Jessie Baylin: Searching For A Certain 'Spark'
The album Little Spark evokes a sound you might have heard 40 years ago, piercing through the static of your AM radio. The big string sections and angelic choruses are all there, echoing the hallmarks of classic orchestral pop. But Little Spark is the work of a modern singer-songwriter named Jessie Baylin.
"I wanted a bigger, more epic soundscape — and, at the same time, I wanted the lyric to feel really intimate," Baylin says. "I drew a lot of inspiration from Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis in particular."
Baylin grew up in small-town New Jersey, went to high school in Manhattan, spent six years in L.A. and finally settled down in Nashville, where she currently lives with her husband. She says that capturing the right sound for Little Spark meant putting up with technological hurdles — like the clunky analog tape machine she recorded on, which forced her to nail the songs in a single take.
"[It] was really exhausting sometimes. But I think it makes a difference, because there's a performance there," she says. "We did it in a very classic way. We wanted it to be nostalgic but still fresh and modern — you can't really place where it comes from, you know?"
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Time now for music and a sound you might have heard 40 years ago piercing through the static on your AM radio.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAZ: Those big strings, that angelic chorus and layers of echo, a Phil Spector production? Not quite. This is a brand new record, and it's by a young singer-songwriter named Jesse Baylin. This album, "Little Spark," was finished two years ago, and it's been sitting on a shelf ever since just waiting for a label to give it a chance. It finally came out this past Tuesday, and when I spoke with Jesse Baylin about it, she says she wanted to create a sound that would be timeless.
JESSIE BAYLIN: I wanted a bigger, more epic soundscape, and at the same time, I wanted the lyric to feel really intimate. And I drew a lot of inspiration from Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield, "Dusty in Memphis" in particular, and those records just felt so big to me. And at the same time, listening to them, I feel like they're singing right to me, and that's why I wrote the songs. But then I knew that I had to bring in the right kinds of people, so I found Kevin Augunas and Richard Swift, who is the chief arranger and played most of the instruments. And then we brought in Jimmy Haskell, who has arranged orchestral arrangements for "Bridge over Troubled Water." And Bobby Gentry's just an unbelievable man and character, and he was so playful with his arrangements. It was exactly what I wanted and what the songs needed.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS WASTED ON LOVERS")
BAYLIN: (Singing) Oh, your love was wasted on lovers. They don't know what's in their arms, they don't know until it's gone. Who put out that spark. Love is wasted on lovers. They will open every stage, making something just to face, seal it with a kiss. Love is wasted on lovers.
RAZ: That sound, the way you captured that sound, it was done very methodically. You wanted it to sound that way.
BAYLIN: Mm-hmm. We did it all to tape on analog. And the tape machine that we recorded on, for some reason, wasn't allowing us to punch in at all, so we had to do everything on one take, which was exhausting sometimes. But I think it makes a difference because there's a performance there. We did it in a very classic way, so maybe - and we wanted to be nostalgic, too, but still fresh and modern and you can't really place where it comes from, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YUMA")
RAZ: You have a track on here called "Yuma." And there's a line in there that says: I gaze in Arizona and I took the California coast.
RAZ: A lot of the songs on this record are about heartbreak, about relationships ending. Are your words personal? Are they autobiographical?
BAYLIN: Yes. Yes, they are. They come out of my journal. I try and journal every day, and that's where a lot of my lyric comes from.
RAZ: Every day you do it?
BAYLIN: I try. I haven't lately because I've been too busy, but I did write this morning. It was a very short entry. But I had to write because I realized this morning when I woke up that I'm living a dream. I didn't expect all of this. Like, it feels really great, and I just wanted to make sure I remembered that.
RAZ: The dream of being able to make a living from music?
BAYLIN: Yeah. I didn't even know if this record would even come out. When I left Verve Records...
RAZ: That was your old label.
BAYLIN: Mm-hmm. I wasn't sure. I thought I should just upload it onto the Internet because nothing's going to happen with it. But then I thought it was too good, and I held that back. And a year and a half after we finished it, I met my manager and this great little distribution company and label in Nashville. And it's somehow working out and now it's coming out. So it's just - it's such a dream. And my only expectation has been that it would come out, so everything else is just a cherry on top, truly.
RAZ: What did you do during that period? I mean, wow, a year and a half must have been agonizing.
BAYLIN: I cried a lot.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BAYLIN: I did. I mean, I remember I was on the road with my husband. We were in London.
RAZ: And I would be remiss not to mention your husband is Nathan Followill. He's the drummer for the well-known band Kings of Leon.
BAYLIN: Yeah. And it was so painful for me. There was nothing happening, and it had been like a year, and I was just like rocking the fetal position every day. I was so sad. I'm like, all I want to do is share this piece of art that I've spent so much time making, and it just was really, really painful for me. But at the same time, I'm so glad I was patient and waited because this is like the moment that I'm ready for this. It feels right. I'm ready to give it away now.
RAZ: That's singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin. Her new album is called "Little Spark." You can check out a few tracks at our website, nprmusic.org. Jessie, thank you. And good luck to you.
BAYLIN: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.