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Jessie Wagner – Your Favorite Artists’ Favorite Singer is Ready to Go Solo
Friday, August 21, 2020

Having shared the stage with Lenny Kravitz, Chic, Duran Duran, Kid Rock, and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, Jessie Wagner knows a thing or two about the spotlight, and with the upcoming release of her solo debut, Shoes Droppin, that spotlight is about to shine brightly on her.

Shoes Droppin is due out October 9th via Wicked Cool Records, and while Wagner is most at home on a stage, and would love to tour in support of the album, our COVID reality means live performances have been put on hold for a little while. That said, based on the music videos she’s been releasing, Wagner’s still finding ways to have a good time.


I caught up with Wagner to find out about her wild ride that started with Chic, the vibe of her solo album, and what she did that left Kid Rock speechless.

You’ve toured as a backup singer with a litany of big names. What have you taken away from those experiences and incorporated into your solo career?

Gosh, I’ve been doing it for so long … I guess the thing I took away most came from when I first started, because I didn’t really understand what it was like to be on stage, and I’ve just kind of taken that from each gig and transferred it to the next one.

When I first started with Chic I was totally green, and Nile Rodgers took a chance on me, and my first big gig with them was a three week tour of Japan doing two shows a night. So it was really trial by fire.

Just some small shows to break in with. Little local stuff.

Right. {laughs} In a whole other country I’d never been to. NOW I’m on tour! So I had to learn mic technique, and stage presence, which I sort of had a limited understanding of from smaller things I’d done, but that’s really where I honed my skills, with Nile Rodgers and Chic.

I guess the one thing that is consistent with every artist I’ve ever worked with is a very strong work ethic.

It’s great to be on stage, once you got that down it’s cool, but the work ethic, the hustle to get it all together, that’s a real grind. You have to have perseverance. You have to be persistent. You have to really want to do that, but everybody I’ve worked with, I’ve seen their hustle, I’ve seen their grind, and I’m like OK, I need to be like that, I need to be on my game, and get on this business side.

The music part is great, that’s easy, I’ll write a song every day, but the business side, that’s like woooof.


You mentioned Nile Rodgers took a chance on you when you were young. What were you doing before then? I’m guessing you weren’t just like waitressing, and all of a sudden Nile Rodgers was like, “Yeah, you’re going to Tokyo.”

I was actually a pharmaceutical sales rep. That’s what got me to New York. I was in Nashville, I asked to be transferred to New York because I knew that’s where I needed to be to make the moves, meet the people. I got transferred to New York, and my mom knew someone who knew Omar Hakim, who is an amazing drummer, and he was the drummer at the time when I auditioned for Chic. I met him first. He happened to be working on music, and he was like, “Let’s work on music together.”

We were doing a small project, working on kind of like a rock-soul thing. He mentioned, “Hey, Chic is looking for another girl.” I was like yes please! I’m selling drugs. I would prefer not to.

But they weren’t the traditional drugs of the “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” trinity.

No. These drugs … they help you get rid of heartburn, yay, but it’s not the kind of release that you’re that looking for.

I feel like there are a lot of older rock n rollers who could use those.

{laughs} Yeah. I was selling drugs for a second tier career kinda rock n roll.

Nostalgia tours.

Yes. {laughs}

When I went on that audition it just so happened they did find somebody, but I think she was a little shorter. She was great, but when I came in, I’m a little taller, I kind of fit the lineup, the look of it, and I could do the parts, and it’s like – this is the look we want with the sound. So they were like OK, I think this is what we’re looking for.

If that other woman had just worm Timbs that day who knows what would’ve happened!

Right. Yeah, thank God for height.


You’re also the frontwoman of the indie band Army of the Underdog. How do you feel your solo work differs from your work with the band, and will fans of the band be shocked by anything they hear on your solo album?

I think the solo album has a slower pace, but my influence, my essence, is still there.

Army of the Underdog, I think is probably heavier. There’s a lot more electric guitar. My solo project is a lot more acoustic, it’s a little more stripped back in certain places, but I think with Army of the Underdog, my last project with them I had horns, we had a couple of tracks that were a little funkier, a little more soulful, so it was kind of maybe a precursor to where I am now, but the essence of who I am, I think, still translates from each project.

I’ve read you’ve described writing and recording your upcoming solo album, Shoes Droppin, as both scary and cathartic. When you perform these songs, which emotion is it closer to, or does it vary?

Well, I haven’t had a chance to do all the songs from the new record, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I do some of the more emotional ones. Hopefully I won’t turn into a ball of mush. We’ll see.

I think maybe I was so gripped in the emotion of it then, now I can rise above it, and I hope to transcend it, and be able to still convey it, but not be gripped by it.

Touring will hopefully be back soon. As someone who has made a living through touring, give me your favorite activities for when you’re either on the road to the next city, or already in the next city and looking to kill some time.

I’m a nerd. I’m not the fun rock n roll chick.

I know I come off in some persona … I try to be all sexy, but no, I’m a real Battlestar Galactica kinda nerd. So when others are out doing the rock n roll thing, I’m more likely to go to a museum, or read a book, or something like that. I like to eat. I remember the last tour I was on with Stevie Van Zandt I spent a lot of time looking up interesting food places, like, “Let’s try this!”

I went to all the botanical gardens, I went to the maritime museums. I love history. I love Vikings. I went to a Viking museum in Ireland. I was like – why was there even a Viking museum in Ireland?

Apparently they were there at some point.

I found that completely fascinating.

So I’m more likely to do those aspects of touring, and try and squeeze in as much as I can.

I was in Estonia, I have no idea when I’m gonna get back to Estonia, and Tallinn was one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been in. It was amazing – the people were amazing, the cobblestone roads, there was a knight in the middle of the square, that’s right up my alley!


But you’ve never gotten into any trouble, there’s never been any wild times? I feel like, looking at the list of artists you’ve worked with there’s at least one I can think of that you could get into some serious trouble with.

I never got into trouble, that’s the thing.

When I was with Kid Rock … I know, when you hear Kid Rock you’re like oh yeah, something happened on that tour, (but) it never happened to me.

I’m gonna tell you my nickname for the Kid Rock tour, they called me She Neva – She Neva did this, She Neva did that. {laughs}

When I left, Kid made this beautiful picture, a collage for me, and everybody signed it, and he called me cornflake. Now imagine being called cornflake by Kid Rock. {laughs}

What do you call him then, Jack Daniels?

I will tell you this, the first time I did a gig with him we were in Vegas.

There is nothing safe about this, just to start with – Kid Rock in Vegas.

{laughs}

That’s what you would think.

So I’m in Vegas, and of course Kid … he is rock n roll … I’ll just leave it at that, and the band … rock n roll, but this is my first gig with him, and we’re having like the little in-group party, everybody’s just having a little drink or whatever, and he’s getting to know me, so he’s like what are your plans for tonight, and I was thinking wow, the hotel has the Syfy channel and Eureka is on tonight!

That couldn’t have gone over well.

I swear, this was the one time I’ve ever seen Kid Rock speechless.

He stopped, there was a befuddled, bemused, confused look over his face, it was almost like a robot – *cannot translate* – and he literally stopped talking to me, backed away, and moved to the other side of the room. I’m like oh God, I’ve blown it.

But you hadn’t blown it.

No, I didn’t blow it, thank God. I guess he was like, well, we need at least one.


Have you ever experienced any blowback when an artist you tour with says something controversial, or gets into trouble? Have family, or friends, been like, “Come get ya’ mans!”?

Yeah. I put up the videos of me singing with Kid, and yes, he’s a very controversial person, I don’t necessarily agree with all the things that he has said, but I had a good experience with him when I toured with him, and I love that band. I love being a part of that, so I’m OK with that part of my life, I’m not ashamed of that, but I’ve had people, fans, they were like, “I’m unfollowing you.” You’re unfollowing because I’m trying to make a living?

Do people not understand it’s not an easy career path?

It’s not, because people see you as a reflection of the person you work with, and that’s not always the case. Sometimes you get an unfair bias. It’s hard to separate yourself as an individual.

With my own music, and doing interviews like this, I hope people can see who I am versus (viewing me) as a reflection of who I’ve worked with.

(Also), sometimes controversial things will happen when I’m on tour, and people will try to ask me about it, and I’m like “I can’t. This may have happened to who I’m working with, but that’s not me, that’s my boss, do you talk about your boss?”

There was a very explosive video taken with Lenny Kravitz at one show that I was part of where there was an unfortunate wardrobe incident that happened, and the next day everybody’s asking me, “Did you see it? What did you do?” and this is on my Facebook wall, and on my Instagram. I’m like, that’s my boss, I’m not gonna sit there and write this is what happened …

It’s crazy because fans ask, “Can you get things to (a specific artist)” … and I have to explain that I’m an employee, I’m not just hanging out with this person, and I don’t want to abuse my employer-employee relationship. I understand your cause is worthy, but it can’t be through me, go through management. I want to continue working.

But now you’re solo. It’s you working with you, and only you, and people you hire, so everyone else is the employee.

Yes. So far I haven’t gotten any crazy requests. Well, that is not true, I had a very unusual request for undergarments. That was a first. I quickly blocked (the person).

I’ve had two requests from Instagram – “I’ll give you $500 a week to be your sugar daddy.”

I’m like, where do these people come from??? {laughs}

If they really want to woo you it’s history books, Syfy channel …

Swords, beards … The Last Kingdom, that’s my ideal right there. Give me a sword and a beard and I’ll probably fall in love with you.


For more Jessie Wagner, check out jessiewagnerofficial.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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