Interview with the Please, Please Me
I had the great honor of interviewing Jessie Torrisi (NYC) who will be playing in LFK today (October 7, 2017) and in KC tomorrow (October 8). I first saw The Please Please Me four years ago. I was in a really dark place and hadn't been to a concert in at least four years. Their music brought me back to life and got me hooked on live music. I Love KC Music would not exist without this band, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to pick Jessie's brain and learn more about the artist and the music. Jessie's music is vulnerable, genuine, and great for dancing to. In her previous albums you can really feel the invitation to dance at the club. In her upcoming album, you still have her same voice, but it's slowed down more. Her upcoming album feels like music that you put on in your room and dance out the tough stuff all alone. You can feel all the emotions and find yourself the hero that triumphs at the end of the movie. Make sure you catch her and Jimi live and get yourself a copy of the new EP when it comes out.
Kimmy: I know you've recently moved. Who are you playing with these days? How long have y'all been playing your instruments?
PPM: Yes I secretly moved back to Brooklyn NY about a year ago. I have a killer band there… it’s more the vibe I was craving… but on this tour, it’s just me & my songwriting soulmate Jimi Fish w guitars, some drum loops, harmonies, and electronics.
This tour is both to celebrate my new record FALLIN’ THRU coming out on October 13th & to help him to move from Texas, where we met, to NYC.
Kimmy: Speaking of moving, you've lived in several cities (Philly, Austin, and NYC). How do you think the different cities have influenced your music?
Well New York is full of inspiration and drive – people from literally over the world come their to chase their dreams. I really thrive off of that kind of energy and diversity. But it’s also not the greatest place to be an artist; it’s so expensive and everyone is working 50 or 60 hours a week just to make ends meet, and it’s so big that the culture really only sees success in terms of making a lot of money or really having a name everyone knows.
Austin was the perfect place for me to go and give my songs and singing a try, and learn electric guitar, and production, and feel like I had permission to be an artist – to just do it for its own sake. And there’s so many great musicians there. It’s the perfect cocoon or incubator, but at the end of the day, I think I’m more of an East Coast or California soul and living somewhere that can boil down bands, beer, and hiking just didn’t quite do it for me. It definitely gave me the courage to do what I want though.
Kimmy: Something that I love about your music is that it has relatable, genuine lyrics, with your sensual, electronic pop music. What is your creative process like?
Appreciate the compliment. Bruce Springsteen has this amazing quote about how when you’re onstage you want the audience to look at you and see themselves inside your music. That’s always what I’ve wanted – for my music, my heartbreak, my dreams, my desire – to help people tap into human courage and struggle. In the end, we all struggle with different versions of the same thing… wanting to love, to be loved, being scared shitless of those things, wanting things not to change, knowing things need to change.
My creative process really varies. It often is me with an acoustic guitar late at night when I have to play kind of quietly hashing out words and melodies. Since I got a piano for my last birthday, I’m really into that. Occasionally I’ll start with a drum loop I make or a bassline… and in the past 2 years, I’ve gotten to write a lot with other people, in Nashville and with Jimi for his project Vs. It’s definitely hard to go back to duking it out & chasing a song alone after you’ve had that kind of creative synergy with other people, but I do it because I feel like it keeps me honest, not to mention productive.
Kimmy: How do you think your queer identity plays out in your music?
For a long time, I was nervous that if I put genders in my songs, it would alienate straight people. And then I slowly realized how dumb that was – that the people who liked my music would like it, that I wasn’t headed for mainstream pop stardom anyway, and that queer is in anyway (and there’s all these straight bands using it as a marketing gimmick, which is another convo really).
I have no idea how being queer plays out in my music really, except for opening the door to me playing with a number of amazing queer musicians (rather by accident recently) where I feel a sense of community and fun that was hard for me to find with all white straight Texas dudes.
I just know that I’ve decided if you’re going to be an artist, you should be as naked as possible, and not try to please people.
Kimmy: I saw that at your show in Tulsa your donating proceeds to support stopping violence against trans folk in Ally Steinfields memory. Tell me more about that.
Well that was Jimi’s idea. I know he knows someone who is one of the 21 trans people murdered so far and that really affected him. At the end of the day, we’re musicians – we don’t have a lot of money to donate, but hopefully we can use our voices and our music to get more people paying attention. I mean, we’re talking about MURDER of people who, just by not conforming to some sense of “girls are like this, boys are like this,” make people feel so threatened they commit these grisly insane acts of violence.
One of things Jimi & I really bonded about at first, besides great taste in music ;-), was the way we interact with other people. I think we both are always trying to create an environment where people feel free to be themselves and let their freak flag fly, whatever that is.
Kimmy: You're about to start your tour, which includes a stop in Lawrence and KC. You've played here before. What stands out to you about the KC music scene?
Sometimes I think you feel in love with places on tour just because you got lucky and were put on a bill with the right people the first time through. That was definitely the case with KC. I was playing with my friend Duncan, who grew up here. His family is AMAZING and runs this scholar retreat center by the medical school downtown that’s become like a 2nd home to us.
And then we played at that place on Grand w Chris Meck, his late wife Abigail, and Amy Farrand. Their band was amazing… Chris is probably one of my fav guitarists out there. And by our second song, someone had thrown whiskey shots onstage. It just all happened naturally. I love KC, and coming from Texas, I just saw the brick buildings and felt the vibe, and it reminded me of Philly, where I grew up.
And the food here is so good too – any number of great options for hungover brunch the morning after.
Kimmy: What are some of the suprising things you've realized you need to bring on tour? Any cool tricks you've found to make tour life easier?
Hoodies, allergy medicine, a AAA membership, pot cookies (b/c I don’t like to drink), good tea for when we’re marooned in the land of shitty gas station coffee. No one ever remembers to bring toothpaste.
From Jimi, who is recovering from a nasty cold, ginger root, lemon, honey – & some bourbon to throw in.
Kimmy: You're about to release a new EP, Fallin' Thru, What do you hope to say with this album?
Well it's definitely about falling...falling in love, falling out of love...falling out of love...falling into yourself...falling through the cracks of life changing, of dreams cracking, of things not quite working out the way you thought they would....
It's about falling for your fantasies...falling back into yourself...waking up from a twisted journey and walking home, like the bleeding hero of an action movie in the final scene (though you assumed you'd be waltzing into the sunset)...it's about letting yourself fall because it's better then standing still or being afraid to go for what you want.
And it's about finding a power in all of that.
Kimmy: What are you most proud of with the album?
I'm proud of the songs and the story they tell.
I'm proud that I helf out for the sound I wanted...it was hard to find a producer that felt right and to find the right person to mix it because I wanted something new...and I fell like anytime you want a change, life has this way of testing you and saying, "how far are you really willing to go to step out? Will you risk of giving out what you had?"
Kimmy: One of the things that's so alluring about live music is the way it creates community, a shared experience, and the exchange between the audience and band. Do you have any practices for creating this experience?
Inviting people to share their music, not just listen to yours. Trying to get people to invite you over for dinner before or jamming after. Lots and lots of texting, Facebook’ing, trying to stay in touch, reminding people you’ll be coming through. It’s a real pain before tour, but then so worth it when you get to connect with old friends.
Kimmy: What role do you see musicians having as citizens of this world? In their community?
There’s the role they could be having, which is speaking from the heart to say the things politicians can’t about our shared humanity, standing up for one another, and about the shit that people who aren’t rich or white or cloaked in privilege have to deal with everyday.
But honestly, I think top 40 pop music has become like Hollywood – so afraid to take risks and take a stand for fear of alienating anyone.
When I’m driving and turn on the radio, I hear songs that sound cool and are either about NOTHING or they’re about partying, sex, and having a good time. They put out this perception that life is fun and easy, and if that’s not your experience, you must be doing something wrong.
It’s really superficial, which is so strange considering what’s actually happening at this moment in the time with racial tension on the rise, blatant sexism and white supremacy from the White House, the natural disasters coming faster and faster.
I’m not saying all musicians are like this… but this is the stuff they choose to elevate on TV and radio.
It’s a huge missed opportunity. Music is *the* universal language and we could be leading the way.
Kimmy: If you could play on your dream line up, who's on the bill?
Some of my current favs: Daughter, Ings, Bad Bad Hats, Haelos, Sarah Jaffe, Sophie Koh, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Explosions in the Sky, The Antlers
But if I get to go as famous as what I want: Portishead and Sia.
Kimmy: What inspires your music (people, bands, books, events...)?
Music, cool shows I see or songs I discover… and then just life. Definitely life experience.
Kimmy: What shows do you have coming up?
Midwest tours this month and in November, and a big NYC release show later this month. (All is up at ThePleasePleaseMe.com/tour)