Nothing gets Jesse Jo Stark fired up quite like the idea that the rock genre is lost forever. “It pisses me off. It’s bullshit,” the cool and confident 23-year-old says in nothing more than a black lace bra and Levi’s.
Stark’s music, however, doesn’t cower to the supposed ghosts of rock’s past. The songs—which she playfully calls "horror hillbilly"—that have trickled out over the past two years tap on ‘70s goddesses like Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith, but she twists her inspiration into her own time and time again. On her recently released debut EP, Dandelion, Stark jumps from vulnerable ballad “Monster Man” to the upbeat, witty “Breakfast and Lou” before going full rock vixen for “Love Is in the Air”—all with a back-up band instead of synths (again, an oddity in 2018).
Her most recent releases, an even darker version of Stark, match her now-signature vampy stage persona. On stage, she undulates side to side in animal print or solid bold metallic and teeters on dramatic platforms. She holds the mic like a potential lover, close but not too close. Her songs come with come hither gesticulations and hip dips. “If anything lately, I feel like the vixen part of me has been coming out a little bit more,” she says. “I’m really infatuated with everything old, but I really respect the time we live in. I try to incorporate the two.”
When I ask Stark to elaborate on her “respect for the time we live in,” she calls out Britney Spears. She loved Spears growing up and still appreciates her, but as an adult she's come to terms with the lack of control the pop star had over her image during her peak. “This,” she looks down at herself. “This is how I feel good, and this is what I want to show. I think we’re fortunate now…we can be our true selves a bit more now, because of the self-releases and Spotify and the like.” As a rising name—with paparazzi that naturally follow her and her best friend Bella Hadid—Stark's brand is in-demand. But when she meets up with any potential collaborators, the creative relationship tends to stop before it starts because they "constantly" hope to turn her into something she is not. "Our world is going to turn into a heartless vortex of just the same saturated shit if we don't do anything about it."
Our world is going to turn into a heartless vortex of just the same saturated shit if we don't do anything about it.
“When I was 10, I wrote a song called ‘My Heart’s On Fire,’ and it already had this rock element.” Having such a pedigree can seem like a blessing—like an advantage over the competition. And there is an advantage. Her work with Chrome Hearts, her friendships with her A-list neighbors, and her inherited style is why she has pulled in hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. But such a background, and so many eyes paying attention to her every upload, also increases pressure unlike any work she's done with her family. “When I’m creating with my music—it’s my project. It’s my baby. Chrome Hearts is what I know, but music is my heart, and I have to do it. You’re having to get across what you want to say in one song, and when you put that song out, it's out forever. Music is—I’m just on my own.”
“I want to have the opportunity to engage more and build my audience. I'm doing a lot of support acts right now, so I’d love to do a headline tour. “ And despite the rock haters, “I’m really happy and with where I’m at today, and I hope that has longevity in it.”