Get to Know Jess Jocoy, WSM Radio’s Artist Spotlight
“The biggest truth in this record is my journey,” singer/songwriter Jess Jocoy says of her refined yet rootsy debut album, Such a Long Way. While its songs don’t always tell her story, they certainly show her progress. From the big picture pep talk that is “Existential Crossroads” to the father-son stand-off of “Castles Made of Sand” through the tender reminder of “Hope,” Such a Long Way showcases a thoroughly literate young songwriter finding her voice and staking her claim with equal parts grit, grace, and gravitas. In an Americana music community brimming with talent, Such a Long Way is an impressive effort for someone who only just a couple years ago committed to pursuing music full-time, after a lifetime of dreaming that dream.
Having grown up south of Seattle, hitting every karaoke night and singing competition her parents would drive her to, Jocoy kept her eye ever on the prize: Nashville. “I’d had this dream that I was going to move to Nashville and be a country singer like Miranda Lambert or Faith Hill, and get a record deal, and sell out stadiums,” she says. With a twang in her voice, an edge to her sound, and a fire in her belly, Jocoy might just do it.
Her parents weren’t musical, but they loved music. From her mom, she got an appreciation for classic rock and, from her dad, a passion for country music. “We listened to Shania Twain’s Up! and Alan Jackson’s Drive albums every single day on the way to school for three years straight,” Jocoy recounts. But her parents’ support didn’t stop with album introductions and chauffeuring duties. “My dad would stay up all night learning how to use ProTools so that he could try and teach me, so we could record my music at home. He would make graphics in Photoshop that would read: ‘Jessica Jocoy, the New Queen of Country Music.’ He believed.”
Before he could see their shared dreams become reality, though, Jocoy’s father passed away from lung cancer in 2013, six months after his diagnosis. “That’s when I really started to learn how to write sad songs,” Jocoy explains. “Grief was strange, because I couldn’t allow myself to express that pain to other people or in public, but it was very evident in my writing that I was lost.”
Further overwhelmed by the culture shock of relocating to Nashville the following year, Jocoy attended Belmont University to dive deeper into songwriting. She emerged and released her New Heart/Old Soul EP in 2018. “My EP was a collection of songs that really meant something only to me; I consider them songs I had to get off my chest,” she says. “But for all that questioning and doubting and hitting what felt like emotional rock bottom, I found that, at the end of the day, I love words and I love stories and I love the feeling I get when someone comes up to me after a show and says, ‘Wow, that song… I can’t believe you said that.’”
In song after song, Jocoy says that — the very heartfelt human thing that she, herself, needs to hear. And, in song after song, it resonates far beyond her, because we’re all just trying to find our place, our purpose, and our people in this big old world. That search lives at the craggy core of Such a Long Way, readily infusing the earthy stride of “Somebody Somewhere,” the vibey shuffle of “Long Way Home,” and the quiet testament of “Hope (Such a Long Way).” Of the latter, Jocoy says, “The entire piece is based on what I needed to hear — from God, from myself, whomever. This song is about me: If I don’t tell myself I’m a bird, I will never fly. I’ve worn sorrow like a coat, and it’s hard to shake it off.”
To be sure, grief is its own ride, casting a long, lingering shadow and forever changing those whom it touches, and enduring it, its own reward. “It’s a cliché, but I had to learn the hard way that you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone, until they’re gone. That subsequently taught me to appreciate and hold close what I still have,” Jocoy confides. “I think I’ve also learned to see living in a different way, to be aware of my presence in respect to the world around me. I yearn to connect with other people, but sometimes I feel like an intruder. I’m still learning to own the earth beneath my feet.”
Grief, gratitude, living, and learning collide in one of the reoccurring themes of Such a Long Way: mercy. “‘Mercy’ is such a powerful word — small but mighty,” Jocoy offers. “It can dictate a lot, like what kind of person you are. I’ve been shown so much mercy throughout the course of my life. That and grace have brought me to where I am today.” And where Jess Jocoy is today is a very long way from the karaoke bars of Washington state. It’s also just the most recent stop on her continuing journey.