Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Jersey Diva Jessica Rose & Co. ready first album

by Deborah Draisin

New Jersey’s own Catch Wild was born when singer/songwriter Jessica Rose, forever searching for a band to complement her edgy writing style, happened upon Doug Atkins at an audition and things just clicked. Old friend Shawn Fichtner and buddy Eric “Swinny” Swiontkowki rounded up the rhythm section and the band took off running from there, landing a 2010 nomination of “Best Breakthrough Band” by VH1. A successful Kickstarter campaign launched their first full-length, “Waking Up With Fire.” Jessica phoned in to tell me more.

Jess: Testing, one, two, one, two!

Q: There you go! Alright, this is Deb and I’m on the line with Jessica Rose of Catch Wild, how are you doing tonight, Jess?

Jess: I am so well!

Q: Yeah, you just had a killer show at the Bowery Poetry Club – two hundred some odd fans, wow.

Jess: We did! We really did that show for our fans, who helped us raise money to record our first album at the end of last summer. We made a package to thank them, which included entry to that show, some cds, autographed photos, a bunch of stickers. It was a really awesome night, and a great way to kick off our new record.

Q: It’s called “Waking Up With Fire,” and it’s your first full-length – what have you taken away from this experience?

Jess: The drop date is June 5, and the whole experience has been amazing. I was a singer/songwriter who saw this great band and decided to go that route. The input that they gave to the songs really changed our sound for the better. We won a VH1 showcase, and it was such a great experience for us, to play this huge 1,000 plus room in New York – it was only our fourth show as a band!

Q: Was that intimidating?

Jess: It was exciting! It’s moments like that that are reminders of why you’re doing this – how special it is to be a musician, to have that passion. And then, we went on to record our record at Big Blue Meenie Studios in Jersey City – we had recorded our EP with those guys as well – and it was just a really great experience. It really showed me how important it is to work with great people, who aren’t just in the industry for money; everyone is working overtime just for the love of the project. Now we’re about to release it, we’re playing shows everywhere and we’ve been getting great feedback. It’s a really exciting thing.

Q: Working with people who if they don’t completely get your vision, at least want to make it better, is very important. Apparently, “Star” is a hit back at people who don’t operate that way?

Jess: We had a really interesting meeting with a head record executive (whose name I won’t mention.) This was maybe a year or two ago. Somebody at MTV had passed our cd along, you know, the way that these things sometimes happen. Before we went into the office, I had been spoken to a couple of people – told them what we were doing – and everyone in the industry said “Oh man, that guy? Well, here’s the story that I have about him” and they were all bad! I have friends who have gotten involved in record deals and then been dropped; their records never saw the light of day. It’s such a tough industry to make it in, and we all know that going in, but the way that the higher-ups operate is just so ludicrous sometimes, you can’t even imagine!

Q: He wasn’t from Victory Records, was he?

Jess: No, he wasn’t. We’re fortunate to not have to work with guys like that anymore though. It’s important to everyone in the band to surround ourselves with good people.

Q: When you’re in the business for the wrong reasons is when you start nudging people in directions that they might not have traveled in and that’s when the message gets distorted.

Jess: Exactly, and I’ll tell you right now – that’s been happening to some of my favorite artists. I am and always will be a huge fan of Alicia Keys, but I’m not particularly a huge fan of the direction that her career has taken in the past couple of years. I appreciated her when she was just a singer/songwriter and her writing was really pure - you could feel the pain and the love in the albums that I played over and over again in my car. Artists like that are one of the main reasons that I’m doing what I’m doing now, and it’s super important to me that I stick to that. I would rather play small clubs for the rest of my life and impact my audience of 250 people in such a profound way than play huge stadiums and have a producer put a club beat to my music.

Q: A lot of artists struggle with that one. At the end of the day, you’re left with the choice between eating and not sleeping on floors or staying true to your art, and sometimes, they’re not mutually exclusive. Kickstarter has turned out to be a really good tool, though for DIYers. I know that Amanda Palmer just put out her album in a similar manner to your own, with reward levels and such, and it was met with some criticism in the media – perhaps because you guys have found a way around the industry, and they’re not liking that.

Jess: At the end of the day, the way that the industry is structured is that in order to get that global reach, you need the machine, so in that respect, the big companies will always be around. Until you reach that gate where you need to cross the bridge and go down the road, you do what you can on the DIY front, making music that you believe in and hoping for the best. We didn’t go into this project saying “We have to get a major record deal.” Would we like to have a career playing music for the rest of our lives as a full-time job? Of course, but do we actually have that? Not yet, but I don’t think that going into the music industry writing for the big machine is the way to go – I think that’s where everybody started going wrong. When I turn on Z100, I don’t hear The Allman Brothers or The Beatles or any of those bands that we all look up to, and I wish I did.

Q: There’s a difference between making the machine come to and work for you and writing for it., and that’s where I think that the term “selling out” really belongs. It’s not about getting by on your music, it’s about changing it to suit people who are basically blackmailing you to put it out there.

Jess: Right (laughs.) The feedback that we’re getting is that the songs are good. Of course, you always have to keep in mind being catchy, radio-friendly - you don’t have a career unless someone else with a pulse enjoys what they’re listening to, and that happens to be catchy music. That doesn’t mean though that we’re flipping through the radio, trying to copy what we’re hearing there. It’s always very organic. A lot of the stuff that we write is influenced by music that we grew up listening to: 90’s music, Carole King, Carly Simon, Sheryl Crow. I honestly don’t listen to the radio anymore. I listen to some online stations and a lot of old albums.

Q: I listen to Pandora. Since I moved down south briefly seven years ago and couldn’t get Howard Stern anymore, I think that’s when I stopped listening to the radio.

Jess: Pandora is killer! It’s actually a great way to find new artists.

Q: Yep, that’s what it does “Hey if you like this, try that.” So you’re going to be playing in Asbury Park a couple of times next month. They have one of the best local scenes remaining - I love Asbury Park.

Jess: We’re just trying to play as many shows as we can and get a good booking jump or a great manager onboard and grow the project.

Q: Well, you need a really good street team; street teams are key. You guys must have one. If you can get 200 fans into the Bowery Poetry Club, then you have a street team. Part of what they do is write people and harass them to book you a spot on a tour. You’re doing the right thing by involving your fans in the project.

So, Catch Wild actually has a very interesting background. You have yourself and one other guitarist who are sort of acoustical indie and then you have your rhythm section which has a side project along the bluesy ska threshold, and it works, you guys sound good together. How did you all meet?

Jess: I actually went to high school with our drummer; we were in my first band together, Kid Icarus; we were a full-on ska band. That was forever ago! We lost touch, went our separate ways for awhile, then, about three years ago, we hooked back up. Shawn brought in our bass player, Eric (“Swinny”) Swiontkowki. Swinny is a trained jazz bassist; he has a boatload of musical knowledge; theory and problem-solving.

I’m self-taught. What I bring to the table is my ear for melody, chord progressions and making things sound relevant; also keeping things smart on the guitar. Guitarists I’ve worked with in the past would take a song written on the acoustic and they’d go off, go too crazy – in my opinion, that could ruin the song. Swinny just makes the songs come alive.

Our rhythm department has been playing together for a long time; they know each other as musicians and how to compliment each other; write great parts.

So, we all bring something different to the table, but together, it makes for an interesting sound, which is both catchy and somewhat unique.

Q: While you were speaking, I actually got an image of you sitting there glaring at some guitarist who has taken off running and apparently thinks he’s Don Henley, and you’re there like “Really? Because this song wasn’t even going there, Dude.”

Jess: Oh my God, yeah, it happened all the time! You know, I’ve been playing guitar since I was sixteen, and I’ve always been on the hunt for a co-writer, somebody to play guitar with, but I always got stuck with these people who would take the song in a weird direction and it just wouldn’t sound cool to me. As soon as I sat down and played something with Doug, he just made the song sound so cool – I was in love. We’ve been playing together ever since.

Q: It has to be cohesive, because that’s going to translate out there, when the fans are watching. You have to vibe off of each other. If somebody’s off, they’re going to notice and it’s going to unravel on you. It’s important to have the correct chemical reaction going. So what can everyone expect from the new album?

Jess: You can expect rock music with a little bit of a pop, indie and 90’s influence. Our aim with this album was really to just write great songs and not overthink it. We wanted the listener to listen to the entire album without wanting to skip any songs, and I personally think that we’ve accomplished that.

Q: Is that a common problem with bands, overthinking the songs, trying to do more to them they should?

Jess: It is a common problem. “Well, is a radio station going to like this one? Maybe the bridge should be more poppy.” That’s overthinking it, and it’s taken me a while to really understand what that means; you’re ruining the organic process. You just have to write what sounds good and what you would want to listen to. It’s your work, your baby; you have to be proud of everything that you do, not write for the sake of anybody else.

Q: It’s funny, that’s not actually where I was expecting you to go with that answer. I was under the impression that overthinking a song was trying to do too much to it, like “Let’s be weirder and add this crazy tuba part!” and sometimes, that turns out to be epic, but sometimes it turns into a mess. You’re saying that overthinking for you, in the past, has been more about crowd-pleasing.

Jess: Right, and I’ve also learned that the songs which come out the best also come out the quickest – when you’re laboring over a part for too long, when it takes too long to get a song to come from beginning to end, it’s shouldn’t be like that. Our best songs have always been written within five to ten minutes.

Q: Art cannot be forced.

Jess: Exactly. It’s either flowing or you’ve got to go for a walk and come back.

Q: It’s true, sometimes you have to remove yourself completely from that mindset and go, like, eat a peanut butter sandwich in your underwear or something – anything that has nothing to do with where you just were, because you’re stuck someplace and you have to unjam. I mean, art does come from our emotions and our life experiences, but sometimes you’re just on sensory overload and it’s not there anymore. I think that’s where people run into problems – especially when you’re on studio time and there’s not that much money.

Jess: In this band, thank God we’re all pretty anal about being prepared, and we practice until we think everything is perfect and we’re ready to go into the studio and just lay it down for good. You know, until we get that million dollar record deal, we can afford to take some fresh air and just relax.

Q: So what’s going to happen when you have the million dollar contract?

Jess: We’re going to kill it! We’re going to record a great record and tour the world, of course (laughs.)

Q: Of course, and obviously Bono will be producing, I mean, duh. Is that the goal for you guys in the long-term, or you just in the here and now?

Jess: Well, I’m inspired by the Rangers right now…

Q: Me too!

Jess: And what they say in every interview is “I’m not going to worry about tomorrow, just what I’m doing right now.” That’s one of the philosophies which I’m not going to say that we adopted from sports, but that we should have. I mean, of course you have your dream of playing onstage for 500,000 people, but you really just have to focus on what you’re doing at that moment, and maybe what you have to do tomorrow, and things just kind of unfold – we’re kind of seeing it happen now. Our PR agency came to us and told us that they love us and we’re talking to some great people in the industry who are appreciating what we’re doing, so…obviously we can’t predict our future, but I definitely have high hopes for our music career.

Q: I’ll tell you what: if you can make my Rangers pull out a cup this year, I will send enough people your way to take kickstart that off.

Jess: (laughing) Well, I’ll do my best!

Q: Let’s all think really positive thoughts. Thanks for your time, Jessica! Looking forward to the release.

Jess: Thanks again!

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