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Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog: Expect soulful tunes from Jess Clemons

It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed someone for the house concert series that happens at Paul Blackburn’s house, so please consider this my wakeup call on that. I know that over the years these shows have been a really nice way to hear music in an intimate setting.

The amazing thing about local music folks is the quality of the answers I get for seemingly simple questions.

The other day I was on the phone with Peter LeClair (of the band The Marvins) and every single response was seamless. I could tell he really enjoyed being in a band.

I felt I could transpose his answers into an interview of a much bigger, well-known national touring band. But, no, it’s just a music duo out of Portland, stopping by for one evening.

I hope you can stop by and see Jess Clemons on Nov. 16. She told me that Paul’s house has a piano, and she’ll be using it for the show. I’m glad, because when you hear her play it, you’ll understand the comparisons and influences she talks about in her seamless answers to my simple questions.

I hear you're living in the Gorge now. Where are you from and what brought you out here?

Yes — I moved to the Gorge this past June. I'd been contemplating moving here ever since I first visited in 2010. I grew up in Vermont, but I had been working and playing music seasonally on Nantucket Island, Mass.

The seasonal work gave me the opportunity to travel and tour around in the winters, and in 2009 a dear friend who lives in the Gorge introduced me to the wonders of Baja. I fell in love with it instantly and have gone back every winter since.

Having spent the last four seasons there, I learned to kiteboard and have had many wonderful opportunities to play for an incredibly endearing and supportive audience.

I’ve always driven to and from Baja from the East Coast, stopping in the Gorge and playing at CEBU Lounge, Double Mountain Brewery, Thirsty Woman, Gorge Hotel and playing several house concerts over the years.

It was always in the back of my mind that I would cut my ties with Nantucket and make the move west. I met a fabulous guy in Baja this past winter who lives and works in Hood River, and that ultimately was my tipping point!

How long have you been playing music, who inspired you to start playing and what style of playing would you call yourself?

I started taking piano lessons at a young age. My mother has always been a huge supporter of music and made sure that all of her kids had some musical background growing up.

I went to music school in Nova Scotia and was fortunate to be surrounded by some incredible players and songwriters who still have a huge influence on my writing and style. I consider myself a singer/songwriter with folk and blues influences.

I am most often compared to some of my favorite artists, which I take as a huge compliment — Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Brandi Carlile and Norah Jones, to name the big ones.

What do you want people to take away from listening to your songs?

I hear that I write music that people can connect with. I have fans out there ranging from age 8 to 88, and everyone takes something different from the stories and emotions that I try to convey. I just want people to be able to find something in a song that they’ve experienced, and be able to connect with my experience in song. We have all felt heartache and loss, victory and celebration in our lives.

Much of my music exposes fairly personal experiences that I've had over the last 10 years, and I think people connect with that vulnerability.

Please choose one song of yours and explain how it came about.

My song Fade Away (find it on my Sonicbids website) I wrote here in Oregon a couple of years back. I was in the middle of a 17,000 mile and eight-month road trip across the U.S. and down through Baja.

It can get lonely traveling by yourself, and your mind can start to wander to places you'd rather it wouldn’t. I had been reminiscing about a former man of mine who I had split up with a year before, and was realizing that sometimes there is nothing you can do other than let someone go, and accept that people can just drift in and our of our lives, and that we move on.

What other interests/work do you have going on?

Aside from playing music, I've worked as an organic gardener and landscaper back on Nantucket for the last seven years, and have my sights set on building a small gardening business here in the Gorge eventually.

In the meantime, I am slinging beers at Solera Brewery in Parkdale, which I am very much enjoying. I will be heading down to Baja this January for a couple of months of fun in the sun.

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