Your vision is the most important vision. I’ve had to learn to trust myself and my artistic process, and to stand firm for what I believe in. Being a female musician, I’ve encountered a lot of people trying to placate me. It’s like, no bro, I see what you’re doing.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jesse Palter. She is an independent singer-songwriter emerging as part of the next generation of elite pop music artists. A gifted songwriter and a versatile vocalist, Palter burst onto the scene with a naturally skilled voice that ranges from powerful and soulful to sweet and gentle, earning her instant comparisons to the likes of Sara Bareilles and Norah Jones. Palter released her debut studio album, PAPER TRAIL, in 2019 to critical acclaim for songs like “SEVER THE TIES” and “HEAVY IS THE CROWN”. Palter recently dropped her poignant follow-up single “BETTER DAYS” on Friday, October 2nd.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Palter’s eclectic musical upbringing and education in musical theater during her formative years laid the foundation for her music. Palter grew up with parents whose passion for music inspired her with a diverse record collection going from Carole King and Joni Mitchell to Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and The Beatles. While playing oboe and trumpet in her middle school’s jazz band, Palter began writing songs. She made a connection with famed singer/songwriter Andrew Gold (“Thank You For Being A Friend”), who brought her to Nashville to work on original material and record a demo that gained the interest of several major labels. At 15, she began working with the GRAMMY winning production team, the Bass Brothers, renowned for their work with Eminem. This set the stage for the serendipitous connection with Jeff Bass’s son, Jake, that magically resulted in the single soon to be released.
Palter attended the University of Michigan as a jazz vocalist and enrolled as a jazz and contemplative studies major. During this time, she continued to hone her performance skills throughout the Detroit area, leading The Jesse Palter Quartet to win 4 years of outstanding jazz awards at The Detroit Music Awards. She shared the stage with jazz music greats such as Christian McBride, Geoffrey Keezer, Avishai Cohen, Sean Jones and Marcus Belgrave, and later headlined at top venues across the country. Testament to Palter’s diversity in music genres, she soon joined forces with acclaimed keyboardist, SAM BARSH, to create PALTER EGO, a popular duo that blended upbeat pop with jazz and soul. They took PALTER EGO to Los Angeles where they quickly amassed a loyal fan base and the respect of LA’s finest musicians.
Palter signed with Artistry Music in 2016 and released her full-length debut album PAPER TRAIL in 2019, which was selected as LA Weekly’s “Album Of The Week” and features ten tracks of aggressive piano-pounding pop/rock. Notable musicians involved include bassists Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie’s Blackstar) and Alex Al (Michael Jackson) and drummers Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam) and Aaron Sterling (John Mayer).
Recently, Palter parted ways with her label during the COVID pandemic and started anew. Through much internal deliberation during the lonely and uncharted early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Palter found herself inspired to reach out to Jake Bass, in honor of the roots of both her career and her hometown, Detroit. Jake had become a fan of Jesse’s and had followed her since her formative years in music when his father had produced a number of her songs. They connected when he attended one of Jesse’s last pre-pandemic gigs in Detroit. Together they explored the magic of artistic collaboration that can occur and bind the creative despite the limitations of time and distance. Out of that dynamic came “BETTER DAYS”, an ode to quarantine and lockdown. Reflective and slightly optimistic, this tune is co-created and produced with Jake Bass and features notable musicians Jeff Babko (music director for Jimmy Kimmel, James Taylor) and Ben Williams on the keys and bass, respectively. The song was written over Zoom and each segment of the song was recorded in everyone’s individual living spaces due to quarantine restrictions; a fitting tribute considering “Better Days” was written in and is about the quarantine lockdown. As Palter puts it herself “now, more than ever, I trust you understand, just as I trust that there are better days to come.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit as the sensitive middle child of a musically inclined family. I had a really nice childhood with a loving and tight-knit family, and supportive parents who encouraged me to follow my dreams. I was pretty much always doing music in one way or another; through piano lessons or musical theatre productions or jazz band or songwriting. I was definitely a big dreamer, always had my head in the clouds. My career was pretty much a family affair from day one and I’m incredibly grateful for their support. I wouldn’t be pursuing it to this day if I didn’t have my family as my backbone cheering me on.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I remember a round table family discussion when I was 13 and had first started recording. There were a few promising prospects with record labels at the time, and it was a possibility that I was going to have to be pulled from school, home-schooled and possibly relocated for career pursuits. As the middle child of three, my parents wanted to make sure that my older sister and younger brother didn’t have any objections. Luckily, they were all down, they all knew how badly I wanted it. It has been pretty much full steam ahead ever since.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh, I don’t think I could pick just one. It has been a series of interesting stories with interesting characters and interesting experiences. At this point, I feel like it’s accurate to call myself or anybody who’s still in the round a warrior for sticking with it and for fighting for art to prevail.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Hmmm…it was a different music business when I was 13 years old. I thought I was going to get discovered in a public place, for example, because at that point YouTube and TikTok weren’t a thing. So I would sing in public bathrooms, or pretty much anywhere I thought I might get discovered. I was constantly trying to connect with people to push my career along, and with youth and naivety on my side I didn’t feel discouraged or think twice about putting myself out there. To be honest, I’ve gotten more jaded about “the way it works” from years of being in the business. I think the lesson worth learning, perhaps, is getting back to my 13 year old uninhibited and confident self, who is willing to think outside the box and has the courage of her own convictions. That said, still to this day, I’m always learning lessons and striving to be the best version of my artist self.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The way my new single “Better Days” came about is both interesting and exciting. I connected with Jake Bass (whose father, Jeff Bass from The Bass Bros, I was signed to when I was 14–16) in quarantine. We started creating tracks in isolation at opposite ends of the country over Zoom. I reached out to my musician buddies Jeff Babko, Ben Williams, Gene Coye and Nick Mancini and asked them if they wanted to play on “Better Days”, and they were down. We all recorded in our own little home studios in our own little corners of the world. I have a few other things in the works but I can’t speak on them yet. I’m trying to breathe life into all facets of my artistry: as a songwriter, as an artist, as a jazz vocalist, as a sideman. I’ve had people around me trying to place me in a box for much of my career, telling me what I do best, who I should be or what will cut through the noise. None of it really means anything at the end of the day other than just one person’s opinion and nobody has THE answer (I’m not sure if there’s one answer). It’s not easy to make a living as a full-time artist, and certainly nobody cares about my music as much as I do, so I think the only way to make it worthwhile is if it’s fun, if it’s honest and sincere and if I feel like I’m creatively fulfilled. I’m trying to be open-minded to any and all interesting and exciting projects that feel like an instinctual “hell yes!”, and allow the muse to do the rest. I’m trying to shine a light on all of the versions of me.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I completely agree with you and I wholeheartedly support and stand with you on this message.
1. There are way more than just straight white people that need to be seen in mainstream entertainment.
2. People of diverse backgrounds with a platform plays a huge part in positively influencing the hearts and minds of people who also come from similar backgrounds. Seeing yourself represented in a positive light allows you to have someone and something to aspire to be.
3. The less diversity we have, the more likely that racism and bigotry are given a platform to exist.
I could go on and on… this is important stuff and I am HERE FOR ALL OF THIS!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Learn the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them (it’s a constantly evolving, constantly progressing industry. It’s the wild wild west out here for all of us, today’s trend may be obsolete next week, so who’s to say something can or cannot happen. Be smart, but also GO GO GO!)
2. Don’t allow your timeline to be on someone else’s watch (my album sat on ice with my previous project rollout for 2+ years, not by choice…a lot changes for an artist in those 2+ years and I don’t think sitting around waiting was beneficial for me on a personal or professional level in any way)
3. Your vision is the most important vision (I’ve had to learn to trust myself and my artistic process, and to stand firm for what I believe in. Being a female musician, I’ve encountered a lot of people trying to placate me. It’s like, no bro, I see what you’re doing.)
4. Diversify as much as possible (ie: with the “Better Days” release, I was the songwriter/the artist/the vocal producer/the marketing director/took care of the admin work and the visual and the rollout plan, etc. It’s a lot, and I did have help from Jake Bass who I co-wrote the song with and Michelle Gianchetti who has been collaborating on content creation with me, but I wore a lot of hats in a short amount of time. That’s how I was able to get this out there quickly).
5. It’s about building a series of small gains, not about one big break.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay connected to who you are OUTSIDE of the industry; find a hobby and a purpose outside of the industry, take social media breaks, get out in nature, focus on your mental health, if you’re feeling burned out it’s okay to take a break. It’s all okay.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I really want to do my part to continue to destigmatize and bring awareness to mental health related issues, particularly as it pertains to the music industry. My aunt and uncle committed suicide, and I have struggled with anxiety and depression at different points of my life. It’s paramount to me to be open and honest about my mental health, as well as the trauma I’ve experienced as a direct result of pursuing a career in the arts. I’ve had to work through it. I’m always happy to be an ear for others and I believe we all need to be there for one another. No one should ever feel alone.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A lot of people helped get me here. I’ve had some great teachers, mentors, collaborators and supporters that have been part of the village that has lifted me up. I don’t think I could’ve done any of it without my mom and dad’s support, however. They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders and have encouraged me to keep fighting every time I’ve been down and out. I love them and miss them so much.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This one has been speaking to me lately by the great Dolly Parton (it just doesn’t get any better than Dolly!) “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life!” Anything you say, Dolly.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Joni Mitchell! Oh my, how I would love to tell her how much her words, her melodies, her harmonies have influenced me. Mark Ronson would be cool too, I think we’d write some cool music together. I also relate a lot to John Mayer as a songwriter.
How can our readers follow you online?
@jessepalter on Instagram and twitter and Facebook and Tik-Tok. I can’t wait to connect with all of you!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!