10 Questions with ... Jessie James Decker
October 2, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Big Yellow Dog/New Revolution artist Jessie James Decker isn't new to the Country music scene. Since her first radio tour, James has married NFL wide receiver Eric Decker; given birth to Vivianne and Eric, Jr.; launched her own fashion line, "Kittenish;" starred in a reality television series with her husband; co-created the "Eric And Jessie Decker Foundation;" and, recently, released a single, "Lights Down Low." Decker, who is in the studio working on a full-length album, sat down with All Access to discuss her influences growing up, the current landscape of Country music and where she thinks she fits, and how she aspires to inspire girls.
1. Thank you for coming in to speak with us today, Jessie! We know you've been out on radio tour and have a single out, "Lights Down Low." Can you tell us about the single? And is this part of a larger project - an album, or an EP?
I wrote this single just about my relationship. I wanted to write something I felt like people could relate to. I'm married, I've got two kids, and not everyone can go out on glamorous wine-and-dine dates all the time. It's not realistic for us. Just to be able to go on a date, it's this whole babysitting process. I wanted to write something about how we make a date at home. You just make it a fun night. After the kids go to sleep, we really will have our own date night. We'll take a bath together, we'll watch a movie, and we'll pop popcorn together. That was the idea around the song. Something other couples can relate to. Yes, I am working on a record! I actually feel like it's done, in my opinion. I feel like we have all the songs that we need. But we just keep recording more and more, just to make sure that there's nothing else that we've left out. Yesterday we recorded a couple - actually "Stolen Car" is one of them. I didn't realize that Chris Lane had already cut that. It's just a random song he had up, but he didn't do anything with it. It's a really cool song. Our take is totally different. I've recorded a song called, "Gold," which [Alyssa Bonagura] actually wrote. It's good. We've recorded some great songs, and I've written a lot on this record. I'm so excited. I feel like people are going to love it.
2. Taking it all the way back to your childhood, you were a "military brat," correct? You moved 14 times as a child - was that due to your father's military service? And as you were growing up in that changing environment, do you think moving around that frequently helped you or hurt you in the long term?
As a child, [moving was] partially military, and then partially [because] my mom was in television. She did a few things - she was on QVC for a while, she hosted a show in Orlando on the Home Shopping Network, which was called "America's Home Network" or something. They don't have it anymore, but it was a huge network for home shopping. She did a show on PBS called "Televentures," a national kids show. She has just done a bunch of TV stuff, so we would move around a lot for those gigs. I remember going on to the set with her and watching her in front of the lights. It definitely inspired me, and I feel like it helped make me good at being in front of the camera. I watched her, and she was so comfortable. That's what she got her degree in - broadcasting and communications. She just knew what to do, so it really did inspire me to be as good as she was. There were times I didn't love [moving], because I left so many people behind. It affected me as an adult. I'm still working on it now. I got so good at leaving people behind, I never stayed in touch with anybody. So as an adult, my husband helped me with this - he stayed in one town his whole life with 2,000 people. I'm so good at letting go, so meeting someone that maybe I had a good conversation with and could have created this amazing friendship - I was good at shutting it off, because I was forced to do that so many times. It made me really tough, but it made me unable to foster relationships properly. As I became an adult, if I had these friendships, it was because they were being the initiator. The positive from it is, yes, I'm very adaptable. It's very hard to get me uncomfortable in any situation. I can go from middle of Montana to London. I was born in Italy; I can adapt well in every situation and find a comfort. It's good education. I learned a lot about different people, and it inspired me musically. I think because I was forced to kind of be on my own, it made me very close to my siblings. We are best friends, and it also created a platform for me just to write music, because I felt alone a lot. I would just write music.
3. You are a mom now, of two-year-old Vivianne and one-year-old Eric. However, you're also very busy with multiple aspects of your career. How is the balance working? Has motherhood had an effect on the time you've been able to devote to writing music?
I'm not going to lie, it's a struggle - daily - trying to find the balance. Because I am a good mom, and I care so much, and I'm extremely hands-on. I have such a hard time handing my kids off to someone to take care of them when I'm doing my stuff. I'm overextending myself and getting sick, because I don't have nannies. I don't feel comfortable, and everyone is pushing me to do it. I just love being hands-on, and if that means I'm running on three hours of sleep, then I'm running on three hours of sleep. I want to get up and take my kids to school; I want to pick them up from school. I want to be involved - I want to do everything. But on top of that, I love my job. I think I'm a great mom, because I love my job, and I'm able to do my job. It's a very difficult thing to balance. I'm still working on it. It hasn't affected the writing. If anything, I feel like it has influenced me to be hungrier. My time is so limited, I feel like I have even better material now. My kids inspire me, and I'm happy. I feel like because I'm so happy in my personal life, I'm so inspired to write music. I think whenever I was more lost in my younger days, I was always trying to write songs about being a strong woman - because I wanted to be that way, and I wasn't. I think now I am a strong woman, so it makes it so much more honest - the material I'm writing. I was always trying to write these tough girl songs, and I was the weakest of them all. But every girl goes through that.
4. As you launch the single and get into this radio thing, what is your awareness or perception of where Country music is right now? What is the landscape in front of you?
I feel like we are always in transition. I feel like obviously it ages me to say this - I really loved Country in the '90s. That's what made me fall in love with [the genre]. When Shania [Twain] was out, when Faith [Hill] was out, Martina [McBride], LeAnn Rimes, Garth [Brooks], and George [Strait] - that was the sweet spot for me. Now I'm older, and the people that are the age that I was are loving Country music now, I'm wondering how they feel about it. What do they think? Because for me, I'm longing for that. We do have some really great artists that are coming out, but I feel like we're in transition. The people that were the newbies are now becoming the veterans in Country music. Jason Aldean now is transitioning into a veteran; Carrie Underwood is now a veteran. She's a Queen - she's not the new princess of Country. We have a new wave of these people that are going to be the faces of it now, and I don't know if we have all those pieces yet. I hope we do. Because no matter what happens - this isn't just speaking on me - I love Country. I will always be a Country music fan. But I really feel like we're lacking some spots. I'm excited about Kelsea [Ballerini]; I'm excited about Chris Lane. I love Old Dominion. I love Brothers Osborne. But it's like, where are the faces? Who are the people that are going to pop up on these award shows, like this is the face right now!
5. One of the missing pieces is a strong presence from female artists. You mentioned Kelsea and Carrie, but we as a format have had trouble breaking and establishing new young female artists. Now you're jumping into the game and into a challenging situation for female artists. How do you feel like you can break through?
Not to take away from what you said, but I don't feel like it's challenging. I don't feel like there's a lot of female competition right now. I don't see anybody that's a concern. I feel like there's plenty of room for females. I feel like there's space for me. I feel like there's a big space for me. There is no one like me at all! No one even comes close to what I'm bringing to the table; I'm bringing something different. I'm not saying that it's better, or that it's worse. It's just different.
6. We've talked to a lot of new aspiring female artists, and we ask, "What's it going to take?" and they say, "It's going to take someone unique, and they have to have something special..." and I think it's great that you say no one can do what I do. Assuming that position is a great mental place to start! I think there's something about having that younger fan base... You have the opportunity to bring them into the format and make them lifelong fans of the format, and when artists can do that, that's a great contribution to the format. Taylor Swift did that, but she is a Pop star now.
I definitely feel like there's space for that with me. I hate to try to compare myself to anybody, but that's how I felt about Shania growing up. I felt like she cared about her girl fans; like she was so cool! And that she spoke to me, and she made me want to be this strong confident girl! And there's no one like that right now. I don't feel like there's that woman in Country music that is like, "I am here for you. I am your girl. We're going to be confident and independent together, and I am going to inspire you." I don't feel like that's there. [Taylor] was that person. She was that persona, and she's gone now. That's missing. I don't plan on leaving this format; this is where I want to stay. I scream Country music. My whole life does. It wouldn't be authentic if I went over to the Pop world. I've been asked before, because I can sing the songs, but it doesn't match my life. It's not how I live. I feel like this is my home, and I know it's going to work out. I know there's a place for me. I have to go about it a little bit of a different way. There are some preconceived notions about me, and I get it. But I have no problem kind of knocking those walls down. Women are insecure, and they just assume there's going to be a competition or a jealousy. It was really hard, but once they got to know me, they realized that's not the case. I want to be your friend, and I want us to hang out, and I want us to sing music together, and I want us to inspire each other.
7. What has your radio tour been like this time around?
It's like my third or fourth radio tour now. It's a little easier this time because I know the process, and honestly like 90% of the people I'm meeting I've already met before. People that are in radio kind of stay in radio. They just kind of swap places. I've run into so many people I already knew. It's like running in to old friends in a way. I'm not having to explain myself or who I am, because they already know, because we've already met. It's just kind of cool! It's better this time because I know what to expect!
8. You've said before Country was always there for you and it was kind of the go to. With your mom in television, how did music come into it? What brought you to music? You and Eric did television with your reality show, "Eric & Jessie: Game On." Did your mother's career experiences help you when you were doing the show or make you more hands-on behind the scenes?
Music was always a thing. It wasn't like anyone introduced me to it. I just was born singing. I just did it. I don't know why or where it came from. My parents weren't musicians. I just did it, [because] I loved it. I think with my mom being in television - that was kind of the entertainment factor. I think it made me a good entertainer. You can be a really great musician or singer, but if you don't have the entertainment factor, that can hurt you. Then there are some people that are incredible entertainers and mediocre artists, but it works, and that's important. I just felt like I was a great singer-songwriter, but watching my mom in that scene - I felt like I knew how to be in front of the camera and entertain and keep people interested. When the lights turn on and the camera rolls, you've got to be on. I felt like she really helped me a lot. It's an art in itself; it's exhausting. People don't realize how tiring it is. I was very hands on behind the scenes. As far as it helping, it definitely did. The great thing about reality is that there's such a difference between reality and hosting a show. Hosting, you have to be a little bit more polished and articulate and be able to relay the information properly for people to get what they need. In reality, I think the most successful personalities are the most authentic and genuine, because people aren't stupid. They can read right through. For me and my show, I wanted to make sure it was as honest and real as possible. If anything was forced, I said, "No, we're not doing that." So that was really important to me. The whole reason why I did the show is because I wanted people to get to know me. I thought it would help my music career. Before my show, the thing that my labels always struggled with was my fans. Females did not like me. We had such a difficult time with the female demographic. Girls wouldn't buy my stuff. The only fans I had were guys in jail. It was really a struggle, and it was so hard for me, being someone who's a military brat and never had girlfriends growing up - it killed me. So I knew that in doing this show, if girls could just get to know me, they'd like me. And ever since I did the show, 98% of the people that show up at my concerts are all female. It's all girls. And they're little girls. It's awesome. All I wanted was to be a role model for little girls - to be a good example and to be someone that moms can bring their little girls around. It's just so important to me, because I have a little girl now - I'm tearing up - it's so important. I feel like there's no one in the female scene to just be a role model to just inspired and teach a good lesson.
9. You can see that familiarity during your radio tour performances. It seems that not only are the programmers familiar with you, but you've developed a great fan base. Even yesterday at WSIX (The Big 98)/Nashville, these girls came in dressed head to toe, doing their best Jessie James Decker.
It's so weird to feel like a character! They come dressed like me. It's so cute. I didn't realize I have "a thing," but apparently I do. It makes me feel really good, but then the other part of it makes me feel like I can't let them down. I need to make sure that I always do the right thing. I don't want to ever disappoint them. It makes me feel like, if they're putting in that much effort to look like me and dress like me, that has given me a bigger job than I know. They're inspired so much by me to do that. I don't want to let them down. I just always hope I do the right thing and what is expected of me, within reason.
10. You're very active on social media, and you're often promoting your clothing line, Kittenish. What made you want to launch a clothing line in the middle of everything else you're busy with? Are you designing the line, or just overseeing it? And as it has taken off, did you ever consider staying off the road and focusing solely on the fashion side of your business instead of pursuing music?
I've always loved designing, and I love clothes. It's just another way to express yourself creatively, and another way I feel like it builds confidence in women. I am all about the girls! And I'm all about building confidence in girls and having their self-esteem - it should be so much higher than it is! Girls are so hard on themselves. We're always feeling like we need to live up to other girls and comparing ourselves to women online. I just hate it. I wanted to create a line that would build confidence and make girls feel good about themselves. We have every single size in the book, from extra small to triple-XL; we have every size for every body. That way, everyone can feel comfortable and sexy in these clothes. I make them comfortable, I make them flattering, and I make them festive for Christmas or anything coming up. The prices are reasonable, and the quality is great, and we are going into our third year! We are quadrupling our stock now, because the sales have been insane. So I know that it's working, and girls like the stuff. That's just another way I feel like I'm helping girls. I design everything. I have a design team at my home; they all come and sit there, and we go through every collection. I do feel like I'd be missing [music] and wanting to [tour]. All the other things come secondary and third to me - clothes, and all the other stuff. I really enjoy those things, but I'm able to enjoy them, because I get to do this. The music is my whole life. I feel like I'd die if I couldn't do music. Even if this single didn't work out - which it's going to - but even if it didn't, I'm always going to make music. I'm signed to a publishing company here. I'm always going to tour. This is my whole life. I'd be sad if I couldn't, and I wouldn't be a good mom or good wife, because I'd always feel like something was missing.
You and your husband formed the "Eric & Jessie Decker Foundation" - and within that, "Decker's Dogs" - to help veterans and US military service members. Can you tell us about that organization?
We started this over three years ago. We really wanted to have a foundation together, but we couldn't figure out what our passion was that we could agree on. We loved animals - big dog lovers - but, because I'm a military brat, military was so important to me. I remember [Eric] and I were at an event, and the foundation that the event was going towards was called "Freedom Service Dogs." We fell madly in love with it and decided to have our own. What we do is we rescue dogs that are in kill shelters, and we train them and send them home with veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I absolutely love it, because I'm so into our military. I've been overseas with Kid Rock before and performed for our troops, and I've bene in Okinawa performing for the military out there. As a daughter of a Colonel in the Air Force, I've been around it my whole life. I just have such a respect for it, for these guys to go out there overseas and to come back, and they're just handed a bottle of pills to try to take care of their issues. It's just disturbing to me. These dogs are able to be trained for their specific needs. This one guy in particular, he was really afraid to go into his house at night. He would just stay out and sleep on the sidewalk, because he was so scared. His job [in the military] would be to go into buildings that would just get ambushed, and so he had a lot of paranoia regarding it. They trained the dog to be able to open the door, go in, and turn every single light on in the house so he would not be scared. These dogs are able to sense when you're stressed or having anxiety. One man was having a moment - he grabbed a gun and was ready to kill himself - and his dog sensed it, walked right over to him, put his paw on his shoulder, and looked him dead in the eyes. And he dropped the gun. These dogs are incredible. What I love about the foundation is it costs $15,000 to train them, but you know exactly where your money is going. You're not putting your money into a foundation, and you have no idea where it's going. It's very specific. We're on our eighth dog, so we're really excited. And you're saving a dog! That's what's great about it.