Jess Knights did wait.
A long, long, long time.
After a decade in the trenches, performing in local bars, mixing a healthy amount of covers — blues, jazz, rock, pop — in with her own expanding original repertoire the Calgary artist is finally set to release her first five-song solo EP, Won’t Wait, with a show Saturday, Oct. 27 at Festival Hall.
“I’m ready,” Knights says empathically. “I’m really ready. I believe in it and I have been so wonderfully supported by this community in Calgary.”
She points to her album cover, an illustration which features the city skyline as “a crown” on her head as she roars her mighty roar.
“I’m ready because of the support and confidence that this community gave me. And I’m very grateful to be a part of it.”
As that artwork alludes, don’t be surprised if she’s ruling it, too, very soon.
The album, which you can stream below, is a truly accomplished, assured and alluring collection of songs, that recall such old-schooled new-schoolers as Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Eliza Doolittle. It’s a statement of something worth waiting for and what’s to come.
Her powerhouse voice, her poetic words, the stars of the show, with sensational sonic backup from esteemed members of that aforementioned musical community including OCL Studios producer Josh Rob Gwilliam, and musicians Russell Broom, Chris Byrne, Spencer Cheyne, Mike Little and Aaron Young.
And those songs that have been more than 10 years in the making, well, they show their age in that there’s a maturity and confidence to them, an artist who is utterly unshakable in her belief in every note and every word, comfortable in any skin she wears, be it the blues belter in the sultry, punchy No Jazz, the sassy, coquettish crooner in the glorious title cut or the heart-melting heartbreaker in the folk strumming closer Shot A Bird.
To understand why, you actually have to go back much further than her club life and to her early days when she was a classically trained vocalist, eventually moving to the operatic realm.
“In that training, learning about lyrics and how profound they are and how to emote them regardless of whatever language you were in, I knew that when I started writing my own songs I wanted to have that same feeling in my body and transcend to the audience,” Knights says.
“The songs on the EP and what we’re playing on Saturday really shows—”
She pauses. “Shows the soul. And that connection. I don’t want to make music that doesn’t connect or make us feel in some way.”
Which brings us back to that more real, dark, dirty world of performing in rooms where the booze and bartenders are the draw and focus, the music an after-thought or mere ambience, and the training that it provides.
As Knights says, when you have to work a room, literally earn every ear you get, you learn some things about performing and about who you are.
“I’m so grateful for that experience. It taught me resilience, it boosted my confidence immensely, I played and worked with some incredible musicians and learned from them,” she says.
“The biggest thing was I was a twentysomething-year-old, five-foot-one, blonde girl walking into a bar of usually mostly men, playing in a band of mostly men, and needing to prove myself more than I feel that others would have to.
“It was a challenge that built me as an artist, but also as a woman.”
And now that artistic woman is ready to take that next step and see where it all goes. As for expectations and ambitions, Knights will let others set those for her and just take what comes her way.
That’s in large part to the fact that she describes 2018 as the “most diverse year I’ve had in my life … I’ve dealt with a lot of grief this year,” including the deaths of some people close to her and the dissolution of a decade-long romantic relationship.
“So I try not to have too many plans or expectations in my life. I do take it a day at a time and am really grateful to be here. And the success that it achieves will be based on the energy I put towards it,” she says and laughs. “And I’ve got a fire under my butt right now to keep it going.
“But I will only take it a day at a time — that’s all we have.”
Still, Knights says she sees Won’t Wait’s release as a new beginning and she feels “inspired and reinvigorated” now that it’s out there. Or, rather, will officially be out there after the Festival Hall show, which, it should be noted, will see half of the proceeds go to Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids, the remarkable charity in the city that provides school lunches for the less fortunate children in the system.
“I just think it’s great work they’re doing — it’s so important,” she says.
And her work, how important it is to her, how she’ll feel come Saturday night?
“It all feels like the birth of my first child,” she says with another laugh. “I’m excited, I’m exceptionally nervous. I mean this was something that took a long time to put together and put out into the world, but, man alive, am I ready.
“I don’t want to wait anymore. I won’t wait.”
And we can’t wait to see what she does next.
(Photo courtesy Sebastian Buzzalino.)
Jess Knight releases her EP Won’t Wait will be released Saturday with a show at Festival Hall.