Interview with Jessie Torrisi from The Please, Please Me
Austin band Jessie Torrisi and The Please, Please Me play a combination of country and folk. The band was created a couple years ago when lead vocalist and guitarist Jessie Torrisi moved to Austin from New York and got together with Alissa Shram (cello, backup vocals) later joined by Dave Gironda (trumpet, keys). In anticipation of their show this Friday at the Hole in The Wall, I sat down with Jessie to talk about the band, songwriting and her first drum set.
Observer: What’s your band’s philosophy? What do you hope the audience gets out of your music?
Jessie: What I hope people take away from it, especially during live shows, is the sense that I want them to do crazy things in terms of chasing their desires. Especially women, I think, tend to hang back on the sidelines and I’m thinking, ‘Well, if I can be crazy enough in my 30s to start a music career, and leave all these things behind in New York City, then everybody should be crazy enough to go chase their desires and what’s going to make them happy.’ A lot of my songs are about romance or something going that way and I always wanted to try to provoke people to do that thing! In the band, we just try to have fun, and we have a lot of respect for each other, and search together for just whatever is going to make the music awesome. I try to be really playful with it. It’s actually really hard to remember sometimes that I have to rein it in, because I just think the point of having a band, as opposed to being a solo artist, is to have a certain sense of collectiveness . . . almost like a clubhouse. We share this thing that we all love and create together so I try to be really open to everybody shooting ideas, trying to push the limit of what everybody can do, and see if we can get everybody playing a different instrument on a few songs on the set.
Observer: What is your songwriting process?
Jessie: I don’t know if anyone knows how it works, it’s one of the maddening mysteries. A lot of times music just jumps in your head and it can be just a little thing like a melody, or one line, and then the work is to take that little thing and stretch it to a song. So I tend to write really late at night, when I feel the whole world shuts down, that’s when I can focus and a lot of times it’s just me alone in my bedroom with my guitar. Also, I come from a lyrical background, I used to write pages of lyrics and then tried to make that a song. But now I make it more organic, finding sounds or music that communicate something and create the music and lyrics together. Some songs you have to work really hard at, and 6 months later you’re thinking, ‘Ah I love this song!’ But it’s still not right. And then you rewrite it and you do that again. A lot of songs I do end up writing 3 times before I feel that this is how I want it.
Observer: Where do you get your ideas?
Jessie: With ”Hungry Like Me,” which is the first song off my current album, I was talking to a friend about frustration with dating and I said something like, ‘You need someone who’s going to jump a train!” And she’s answered ‘I like that, you should put that in a song.’ So the first line is ”I need someone who will jump a train.” This idea that we’re all moving really fast and you need somebody who is willing to give up their track for a minute, join someone on their track for a minute. Also, ”X in Texas”, a friend of mine was coming back from a weekend in Austin, where a guy she used to be in love with is now engaged to somebody else. She would say ‘Yeah, he put the X in Texas!’ and I thought, ‘Ha! That’s a great lyric!’ She then wrote me a verse, just messing around, and then I wrote one back and you know, things just have to come together.
Observer: So you play many instruments, when did you actually start playing music? Who were or are your influences?
Jessie: I’ve always played something. My parents made me take piano lessons and play clarinet and saxophone in school band, but I didn’t get serious until I started playing the drums and that was when I was 14. Under the Christmas tree, there was my uncle’s old drum set. It’s still the drums I use, they’re silver sparkle, vintage. That made me fall in love with music and I started studying jazz and I would go to those nerdy music band camps for a couple of weeks during college and it wasn’t till I graduated from college that I started writing songs. It’s hard to figure out what’s the point of being a songwriter if you’re a drummer, what are you going to do with them? I couldn’t really sing back then, I didn’t have plans to form a band or any of that but the things you love just keep resurfacing so I kept writing all these songs. I would get nowhere except for creating a pile of paper in the corner of my room. When I moved to Austin, I thought ”Well, I know so many great musicians in New York, so before I leave, one last things, let me just record my songs, and even if my voice is great, even if this all I’ll ever do, just do it.’ And when I did it and I thought, ‘I want to do this! This is what I want!’