With an enviably dedicated routine, Jess Williamson makes making a living as a musician look effortless. With three records and several international tours under her belt, Jess’s confidence in her power and creativity shines through: “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, no one else will. But mostly it’s because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do! I feel grateful and excited to show the world what I’ve been working on,” she says. This palpable delight seeps through her work, particularly in the video “I See The White,” where she dances with four other versions of herself on the beach. In this interview, she beautifully discusses the “spark of inner knowing” when putting work out— a reminder that the answers to most of our anxieties are within us, and simply need to be acknowledged in order to be overcome.
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a songwriter, singer, and musician.
How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as a creative person?
As a creative person, you have to keep an internal barometer for your success. It’s important to define success for yourself. It can’t be wholly dependent on external validation, although that helps. An artist has to have that inner knowing.
When is a time you felt really successful? Or a time you felt like you failed?
I feel most successful when I remember a time when I wanted what I now have. Without perspective it’s easy to take for granted how all the things we’ve worked so hard for start to come together. Success never quite looks the way we think it will. I might get bummed about playing a show in Glasgow to twenty people until I remember a time when my big dream was just to go on one Euro tour. It’s all about perspective.
What is your biggest struggle as a person in creative industry?
Boxing myself in. I’ve struggled with not granting myself permission to go certain places creatively because I tell myself it’s not “me”. So silly! We are only as limited as the boundaries we put on ourselves.
What is your daily routine? Your weekend routine?
When I’m home in LA it looks like this:
Wake up and make coffee, light candles and incense, write down my dreams, do morning pages, and work on writing music. Usually I make a smoothie loaded up with greens and superfoods. On my best days, I avoid looking at my cell phone or computer until after 12 noon. That’s always my goal. I have to guard the morning as my special time before the pressures of the world seep in. If I get a couple good hours of spiritual solitude and music time in before I look at my phone, it’s a good day. Usually in the afternoons I’ll run errands or go to a café and do emails and administrative things. I live really close to Griffith Park in LA, and I like to go on a hike around sunset, then come home and make dinner, and see friends.
On weekends, I relax my no technology before noon rule. I like to read the news and have a long slow morning, drinking coffee, listening to records, making a nice breakfast. Traffic is chiller on weekends so it doesn’t take as long to get to some deep beauty. It’s a good opportunity to drive out to the ocean or the mountains for a hike. I usually only go out on weekend nights if it’s an intentional outing like seeing a show or going to a party or going dancing. I’ve learned that going to bars in LA is no fun on weekends. I’d rather stay in and read than sit at a bar on a Friday night in LA, screaming at my friends trying to talk, ew!
How do you motivate yourself to actually get things done and/or maintain some level of
For me, having a routine around writing and avoiding technology in the mornings really helps. I treat it like a practice. It’s my job. I know I will write songs if I carve out the time and focus. And I know when I’m being bad, looking at the Internet, distracting myself, convincing myself I just need a break. That’s all resistance trying to trick me into not doing my work. If I wake up and just do it, I’ll usually make progress on a song.
How do you manage the stress/anxiety that’s inevitable with putting yourself out there?
I don’t have stress or anxiety about putting myself out there because I won’t put something out unless it sparks that inner knowing I talked about earlier. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, no one else will. But mostly it’s because this is all I’ve ever wanted to do! I feel grateful and excited to show the world what I’ve been working on in my little writing cave or in the studio or band rehearsals. I do get stress and anxiety around press though. That stuff can be brutal.
How do you know when it’s time to rest?
Weekends and after 5pm during the week, I’m allowed to chill. That doesn’t mean I always do, but I had to give myself a clock out time or I would work on things constantly. There’s a quote I love – do what you love and you’ll be kind of working all the time. It’s true. You gotta set boundaries. On tour, there’s pretty much no rest. So I come home after tour and do nothing for a whole day. And when I’m making an album, no rest. It’s all consuming.
How do you manage the internet/social media?
The only social media thing that really grabs my attention is Instagram, so I take big breaks from it. When I don’t ‘need’ it to promote a tour or new music or shows, I’ll just delete the app for long stretches of time and take a little hiatus. No one notices.
Do you collaborate, and if so, what’s your collaborative process like?
For my last album I collaborated really closely with Shane Renfro who is also my partner. I brought the songs to him and we fleshed out the arrangements together and did some co-writing as well. I trust him more than almost anyone when it comes to music and I love writing with him. I’ll get stuck and he will help me find my way out of it by suggesting a new chord or a different place the song could go.
What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to
My goals have been in place for as long as I can remember. My big dream is to expand the way of life I have now. I have always wanted the life I’m currently living – to write, make a record, go on tour, come home, and do it all over again. I call it the musician’s cycle. My big dream is to make a stable living from my music, to have enough financial stability to buy a house and what I need for my health and wellbeing and comfort. I hope to have a family one day and to be able to give my future child or children a beautiful upbringing. And I hope to maintain a certain degree of freedom for as long as possible to keep working, creating, living, and exploring.
How do you deal with people not liking you, liking your ideas or being jealous of you?
It doesn’t bother me when people I don’t know don’t like my ideas or what they think they know of me. Strangers on the Internet all have their opinions, and that’s fine. But if a friend turns on me, it really hurts. I try to respond with love and patience and hope they’ll come back around. And jealousy is never personal. A good friend will talk it through with you and you’ll both end up laughing.