By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Popular touring in-demand vocalist Jessie Wagner (Lenny Kravitz, Chic, Duran Duran, Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul) and frontwoman for New York City rock/soul band Army Of The Underdog will release her debut solo 11-track album ‘Shoes Droppin’ on Oct. 9, 2020 via Wicked Cool Records.
The album’s second single/music video “End Of Time” is streaming everywhere now and stands as the perfect representation of what Wagner is all about when she stands alone and uses her voice to release the anger and sadness built up over the years. Lyrically, the song covers finding the right person and wanting to love and be loved for the rest of your life.
‘Shoes Droppin’ (which you can pre-save here) was produced by drummer Dave Diamond (Bob Weir, Derek Trucks) and engineered by Chris Laybourne. Wagner was inspired by ’60s and ’70s-style production and wanted to explore a sound entrenched in blues, neo-soul and R&B.
The Music Bugle had the chance to chat with Wagner about ‘Shoes Droppin’ and more.
Music Bugle – What comes to mind when you think of your own solo material, as opposed to what you do with Army Of The Underdog and elsewhere?
Jessie Wagner – Vulnerability. I suppose this project is just a glimpse into my more vulnerable side. I’m a little sassier when I’m with Army Of The Underdog. This record has some of that peeking around the edges, but I’m really bearing my soul in many of these songs.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your album ‘Shoes Droppin’?
Jessie Wagner – This album was an “everything and the kitchen sink” emotionally kind of album. There’s doubt, fear, confusion and a bit of acceptance. I felt like now that I’ve gotten this out on paper, I’m going to share it with the world. I was also feeling like I was coming to a crossroads with my career. I’ve been a successful background singer, but that doesn’t mean my world is secure. I live by the whim of others. I’ve never had a chance to really see if I can stand on my own two feet with my music. This album was, “take all these songs that you love, share them with the world and go for it harder than you ever have before and if I don’t make it farther than I have since I’ve been putting out music, maybe that’s a sign,” so through this cathartic writing experience, I decided to give a last-ditch effort before I try something more plebeian – and then Stevie Van Zandt liked it – and now I’m here! It’s definitely farther than I’ve ever been, so maybe the universe is telling me not to give up.
Music Bugle – What made you want to release “End Of Time” as a single from your new album?
Jessie Wagner – I definitely wanted this song to come out in the summer. It just has that sunny vibe to it. It’s bouncy and fun and we needed a little bubble gum cheer at this point in 2020.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Jessie Wagner – I really love Harry Styles’s work. I don’t really know the “boy band” stuff and to be honest, I kind of wrote him off, but I heard “Adore You” and it appealed to my inner pop diva, but his self-titled album blew my mind. I love the range and how it has a great throwback feel. I didn’t expect that. I also love Stone Temple Pilots’ latest album ‘Perdida.’ It’s so beautiful and moody and when I need to get a little more soulful, I turn to Cleo Sol. Her song, “Why Don’t You” is minimalism at its best, but swells with these lush strings that flutter in and out of the song. That one is always on repeat.
Music Bugle – How would you describe your fashion style and how does it correlate to your music?
Jessie Wagner – When I’m with my band Army Of The Underdog, I’m definitely more edgy. I incorporate a lot of military-inspired themes through my look. With this project, my inner hippie/nature girl seems to want to pop out. I’ve always loved a long gypsy skirt or a heavily-swelled bell bottom. I think my look is as if Pam Grier and Carole King were somehow combined into one being. I would be the product of that union!
Music Bugle – What has been your favorite moment while on the road?
Jessie Wagner – I’ve had several! I got to sing with Robert Plant in Montreux and Slash in New York. I got to dance with George Clooney at a benefit for Darfur where I was singing with Kid Rock. I did the bump with Jon Bon Jovi on stage while singing “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but I guess one that was really special was having 20,000 people singing “Happy Birthday” to me as the presenter handed me flowers during the Chic set at one of Belgium’s Night Of Proms show. That’s something you take with you for the rest of your life!
Music Bugle – Which song off ‘Shoes Droppin’ was the hardest for you to write or compose?
Jessie Wagner – That would be “Caretaker.” It’s exposing how hard it was for me to not be selfish in a difficult time and the guilt I had grappling with those emotions. You want to be a good person, but sometimes you feel like you’ve been pushed over the edge and you just can’t keep being there for someone else. You need someone to be there for you. I was so overwhelmed and riddled with guilt and sadness. Writing that was a way to express what I was feeling. I have a tendency to bottle things, but it spills out in my writing sometimes.
Music Bugle – What was it like making the music video for “End Of Time”?
Jessie Wagner – It was challenging and fun. Kids are adorable, but kids like to work – or not work – at their own pace. When you’re funding everything yourself, you don’t have the luxury of time. I had two hours to get every shot I needed out of that diner and we definitely cut it close. Thank God I have a creative editor who managed to capture the smiles through a lot of tears and uneaten burgers and fries! However, getting to work with Tania Jones and Sara Devine was actually… divine! I love them like actual sisters and they really made my video come alive.
Music Bugle – Looking back on your career so far, what was the biggest obstacle to overcome?
Jessie Wagner – Self-doubt. I’m still learning how to overcome it. I’m getting there.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jessie Wagner – I was planning on doing my first tour as Jessie Wagner this year. For so long, that’s been the dream. I just wanted to see what that would be like – the stress, triumph, joy and pain of it all. That quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to happen. Also, as a musician, we tend to live our lives with a degree of uncertainty. Tours get canceled. Gigs don’t work out, but to have all your contingency plans irrevocably removed without any idea of when you can possibly work again is devastating. Our industry will be the last to come back. My community is really suffering financially and mentally. I’m exploring options I thought I’d never have to pursue. This pandemic is terrifying for my personal health and for the health of my career. I hope that I will never get physically sick, but my career feels like it’s in critical condition. I pray that next year will be promising. I also hope fans, old and new, will stick with me through this. See you on the other side.