Jessta James may not be from the South, but the Montana native surely knows what country is. “Out here it’s about the cowboy way, ranching and rodeos,” country’s innovative new up and comer says.
With the release of his album, Time To Get Right, the rest of America will soon know how Jessta’s unique blend of country, rock and hip hop honors his country roots while advancing the genre to places just recently discovered.
“I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember,” Jessta, whose name is a play on the word “jester” aka an entertainer, admits. “Some of my earliest influences were from my parents. My dad listened to a lot of outlaw country—Willie, Waylon, Hank Jr. and Johnny Cash— when I was growing up, as well as classic country, rock and Southern rock.”
A late bloomer artistically, Jessta didn’t write his first song until he was 24 years old, but the bug quickly bit him and he was hooked. “I wrote probably 150 songs over a year and a half,” the former construction worker says. “If I had an idea while I was at work, I’d write it on a two by four or a piece of cardboard I’d ripped from a box of nails.”
While still working his day job, Jessta began performing around Montana, doing both his own shows and opening for national acts, all the while building a devoted following.
With the support of his then-girlfriend and now wife, Chandra, Jessta headed to the West Coast hoping to hone and find a home for his music. While he connected with both fans and the industry, Jessta didn’t believe his vision was being fulfilled.
There were other forces at work as well.
After a brief foray into the California music scene Jessta found his country connection in Atlanta-based songwriter and producer Dan Hannon. The two men immediately hit it off and the collaboration began. Together they wrote the song “If That Ain’t Country” and demoed it. “As soon as I heard it I said, ‘That’s the sound I’ve been looking for,’” Jessta recalls. “I found that sweet spot and it just clicked.”
Even though Jessta is country through and through, it wasn’t until he discovered artists such as Eric Church, Big & Rich and Brantley Gilbert, among others, that he realized his unique blend of country rock infused with hip hop, wild west and classic rock could find mainstream success. After all, today’s iPod generation of country fans are just as comfortable listening to Jason Aldean as Ludacris and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “They’ve paved the way for my music,” says Jessta. The realization further validated the work he was doing with Dan.
The pair continued writing songs and then took what they had to Nashville to record with Music City’s top musicians, including some that had played with Jessta’s heroes Hank Williams Jr. and Garth Brooks, among others.
The result is a collection of music that embodies Jessta’s genre-bending blend of country, rock and hip-hop with his Wild West upbringing.
The best country music comes from the heart and Jessta’s music is no different. The album’s title cut, “Time To Get Right,” was born out of the loss of his older brother, Matt, to a prescription drug addiction in 2006. “We were best friends,” says Jessta. “We were only 20 months apart.”
Jessta hopes the song will help others deal with the issue of addiction. “This song gives me the opportunity to tell Matt all the things I didn’t get to tell him,” Jessta says. “It’s a really powerful song for me, but I’ve found that when people hear the song they relate to it. Everybody at some level has dealt with addiction, whether it’s a family member or a friend or an acquaintance.”
Front and center in Jessta’s life is his Christianity, which is evident on his album. There are many references to his spirituality—both overt and subtle. “I always want my music to make an impact and share a message,” Jessta says. “I’ve always just done what God has put in my heart as far as writing songs. What I’ve found is that it’s reaching people no matter what their faith is. It’s not coming across to people as preachy, it’s coming across as real.”
“My faith and my family are the most important things with me,” he adds.
Fittingly, “Better Man” is a song that Jessta wrote about his relationship with his father as well as the relationship he’ll have with his own children as they grow up. “It’s about the values I want to instill in them,” he says.
He calls songs such as “Better Man” and “Time To Get Right,” “a window into my soul, who I am as a person.”
“If That Ain’t Country Song,” explains just who Jessta is. “It tells my story. Everyone told me ‘you can’t do that’,” he says of his vision to blend genres, “but it actually pushed me more. I don’t have to do what everyone else says.”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Angel’,” which features country up-and-comer Dana King, is a tribute to Jessta’s wife and her dedication to his career. “A lot of people don’t think about the people at home who make this happen,” he says.
With a groundbreaking new album in his back pocket, Jessta is ready to share his music with the masses in a big way. “The live show is where the rubber meets the road,” says Jessta. “It’s where I connect with my fans. I want them to say, ‘that was worth going to see. I’m going to tell everyone I can about it.'"
“I’ve been given a gift to relate to a lot of people from a wide variety of backgrounds,” Jessta concludes. “I’m making music for everybody. Whether you’re 4-years-old or 84- years-old, you’re gonna love the music."