Under normal circumstances, Jessica Pearson would be storytelling and singing with her bandmates, Kristan Couture (mandolin) and Maddy O’Regan (fiddle). Jessica Pearson and The East Wind have taken the heartwarming harmonies of their lively “maritime kitchen party” live show to the stages of JunoFest, RBC Bluesfest, the National Arts Centre, and venues throughout Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the circumstances are what they are, and life is not what it was.
“We’ve had to completely adapt and change how we do all things. I feel that as artists, it is our duty to continue to put out music and art. To help others get through this time.”
Jessica joined us to talk about that change and how she’s spending her stay-at-home days.
Before COVID-19 started, I was on tour. My band, Jessica Pearson and the East Wind (JPEW), were opening up for Tara Shannon across Ontario in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters. We were seven people, stuffed tightly into a vehicle every day, travelling from city to city, playing shows every night. And it was glorious. It was sing-a-long car jams, belly laughs, late nights talking about nothing kind of days. We did not have the space for personal bubbles and we were okay with that. We played our last show at the National Arts Centre on March 11 and I was self-isolated on March 15.
The next day all of my shows were cancelled for 2020. This included a month-long tour I had just finalized for April with our good friends Quote the Raven. I realized, in this moment, that all musicians were going through the same thing. It takes a lot of time and work to book tours, and artists everywhere were watching it disappear in a second. In a moment where you can feel so alone, I knew I wasn’t going through this by myself.
This isolation has been a new experience. I want to stay busy and work, work, work, but as a global community we are going through a very traumatic experience, and we need to heal.
It’s in times like these that we need art more than ever. Music, theatre, novels, paintings, silly YouTube videos. All these forms of art, and more, help us get through times like this. They help us heal and deal with our emotions. Give us hope for the future.
At the beginning of the year my band and I recorded all the tracks to our first full-length album, which we will be releasing in early 2021. This has definitely slowed the process down, but I am so happy we have been able to continue to work on it during these times.
I have cleaned my house so many times, started to take daily walks around my neighbourhood (at a safe distance), and started to read way more than I used to. I have been working on my songwriting skills, co-writing over Facebook/Zoom with artists across the globe and in our local Ottawa music community daily.
I have been live-streaming with my bandmate Maddy O’Regan for a month now. It is a great way to stay in touch with our fan base as well as communicate with the music community. I do miss live shows, though. It’s never the same as seeing people’s faces as you perform and feeling the energy of the crowd as you are singing songs and telling stories. But live-streaming is not only for the audience at home. It’s a way for me to feel like I am doing something during this time of need. That I am using what I know and what I can do to hopefully help others out there, help lift people’s spirits and help them have a better day. It’s easy to feel helpless right now when we are not on the front line. But artists can be helpful in lifting everyone’s spirits, providing hope and spreading love in a time of trauma and uncertainty. We can help and we should be helping in any way we can.
I will be continuing to live-stream every Friday night at 6pm on the JPEW Facebook page for all who wish to join! As well, my bandmate and I will be posting videos of past performances, songs we create during these times, and funny videos of how we are coping in self-isolation. We hope that these videos and posts will help you all get through these times and look forward to the future! Music is a support group. It’s one thing I love about listening to albums from beginning to end. Music helps us through, and reminds us that we are not alone in this world.
Now on to more music! There are a lot of albums that have been getting me through these times. But I will try to narrow them down to three.
The first is Dear Wormwood by The Oh Hellos from 2015. I was listening to a random indie music playlist a while back and their song “Soldier, Poet, King” came on. I was so enchanted by their melodies, harmonies, and instrumentals that I had to stop everything I was doing and just dance! This song became my band’s getting-ready song that we would play before every show. The whole album is a journey of great memories and dancing. I put this album on when I just need to dance, be silly, and let everything out.
The second album is Ledges by Noah Gundersen. I’ve been listening to all his albums, but this one really hits home for me. It starts with such a beautiful a cappella song and the whole album plays with your heartstrings. It’s an emotional journey, and sometimes you just need to be emotional.
The third album that has been on repeat for me during this quarantine has been Dear Evan Hansen, the original Broadway cast recording. I studied musical theatre in college, and it is still one of my favourite forms of art to enjoy. This musical is really a breath stealer, and it has a big focus on mental health. Right now, we are all going through a very traumatic time, and it is okay to ask for help. I am so thankful for the support base I have in my life, and we all need one to make it through. This musical really hits home and sends such a beautiful message for a time like this: You are not alone.
About The Oh Hellos’ Dear Wormwood
This is the second album from siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath. Glide Magazine gave it 8/10, calling the album “a fantastic recording that is easy to share”. Ear to the Ground Music wrote that “for those who have ears to listen, this album is phenomenal…it deserves extraordinarily high praise”.
About Noah Gundersen’s Ledges
The Austin Chronicle wrote that Gundersen, a Seattle songwriter, “exhumes broken, penitent ballads that suddenly burst with a shock of power and catharsis.” USA Today wrote that the album “establishes (him) as a precociously graceful and thoughtful songwriter.”
About Dear Evan Hansen (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter Benj Pasek said that “the show talks about the complicated nature of when you’re not always so truthful.” The Northern Light wrote that with this soundtrack “every listener instantly feels comfort in the realization they are not as alone as they feel.”
More from Jessica Pearson / Jessica Pearson and the East Wind
Check out Pat Moore’s interview with John McDonald about the Talking Albums series on a recent episode of CKCU’s Saturday Morning show here. The interview begins at 2:23:35.