Country music really is a powerful thing. It unites fans, and it brings bands together too. Jess and the Bandits are the living proof.
Frontwoman Jessica Clemmons, the singer-songwriter from Houston, Texas with the big voice and the warm personality, bonded with the four Brits who make up the Bandits over their mutual love of the music. They’ve turned that shared affection into some of the most accessible country-pop-rock of the last few years
Jessica is the sort of engaging and effusive performer that wins a truckload of new admirers at every performance, not to mention on every recording, hence the response she’s had all over the place in her second home on this side of the Atlantic.
The last couple of years have been a whirlwind of successes, with playlist support from BBC Radio Two for a number of their singles, and a wealth of press and TV exposure. Their performance of ‘Wichita Lineman’ on the late Terry Wogan’s Sunday morning show sent social media into a frenzy, with fans demanding the cover appear on their debut album. It did… and matched with twelve equally impressive originals, the album soared to number 3 in the UK Country Chart.
2015 saw the band appear on ITV’s Lorraine, Aled Jones’ Weekend, Channel Five’s The Wright Stuff and Sky’s Sunrise show. They signed an endorsement deal with high-street retailers ‘Evans’ and ‘Burtons’ and debuted their feel-good single ‘Nitty Gritty’ in The Independent. Standout performances included The Isle of White Festival, Country to Country and Cornbury, as well as a long-time ambition met… to play Bob Harris’ ‘Under The Apple Tree’ sessions, which they have now done three times.
Having spent the start of 2016 writing with some of Nashville’s finest, the band released a deluxe version of their album ‘Here We Go Again’ in March, with further support from BBC Radio 2, and an appearance with Fern Britton for a special edition of Good Morning Britain, during ‘Faith and Beauty in the World Week’. They also performed twice for the BBC’s Songs of Praise television show, the second installment featuring an extremely personal interview from Jess about her career and her faith. The band wrapped up their 2016 autumn/winter tour dates with an appearance on Gaby Roslin’s Christmas Extravaganza, live on air from The Jazz Café, London.
In the wake of such success, and on returning to the US, Jessica headed back to Nashville to write and record more music. There she collaborated with some of Nashville’s most in-demand songwriters and producers and forged what she believed would be the band’s strongest record yet. However, in the lead up to the album’s release in September 2017 Jessica’s hometown of Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey, and her family’s home was badly damaged. Distraught and a long way from home, Jessica postponed her album launch and 14 date UK tour and headed back to Texas to help rebuild. Though it was a difficult few months, 2017 ended on a high note for the fiery Texan, when she wed her true love, after a whirlwind romance, in a beautifully intimate ceremony near her family home.
Her sophomore album, Smoke & Mirrors also debuted at #1 in the UK Country Music Chart, whilst single Sister, with its anthemic battle-cry, was added to the BBC Radio 2 Playlist.
2018 saw Jess and the Bandits sell out their 10 date UK headlining tour, along with a summer full of festival performances up and down the country. The recent single ‘White Lies’ has just surpassed 250,000 streams on Spotify, and has also received heavy rotation on Napster.
2019 sees the band take a temporary break, with Jess’ first baby due at the beginning of April. They are back on the road in October, with tour and festival dates to be announced soon.
JESS & THE BANDITS
Country music really is a powerful thing. It unites fans, and it brings bands together too. Jess and the Bandits are the living proof. Frontwoman Jessica Clemmons, the singer-songwriter from Houston, Texas with the big voice and the warm personality, bonded with the four Brits who make up the Bandits over their mutual love of the music. Now they’re turning that shared affection into some of the most accessible country-pop-rock of the year.
Jessica is the sort of engaging and effusive performer that wins a truckload of new admirers at every performance, not to mention on every recording, hence the response she’s had all over the place in her second home on this side of the Atlantic. It happens every time, from the stage of the Country 2 Country Festival at London’s 02 Arena in March, to the support she’s won from BBC Radio 2.
Now, at the helm of the five-piece band, she’s ready to take things up another gear. To lift a phrase from Jess and the Bandits’ feelgood single ‘My Name Is Trouble,’ this country girl can rock your world, but she can take it slow, too. “We got a little of that country-rock feel, and then we’ve got those really pretty country ballad sort of songs,” says Jessica. “I spent ten days in Nashville hoping to write enough songs, and left with more than I could put on the record. I’m really excited about it.” The track is the lead single from the much-anticipated album ‘Here We Go Again,’ which came to life during Clemmons’ brilliantly creative flash of writing and recording collaborations in Nashville. At the helm of a slick and stylish band, Jessica is taking her distinctive style of country music to another country.
Clemmons made a great impression with her earlier, pop-inflected recordings. But since she made the leap of faith and gave her music the country flavour that had always been there in her upbringing, the upswing of interest in the country sound and style in the UK means that she’s almost becoming an honorary Brit.
Jessica graced the Radio 2 playlist earlier this year with ‘Single Tonight’, had further airplay with ‘Love Like That,’ and sent social media into a spin when she performed her showstopping female take on ‘Wichita Lineman’ on Terry Wogan’s Sunday morning show. All of those tracks are on the new album with the Bandits. With the band, she wowed arena audiences on Boyzone’s BZ20 tour, just as she had on earlier outings with the Overtones and the Stylistics.
It was during that tour with the Overtones that the fateful meeting with the future Bandits took place. The group features brothers Louis (guitar) and Ricci (drums) Riccardi, who’d been playing classic country covers, especially those of their hero Johnny Cash, all over the UK, even in their teens. They continued their musical education in the US, studying with some of the industry’s finest. When they got home, they became a powerful writing and production team, joining forces with kindred spirits Dave Troke, on bass, and singer/writer/keyboard player Steve Reid Williams.
During that tour, Jess and the quartet of musicians realised that their shared spirit was too good to waste. They began to play at gigs and festivals all over the UK, and with their flawless chemistry, the next step was to make it official. Jessica, Ricci, Louis, Dave and Steve became Jess and the Bandits.
On her Nashville sojourn that has produced the new album, Jessica worked with some of Music City’s elite. Producer and co-composer Jeff Cohen has a catalogue of hits and BMI Awards, for the Band Perry’s ‘Postcards From Paris,’ Evan & Jaron’s ‘Crazy For This Girl’ and Big & Rich’s ‘Holy Water,’ in a songbook that’s also attracted the likes of Sugarland, Josh Groban and others, with chart appearances from Australia to Holland and South Africa to Germany.
Arranger Larry Beaird, who recorded Jessica’s album at his Beaird Music Group studio, has produced Dolly Parton and played guitar, mandolin and banjo for Nashville royalty from Brooks & Dunn to Faith Hill. Among Clemmons’ other co-writers, Australian-born Sherrié Austin had a run of country chart singles of her own in the late 1990s, including the major hit ‘Never Been Kissed.’
James T. Slater’s compositions have been recorded far and wide, Martina McBride turning his ‘My Daughter’s Eyes’ into a modern-day country staple and double BMI Award winner. Brian White has 300 cuts and countless covers to his credit, including one on the new Rascal Flatts album, and Victoria Banks is one of Canada’s most popular, and most awarded, country singer-songwriters.
What shines through is the soulful edge to this modern country, and a passionate imprint rarely heard in country since Wynonna Judd’s heyday. “I guess that’s something you don’t hear a lot,” she says. “Wynonna has a lot of soul in her voice, and I can’t think of a lot of artists right now where that’s part of their sound. Country-soul tends to follow me wherever I go, because it’s so natural to me.”
Jessica’s influences unite two generations. “My dad loved Motown and a lot of soul, so I grew up with that,” she says. “But I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, listening to real vintage country, like Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. So that must be where those two connect. I think my first CD was by Brooks & Dunn, now I think about it. After that it was Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood. It’s all starting to make sense now!” Clemmons started her recording adventure in 2008, and savoured the creative learning curve of her first album ‘Permanent,’ released the following year. “That’s when I discovered my love for writing,” she remembers. “I didn’t know I knew how to write until that experience, and it’s gone on from then. I started to learn about who I wanted to be as an artist.”
She started her transatlantic visits in those days too, continuing to build her fan base with the second album ‘Loving This Day,’ released in summer 2012. Last autumn, she made that trek to Nashville, made all the sweeter for the homecoming now that she and the band had landed the Boyzone tour.
“When we did that tour,” she says, “I would go and sign things after the show. The queue was so long, and most people were saying ‘I didn’t even realise I liked country music.’ I’m thinking ‘Well, I’m easing you into it.’ I found writing country songs difficult in the beginning, then really easy, because I was able to just tell a story and put it to music.”
“I thought ‘This is fantastic. This is what I want to do.’ I’m a storyteller in my writing, and with country you can just say it and put it out there.”
That’s exactly what Jess and the Bandits are doing. The results are both countrified and soulful, and Jessica is loving it as much as the audiences are. “This direction feels so natural,” she says. “I guess it’s the Texas in me.”