Music

For Jessie Reyez, Music Has Always Felt Like Home

The first-time Grammy nominee just dropped her debut album, and she's not holding anything back.
Reading time 13 minutes
Photos by Philip Harris

With great (read: minimal) power comes great responsibility, and today I am here to tell you one thing: you need to listen to Jessie Reyez’s new album. The Colombian-Canadian angel’s debut album, Before Love Came to Kill Us, drops today. It is objectively phenomenal and includes some Very Cool features, including Eminem and 6lack.

For those who don’t know, Reyez began her music career in 2014 when she and King Louie released a single, “Living in the Sky.” She then released her debut EP, Kiddo, in 2017, and signed with Island Records later that year. Her second EP, Being Human in Public, was released late 2018 and was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at this year’s Grammy Awards. Reyez also had a cameo in the Netflix movie, Someone Great.

In honor of her debut album, Reyez talked with L’Officiel USA about working with legends, doing hot yoga, and being nominated for her first Grammy.

Tell me a little about your musical background.

I was born in Toronto to a Colombian family. My brother was the first one to introduce me to reggae. I fell in love and discovered Bob [Marley] and Tanya [Stephens] and Barrington [Levy], and it was just sick. I used to sing at church and I liked other mediums as well; I used to dance, I used to draw, but I guess what always felt like home was music.

 

What is your creative process and has it changed since you first got started?

Not really, I just vibe. It's usually the music first, so if I have my guitar, it's what kind of emotions the chords elicit. If I'm working with a producer, if they're playing the piano or playing me beats, it's whatever comes out. But it's always based on my life and whatever I'm feeling. If I walked out of here and broke my leg today, then tomorrow I would sing about having a broken leg. It's just talking about my life. It hasn't really changed much. There's also certain tidbits that I pick up from when I work with legends; I was trying to record a voice note of a melody and write it down and Babyface was like, "Jess, if it's really that good, you'll just remember it. You won't have to write it down."

 

Tell me about your debut album, Before Love Came to Kill Us.

It has a lot to do with life and death, but I replaced life with love, so it's the beautiful side of death and the sad side of love. If I told you we're all going to die tomorrow, then today we're going to live more authentically, we might confess something, and we just live with our hearts forward. The sad side of love? That's the day that you meet the love of your life. You might be meeting the person who's going to hurt you the most because, statistically, they're going to cheat or it won't work while you're young. Or, if you guys are the minority and you make it until you're grey, no one gets out of love alive. One of you is going to have to die. It always ends in goodbye

Wow. That all rhymed. But yeah, it's about life. It's about truth.

 

What was the process of making the album?

There are certain songs that I held back during the time that I made Kiddo that I knew I wanted to save for the album. The reason behind dropping two EPs prior to the album was because we're in a time where when people take in music, you're taking it in on DSPs, like Spotify and Apple Music, it's a playlist, right? There's only a few select artists who can drop one album and people actually respect it enough to be like, "I'm going to put my phone on airplane mode, put it down, lean back, sage the room, and just take it in." Like Kendrick [Lamar] and Beyoncé, these beautiful, wonderful, talented artists. I felt like as a step in paying my dues with Kiddo and Being Human in Public, it's almost like I had to prove that I'm capable of putting a fucking good project together. I'm excited because I've been able to follow the blueprint that I've had and my team has had, to build a family with the people that support me. People like my music, my fans and all that, so there are people waiting for the album. It’s lit; I'm excited that people are anticipating it.

What is your favorite song off of the album and why?

"Ankles" is my favorite song off of the album. It's probably one of the rawest. We only did two takes. We didn't comp any vocals; we didn't do anything like that. I was in LA, I was depressed because a lot of my music comes from a sad place, and I was holding a cup of whiskey. It was running low, so when I start, you hear the ice because I was in there just running. It was one of those where the lyrics came real quick. I love that it's raw. I love that that we could only choose from two takes. I love that it's another record from a long time ago that I was like, "I need to hold this for my album, this has to wait." I love the features we have on it. And it's actually a quote that my mom told me when I was crying over an ex. She was like, "Mija," cause he had cheated and she said, in Spanish, "Those women, those girls, they don't make it to your ankles. They don't even make it to your ankles.’ When I was in LA working and thinking about that, I just thought of my mom and started crying. Then I was like, "fuck this," and that song came up. So, "Ankles."

 

Let’s talk about some of the cool collaborations you have on the album.

I'm excited about Melii. I'm excited about Rico [Nasty]. I'm excited about them being on that album, and particularly on that song (“Ankles”), because I feel like it's a self-love, self-worth anthem but also like a "fuck y'all" anthem, which is great.

 

What was it like working with them?

Oh, sick. Boogie's dope. Boogie's always been dope. Jid is amazing, I think he's super talented. Rico and Melii are nuts. 6lack is nuts. Eminem is nuts. It's just crazy. I know a lot of people saying, "Were you guys fortunate enough to be in the room together and collab that way?" But like, we're busy, what the fuck, we're busy. I've been on the road, I've been doing interviews, they have been doing interviews and on the road too, so thank God for the internet because I was getting verses last minute and plugging them in and mixing and all of that, so I'm really happy that we were able to make it happen, despite all of us being busy as fuck.

 

If you could collaborate with anybody who would it be?

Frank Ocean, in a perfect world, and Kid Cudi. Frank's influenced and been there for so many musicians. It's just so strange and so funny and so beautiful that his story can resonate so much. There are songs on Blonde, there are songs on Channel Orange, it's a lot that hits and has memories and nostalgia attached to me that's originally someone else's story. I respect him so much as an artist, as a writer, as everything.

 

You were nominated for your first Grammy. Tell me about that experience. 

I was fucking floored. I didn't even know the nominations were coming out. When they got announced, we were in Miami and I had a session till like 6:30 in the morning and then I had promo the next day, like a whole day of interviews. At 7 am, I was already sleeping. My managers got a call, people screaming, “Holy shit, she's on the list” and they're like “wake her up!” One of my managers made a joke: he's like, “It's seven in the morning, you want me to get fucking fired? I'm not going to wake Jessie up.” Then they're like, "The nomination would be there when she wakes up, don't worry about it."

But then at 2 pm, my assistant and my family were like this is enough, we have to wake her up. I thought someone had died because I never get woken up by five people at my door. I was like, "What's going on?" I'm in a T-shirt and wearing one sock, my hair's frizzed to shit. My mom's like “Congratulations!” My dad's singing "Felicitaciones a Ti," and I'm like, what the hell is going on? I looked at my sister and she's like, "You got nominated for a Grammy, bro." My jaw hit the floor. I was in disbelief until the day of. 

And then we lost. But it was cool, there was something that happened that just resonated. I lost, and we're all lined up, my mom, my dad, management, my team, the producer, all that. We're sitting there for a little bit after I had lost and I look over my manager, and he's like, "Congratulations." It just meant a lot. It's true, it's a loss but it's still a win; we're here, we're in the room, we're on the board.

What inspires you? 

My life, what I go through. It's usually sadness—sad songs come out of me easier. I feel like when you're happy, it's like eating a salad, so you're good. It feels good when you're happy. But when you eat something that's old and moldy and fucking poison, that's like heartbreak and you don't think about it, but you're just like, bleh. It's kinda how songs come up, the sad songs just come out quick and fast and harsh and potently.

 

I am surprised that your "good" food option was a salad. Like, you could've gone for something like a cake, I don't know.

Cause a cake you think is good for you, but it's not! A cake is fucking bad for you.

 

What are your hobbies outside of making music?

I used to do a lot of hot yoga. I love it. It helps me center. I used to smoke a lot of weed, but six years ago, I made the decision to focus all my energy on being creative. I gave it a break because I wanted it to stop until I won a Grammy, but I needed something to help offset my anger issues and my temperament. Hot yoga came into my life when weed was put on pause, and it just really helps. It's not so much the feeling when you're in the class, because it sucks. It's hard, you're sweating, it's intense. But you leave the class and it's just like, poof, a cloud. I love it. I also like poetry, but it's kind of in the same vein as music. I still write poetry. Also, camping: being in a tent, being at a lake with my family, barbecuing, sitting on grass, walking barefoot. It's my favorite.

 

Where do you like to camp?

North of Toronto, there's this beautiful reserve called the Algonquin. It's my favorite place in the world. There's another spot called Lions Bay in BC. It's beautiful too. It's like heaven; it's one of those places where you sit down and you look around, you're like, God's here. It just feels different.

 

What are you most excited about for the future?

Getting the album fucking out of me; I've been anxious. I'm excited to get to the point where I can step back, because I can't right now. Taking a break right now is a joke and it's going to be for a long time because of the pace we're moving at and the goals that we have in mind. Right now it's difficult to enjoy, when you're not sleeping and it's just like this, this, this. But those moments where I can step back, those come after tour, after awards, after all that. I'm excited to get it done.

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