Jessica Says: Setting the Night on You

She’s only 22, but Jessica Venables is already an esteemed veteran of the Australian music industry. For the past five years, the multi-instrumentalist has lent her talents for touring and recording to New Buffalo/Sally Seltmann, Crayon Fields, Grand Salvo, Guy Blackman, Jens Lekman, and Micah P. Hinson. Despite these sideline roles, Venables’ striking beauty and distinct fashion style have made her a memorable figure about town. In March this year, Venables went out on a limb, launching her own album, We Need To Talk, under the Lou Reed–inspired moniker Jessica Says.

The debut album features 10 songs written and arranged by Venables, combining her vocals with cello, synth and piano. New Buffalo’s Sally Seltmann adds vocal harmonies on the keynote album track “I’ll Set The Night Upon You,” and Jessica’s younger brother and bandmate, Nicholas, contributes by playing violin in the track “Keep Me Awake.” Venables describes the songs as beautifully – and often whimsically—augmented versions of reality. She professes to be turned on by writing about people she knows, and wonders whether they’ll recognize themselves in the lyrics.

Occupying a space somewhere between the folk-Baroque sensibilities of Kate Bush and the stark and precise vocal ability of Joanna Newsom, Venables is a formidable figure on stage; her presence is fragile and unassuming, but always deliberate in its execution. Perhaps this has something to do with her years performing as the lead cellist in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra. A former classical musician, Venables left the prestigious world of orchestra to join the indie-music scene. “Being a classical musician means being a vessel for someone else’s idea,” explains Venables. “But when you perform your own songs, you have to make everything up, and that’s very liberating.” Admittedly, it took some time for Venables to work out how to manipulate what she had been taught classically into an accessible pop aesthetic. “Articulating something can sometimes take a very long time,” she explains. “I don’t really buy into the ‘inspiration’ thing; it’s really just about spending a lot of time in your room obsessing over everything.”

Performing as Jessica Says, Venables has shared the stage with Whitley, Patrick Wolf and Slow Club, and has undertaken an Australian East Coast tour in support of Paul Dempsey. Venables will be in America this June as a member of Australian Sally Seltmann’s band before returning to Australia to record her forthcoming album, Heart That’s Pounding.

– Lieu Thi Pham

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