Fingerstyle is a genre with a strong lineage. Originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its birth arose from southern blues guitarists striving to imitate the popular rise of ragtime piano music. Fast forward 100 years and its roots are now firmly implanted in modern culture, with the likes of John Gomm, Tommy Emmanuel & Jessie herself carrying the torch for a technique that has measured up to the test of time.
Panning away from the clutches of the mainstream for a second, Shropshire’s Jessie Reid is a fellow innovator, nestling as a congenial member of this illustrious club. Up until 2018, the singer-songwriter had worked clandestinely despite her virtuosic talent, secretly earning her wings until the urge to drop a debut single became too much; and boy did it soar.
Stay With Me not only highlighted the prodigy’s undeniable talent, but her phenomenal potential, emanating from an artist with a humble and modest demeanor far from the ostentation of her artistry. To make something intricate look effortless takes a handsome amount of confidence, yet Reid seems to be able to achieve it with a refreshing humility.
Even so, accomplished guitar playing is not the only string to her distinguished bow. Comparable to the vocal performance on Dido’s critically acclaimed 1999 album No Angel, Jessie’s tender cadence provides the ideal accompaniment to the industrious trickery from her dancing fingertips; some would say as soft and creamy as a charlotte russe.
Muscle memory is a sign of meticulous practice, practice that translates into expertise, which is exactly what followed in 2020 and 2021. The Singles I’ve Got You and Whole Heart denoted progress, but without losing any of the venerable charm that had given reid such a vehement following.
The earnest box of flicks and tricks has just continued to grow from strength to strength, with her latest single Lifeboat serving as her most accomplished piece of work to date. Personifying its title with a wistful edge, it narrates a tranquil escape from the war-torn pastures of our current reality, embarking on a journey to the subconscious, where placidity welcomes you with a warm embrace.
After recently receiving a grant from the Alan Surtees Trust, the songstress has started to construct the bones of her forthcoming debut EP, an announcement that will leave fans panting with bated breath. Behind the poignancy of her compositions, Reid remains a relatively inconspicuous character, letting her music do all the talking; but this time we decided to put connotations aside.
Your tack of percussive fingerstyle playing has drawn comparisons to the likes of Ben Howard, Newton Faulkner and Andy McKee, was this a deliberate direction, or did it simply gradually evolve as you started to arrange your own creations?
I started playing the drums from a very young age, way before I picked up the guitar so I think it just came naturally. I’m from a town called Shrewsbury and there were some local musicians who were amazing at laptap/percussive guitar playing so they inspired me to try out playing in that style. Then it was a case of just adding percussive beats and seeing what worked. There’s a song called ‘Rylynn’ by Andy McKee which has one of the best melodies I’ve ever heard and incorporates the virtuoso and percussive style really well so I learnt that first and then just worked on writing my own stuff.
Coming from the rolling hills and rural fields of Shropshire, do you feel your surroundings influence the placidity in your music and if so how?
The music scene in Shropshire is actually really good for a small county. There are some absolutely insane artists and I spent a lot of time at open mic nights and gigs in my teens. There was a pub that did a great open mic-night but it was in the middle of no-where, about 20mins drive from the nearest village or town and I met so many musicians there. It was quite odd to drive out into the sticks and find a room full of some of the most amazing musicians so I definitely owe a lot to Shropshire and the musicians I met growing up. It also helps that it’s a very lovely place to live – very picturesque. I spent a lot of time drinking Shropshire cider and climbing hills!
If you could name your top three favourite songs of all time, what would they be and why?
That’s an impossible question, so I’ll check the top 3 songs I listened to on Spotify in the last year… ‘Folding’ by Abimaro, ‘Bulletproof’ by Toby Johnson and ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon! My music taste can be quite fickle so if I had to pick three that had stood the test of time I’d say ‘Volcano’ by Damien Rice, ‘Michicant’ by Bon Iver and ‘This Years Love’ by David Gray!
Whole Heart was your first enchanting release of this year and you’ve just followed it up with your incredible new single Lifeboat. Tell us a bit about the meaning behind the song and how it was created.
So I wrote ‘Lifeboat’ for something called ‘The Acoustic Guitar Project’. Basically a guitar gets passed from artist to artist around loads of cities across the world. You keep the guitar for one week with a little Dictaphone thing and you have to complete and record the song from scratch within the 7 days. I either write a song quickly within a couple of hours or it can be a drawn out process and something will develop over a year or so. In this case, I think because of the time pressure I wrote it in just a couple of hours. I was having a couple of drinks with a friend and after a while we started talking about how certain people around us act like ‘lifeboats’ – there to help you if you’re feeling a bit vulnerable or down. So I suppose its basically about having people to rely on and to pick you up when you need it!
If you could go on tour with one other artist/musician who would it be?
The Staves look like they’d be great fun. I love going to watch them live as they’re very funny (and great musicians).
You’ve clearly mastered the arts of the guitar, but is there a different instrument you’d like to take up?
I’d love to be able to play the piano properly. Piano is the only instrument I ever had actual lessons for but I could just never get it. I picked up guitar and drums quickly but there’s something that happens to my brain when faced with the piano keys. I’d love to be able to just crack out some Nina Simone or something!
Your lyrics are clearly introspective and extremely candid, is there a specific message you’re trying to convey to your fans and do you create for yourself or your listeners?
I find that most lyrics come from a subconscious place. If I think about it too much it won’t flow. So I will always write a guitar part and then just mess around with some melodies and then suddenly some lyrics will start to form based around the melodic inflections. Usually, it will take a while for me to realise what the song is about – it is quite often a couple of weeks later when I realise that it’s about this or that certain thing… so in a way the writing process is a bit like therapy I think! It can be very cathartic, and you don’t always realise that you need to let that bit of your subconscious out in some creative form.
What can we expect from you within the next 6 months? Any releases planned? Future gigs?
I’ve got another track due to be released on 26th March and then I’m going to head back to the studio. I’ve got a headline show in Birmingham on May 9th and then a couple of festivals (covid permitting!)