There's a band out of Detroit called Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, and just about everybody who sees them thinks they're seeing a promising new group with a cool new singer, but that's not quite all of it. When you take a good look at Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas you can see a lot more than just that, because what you're really seeing is an exorbitant take on where music can come from, an all-embracing vision of what music can be. You're looking at a stage full of gifted young jazz players tearing it up in a rock band behind a creative and talented singer, a singer who cares a lot about everything she does, and not so much about what anybody said she was supposed to do. It's quite a sight, and quite a sound, and even if it's already quite a story, there's bound to be a lot more where that came from. That's because Jessica Hernandez has a vision that's such a wild and complex collage of creativity that nobody can really guess what she might do next.
They covered a lot of the country last year, and since people who see them often tell somebody, you may have heard of them already. It's just as likely that you've heard some of their music; after signing with Instant Records, the label founded by songwriting, producing, and label icon Richard Gottehrer, they released a five song EP called Demons (after the Hernandez original that opens the record), and it gets played a lot. Since they're heading out on tour again right now (Atlanta, San Diego, Austin for South By Southwest and a lot of other places), they'll probably be wherever you are before too long. Until then you could listen to the EP, or maybe check out some of the unreleased tracks in their live videos (many of which will be on the full length album they'll release this summer). Either way, you'll probably start to see how much there is behind the little that anybody has seen yet.
There are five tracks of carefully imagined music on the Demons EP, three of them produced by Milo Froideval and the other two by Hernandez. Although all of them showcase Hernandez' colorful voice, you get the idea that, surprisingly, that's not the idea at all. There's a multi-chromatic imagery to her vocals, but it's just one of the ways that she has of rendering reality from all the possibilities she can see. She's painting a very big picture, and her memorable voice is only one of the textured colors on a multidimensional palette.
One of the reasons why she can see so many possibilities is that she looks just about everywhere. "I'm really into photography, I'm really into drawing, I'm really into fashion, and theater, and writing," she says. "I'm really into all these different things, and I feel like to be happy and fulfilled, I need to be doing all of them, not just one of them." In contrast to the more formally trained musicians she plays with, a lot of what she knows, she learned on her own. "I didn't grow up studying with any other musicians," she says. "My whole thing was teaching myself piano, or teaching myself guitar, and as soon as I learned three chords I started writing songs."
She writes them every day now, and a lot of her songs go places that three chords wouldn't often find, because they take you to places that only Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas could go. "When I write, I think it's kind of similar to how I'm all over the place with my creative interests," she says. "I can't do one thing and feel content, I need to be doing a million things at one time. My way of being able to do that through my music is by not limiting myself to one genre or one particular style, and saying 'well this is what people expect of me so I've got to do this'."
It's an approach that reflects a lot of careful thought, a creative understanding of exactly what it is that people find in the music they like. "If I'm being true to myself," she explains, "then people are going to see that, and be able to connect with that."
Being able to connect with people is important to her, maybe because it's something that comes from where she comes from. It comes from a heritage of working hard and caring about your family and your friends, and from a city whose shattered outside has never stopped the people in it from making sure that its heart keeps beating strong.
That same ability to connect with people is part of the reason why she works so well with the richly talented musicians who make up The Deltas. Together, they find ways to explore a whole spectrum of possibilities, balancing her wide ranging musical ideas with the intricate potential of their more formal training. Like her work with producer Milo Froideval on the Demons EP, it brings a rich set of refractions to her many colored musical vision.
The connection that you see between her and the band on stage, and hear in their unusually creative arrangements, seems to include their differences as much as their common talent. Hernandez recognizes that as accomplished players in their own right, and jazz players at that, all of their musical aspirations may not fit into any one project. "They may have a very different set of goals and dreams," she says of the band, "and I've always let them know, if this is even just a step for you, that is cool with me." It's a careful but dynamic respect, an unusually aware balance between band and singer. "In a sense," she says, "we're helping each other, to benefit and grow as musicians."
In a way, her collaboration with the band is a showcase for one of her less obvious abilities, the way that she's able to balance the wide range of her creativity with a precise awareness of what will work, and of how to make it all work together. It's as if she has a design sense of how to focus creativity, which is a good thing, because her creativity comes from so many places. A former fashion design student, she makes a lot of what she wears on stage herself, so when you see the band live, you may be seeing a brand new look that she just created. One thing you can be sure of though, it will all go together. Despite the wide range of her interests and inspiration, Hernandez is careful, bordering on vigilant, about how she puts things together, about what to leave in and what to leave out, or at least leave out for now.
The variety of musical styles that the band explores in just five songs on the Demons EP is a good example; everything sounds like it belongs where it is, and not by accident, but by design. "The thing is I probably wrote forty songs, and then I chose five for the EP," Hernandez explains. "I write every day, and I feel like even if I'm creatively all over the place, and some of my songs might be really weird and way different from some of the others, when it comes to putting something together like an EP, it's a matter of, well, what am I feeling at this point in time? How do I fit these pieces together to convey that message in this moment?"
It gives you some idea of what may lie ahead, and the more you look, the more you can imagine just how far their inspiration might take them. There's a video that the band shot themselves on four cell phones of an unreleased track called "Dead Brains"; The Deltas are piled into a 1967 Lincoln Continental playing whatever you can play in a car (which is drums, bass, keys and guitar if you're The Deltas in a sixty-seven Continental) and Hernandez is behind the wheel, singing in a beautiful, airy voice that's completely different from anything on the Demons EP. You get the feeling, as they drive around Detroit in a movie about its soundtrack, that they could wander far and always know where they are, that they could go all kinds of different places but still manage to be where they came from. It's an artistic understanding, and a personal openness, that Hernandez embraces completely.
"I feel like that's how you find your fans," she says, "because that's how you find the people that connect with you as a person. At that point you can really do no wrong, because they've already made that connection, they fell in love with you as a person and as an artist, so as long as you stay true to that, that connection will still be there. I feel like the problems start to happen when you try and be somebody you're not."
That's a really good thing for just about anybody to remember, to be sure to be who you really are, but what if you just happen to be Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas? Well then you could probably do just about anything you want, and still be you.