Q&A with Jessica Curran: Wherever Inspiration Blooms

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Jessica Curran’s debut is titled Here.

(Photo: Kathryn LeRoux)

Singer-songwriter Jessica Curran, 24, had just returned from the local studio, having recorded an EP with Gustav Lundgren, whom she described as “probably the best jazz manouche guitarist in Sweden.” It was just another day in the life of the Massachusetts native, who has been based in Stockholm since 2015.

A June 2017 graduate of Stockholm’s Royal College of Music (who also earned a B.A. in jazz performance from the University of North Texas), Curran has released her debut album, Here, thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s a set of seven very tuneful, autobiographical songs, mostly composed (music and lyrics) and arranged by her. Joining Curran in the studio was an extensive cast of musicians, including string players on select cuts.

Having performed with Bobby McFerrin and Ben Folds, she lists her musical interpretation of the Nobel Prize in Economics for Stockholm’s Nobel Museum in 2016 among her early accomplishments.

DownBeat sat down with the vivacious Curran after a Sunday afternoon trio gig at S:ta Clara Bierhaus, one of two performances she gave during this year’s Stockholm Jazz Festival.

Your move to Europe began when you were still studying at the University of North Texas. But, initially, it was just to study and not to relocate. Why did you choose Sweden?

There’s this close connection between North Texas and the Royal College. There was also a friend from Sweden at North Texas who helped. And a lot of my friends had gone here before. But then I ended up really falling in love and it ended up being a completely opposite mindset of what I was learning already. So, instead of having a fixed take on jazz, [the school] was more open toward musical interpretation and creativity.

A lot of students have the opportunity to record at the high-quality recording studios at the school, or studios around school. This includes the famous Atlantis studios.

Let’s talk about the album and how it came about.

When I first started the album, it was a very small endeavor. But then I got really into arranging; I recorded for strings, I recorded for horns.

Were those things you studied in school?

Yeah. Texas gave me a lot of concrete information and skills. And when I came here I was more open to using those skills. I found myself really inspired to create music and write these arrangements; I really got into the music-making process. I’ve used a lot of influences from the places I’ve traveled to: I’ve used folk music from Sweden, I used flamenco rhythms from Spain.

And you can probably tell that a lot of this jazz is a little more melancholic. So, it seeps into your music somehow. If there’s one main goal of my life, it’s to travel—and to take the influences of those places that I go to and incorporate them into my music.

Your Kickstarter campaign for the album apparently was a big hit.

Yeah. On Kickstarter, I tried to incorporate all these different friends into my music. There’s an online forum for all the schools in Stockholm, so I posted a notice for anyone who wanted to get involved in this project. Then I found two really interested dancers and a really interested videographer to help make a video.

At one of my [forthcoming] shows I’ll have an artist interpreting the music through a painting while I sing. I don’t want it to be me doing a commission. I want them to express their identity through their art and use my music for inspiration.

And this summer you recorded here. What’s on the horizon?

A lot of my friends right now are Brazilian, Colombian and Argentinian. There’s so much music; in each of those countries they have their own vocabulary of music. I have gigs lined up this winter in Brazil. So, I’m hoping to put that influence in my music and put out a new album.

When did it occur to you that you wanted to stay in Sweden?

I went to Ireland for Christmas in 2015 to meet extended family for the first time. And I was talking to one of my uncles; he’s just like me, and he said, “You can just feel when something’s working out for you, you can feel that it should be right.”

I felt all this inspiration, and I felt like life was just pushing me to stay here. When I applied to the Royal College, I told myself, “I don’t have to go back. I can live in a different country. I can keep traveling, and that can be my life.”

(For more info on Jessica Curran, and to check out her music videos, visit her website). DB



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January 2019
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