Five Questions With Jess Knights

Calgary soul-roots singer-songwriter Jess Knights will release her debut full-length album, Best Kind of Light, on June 19. The album weaves together Knights’ influences in blues, roots, and revivalist soul, and features an array of songsmiths and sidemen, including award-winning producer Joshua Van Tassel, Donovan Woods, Joey Landreth, R. Grunwald, and others.

Ahead of the release, Canadian Beats caught up with Knights for our Five Questions With segment. Listen to a few tracks from the album below and don’t miss Knights as she takes over our Facebook page for a special Livestream performance tonight at 7 pm ET/ 5 pm MT.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m Jess Knights, a singer-songwriter from Calgary. I’m a classically trained vocalist, but I found my sound singing the blues in dive bars around town. I released an EP, Wont Wait, in 2018 that took me about 10 years to make. It leaned a little more on the blues and pop side of things, though the album I’m about to release is rooted in retro soul. Sharon Jones, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke—that’s the music that I love the most, so you can definitely hear that reflected.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

The blues have always informed my sound, but I think more than anything the feeling is what truly directs my writing style. Sometimes that starts with chords and a melody, and sometimes it starts with words. Either way, I’ve got to feel it to write it. I think that’s why my songs touch on so many genres. When I write, I’m not trying to achieve a calculated style. I’m driven to write because a few chords made me feel something or because I have words swirling around my head that need to hit the page. I do tend to write from a very personal place, even though I’ll deny it if you ask me. My new album, Best Kind of Light, feels like somewhat of an autobiography from the last five years.

Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?

Sadly, the current global health crisis has wiped my touring schedule this spring and summer. In the spirit of perseverance, I will be doing a full band Livestream on June 20, 2020, in celebration of Best Kind of Light.

I think not being able to share music in a room with people is the thing I miss most right now. Live music is an incredible exchange between player and listener, and I never lose sight that the people in the room make it possible for me to do what I do. My shows often have a lot of crowd engagement mixed with humour and a light-hearted spirit. It’s important to me that my shows create an inclusive, loving, and care-free environment. I want to enjoy the moment and I want the crowd to, as well. 

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

I think “Baby, Won’t You Stay” shows how I’ve grown as an artist and my vocal range, which I’ve worked hard to develop. The song has a blues form while also capturing the sort of throwback soul I wanted to permeate the album—and it’s fun! People should have more fun.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

Canada is home to so much good music and talent. It’s hard to pick favourites. I would have to say Robbie Robertson is at the top of the list though. The songs he wrote for The Band remain some of the most interesting and iconic I’ve ever heard.

Lately, I’m loving the sweet sounds of Winnipeg’s Begonia. She has such an incredible feel to her vocals and her songwriting really speaks to me.

Donovan Woods would be up there, too. He’s such an earnest songwriter. It was a privilege to co-write with him on the title track for the album, “Best Kind of Light.” He knows how to trim the fat of a song and get to the point, while still capturing all of the feeling.

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