J. Graves is passionate dance-punk. Tense relationship rock, sanguine lyricism, guitar music, chord changes that sound like secret longing, a rhythm section that thuds, skitters, and melts over the determined voice of Jessa Graves. The heat of the cataclysm gives off a vapor known to galvanize meatspace into writhing, dancing heaps, creating rabid, loyal fans.
Recently J. Graves has been featured in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest who said of their song “Eleven”, “Pairs well with: dancing away from your mistakes…”, Vortex Music Magazine celebrated J. Graves as an “Artist To Watch”, and the band released their celebrated first album Marathon later to cap a successful year at the vaunted Portland venue Mississippi Studios. Against all odds, J. Graves is back in 2020, with a crushing new EP Deathbed, and a record label Illumin, that seeks to leverage community and technology to advocate for womxn and gender non-comforming artists.
Deathbed was recorded by Portland engineer and pop music auteur Elly Swope at Destination: Universe. On Deathbed J. Graves levels up as a band. Leader Jessa Grave’s voice is stronger than ever, even as she examines the relationship failure that resulted in the songs on the EP. The first single “Lo The Morning” begins on a clockwork drumbeat with Graves giving up, and announcing “I don’t know how old I am anymore”, before ramping up to the climactic conclusion that each new day will be lived with intention. It’s clear there will be no sophomore slump for J. Graves, the tempo is faster, the changes more frequent, the band is tighter, and the approach even more aggressive. On the title track J. Graves gets to the heart of the matter immediately, singing the opening line “we’re both on this deathbed, only nobody’s dead yet, and I’m lyin’ next to you…and I don’t know what to do.”
For J. Graves, Deathbed also serves as an opportunity for leveraging technology, scene connections, and the power of an entire community of womxn to bring music forth. Deathbed will be doled out in a series of singles and videos in “digital events” in the coming months through outlets like Women That Rock and new record label called Illumin. Deathbed was also recorded and mastered entirely by women. For Graves this was a matter of principle in our times, but it’s also a matter of lifting community. That extends all the way back to her mother; musician and indie-label leader Annie Graves. Jessa’s mother began the label Illumin twenty six years ago in an effort to support her own musical career. Now, in an effort to more clearly light the way for herself and other acts, Jessa will resurrect Illumin. If we’re lucky we may even see a re-release of Annie Graves’ album on the label.
In J. Graves nothing is wasted. Songs are extensions of personal experience in which breakups, abandonment, unsupportive partners, and emotional strife see re-use as stepping stones, providing a path from disappointment to cathartic, regenerative music.
What bandleader Jessa Graves describes as a series of starts and stops beginning in her pre-teen years is actually the vision of a rocketship gone atmospheric in an explosive blast of power and friction, breaking free of gravity. Those who can’t commit or support break away from her like thermal tiles of a shuttle exiting the atmosphere. From pounding on the studio piano as a child, to recording with her brother in a home studio, to winning her high school battle of the bands –as a solo act when her drummer failed to show up, Jessa has always been on this path. Of becoming a musician she says “I forget sometimes that it’s not normal to have music be a part of a person. Music was everywhere for me. I would go with my mom to rehearsals, and for studio time.” In high school Jessa moved to Portland, joined choir (tenor), and started the band HelloKopter, the inspiration and prototype three-piece for what would become J. Graves. After a series of band break-ups, personal break-ups, and just plain growing up she went into a years long stall. Then, miraculously, out of the ashes of a relationship, a song; “Leap Year” is the “floodgate” that begat J. Graves. In September of 2019 J. Graves released their debut album Marathon, a captivating first effort that documented Graves time away from music, as well as her return. The album drew comparisons to Sleater-Kinney, Karen O, and, Siouxsie And The Banshees for it’s stylistic approach and raw power. Even before the album’s release, catching a J. Graves show became a goal for music denizens of the Northwest. Along her trajectory Graves annealed other talent with her drive and ideals. Kelly Clifton, perhaps the best bassist (and certainly the most exciting to watch) in the Pacific Northwest, and the unassuming Aaron MacDonald, who would be a watchmaker –for his distinct timing and style, were he not a drummer. The band’s rapid growth turned into touring opportunities, and a supportive fanbase. Encouraged by the reception, but spurred by the lack of any sustainable music industry, or definable path forward, Jessa sought to combine her tech savvy, with her community building abilities.
Outside the band Graves is partnering with Womxn That Rock, a queer and gnc inclusive music platform spotlighting women in music and resurrecting her mother’s record label Illumin. The mission is redefining the role of record labels for womxn and gnc led projects through education, transparency, empowerment, and new deal structures leveraging tokenization and blockchain technology.
On top of all this (!) you should know, nothing can substitute the experience of a live J. Graves show. You must be in front of the liquid rhythm section and pounding chords of the band to feel the blast. In performance Graves eyes roll furiously and her jawline sets as she contacts the emotion that produced her songs. She contorts herself around a fender slimline telecaster, and, in fits and starts, springs forth with contagious, inspiring performances.
J. Graves is efficiency personified, the body of rock ‘n’ roll. The living example of repurposing personal and emotional refuse for growth. Through chaotic, cathartic music, technology, advocacy, and community J. Graves is defining the future of music, giving us all life, from their Deathbed.