❉ Jessica Lee Morgan’s new album Around the Block is released this Friday on Space Records.
Jessica Lee Morgan is the daughter of Tony Visconti, David Bowie’s longtime producer, and singer Mary Hopkin, who was signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records and kicked off her career with Those Were the Days. Jessica has been singing and writing all her life, releasing her first album I Am Not in 2010 on Space Records.
Jessica has been touring with Bowie supergroup Holy Holy in March and April 2017, alongside her father Tony Visconti (Bowie, T.Rex), Woody Woodmansey (Spiders from Mars) and Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17), as well as Paul Cuddeford, James Stevenson and Berenice Scott.
Jessica Lee Morgan’s new album Around the Block is released 16 June 2017 on Space Records. The accompanying single ‘Waiting To Leave’ was released 9 June 2017.
Given your parentage, it’s fair to say that you have music in the blood. What are your earliest music memories?
I remember sitting on the floor watching and listening to my mum write songs at the piano. When I read ‘The Piano’ by DH Lawrence, I identified with it completely.
You’ve been singing and writing all your life. Was there anything else you wanted to be when you were growing up?
A fashion designer, then a sweet shop owner, then a stock broker. None of these would have been good choices for me! I did spend many years in the public and voluntary sectors, helping service users speak up about the services they used. This experience turned into my song ‘I Am Not’ which is all about how we label people with “issues”.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Stick to the music.
What are your best and worst qualities?
I’m most confident when I’m singing on stage. And recording. Any kind of singing actually. My worst quality is not doing enough of it!
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
I’ve loved all my jobs in different ways. But working in the public/charity sector, I was frustrated at how slowly things changed, despite seemingly straightforward solutions. There is some amazing work going on but it’s often hampered by funding, or by lack of long-term planning. The service users get disenchanted with their services because the providers don’t listen, they all stop engaging, and it all becomes passive.
Who were your heroes growing up?
My mum. My brother. Joni Mitchell.
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
The video for ‘Weapon of Choice’ by Fatboy Slim. Christopher Walken dancing is one of the greatest things to watch.
Monty Python: Is it funny?
Of course. But The Meaning of Life gave me nightmares!
What was the last film that you watched?
Rogue One. It was also the first film I’ve seen in 3D. Loved it.
What film could you watch every day?
Withnail and I. I probably don’t need to as I could quote almost all of it.
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Lost Boys. Bit cheesy but I played it to death.
I have to give a special mention to Bladerunner. My mum, Mary Hopkin, recorded ‘Rachel’s Theme’ with Vangelis but it never made it into the film. Thankfully it is on the soundtrack album. It’s absolutely stunning.
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
Jeff Bridges, Fred Astaire, Jack Lemmon and Mark Heap, in a film written by Neil Simon.
Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?
Making The Hobbit into a trilogy was the most appalling decision ever made. It’s a children’s book, not a saga. The Lord of the Rings films were long enough.
Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. It’s perfect.
Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?
Rumours, so they’d have to get their own.
Which book would you save if your house was on fire?
My lyric book. Then I’d go to the library. I’m in the process of downsizing so I’ve just got rid of a load of books!
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
The two cults I’ve observed most recently are Spurs fans and David Bowie fans. They give their followers an identity, a tribe, and massive support. The show, event, match, whatever, gives them a focus. I’d say it’s like church only more fun.
What are you reading at present?
Cowboy Song about Phil Lynott. I like the odd musical biography. I just read a book about Jimmy Kennedy who was an immensely successful Irish songwriter. He famously wrote ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’. It describes the growth of the songwriting industry since the 1930s, and having worked for PRS for Music I found it fascinating.
Other than your parents, who has inspired you over the years?
My brother, Morgan Visconti, who is an amazing composer, musician and artist. I wish I had his powers of concentration.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Morgan told me to “keep it classy”. Music has got so sexualised that he didn’t want to see his little sister flaunting her bits. He’s right. Music is about music, not bits.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?
Me. I finally decided to stop messing about in other jobs and concentrate on the music. I wish I had done that sooner.
Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?
Not always. But if you’re going to meet them, do your homework and have something to say to them that they might find interesting, not the same old lines like “I loved you when I was a kid” i.e. “not so much now”! I have said this and I could kick myself.
You founded Mary Hopkin Music in 2005, a label that releases your mother’s music post-Apple, and set up to release Mary’s music on her own terms; to what extent has your mother’s experiences with the music industry (good and bad) helped you navigate your own music career?
She was, and still is, understandably protective of me – she didn’t have a great time in the industry in the three very intensive years from 1968-71. That’s why we set up the label. But we are different musically – I love gigging and she loves recording, for instance, so we’re bound to have different experiences. She always taught me to proceed with caution but also to be in control of my music and my career.
Your first album was I Am Not in 2010 on Space Records. Can you tell us a little about it?
It was going to be two EPs – one electronic and one acoustic. But I ended up blending the two, so it’s very eclectic. Morgan mixed the electronic tracks (I’d done the initial programming) and made them sound very slick, and Tony did the same with the acoustic tracks. I think it made me hard to pigeonhole, but it reflects all the styles I like. Space Records is also our label (still in control, see!).
Your new album Around the Block is out this Friday on Space Records, and it’s been trailed by the single ‘Waiting To Leave’ . Can you tell us a little about what writing and recording your album has been like?
I wanted to make an album that sounded cohesive, unlike the first one. Also one that reflected what I do live – just me on guitar and vocals and Chris on bass (and now some vocals too). So it’s much more acoustic. Also, it was recorded in a much more informal way – in our mobile studio, on the road, at home, and at the guests’ studios. There are three guest guitarists: Morgan, Paul Cuddeford from Holy Holy and Jules Hay. Simon Adams is on drums and Chris is on bass. He’s also the engineer and co-producer.
You’re one of the guest artists on David Palfreyman and Nicholas Pegg’s Decades album. What’s that been like?
Brilliant. I recorded my vocals remotely so didn’t really get to know Nick and Dave until later. I love my two tracks and hearing them in the context of the narration is fabulous. They should be very proud of what they’ve created.
What would you like to be your epitaph?
If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on. (‘Die With Your Boots On’ – Iron Maiden.) I do everything in my boots now, high heels are just ridiculous.
We are at a bar, what are you drinking?
Scotch and soda.
What do you do to chill out?
Scotch and soda.
What are your three favourite cities?
New York, Paris, London. I wrote a song about New York called ‘New York’. Cities like that have a lot in common – the old, the new, the people.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
I was a studio receptionist at the age of 8 – in my father’s Good Earth Studios in Soho. I did such a good receptionist phone voice that my mum didn’t recognise me when she called.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Playing live. I like to involve the audience as much as possible. ‘Love Song’ is the big singalong closer. That’s why it’s the bonus track on Around The Block.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?
Making this new album because it’s entirely as I’d planned. Also more people are hearing it this time and so far the feedback has been very kind indeed.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
After Album 2, album 3! I have some gigs coming up which are listed on my website. Also I hear there’s more Holy Holy to come.
How can our readers discover more about you and your work?
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us!
You’re most welcome!
❉ Decades is released on 14 July 2017 on double CD, double vinyl and digital download. To find out more and to pre-order your copy now, visit the Decades website.