Singer-songwriter Jessica Mitchell is doing alright.
She’s a four-time Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) nominee, and at the organization’s 2018 awards gala, she sang “No Fear” in a show-opening medley of Hall of Fame inductee Terri Clark’s hits, along with Meghan Patrick, Suzy Bogguss, and Clark herself. In 2017, she performed “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” at Massey Hall for the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Neil Young.
Mitchell is also enjoying the benefits of a management deal with the RGK Entertainment Group, and her performances are booked by The Feldman Agency. After entering the Slaight Music “It’s Your Shot” competition about five years ago – even though she didn’t win – she garnered a publishing deal with the company. Though Slaight is most often thought of as more of an incubator than a publisher, they hired someone in Nashville to pitch her songs, and have been very supportive.
“When I first started working with them, I was in Nashville so often,” says Mitchell. “That’s why I wrote as many songs as I did – ‘cause I was constantly going there… I started doing my co-writing in Toronto, and that’s when I bonded with Gavin [Slate], and Todd [Clark], and Stephen [Kozmeniuk] – the Toronto crew, who are all now in Nashville! It took a long time, a good four years, to filter through hundreds of co-writers to find ‘my people’…It’s a small group… But that being said, I love the experience of writing with new people as well, so I try to do that.”
And what’s the source of that co-writing process, for Mitchell?
“Conversation,” she says. “Conversation is so important. If you’re not having a conversation with your co-writer, what’s the point? ‘Cause it’s a very personal thing…
“I know [some of] these people so well. It usually starts with, ‘Hey, how are you? What’s going on? What’s happened to you lately?’ And normally, an idea will spark [from that]… I’m not one of those people who, like some writers, write stuff or sing little melodies into their phone. If I’m stuck on an idea, it’ll come up again. If I forget it, it’ll come up again, Same with melodies…
“In Nashville you have to write kind of quick. It’s a three-, four-hour thing: Write, record, demo, ‘Bye,’ and you’re done. So a lot of songs get written very quickly, and you change stuff later, if you don’t like it.”
Inspired by the raw honesty and storytelling of country music, Mitchell believes that at the heart of every piece of music is pain and loss. Her hope is that sharing these personal experiences will forge genuine bonds with her audience. Several of the songs on her current album Heart of Glass – like the title track, “Don’t Love Me,” and “Bulletproof” – are, at least partly, about people hardening themselves in order to not get hurt by love.
“I think that’s life, that’s a big part of life,” says Mitchell. “Thick skin in this business is necessary, and in relationships, and with family. I’ve spent a good portion of my life with my guard up. And every once in awhile when I let it down, it feels like bad things come of it. Trying to remain open to possibilities, and positive things, is super-important, but I also think you really need to watch yourself these days…”
Unless you’re performing for Neil Young – in which case, you mostly watch him.
“I feel like it was an out-of-body experience,” says Mitchell of performing in front of Young at Massey Hall. “You’re on the stage, but you’re almost, like, looking at yourself from somewhere else in the room. And you’re looking at Neil looking at you. It will probably go down in history as the coolest moment I’ve ever had, so far… You walk out on the stage, and you’re, like, ‘Not gonna look, not gonna look, not gonna look.’ And I bee-lined [with my eyes] for him and I didn’t look away. I think I looked at him the whole time. It was amazing. What a trip.”