back as I can remember. My dad always had great tunes on when I was a wee-little girl and he also managed a band called “The Image.” I got to sit in and listen to their rehearsals and sometimes they’d let me sing. But to be honest, I think the desire to be a musician began before then. Those subsequent experiences just sparked it on a bit more and got me hooked. Also, my mom played the piano and we always had music going on in our house. At three years old, I used to grab a candlestick in our living room and used it as a microphone to serenade anyone who would listen. I’d jump up on our fireplace hearth and belt out “You Light Up My Life,” since my parents frequently had Debbie Boon on in the background.
I was actively involved in my church as a youth and became the Sunday Special Music Soloist, where I’d get to pick an inspirational song to sing to the congregation (back then a lot of it was Amy Grant and Sandi Patty)! It wasn’t too long before I was asked to join the worship team and rotated in on certain Sundays.
Writing came easy to me early on and I began recording music shortly after that. I was really struggling to find my own style, as I had such a strong influence of Christian Contemporary sound but I didn’t feel completely inspired to write in that vein. I was feeling inspired to write something with more intensity, more spirit and high energy. The answer was rock music. I had an older brother and sister who had introduced me to bands like Stryper, Petra and DC Talk. I loved the sounds. The guitar! There is no energy like that which you experience at a full-blown rock show.
I knew back then that I was being prompted to pursue ministry in music. However, I did not heed that prompting then, which was one obvious example of growing in faith, but not yet mature enough to pursue the prompting. I soon ended up pursuing a secular music career and eventually would move on to form two secular rock bands, at two separate times. We recorded a few albums, toured and experienced everything bands go through. Anyone that has been in a band can attest to how difficult it is keeping a band together, for a myriad of reasons. Although I had a lot of great opportunities and experiences, I never truly felt fulfilled in my own actions.
After both groups disbanded, I decided to take an extended hiatus from music. I was burned out, discouraged and decided I had a desire to focus on a few of the other interests I had in the entertainment industry. I sold all my gear and just hung up my microphone, so to speak.
But God wasn’t finished with his work in me. Decades later, I am here. Heeding the call. Listening. Doing. Writing this album I hadn’t planned for but with the deepest belief that it is God’s will 100%. This album, based on transparency, authenticity, love, loss, cherry picking my principles on Christianity, and learning from my past, concludes with a rising up to be the best version of myself that God intended from the beginning. That journey became what is now “Irreverent.”
Tell us about your new album 'Irreverent' and what the inspiration behind it was?
So the title, “Irreverent,” is interesting in this case, as for some at first glance, it would seem like the word itself has an unpleasant or negative connotation to it. That is, if you were to look up the definition of it in your typical english language dictionary translation. It means much more to me than that. I can’t just cram that bold of a word into a box and be satisfied with it. It’s more behavioral and actionable; it expresses reveling in a rebel spirit, being fearless and courageous enough to speak your mind, to stand up for what cries out in your heart. It’s going against the flow with little regard for others’ judgment, all for the sole purpose of furthering the kingdom of God. At the heart of it all, it is simply the spirit in which this album was written, imploring listeners not to rebel against God’s calling, but rather to live for Christ in an authentic way that is unapologetic to the world.
We, as a culture, spend so much time glorifying things, brands, and objects. We have all seen just how fiercely people can jump in line to sell, promote, or defend whatever or whomever they believe in; we spend so much time endorsing products all day long on social media and don’t think twice about it. We are all getting bombarded by marketing companies that claim they have the “next big thing.” Our culture has an “irreverent” spirit about whatever it is they have a strong belief in and they are unabashedly bold about all of it!
What about Jesus? What type are his crusaders? Are they as loud and proud about Him? Are we going to the ends of the Earth and back again to proclaim the love and salvation that is available to us through Him? Being a warrior for God is not an easy task. We need to be unswayable in our faith, confident in our journey, and “irreverent” enough to offend for the gospel!
Which is your favorite track on the album and why?
I often hear artists mention their favorite song on their album and what typically is chosen, is a song that never gets released as a single and is dubbed as a “B-Side” song. That is true for me!
I actually love track #10 “Rearview Mirror.” That song wraps up the story of the entire album, almost like a reprise.
The track listing almost parallels how a theatrical playbill reads. Like, it begins with “Act 1 - Scene 1” and winds on perhaps beginning with a backstory, then continuing on through the plot or journey. Typically there is an antagonist or life-changing scene or occurrence. There might be a struggle and then finally resolve, then the finale, followed by a reprise of what the character(s) went through and how they triumphed or simply ended up. My album begins with “Stand Up” as track #1, which is an anthem for listeners to “Get up, stand up, and RISE,” a reawakening of their hearts and minds after being down and out, and experiencing adversity or rock-bottom existence. All the tracks in between take the listener on a journey of the who, what, and why’s of life. Track #10 just wraps it all up and reminds us to “...stay out of your rearview mirror, you were who you used to be…” A nudge to keep moving forward, there will be reminders of where we’ve all been, but it’s time to start anew in Him.
What message would you like people to take from these songs?
That indeed, life is hard and throws us all some serious curve balls. I understand. It’s there in my lyrics. I hear you and empathize with all your serious challenges and struggles. Let’s dust ourselves off and throw our armor on. It’s time to move, it’s time for strengthening our hearts and minds. Be who you’ve always wanted to be. Who you’ve thought you truly are but didn’t have the courage to step out into your authentic self. I want listeners to feel empowered and emboldened in representing themselves in Christ. I want them to feel energized and re-energized in their mission. I want them to feel outspoken and not fear the judgment of others, believers or not. Rock your worship! There are NO rules about how worship should look, sound or inspire. Worship from your heart. Give it your loudest and highest!
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
It’s unabashedly guitar-driven rock; definitely melodic with some unique turnarounds. I’d describe it as bold, energetic and anthemic but with some laid-back, straight-ahead tunes reminiscent of a classic rock vibe. I also wrote a couple introspective and empathetic ballads that make you take pause on life. The lyrics are very open and truthful, at times, very “in your face,” meaning they evoke an entire range of emotions that we all have as humans. Emotions that we may be afraid to feel or admit. I should note that Track #8 on the album is a cover I did of Amy Grant’s, “All Right” off her “Lead Me On” album from back in the day. That song - actually, the entire album - came at a very poignant time in my life and I was listening to it constantly.
As for influences, well, it’s interesting because my parents divorced when I was really young and they both had very different music tastes; one was also more religious than the other. I’d be listening to bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Def Leppard and Aerosmith at my dad’s house, but as I mentioned previously, at my Mom’s house with my older sister and brother, I’d be listening to Christian artists like Stryper, Petra, Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Bebe & Cece Winans, DC Talk and The Imperials! That was only a fraction on both sides. I listened to and studied a long list of artists. As I got older, I began listening to Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
Sean Hill. (laughs) I’ve already worked with him and we just have a great writing chemistry and he’s incredibly talented. He’s a rocker at heart, though the bulk of the work he produces is worship music. He has just such a good ear and “gets it!”
Ok, on a different serious note though, the list is long. I not only look at writers who can craft amazing songs, I also wonder what it would be like just hanging out with someone for an entire day. I think when you’re sharing a similar wavelength on a personal level, that just adds another great dimension contributing then, to an already great combination. It can help to take all of the focus off the subconscious madness that creatives sometimes bear trying to craft the “perfect” song.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
Success to me is the fact that this album even exists and that I’ve been able to work with SO MANY incredible people from start to finish. Whether it reaches 10 or 10 million people, I have done what I was prompted to do. We can only control so much. It’s creativity but also a business. I will continue to put forth my best as it relates to the album and moving it through channels so that people may hear it. But the rest is up to God and His will!
What is your favorite album of all time?
Hmmm… since I can only pick one, it would have to be “Abbey Road” by the Beatles. It was their 12th and final album that they recorded from start to finish in 1969. As you may know, there was a lot going on with the band on top of the Beatles being the “band” as we knew them. With personal turmoil amongst the members of the band leading up to Abbey Road, they had also declared their breakup at that point and were all going their separate ways. It was simply put, the end of an era for The Beatles.
For me, what that album represents is that I once had the opportunity to work out of Abbey Road Studios back in the early 2000’s; there is a bit of nostalgia for me in that respect. Roaming the halls of ARS was an incredible experience and they had pretty much left Studio 2 as it was when the Beatles were there recording. It gave me chills to walk around in it! Second, that album was the first Beatles album my dad ever played for me. “Here Comes The Sun” was on it and as a little girl, I loved that song. To me, the song had a fun, carefree vibe to it filled with a reassuring hope of, “it’s all right….” Doo doodoo doo doodoo ;-)
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
How Great Thou Art - the version performed by Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood
What does the next year hold for you?
Well, with the effects of COVID, most likely any touring will have to be postponed until 2021. In the meantime, I will continue to engage with my listeners, whom I love and am so grateful for! I’ll write, of course, because there continues to be so much to say! And pray about the possibility of Album #2!
I will add, too, that come September of this year I am releasing a special edition single, totally unrelated to this album, accompanied by an incredible music video. This was something put on my heart over this past year in light of the turmoil our nation and world continues to struggle in. More details on that soon!