Music

Under the Influence: Jess Williamson

By Andrew Sayer

This article originally appeared in the second issue of MedMen's new quarterly magazine, Ember, created in collaboration with PAPER. MedMen is a California-based cannabis company and investment firm with properties spanning coast to coast.

Blame synchronicity for the reinvented sound of Jess Williamson's third album, Cosmic Wink. By allowing herself to give into meaningful coincidences, Williamson departed her longtime home, Austin, Texas, on a journey that reinvigorated her music. Researching the work of famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung left her looking for subtle signs from the cosmos and not questioning where the path may lead. "I just followed these opportunities that presented themselves as I made the album," she says. Being open to chance resulted in getting signed by the New York City–based indie label Mexican Summer.

This album's journey began at a crossroads of a new relationship and the loss of her beloved dog — two events that led to a more optimistic sound and relocation to Los Angeles. "It's easy to plateau in Austin," Williamson says. "I felt like I needed to get out so I could grow. I'd stuck myself in a box of what I should be writing."

With her feet planted close to the Pacific, the constraints she felt in Austin rinsed off. "When I moved to LA, I gave myself permission to live like an artist and to take it seriously," she says. Drawing inspiration from artists like Fleetwood Mac erased the perceived shame of making pop music out of her head. "It's a beautiful art to make music that's universal, that connects with a lot of people. The music is fun and you can dance and sing along to it."

Jess Williamson's Artistic Influences

Don't Mess with Texas Baseball Cap

During Cosmic Wink's creation, this Sagittarius followed the stars' alignment to and from Texas, but she is now fully an LA resident. Mining the interiors of her own psyche while writing the new album brought a lightened mood. The two main reasons: "I fell in love in a huge way," Williamson says of the first reason. "The majority of the songs were written at the beginning of that relationship. Love-drunk. Inspired by the bliss of new love."

The second was the external validation of this. Quite simply, she wanted to have a good time playing live. "I was opening for bigger bands and they were having a lot more fun," she says. For Williamson, asking less emotionally from the audience translates to a dynamic stage presence. "I'm giving myself permission to be less subdued and wear sparkles and sequins," Williamson says, relieved. "Now it feels so much more me."

"I'm giving myself permission to be less subdued and wear sparkles and sequins. Now it feels so much more me."

Riding the wave of random connections has led to more touring, a perk of her success that takes a toll on the body and mind. But she's found a way to combat the rigors of the road. "I love CBD lotion," she says. "Especially traveling, I always have a tense neck and shoulders from hauling gear. It's super healing."

With a tour through her former hometown on the horizon, Williamson finds herself in the bizarre position of booking better shows than when she was a local. "I love Austin. It's the only place that feels like I'm home, but it's hard for musicians to break out. Maybe you get taken more seriously by your own scene if you leave for a while," she says, searching for an explanation.

It's not the first time a troubadour has found her voice on the road, but Williamson achieved her artistic vision by looking inward and making spiritual discoveries. The result, Cosmic Wink, is the sound of accepting the magic the universe throws at you.

Photography: Kelia Anne MacCluskey

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