Portsmouth’s indie-pop star Jerry Williams BIG INTERVIEW: ‘This is a gamble, I don’t know what’s going to happen here’
While many of us have been trying to ease gingerly into 2019, singer-songwriter Jerry Williams has hit the ground full-tilt.
So far this year the 23-year-old has already been to New York to meet her new US record label, while there she also took over Teen Vogue’s Snapchat for an afternoon; put out a new single, David at The Bar which has been attracting rave reviews thanks not only to its earworm of a tune but also its intriguing backstory; featured in numerous print and online articles thanks to said single, and today she is off to play some shows in Germany before returning to tour England.
Towards the end of last year, Jerry signed a hattrick of record deals – Royal Mountain Records in Canada, Big Picnic records, which is part of the big-hitting Paradigm talent agency in the US, and Ferryhouse Records, who will put her out in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
However, with more than 12m streams for her so-far self-released indie-pop gems under her belt, the Portsmouth-born performer isn’t letting her recent string of successes go to her head.
Sitting down for a chat with The Guide before she flew out to America, she says: ‘It’s weird because I’ve been doing this now for five years, so this progress has felt really slow, and then these things just came into my life randomly – it wasn’t like we were looking for them.
‘To have a deal in Germany, America and now Canada, I wouldn’t have even known where to start with that. It just happened really quickly at the end of the year, but it took a long time getting there.’
With typical self-awareness, the former Guide Award-winning Best Solo Act adds: ‘It feels like another part of my journey – I know that sounds really cheesy!’
Although Jerry may call it ‘random’ her hard work has certainly played its part, and has led to a bit of a domino effect, which led to her going on tour with Calpurnia, the band fronted by Stranger Things and It actor Finn Wolfhard, and opened the door to her Canadian deal.
‘It really was a domino effect, as last year closed I was reflecting on it, and it was all these little things that led to this, and then to that, and then the deal.
‘I’ve got a friend called Phoebe Phox, who’s a photographer – Shotbyphox. She took some pictures of me and put them on her Instagram.
‘A (US pop-punk) band called SWMRS saw me on there, and they had already heard my music, so they invited me on tour.
‘Then they were sitting with Finn in America, and he said: “I’m looking for someone to support me on tour in Europe,” and they recommended me, and that’s how it happened.
‘I’m so chuffed with that, it means so much to me that it happened that way.
‘Calpurnia are so nice – they’re normal guys and really funny to hang out with.’
As part of the UK Calpurnia tour she got to play the prestigious Koko venue in Camden.
‘It makes my belly flip,’ she says recalling the gig.
‘Koko was one of those venues I would give as an answer when people would ask where I wanted to play. To actually do it, it was one of the highlights of my whole life, I’ll never forget it. It really is a milestone for me.’
As a supporting act on tour, Jerry has always tried to capitalise on the chance by meeting as many of her fans as possible.
‘After my set I go out and say hello to anybody who wants to and then again after the whole thing. For me that’s a great moment, it costs me a lot of money to go on these tours – the hotels and the travel – so I love meeting these people who like my music and will hopefully come and see me again. It is a part of the job, but it’s a part of the job I love.’
As a previously unsigned act, she’s candid about the financial side of being a professional musician.
‘I’m not going to lie, money has been one of the biggest challenges of being unsigned and it does worry you sometimes when your money gets low and you think: “I can’t afford to do this now”. But I think of it all as investments that I’ve made and that will take me to the next level. And in this case it absolutely has, as it got me the record deal in Canada.’
Open the Paradigm website on its page for artists beginning with ‘J’ and you’ll find Jerry rubbing shoulders with everyone from Janet Jackson to Joni Mitchell, Julio Iglesias, Jungle and Jamie XX.
As part of her deal with Paradigm, she’s being represented by the publicist Alex Baker who also has the multi-platinum acts Billie Eilish, Lorde and London Grammar on her books.
‘I’m so nervous about meeting them, and I’ve got a really great PR woman out there who’s being funded by the label, and I honestly can’t believe she’s on board, she’s amazing.
‘This is a gamble, I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but I wouldn’t have this opportunity otherwise, so I’m just going for it.’
Jerry admits she does find it strange to get signed abroad before in her home country but adds: ‘Apart from going to Texas,’ she played at the prestigious SXSW festival in Austin last year, ‘I’ve not really been to America, it’s a new audience for me. Through some American bands I’ve met I’ve been told my music should go down well out there. In the UK it’s been hard to connect with radio, so I’m hoping in America, the audience might connect with me more.
’I don’t really have an intention though, I’m just going along for the ride!’
Does it ever worry her that she seems to be getting a better reception from the industry abroad than at home?
‘I’m used to it now. At the start I sort of felt: “Oh my god, no-one likes me!” Even though people obviously did, but now I’m happy with being in complete control and working with people who totally get it, which is what’s happened in Germany and America.
‘I don’t feel bad about it or sad about it, that’s just how it is.’
With new single David at The Bar now out, Jerry is proud of the song which represents a subtle shift in her songwriting.
‘I love this song so much, and it’s one of the first songs I’ve written about somebody else.
‘Usually I’ve written about what’s happened to me, so to write about somebody else on a subject I wouldn’t otherwise write about was such a great feeling.’
The song is about a man, David, she met at The Marmion pub in Southsea while watching a gig by Fugitive Orchestra.
‘This man was so lovely, but so sad, and then for him to just go was so weird. This song means a lot, it’s remembering this guy I had some weird connection with.
‘And then he vanished and I never saw him again. He had a really kind face, but he looked so sad.
‘He said to me if you write me a song I’ll give up drinking, and the next day I knew I was writing up in London with James Earp. I said I will, I’ll do it, and when I was there with James it came out so easily, and I recorded the demo that day.’
In June last year, Jerry released the song Left and Right, which was written with Newton and Toby Faulkner, long-term fans knew well from her live sets.
‘That’s the only song that’s been in every set I’ve done forever, that’s never come out. It was nice to finally release it. That is my oldest song that’s done and out there now. It definitely showed my more edgy/band-side.
‘I was about 17-18 when I wrote that, it was one of my first sessions writing with someone else.’
From here Jerry is working towards her debut album.
‘I’ve got the next single done and then I’ve got 10 more written to record. I’ve got a couple more writing sessions lined up where I hope I’ll get maybe two or three more songs for the album. Nothing’s lined up yet, so I need to get my bum in gear because we’re looking at a September release!
‘A lot of the songs I play now live in the set. In my head I want it to sound edgier and braver – which I think is possible, but it’s essentially an indie-pop sound with a narrative storytelling element.’
Jerry Williams is at The Joiners in Southampton on January 31, doors 7.30pm. Supported by Wild Front and Jeph. Tickets £6. Go to joiners.vticket.co.uk.