Jess Connelly is definitely on her way up. The singer and tastemaker has been making waves lately far outside of her home city of Manila and her effortlessly cool vibe seems to seep into everything she touches--from her music to her personal style. We caught up with the Filipino artist to chat about stepping out of her comfort zone, the inspiration behind her music, and the importance of learning how to trust yourself. Check out the interview below.
Tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up in Australia and how you first got into music.
I was born and raised in Australia up until I was 17. I've been singing ever since I can remember. My mum put me in singing lessons and any local shows or competitions that she knew of, and my dad also enjoys singing so I would always copy him. My brother and sister listened to a lot of '90s R&B and rap and that has had a big influence on the music I create now. When I finished high school my parents suggested I try out music in the Philippines (I am half Filipino), seeing as we were on an extended vacation. At first, I hated it, but I ended up loving it and Asia in general. I dabbled in a bunch of different things with music as the goal. In 2015 I uploaded my first track, "Under Blankets," and everything just started coming together from there.
You've recently been put on by the likes of The FADER and 88rising, as well as having been an #SMYouthMusic ambassador this summer and featured in content for Johnny Walker scotch... some pretty good co-signs to have for an artist on the rise! How has the journey been so far?
There has always been a thriving local music scene but it is not that exposed due to the mainstream entertainment industry dominating the media. I want to show that underneath it all there are dope, quality Filipino artists and that there doesn't have to be a difference between the local and international standard. I do see a change from when I first started putting out music and notice that mainstream figures also now want to create a modern sound. It does get frustrating sometimes, trying to change the perception commercially of being an artist and show that being a singer doesn't mean that you only sing covers. My goal has always been beyond local, so I think that mindset has helped me create my own lane. It was an awesome moment when 88rising supported me because I've been enjoying their content since they first came out. I love when I get to perform outside of the country, I like stepping outside of my comfort zone.
When you're looking for inspiration, to whom or to where do you go? Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
I revisit old music and concerts or watch interviews of artists from the past and present. I feel like I'm in the early stages of exploring myself as an artist so every part of the process is very fun for me. When I was making the first EP, I honestly didn't really know what I was doing, and I still don't. But I didn't allow myself then to fully enjoy the process. I'm currently working on a mixtape and I've been taking my time and having fun with every aspect of it. I'm 100% independent so I just think of how I want to do something and go to a friend to work on it with. I'm lucky to have a bunch of creative friends around me; it's just a mixture of us making things that we enjoy.
"You have to be bad before you can be good, so don't be so tough on yourself... Now more than ever, I know to trust your own timing."
How do you prep for a show, and what has been one of your favorite and least favorite experiences performing live?
I definitely need good sleep and a workout, if I can. I do get a lot of anxiety before I sing so I can't really hang out until after I'm done performing, then I can join the party. My least favorite performance was probably my first gig ever. I was extremely shy and couldn't talk to the audience or even face them, I was not comfortable at all. Performing has been something I've really taken the time to work on and get comfortable with. My favorite performance was when I performed at Wonderfruit in Thailand, it was my first show abroad and it was crazy to see people from another country singing my lyrics and receiving such positive feedback from people who were hearing my music for the first time.
You've been traveling quite a bit lately, including to both NYC and Los Angeles. We have to ask--which coast is the best coast and what are some of your favorite travel destinations?
They are both great cities and each has their pros to them but as someone who does not drive, I have to pick New York, haha. LA has perfect weather and is very much laid back like I am but I personally always prefer the vibe of a city. I love the concrete, hustle and bustle around me. I also love Paris and cannot wait to go back but overall my favorite city has to be Tokyo: the food, shopping, people, and culture are unlike any other.
Tell us about how your adidas partnership came together as well as one of your favorite moments of the campaign.
I enjoy building relationships with the local brand teams here. My boyfriend also works in retail, so when he's running his sneaker and apparel store I get to see the BTS process of when he works with brands for upcoming launches. When I'm approached to help with campaigns or events, it's always a fun experience. adidas gives me the freedom to style and do things as I please. For a previous adidas store launch, myself and another local artist, Eyedress, got to perform at the opening. It was cool to see them supporting the local music scene versus taking the typical commercial route.
In your Instagram posts you're rocking some very cool streetwear brands like Pleasures and Carhartt, not to mention your head-to-toe adidas x Alexander Wang fit. Can you share some of your favorite brands as well as a few streetwear styling tips?
I'm definitely a comfort and functionality first type of person. I wear what I like and enjoy collecting items when I travel and buying from local Filipino brands/designers I really like. When I first started experimenting with my style, I'd buy anything that caught my eye and never put too much thought into the longevity of items. Now I've learned to think of my wardrobe overall when I shop and know what works for my body. Locally, I love Carl Jan Cruz. His pieces are for keeps and quality. You'll also know it's a CJ piece when you see it. I like street/skate brands like Carhartt, Supreme, Dime, and Palace just as much as the next person, but my main thing is collecting pants. The fit is important for me and my faves are Helmut Lang, Jacquemus, and Miaou.
How important is your Instagram channel to you personally and professionally, and what are some of your favorite Instagram feeds to follow right now?
To be honest, I think the amount of instant information nowadays isn't too healthy. I always make sure I'm not that person on their phone at dinner and I prefer not to share every second of my life, but I do think it is important for me to have an online presence as my music wouldn't have the same effect without social media. I also dislike fake online personas, so for me, it's about finding a balance between sharing real, personal sides of me and my music. I want you to meet me in person and have the same impression you'd get from viewing my accounts or listening to my music.
Do you have a specific beauty or fitness routine that you try to keep?
It is important for me to workout consistently. Not just for on-stage stamina but for my mental health as well, it helps relieve stress. I also dealt with a lot of weight issues during my teen years which affected my self-confidence. I've tried every diet and quick fix but at the end of the day, there is no quick fix. I'm no fitness model but working out and taking care of myself gives me confidence and there's nothing like a good steam room session to sweat the regret away. If you take care of yourself mentally and physically it will show. I'm also a big fan of rosehip oil for my skin.
What are your top three hidden gems in Manila and why?
1. Commonwealth SM Aura, for all of your sneaker and apparel needs.
3. Goto Monster, my friend brings me here when we have munchies after a night out for good late night Filipino food. Aside from getting the goto (Filipino rice porridge), my fave is the bibingka waffles with salted egg. Might sound crazy but it is so good.
What advice would you give to any up-and-coming artists trying to break into the industry?
If this is the end-all-be-all and you can't picture yourself doing anything else, go for it. You have to be bad before you can be good, so don't be so tough on yourself. If you're sincere about it, the right people will fall into your life and what you give will come right back to you. Now more than ever, I know to trust your own timing.
What can we look for from you closing out 2017?
I've been working on my mixtape all year, I've released the first single already, "Turn Me Down," but I'm excited for the whole project to be out. I'll be rolling out two more singles very soon and then videos but this is my first full-length project. I'm also excited for the visuals and merch I've been working on alongside it. I'm ready to put out new material of my current self for people to experience.
What does MISSBISH mean to you and who's your MISSBISH?
For me, MISSBISH represents females with depth, who are unconcerned about current fads and instead are empowered by their own vision and taste. I admire women like Yoon Ambush and Petra Collins, not only for their own personal aesthetic and style but for making their own name and lane for themselves in their fields. That's something I aspire to have for myself.
Photographer: Redge Hawang