People often told her she was an old soul, but moving to Nashville made Jess Jocoy realize she has something new to say.
An Americana singer-songwriter with a storyteller’s view of the world, Jocoy arrived in Music City in 2014. She came armed with big dreams of being the next Miranda Lambert, but also brokenhearted over the loss of her dad just a year earlier.
Jocoy landed at Belmont, where she studied songwriting, interned at Rounder Records — where she then got a full-time job after graduation — and grappled with big questions about grief, faith and purpose. In the process, she found herself.
“Nashville is such a great place to lose yourself, but it’s also the best place to figure out who you want to be,” she said. “You either have to stay and do what you came here to do, or you have to pack up and go home. That’s it. I didn’t have the money to go home, and I didn’t really have the spirit.”
In 2018, Jocoy released her debut EP, called “New Heart/Old Soul,” where she earnestly addresses themes of heartbreak, heritage and healing.
“I didn’t really realize how personal it was until I released it, I just knew I had these songs,” Jocoy said. “Maybe someone can relate to these, maybe they can’t, I don’t know. But it kind of didn’t matter. It was more about getting them out of my way to make room for other stories and songs.”
Jocoy got to share those stories and songs on stage at her first ever AmericanaFest showcase Thursday night, joining the legacy of so many of the artists she admires.
In many ways she’s an old-school musician, raised on a steady diet of her dad’s favorite 80s and 90s country music and her mom’s classic rock. Today she’s most influenced by country from the 50s and 60s, but Jocoy first discovered the power of music while driving with her dad.
“We would listen to two CDs religiously when I was in elementary school. It was Alan Jackson’s ‘Drive’ album and Shania Twain’s ‘Up’ album. Religiously. He would be the steering wheel drummer, and I would sing along,” she remembers.
“He was my best bud.”
Though Jocoy often looks to the past for inspiration, she also hopes to play a role in leading the genre to a new era, one where there’s space for every kind of emotion.
She’s grateful for the way “party country” has brought new people to country music and acknowledges the importance of celebration, but also thinks “there should be room for the story songs and the slower ballads. Even on the radio, and especially by women.”
“One word I heard a lot in school was escapism, but I’d like us to get back to a point where we can feel our sadness and we can feel our feelings and not be ashamed of that,” Jocoy said. “Because good, bad or otherwise, I don’t think heartbreak songs and pain songs are meant to be ignored.”
As Jocoy seeks to create that kind of vulnerability in her own music, she’s emboldened by songwriters like Brandi Carlile, Miranda Lambert and Lori McKenna.
“All these women are leading the way, and they’re doing a great job. I hope we can keep it up.”
The young songwriter is staying busy in pursuit of that goal — working on her first full-length album, planning a tour and capitalizing on the experience of performing one of her originals for Kelsea Ballerini on NBC’s “Songland.” Above all, Jocoy just hopes her future will hold many more records.
“I wanted [New Heart/Old Soul] to be somewhat of an introduction to myself,” Jocoy explained. “God willing we’ll be able to make a lot of successful records, but I just always wanted this one piece to serve as, ‘This was the first thing she had to say. Here’s what she said then, this is what she’s saying now,’ and hopefully there’s going to be growth in that.”
But even as she seeks to do something new, Jocoy doesn’t want to let go of the values, traditions and people that got her to where she is today. She remembers hearing a country artist say that the older artists need to get out of the way to make room for the new, but she envisions a space where there’s room enough for everyone.
“I don’t know how you tell if you’re an old soul. But I believe in common sense, and I believe that traditions and antique things and things from past generations should be preserved and should be celebrated,” she said. “Even in music.”
Photos by Colby Crosby.