“I simply love what I do and enjoy the journey.”
Former Arthur Terry student Jessica Sweetman is currently taking the music industry by storm. Not only has the talented singer-songwriter just signed to major label BMG and the United Talent Agency, but she’s toured with music icon Van Morrison and performed at festivals worldwide with the likes of The Killers and Paloma Faith. The latest leg of Jessica’s musical journey has taken her to Nashville and she’s been busy writing with Leigh Nash from Sixpence None the Richer.
She may be living and working in New York City, but Jessica’s musical career took root in Sutton Coldfield. From being a shy teenager and taking her first tentative steps on the school stage, to jamming with Joan Baez and living on a tour bus, Jessica talks to us about her road to success and just why she never gives up.
Give it up for Jessica Sweetman!
How did you first become interested in performing?
I grew up loving music and always listening to my dad’s records, but I didn’t know that I wanted to pursue this seriously until my late teens.
How did the Arthur Terry School help foster your talent?
Arthur Terry was an incredible support for me. In my last year especially I got more involved in the talent shows and the musicals. I think it’s important to really appreciate the opportunities that school offers. Arthur Terry was certainly very good at that.
Tell us about your school days
My time at Arthur Terry was a very positive experience. I had a lovely circle of friends who I still keep in touch with. A few of the girls came to my last London show before I left for New York. I had great relationships with the teachers and have also kept in touch with some of them too. Arthur Terry has given me many fond happy memories of my growing up.
Who influenced you at school?
I had a lot of support from the teachers. Craig Jordan (now director of performing arts at Arthur Terry) in particular was a highlight of my time there. I was actually quite shy at school and Craig encouraged me to take part in a talent show when I was 16. I did and I came second place. It was after that show that I actually went out and got my first gig at Pizza Express in Sutton Coldfield. Craig had a big impact on this as he always would give me a boost and focus on helping me become more confident.
When was your first big break in music?
I told my mum and dad that I was going to move to London to pursue my singing career. They were surprised, but incredibly positive and supportive. One week later, I booked a bus, packed my bags and guitar and found a little room in Soho. I had never been to London so I was apprehensive but also very excited.
In my first week of being in the big smoke, I heard that Brit award Artist Finley Quaye was doing two shows at the famous Troubadour. I emailed the promoter and asked if I could meet him. He handed me a guitar and asked me to play. I remember I played him ‘Take it Easy’ by The Eagles and I was very grateful that he gave me both nights with Finley. This was a great start to my move.
I also landed a guest slot at Ronnie Scott’s that week, after I walked in late one night asking if I could play some of my songs for them. Looking back, this first week in London was a crucial week in my career. It set me up for many of the situations I find myself in today where you have to act quickly and take any opportunity that arises.
Tell us about some of your experiences as an artist
I’ve been very fortunate to play with some great artists over the years. I’ve recently supported Van Morrison and all four shows have been amazing experiences. I’m a huge fan, so been a part of this is something I won’t forget. I’ve also supported Keane, Hozier, Paloma Faith and David Gray. My band and I also performed for Jools Holland at the Boisdale Club in Canary Wharf, which was a moment to remember!
We also went on tour supporting Frero Delavega around France. I was on a tour bus with 15 boys for a week. I was the only girl. Quite an experience I must say!
Since coming out to New York, I’ve had one particular experience that I will never forget. I attended Joan Baez’s 75th birthday party with my manager and we went to the after show party. Artists such as Paul Simon, David Crosby and Damien Rice there – all of whom I look up to massively. We got involved in a late night jam between Joan Baez and Damien Rice. This was a very inspirational moment for me.
What’s the best part of being a musician?
I simply love what I do and enjoy the journey. I love writing a song and then taking it into the studio with my band and turning it into a finished song – I don’t think there is any better feeling than this. My songs are my ‘babies’ and I love seeing them develop. It gets even better then when I can take new songs into my shows and play them live.
You’ve recently moved to New York – what’s it like?
I love this city and feel very settled here. Of course, I miss my family and friends very much and that I do find difficult at times. However, I have a great team around me who are positive and supportive and making sure I’m OK. I have also been very creative since coming out here. I know I’m settled when I can write and I have been writing a lot so I must be in a good place right now.
How often do you get back to Sutton Coldfield?
I visited just a few months back with my Sister, Millie, to see our best friend Laura Sedgwick, who is a teacher at Arthur Terry. We grew up with Laura – she’s like another sister to us so we often come and see her. We had a lovely girly weekend and we also visited Sutton Park, which was great.
Do you have any advice to offer any aspiring young artists?
The music business is tough. There are many knock backs along the way but they have just made me stronger and In fact, been my biggest motivation.
I once read something that has always stayed with me…
‘Sometimes the strength within you is not a big fiery flame for all to see,
It is just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly ‘you got this, keep going’.
It’s true. Persistence pays. Never give up.