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Jessica Winter: “I Want to Find Something Real”

Magic lies purely in belief. Without belief, all magic and illusion crumble, but it’s a fine line between suspending disbelief and abandoning reason, and for that reason many people choose to block out the idea of magic entirely–their loss. I have always depended on finding magic in Jessica Winter’s music, and she has always provided it, so reliably that it sometimes seems like she might be a being from another planet. With a soaring magic carpet ride of a voice and a talent for writing pop hooks that rivals anybody on the charts today, her sound can’t be tucked neatly into any identifying genre but exists in a liminal space between electro-pop and indie goth, laced with jagged, searing punk rock rawness. Winter has called it “crance” (music for crying and dancing to simultaneously.) The Cure’s Robert Smith is a fan.

Besides performing as a solo artist, she’s produced acts such as Jazmin Bean, Gorillaz and Phoebe Green, and is currently scoring season two of the hit CBBC series Princess Mirabelle. She’s done countless collaborations with artists such as Lucia and the Best Boys, MADGE, Walt Disco, and Cid Rim. She’s also formerly one half of the cult favorite duo PREGOBLIN, her signature soaring vocals gracing all the hits. 

Once, while talking with one of Winter’s occasional collaborators, I asked him if he thought that Winter had out-of-body experiences when she sang. Her voice was capable of reaching such incredible heights, to use it must bring on a kind of mystical experience. Was that so? I asked. Could you see it when you watched her sing? He nodded, grinning. A voice like a magic carpet ride, indeed. (Winter described her style of vocal delivery in a Wonderland magazine interview in 2019 as “Julie Andrews singing Marilyn Manson.”)

With her pale teardrop-shaped face framed in delicate wire spectacles, she looks like Isabelle Adjani in the ‘80s, fine-lined sylphic beauty with a steel core. A childhood spent in hospital informed her worldview, as she developed an expansive imagination to cope with the isolation and confinement. That extraordinary imagination has translated into dark, elegant pop songs embroidered with poignant, sometimes deeply cutting observations. Her writing is defined by a remarkable honesty; she possesses a rare knack for telling universal truths without falling into the realm of cliché. (For example, the autofiction stylings of “Play,”the first track of her debut EP Sad Music: “I’m feeling famous/I’m feeling international/I got my money and my body/A miracle/I’m everything I ever needed growing up/I’m a fuck up/And I’m ok.”) 

Winter was born in the seaside town of Portsmouth, England, but spent most of her childhood on the neighboring outrider, Hayling Island, which she describes as, “…a tiny Victorian island…it’s bizarre, it’s just like everyone goes there to die. We weren’t very well off, and you could get a house there that was quite decent for the price of a flat in Portsmouth. The people there are either just druggy or pensioners. It was quite a bleak place to grow up.” 

She moved back to Portsmouth aged 15; it was there that she began writing her first fully formed songs. “I actually started writing song songs when I was about 16,” she reminisces. “But I’d always written little bits of music on the piano when I was growing up, because I’ve been playing piano since I was about two. So, I was writing (music) but…until I became a more mature person, I didn’t really write songs.”

“I used to use my uncle’s lyrics when I was 16. He would always write lyrics but he never knew how to do music so I would just take his lyric books and then start writing songs for him. Because I never really had anything to say at the time; I was just a child, figuring it out. I just thought life was how it should be, because you do at that age, and it’s not until recently that I’ve actually realized how messed up and traumatic my childhood was. I knew that I had a lot of pain, which is why music was a therapy and I always did it, but I could never put it into words until I got a bit older.”

Since then, Winter has written two EPs (2020’s Sad Music, followed by More Sad Music a year later) and several singles. She recently signed with the label Lucky Number Music, and her third EP, Limerence, is due to be released in the near future. 

“The EP covers similar things to what that word means,” Winter explains. “It’s basically an obsession or an addiction to love. There are three stages of limerence, and each one gets a bit more psychotic. I feel like the songs as well, each song gets progressively more psychotic…the way the songs have been picked and listening to it as a whole, I just thought it really makes sense to call it Limerence because not only is it an addiction to love, or an obsession with love, there’s also a song that covers just addiction in general, so I thought it was just a good word for the EP.”

Choreograph, the first single from the upcoming EP, was released on September 20th. The music video is a sly homage to the classic film, Singing in the Rain, featuring Winter in her signature wire-rimmed glasses and sharply tailored grey suit singing her heart out to the heavens in a thunderstorm. The lyrics are a commentary on the hard truth that love can’t be forced, and that picture-perfect ideals don’t always make for happy endings. It’s a joyous rejection of the over-marketed Hollywood fairytale: “real love/can’t be choreographed.”

Of the track, Winter says she wanted to express the feeling of searching for, “…something real in a place of very forced situations. People saying like, ‘this is love,’ by having the nature of a certain set-up…or just going like, “this is a good time,” because of the way things look… Even venues are just being created to look good on Instagram. ‘This will give you a good time, because you’re going to get loads of photos in this place,’ and it’s just like, whoa! Surely there’s more than that, surely there’s more to life than how things are on the surface. It was like, made out of desperation. Come on! There’s more to life than this. I want to find something real.”

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