Sometimes Jess Saade feels like she is leading a double life. By day, this Brandeis graduate works at a public health social impact group in Cambridge, but by night she has become a regular on the Boston local music scene. Jess, a self-taught singer-songwriter, says she had always felt these two passions in her life have been compartmentalized from each other, but they are about to converge in a life changing way in her near future.
Growing up in Framingham, going to school in Waltham, living in Boston and working in Cambridge, Jess has been a true Boston-area local her entire life. In the next week, however, she will be packing up her life and moving to Copenhagen for graduate school to continue studying public health. This move has had an understandable impact on Jess’ latest album, “Interval,” released just two weeks ago, featuring a song appropriately titled “Changes.”
IM Boston had the chance to sit down with Jess before her big move and talk about her music, Boston’s community of local musicians and her plans for continuing songwriting once settled in Denmark.
Growing up, what were you most passionate about, and how has that influenced your life today?
I feel like I’m divided into several areas… I guess in a general sense, having a sense of purpose is something I care very deeply about, and so my health policy work allows me to do that because a lot of the work I’ve done in the last three years whether directly or not has had some influence on rules the government put into place for future healthcare reform. In addition to that, I care very deeply about music, which is a swing in an entirely different direction. I think I like the two of them for different reasons. They allow me to exercise different parts of myself. Health policy allows me to work with my qualitative reasoning side of my brain, but then music allows me to work with my creative brain.
How did you first become interested in music? When did you first start playing instruments?
I guess it manifested back in highschool when I did a lot of musical theater, and I found that I had an affinity for music, so in college I started playing the guitar and doing coffeehouses on campus… And I don’t know at what point in my head I was like, ‘yeah I’m interested to try another instrument.’ I started piano, and I never had a piano, so I used to sneak into that music hall. It’s the Slosberg music hall on campus. And technically it should be reserved for music students, but I would just sign up for a slot and finagle a room whenever there was a chance. I started playing with the piano that way, and then I realized I liked it so I bought my own.
Was starting an instrument in college a challenge for you?
Yeah. It was such an octogenarian age at which to take up an instrument, being in your early 20’s. I’m self-taught, and it was just an exercise in patience… I might never be as classically composed. I feel like to someone who’s truly formally, classically trained in the craft, I might look like a savage pounding on my piano as I play, but I’m fine with that because I can play what I’ve written, and that’s good enough for me. I just want to get my music out there.
What are your thoughts on the music community here in Boston? What makes it unique?
What makes it unique is that no one is afraid to be eccentric, to be who they are, to create quirky music, to dress quirkily, to have their outstanding personalities shining. Because Boston is small enough, you can appreciate that everyone is who they are… it’s such a small community that everyone knows who everyone is on the Boston music scene.
What was it like first getting into the music scene?
I feel like my first immersion into the Boston music scene was when I was 18 and therefore, of age to get into a show at the Middle East. One of my friends suggested that we go to a show there, and it was the Rock ‘n Roll Rumble. It’s an annual battle of the bands competition. And I had no previous context of what it was like to go to a local show or what it was like to see a local artist perform on stage, and I was just like, I love all of this.
What messages do you try to convey through your songs, and has it changed from the first album to the most recent?
Actually one of the songs on this new album is fittingly called “Changes,” but I feel like my first album was sharing this art retrospectively. It was music that I’d written over the course of several years. It felt like a completed project and once I was finished with it, I shared it with the world. For this second album I feel like the material on it is looking ahead to the uncertainty of the future and it’s just an entire difference. I don’t know how to explain it– there’s a definite timeline to the course of the songs.
Do you think music is something you’ll continue to do while you’re in Copenhagen?
Hopefully! That was actually a major stressor in deciding whether I wanted to go to grad school in the United States or abroad. One of the main factors I considered was what to do with my music equipment. Realistically I can’t bring over all my music equipment with me… That was definitely a factor, but at this point, I know it’s non negotiable. I know I will continue somehow. I’ll find a way. At the very least, I’ll buy a ukulele to get by for the time being before buying the bigger instruments.