After negotiating her way out of a major label deal, singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin releases her third album, Little Spark, on Thirty Tigers in January. New Jersey-born Baylin – who lives in Nashville with husband and Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill – cherry-picked multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift and producer Kevin Augunas to oversee Little Spark, a collection of wistful, classic pop songs evocative of Laurel Canyon in the ‘70s. We asked Baylin about her inspirations, writing process and working with childhood friend Scarlett Johansson.
You’ve mentioned that some songs on this record being especially difficult to write.
There were a handful of songs on this album where I had to be honest with myself about what was really going on beneath the surface in my life. it was incredibly therapeutic for me to dig into those truths, even if painful at first.
What about the album’s lead-in track, “Hurry Hurry?”
That song came about very quickly. I had recently moved to Nashville and was living in someone else’s world, trying to figure out where I fit in…
You drew inspiration from Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick – the Brill Building writers – on Little Spark. Tell us about your writing process for this record.
I journaled every day once I realized I had begun writing “Little Spark.” I enjoy co-writing and found a unique bond with Thad Cockrell in Nashville and when I was in L.A. with Mike Daly. I played them some music that was inspiring me at the time, and they just sort of began living in my world with me. They understood the vibe and direction I was heading towards and our sessions always ended with three to four good songs.
You had a regular gig at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles — tell us a bit about playing that venue.
I played the Hotel at a time when it was such fertile ground… everyone was getting signed to major label deals and there was just an energy pulsing through the place. I’m very happy that I was a part of that early scene.
Your friend Scarlett Johansson directed the video for “Hurry Hurry” – what was that like?
She is an incredible director and is going to do wonderful things from behind the lens. We’ve known each other since we were girls so she knows who I am and allowed me to just be myself.
What was the last song you wrote? Tell us about it.
It’s actually a song that I put on the Pleasure Center EP called “White Noise.” I wrote it from the perspective of a close friend of mine who was going through a tough time. I took some liberties as I always do, sifting my friend’s experience through my own perspective, taking some twists and turns until it felt right.
What’s a song on Little Spark you really want people to hear, and why?
Ooh man that’s…hmm…they’re all important to me in so many ways. I suppose “Little Spark” because it really captures all the themes I wanted to touch on this album. Love, Loss, patience and yearning.
What’s a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?
In “Yuma”: ” He used to chew tobacco/He used to drink my wine/He never learned I’m sorry/He never pressed rewind.”
Are there any words you love, or hate?
I love the word relish. Both the verb and hot dog topping.
How do you typically write songs? Words first, or melody?
Often it will be that I write down a line and I hear a natural melody in it. The song starts there. But it really depends… I’m getting more confident on the guitar and piano so it’s shifting into finding songs all different sorts of ways now.
Do you find yourself revising a lot, or do you like to write automatically?
I rarely revise. My most natural, favorite songs that i’ve written typically come very quickly without an edit.
Who’s an underrated songwriter, in your opinion?
When i was 19 in Los Angeles i was turned onto Judee Sill. I think her songs are pretty epic. Listen to “The Kiss,” that was her moment. It’s such a visual song and it just breaks my heart in the best way.
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
Right now I’m going to say “The Kiss” by Judee Sill.