Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a singer-songwriter-ukuleleist, ENFP, Enneagram 2, Catholic feminist that loves astronomy, mermaids, painting, and deep conversations. I grew up in Santa Monica, California and attended college in Portland, Oregon at Reed College where I majored in Psychology. I am fascinated by what motivates behavior and how understanding lends itself to how we see our own experiences and how we relate to one another. That heavily influences my songwriting. Along with my spirituality, romantic relationships, and questions about timing and purpose.
How important was The Virginia Avenue Project, a program that brings kids together with professional artists to create theater, to your growth into an artist?
Integral. VAP was a community. It taught us to be collaborative and cooperative, rather than competitive with the arts. It gave me the confidence to perform and even to fail in front of an audience, and keep getting back up and doing it again, for the love of the arts. It opened my mind and encouraged creativity. I still have relationships with many of the mentors from that program, as well as my peers. I absolutely owe a tremendous amount of who I am today to my involvement with the Project and its founder, Leigh Curran.
Your Catholic Christian faith began to grow and influence your identity and songwriting during your time at Reed College and you felt a calling to pursue music. If you had not had that experience, do you think you would have made a career in music?
My life plan was to major in Psychology, then go to grad school and become a therapist. It was a pretty safe career choice that helps a lot of people and provides a comfortable living. And then I read Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist. Following that, I had a spiritual experience where something inside me insisted very strongly that I pursue music. It didn’t predict anything or give many specifics, but it was this deep invitation to trust and to observe how playing and creating makes me feel and how it impacts those around me. I had to lean into it, I was irresistibly drawn. I would say that “something inside me” was God’s voice. And the more I leaned into trust and creativity, the more it has continued to lead me in my music career. That deepening of my spirituality and relationship with the Divine also has become the content for much of my songwriting and continues to serve as a muse. There are so many people I would never have met, opportunities to perform that I would never have experienced had I not been willing to say “yes” to that small whisper within me.
How would you describe your musical style?
Singer-songwriter with folk and soul influences, plus some eclectic instrumentation.
You recorded a cover of Emmylou Harris’s “Little Bird” under the name Feronia. What led you to retire that moniker and going under your real name?
I had some reservations about actually putting myself out there as an artist. I felt like going under another name would help me to be one step removed from the self-promotion of it all. But the truth is, my songs are about ME. I’m not really some alter ego when I perform, I’m just me on a stage, sharing stories and experiences from my life, vulnerably and musically. So it really made sense to me to just go under my good ol’ name. Also, practically speaking, a techno duo from Istanbul and a metal band from Turino started releasing music under the name Feronia too and every time they released a new song I had to tell Spotify and Amazon, etc that it wasn’t my music. It was a drag. So that influenced the decision as well.
Your latest single is called “Be My Hands”. What can you tell us about this song and the video behind it?
“Be My Hands” is the title track off of a forthcoming EP that arcs my experience of growing in how to love more authentically and deeply. The song “Be My Hands” is sort of the middle of that arc, where I feel trepidation with regards to being vulnerable at the onset of a budding romance, while simultaneously feeling driven to be real and honest with a person that I’m attracted to. It’s a struggle to admit when you’ve “caught feels” so to speak. But also, I often don’t trust my own feelings. So the song is me crying out to be able to see, touch, speak to, and love the other as best as I can, whatever that’s supposed to look like. My friend and producer Patrick Doyle helped craft the feel and instrumentation of the song. We borrowed a sample from Josh Garrels’ “Leviathan”, and mixed up the time signature and threw in some trumpet and keys to brighten up the refrain from the more moody verses.
The video was a collaboration with the creative minds of Nan Siribunlue and Beau McCombs (RocketFunk Productions). I met them at a screening of another project they did with Peter M. Stewart. I was taken by their storytelling and film making skills and sent them my song. They wanted to create a visual abstract piece that portrays a movement from dark to light, from broken to unbroken, from coolness to warmth. The focus on hands, mirrors, eyes, glass, etc all illustrate the themes in the song. I was also fortunate to be able to film most of the video at the church where I work as a youth and music minister. The stained glass in that church is deeply beautiful and inspiring. The location of the video shoot meant a lot to me.
Your first EP was released in 2014. Can we expect another one on the way in 2019?
Yes! The “Be My Hands” EP will hopefully have a release date set in the next month or so!
What’s next for your career?
Creating more space for writing, playing shows, and hopefully going on my first tour this summer.
What advice would you give to aspiring singers/songwriters?
To focus on what brings you joy. Focus on cultivating relationships and community with people who bring you joy. Surround yourself with art and music that uplifts you and makes you feel good. Keep writing, even if it’s not your best, for the love of writing. Keep singing, even when you don’t feel like singing, and maybe even sing about that. Be present. It’s easy to want to look 3 to 30 years down the road, but I find that being here, now, taking things one day at a time helps me to stay grounded and joyful as an artist. Don’t compare yourself to others. Your journey and your art are your own. Easier said than done, but it’s true nonetheless. Lean into the trust that something bigger than yourself is dreaming a dream for your life, and it’s for your greatest good. Let that fill you with hope and excitement about what is to come.
What’s your life like outside of music?
I’ve spent the past almost 8 years working in youth ministry with 7th-12th graders and that’s also shaped me as an artist. Nothing like leaning into questions about God with young, inquisitive minds, and being invited into the struggles and challenges of other people’s lives. Walking alongside young people has deeply influenced me as a person and an artist. In addition to that work, I also write for a Catholic feminist blog called FemCatholic. Yes, it is possible to be both a practicing Catholic and a feminist and I work at building that bridge through dialogue, questioning, and personal reflection.
Let the readers know where to find you online.
@jgerhardtmusic is my handle for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. My website is www.jessicagerhardt.com. Search my name under FemCatholic.com to find my feminist Catholic musings. And you can find my music at jessicagerhardt.bandcamp.