Equal parts sexy New York swagger and doe-eyed, down home Americana, Sicilian songwriter Jessie Torrisi is determined to carve out her own unique niche in an indie scene crowded by singers searching for their spotlight. What Torrisi’s debut album, Bruler Bruler does differently, however, is ride than thin, dividing line between quirk and confidence…all the while ushering in Torrisi as a name to watch in 2010.
“I’m happy with the record,” says Torrisi. “I had very low expectations, or rather no expectations going into it... I'd never been at the helm of making a record, and hey it sounds like a real record, one I imagine I'd like if it was some other girl singing. But I don't sit around listening to it. That helps me hold on to the rosy glow.”
The raven-haired songstress continues, “I’m definitely a perfectionist, too. It's part of the curse of being a Capricorn, a first child, and an only child for the first 10 years of my life -- all that thinking. Right now, I'm busy agonizing and obsessing over new songs I'm writing and how to make the live show totally unique & undeniable. Why obsess about the past when you can obsess about the future?”
Said live show has been receiving quite the response in terms of the singer’s energetic approach to the craft. “Well I like company,” says Jessie, “so my band The Please, Please Me is an ever-growing circus with cello, trombone, drums, bass, guitar and lots of switching instruments. I'm originally a drummer, so there's at least one song where we all swap and I drum, sing 'n play harmonica. I'm starting to do a lot more of that...sometimes just singing and pounding the bass drum and shaking a tambourine There's one tune where I can actually play the acoustic guitar and the drums at the same time…but not in schlocky boardwalk one-man-band fashion! I keep waiting for some critic to call me the female Levon Helm!”
She continues, grinning, “Other things that make my show mine: Having a trombone. It's like lighting a fire onstage. I sometimes duel with my trombonist -- him on horn, me on kazoo. Obviously, he always wins. My new guitarist/plays a bit of everything guy is like a Mexican Elvis. He can't not swivel his hips. We never know whether my cellist is going to show up as a blond or brunette; her dream is to open a wig shop. My drummer's bad-ass. My bassist is a wisecracker. The whole band has personality. I wouldn't want it any other way.”
Torrisi also wants to involve her audience with the show as much as possible…reeeeal up close and personal-like.
“We always close out the show... should I give away the ending?... by dragging the audience (as many as fit) onstage to be our kazoo chorus. The stunts are fun.... they're about bringing the audience into our playground. My show is inspired by the looseness and wild streak of New Orleans. What's the point of being a rock star? To do fun, outrageous, playful, childish things. Things no grown-up in their right minds remembers to do once life gets serious. I try to do that onstage, but I take writing songs very seriously. I don't believe in whipping up energy for its own sake. The substance comes from the melody, lyrics and soul of the song…which I slave over. Then ask myself, how can I unleash that, push it to an extreme acoustic guitar alone never could?”
Torrisi’s music has an old soul. There’s an appealing warmness on Bruler Bruler which should win over the minds (and hearts) of most who grace it with a listen, echoing Jessie’s varied influences all the way home.
The singer agrees. “I am a bit of an old soul. It's the old souls that inspired me, were my musical foundation... especially the jazz greats from Louis and Miles to Billie and Ella. I was a jazz drummer way before I even dreamed of singing or writing songs. Then when I was living in New Orleans, I fell in love with Motown. Frankly, I've always been over the moon for black popular music…but especially Otis Redding. It’s surprised me how much people call my music country or Americana. While I love me some Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams, I think their style has run its course with me. There might be a lot less country twang in my singing next record.”
“As for the message and the feeling,” she adds, “…it'll probably still be old soul. Passion and the urge to chase it never really goes out of style. In moments of doubt, I try to remind myself that uniqueness trumps everything... I've always come from a lot of places -- musically, spiritually, intellectually, in every way. Everything you dig finds its way in eventually. Something I'm obsessively listening to now will get turned out in the washing machine and emerge in one my songs -- hopefully as only I can do it -- in a year or two. Overall, I just try to be myself as bombastically as possible.”
Jessie adds, “I've done a bit of stewing about wanting to be in a more ‘right now’ ‘the thing’ style recently. I would kill to be Lily Allen or Thao Nguyen or Yael Naim or Feist -- any of the hip hoppy, anti-folk, simple songs with boppy melodies and horns artists. But these women are so great because they invented that thing they do. That's how I want to be. I guess I don't believe in the shortcut. I'd just f*ck it up if I tried.”