8 Questions with Detroit’s singing-songwriting, band-leading multi-instrumentalist Jessica Hernandez
When Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas come to Akron, it’ll be their second time through and their second-to-last US date before heading overseas for their inaugural tour of Europe. Though they’ll be opening for legendary California punk rockers Social D, Jessica grew up in Detroit listening to the Spice Girls and No Doubt. In high school, she fell under the influences of a wide-ranging bunch from Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline to Tom Waits and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. She’s an eclectically affected old soul whose borderline bubbly personality masks any hint of the “Secret Evil” promised by the title of her debut full-length album. Somewhere in all that, it makes sense that she has applied labels to the band’s sound like “Carny Soul” and “Motown Circus.” The most surprising, not surprising thing out of the whole interview is that whether she quits music or rockets on to stardom, she’s probably going to open a Cuban restaurant with her dad. Enjoy. – Chris Horne
Chris: You came through last November with St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Did you get to have any fun away from the stage while you were here?
Jessica: Unfortunately not, we pretty much got to the venue—load-in, sound-check, played. We were so close to home I think we went straight to Detroit after the Akron show that night. It was the last day of a long tour and we were excited to get back home.
CH: That’s pretty much the case for you this time too. You’ve got one more date after Akron and then you’re heading to Europe.
JH: Yeah, it’s our first European tour.
CH: How do you prepare yourself for something like that?
JH: Honestly, you really can’t. We get ready to do the same kind of show we do in the United States—and you basically get a European booking person and a European manager who takes care of you while you’re there and works with other bands and knows the ropes.
CH: Like having a Sherpa?
JH: Exactly. Yeah, especially when you don’t know all the languages or the certain towns
CH: Are you going to be able to work in more sightseeing there than you do when you’re on tour here?
JH: Yeah, actually, we have a less intense schedule for Europe. We’re opening for a band called Social Distortion—
CH: A little band called Social Distortion.
JH: (laughs) Yeah, they’re playing bigger venues—some of the theatres are like 6,000 capacity and because they’re playing those bigger shows, they’re on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday kind of thing, so we actually have more days off than we would on any US tour on our own. Which is good because most of us have either never been to Europe or only visited a couple places.
[su_box title=”Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas at Musica”]
Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
Saturday, March 21
8 p.m. at Musica
www.liveatmusica.com [/su_box]CH: You grew up here in Detroit and so when you’re touring here around the states, how different does it feel when you get outside the Rust Belt—out West or down South—or, does it feel different at all?
JH: I think it’s more similar than it seems. It’s strange because one of the things about touring is realizing how similar we all are. Maybe it’s because you’re only seeing the small percentage of people that are coming to your shows, or involved in the music scene—and that subculture in the US is pretty small and there’s some sort of like-mindedness, or at least something that connects all these people. So everywhere everyone is pretty welcoming and nice. In that way the places you go are a lot more similar than you’d have imagined.
CH: In an NPR interview with you, you said, “In a smaller city, it’s about community, not trampling on the people around you to get where you want to go.” You described the Detroit music scene as a community—do you feel like you have a responsibility to that community when you go on tour?
JH: Yeah, for sure. I think that as much as the band wants to better itself, you’re also really trying to help out the city where you come from, one that’s really struggling and trying to give people a different perspective on it, a positive one instead of the negative publicity, which seems to be most of what’s happening lately, nationally. Yeah, a sense of responsibility, of bringing something positive to it and then also, as we grow, being able to help grow the music scene and introduce other artists and help them any way we can—that’s definitely part of what we want to do.
CH: In that same interview you did one of the most endearing things I’ve ever heard another adult do when you started singing “Mama’s cooking pork chops” about providing an impromptu soundtrack to everything as it happened in your home growing up. Was music that big a part of your home life?
JH: (laughs) Music was such a big part of it. I mean, I’m just such a goofy person; I was always making up songs to everything. You know, my parents are both super musical. They were always just really big into the music scene, so I was always waking up to my dad playing his records or my mom putting on whatever she was listening to, so it just became a big part of my life. And then I was a choir kid and a theatre kid. I was, you know, the nerdy theatre/choir girl in high school. It’s funny because all the guys in my band were like that too: the band dorks. We always laugh because we are still that way. Being part of that theatre/choir culture at such a young age—always making stories up, making songs up. Yeah, I’m sure it annoyed a lot of people but (laughs)
CH: It seems to have worked out for you so far.
JH: (laughs) Yeah, I got a lot of practice in.
CH: So listening to your mom’s and dad’s records, is that how you got into Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline and Tom Waits and Wanda Jackson and all that?
JH: Honestly, I got into that myself. When I was in high school and early college, I somehow got into collecting records—actually, well, my great uncle passed away when I was a senior in high school and his wife gave me his entire record collection, and it was a lot of old country, a lot of old soul then Motown, jazz; just anything and everything. It was hundreds of records. I started digging into his record collection and that’s when I discovered a lot of the old country female artists that I really really like. I think that really influenced a lot of my songwriting melodically—songs like “Cry, Cry, Cry” is one in particular I think was really influenced by a lot of those old female country artists.
CH: That makes a lot of sense because your sound is so eclectic. Likewise, you taught yourself how to play guitar, keyboards and drums—how does that influence the way you approach songwriting?
JH: I think it also adds to the eclecticness of the sound because I get bored easily so I’m always finding something. Whenever I write I always want to change it up and start the songs from a different instrument. One day I’ll start the song from drums and I’ll work on a beat I really like and record that and then build upon that. Or, another day, it might be piano or guitar. I’m always changing where I’m starting from, which always changes the perspective of the song and changes the feel of it. If I’m just writing on an acoustic guitar, it might be more of a Patsy Cline kinda vibe, or if I’m writing on an organ, then it might have more of a Tom Waits kind of vibe.
CH: If you weren’t touring this much—or at all—what do you think you’d be doing with your life? Do you have other aspirations or goals?
JH: Music was always #1 on my list, since I was really young, but it doesn’t scare me to not be doing music. That’s probably because I’m so close with my family and they’re such a big part of my life that I always wanted to open a Cuban restaurant with my dad. That’s always been in the back of my mind: Well, if this music thing work out, I’m opening up my restaurant and then I’m going to do my clothing stuff. Because I also design and make clothes; we bring some of that stuff on the road with us too so I try to incorporate the other things that I really like doing.
CH: It seems like that would relax you a little bit knowing you could pursue these other things that you’re interested in.
JH: Yeah, it definitely does. It takes the pressure off so I know I can put everything into it but even if I fail, I’m still going to be happy.
CH: That sounds like a healthy point of view to have. What else can you tell me about this Cuban restaurant? Have you and your dad actually talked about this in any detail?
JH: Yes we have. He’s actually transitioning his Mexican bakery in Detroit—he used to have about half as a grocery store and gradually he’s been getting rid of the groceries and turning it into more of a café and bakery. So we’re going to be doing stuff like Cuban sandwiches, and so we’re already sort of starting that transition into that a little bit and dip our toes into it, see how it goes. Yeah, I’ve just always loved the idea of something that felt authentically Cuban. Just like a homecooking kind of thing, nothing fancy. Something simple. And you know, my grandmother is getting older now so I’ve been trying to learn all her recipes to have those to pass on, so that’s something else that I’ve been trying to do.
CH: That sounds really cool. I’m assuming this would all be in Detroit too, right?
CH: The loyalty you have for Detroit, is that common among you and your friends? You seem to wear Detroit on your sleeves.
JH: Yeah, I think a lot of people from there do. I don’t know what it is about the city but it seems everybody that’s from there gets a lot of drive from being from there. I think despite all the bad press that Detroit gets, I think that a lot of people have a lot of respect for the city.
CH: I have a couple of reader questions. Lisa wants to know if you get recognized more that she has been on David Letterman?
JH: Yeah, it depends on the city, but yeah, definitely more recognition. But it’s mostly stuff that’s a slow build. Definitely a lot more people at the shows.
CH: Jasmine is wondering if you get a lot of gifts from fans and if so, what’s been your favorite and/or the strangest you’ve received?
JH: We get a lot of funny gifts. We get a lot of coffee—I guess people know we all like coffee. We’ve gotten clothes and moonshine gummy bears—
JH: (laughs) Yeah, those were amazing. Those were among my favorites. We get a lot of cool gifts but my favorites though are letters. Those usually end up being my favorite. You know, you’re having a crummy day and then someone gives you a letter and you open it and they tell you the music makes their week better. Totally turns your day around.
CH: Did you learn anything when you were making “Secret Evil” that you want to put into your follow-up album?
JH: Just playing live, it really matures the band a lot. When I recorded that first record, I wrote that album myself and then I kinda brought the guys on board later with me. We hadn’t really been touring or anything then either. We hadn’t really gotten into a groove for how we work together as musicians or how the songs work live—but I feel like now the guys have been with me for a couple of years and I think we’ve all become kind of accustomed to how the other plays and how to groove together and mix certain things together. So I think this next record will be just that much better. It’ll be my first record where I’m letting my band write with me. And two, we have the experience of touring and playing together every single night where you start to understand each other as musicians and build off each other. I’m actually really excited about this next record.