“Living big feels like a day at the beach with all my people and lots of fruit and food…from sunrise to sunset,” Jesswar humbly reflects on what it is to live big, immersed in the intersection of the beach and rainforest on Yugambeh/Kombumerri Country on the Gold Coast.
Off the back of their powerful single release HEFTY, laced with deep piano strikes and chest-heavy lyricism, Jesswar has released their debut mixtape LIFE’S SHORT, LIVE BIG — revealing a new tenderness, honesty and wholehearted acceptance.
Like the best of us, Jesswar describes their childhood consisting of obsessing over Missy Elliott videos on Video Hits, with this nostalgia often grounding them into the present, reminding them of the power and belonging their inner child would feel seeing themselves on Video Hits now.
During our interview, Jesswar speaks of the powerful landscape that helped them recycle energy into music, venturing into unknown territory, and their goal to keep evolving and growing and empowering others to find freedom.
Take us back to the beginning. I read that you discovered hip-hop through your brother’s CD collection. What was this experience like and who were you drawn to at the time?
Yeah, it was through my brother and my older cousin that I discovered hip-hop. They were a lot older than me by like 6 to 8 years, so I was always the baby of the family. I would always go in and steal [my brothers] mix CD’s, take them into my room and play them on my CD player. For me, it was finding a different genre that was so electric and magnetic. Every weekend I used to wake up early and watch Video Hits. I was really drawn to Missy Elliott’s videos. I remember seeing them for the first time and having my mind blown. These weren’t just any music videos; they were like going into her universe and entering her world.
I was really shy when I was little and a quiet kid as well and I didn’t tell anybody for a long time that I was interested in music. It was a relationship I kept to myself, and I would go and write bars in my room and make up beats in my head. It was an escape from the whole world, and it made me feel like everything was going to be okay. When I was about 14 I started to learn how to play instruments and I really wanted to know the mechanics behind music and how the song is made. I often look back and I feel really blessed that I’m able to make music and create and put it out, and to have a team behind me is something that I don’t ever take for granted. I always reflect on how mind-blowing it would be if my little self could see me now on Video Hits now.
You came into the scene around 2017 and reflecting 5 years on, what has this journey of creating taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me to be confident and to always back myself. It’s put me in many different rooms that I never thought I would be in. I feel I never would’ve travelled if it wasn’t for music. I’ve gotten to experience different things and be in different communities and scenes. It’s taught me growth, and to be fast on my feet and that I can really do anything. Music has taught me to believe in myself.
I want to talk about your mixtape Life’s Short, Live Big. I read that this project was a creative rebirth for you, and you feel like you are coming into a new side of yourself. Can you speak to this a little more?
Before I started creating this project, I had a completely different project that I planned on releasing, and at the last minute, I scrapped it. I feel like through COVID and everything I sort of sat with myself a bit and tried to figure out what it is that I want and who I am. I was experiencing this rebirth, with ups and downs, peaks and valleys just trying to figure out life stuff as well. I just wanted that freedom again of writing and creating like I used to have back in the day when I would just record, send it off and bounce it out. That’s the energy that I brought with this project, and I just wanted to make something that I really loved. It was a really fun process. I was a part of all the process from mixing, mastering, recording, doing all the videos and even the album cover—I had my hands on everything. It felt like mine. And I felt really proud of it and like I gave birth to it. It was a really cool experience and I’m really excited to get it out there.
What do you want listeners to experience or reflect on when journeying through your mixtape?
I could only hope that people feel free when listening to it. That’s exactly the same feeling that I got making it—freedom within the whole creation process. I wasn’t listening to anyone else, just within, and I was making stuff that came from my heart and soul. It was just all in my brain and I was living in this world of the project for like 8 months. That’s all I did every single day. I really hope this project gives people freedom. Reflecting on the title Life’s Short, Live Big: If I don’t put this out there, if I keep being in my own head and being my worst critic and enemy, I’m not going to get to the dreams I always dreamt of. Life’s short live big—you gotta be brave and this is me being the bravest I’ve ever been.
What does living big look and feel like to you?
Living big to me feels like a day at the beach with all my people and lots of fruit and food. I stay there for 9 hours from sunrise to sunset with all my people around me. I’m in the ocean. That to me is paradise. And that is a big life. That’s the power in this title—other people can decide what they think is a big life. A day where I’m in paradise with all my people around me? That’s a big life for me.
Speaking of nature—I read in one of your earlier interviews you described that being close to nature is a form of self-care. Is nature a muse during your creative process?
One hundred per cent. Especially in this project, there’s quite a lot of songs and sub-genres that I’ve never really worked on that have sort of an R&B feel and a lot of guitar samples in there as well. That was a completely different step in a different direction that I’ve never really ventured into before and I feel like that has a lot to do with the beach. There are slower songs on there too. It really reminded me of cruising down the strip with my friends going to beach after beach, especially the song Fell In Love. I wrote it here [on the Gold Coast] and it reminds me of being around my friends at the beach in the summertime. I feel like nature has held me in times when I didn’t feel the best. It’s helped me recycle my energy to be able to put it into music.
Considering this project was a rebirth for you, how special is it to release this mixtape in spring? Such beautiful timing!
[Laughs] One hundred per cent. When we released Fell In Love in July I was like damn this is such a summer song I would love to release it in summertime, but I’m happy that it’s already out and I’ll definitely be playing it in summer.
Me too! You’ve just released a single off the mixtape called HEFTY and the visuals for this are amazing. Hefty translates to a large powerful force, and I understood that as an ode to taking up space and reclaiming space. How do you take up space and move into your energy, particularly as a queer person of colour?
Before I enter any kind of space in the music industry or just in general, I always try to hold my head up high, and when I walk into these rooms I come with good and calm energy and remember my values and keep that in mind, and not let anyone else’s field come into mine. For me, it’s always staying strong in my values and having my people in my space. Even in this project having this kind of joy and celebration, there’s nothing stauncher than to be vulnerable. I feel like I was taking up space in a different way which is cool and when I was younger and all I wanted was to see someone like myself represented within mainstream media or just walking down the street. When I do see people that I resonate with walking down the street I’m like woah this is so sick. I can only hope that young people see that in me and I can give back to that in some sort of way. I always remind myself that even if I feel a bit self-conscious about wearing a crazy outfit or anything, I always think what if my little self saw me in this? I always try to think back to that and be strong in what I stand in.
You mentioned vulnerable and staunch together, which is a bit of a contrast. That’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. In my experience as an Aboriginal person, there’s a narrative where we need to be resilient and enduring – but I think joy and softness and vulnerability are such an important part of survival. What are some of the things that you do to hold softness and evoke joy?
I was thinking about this the other day. On my last project, I felt super angry and like things were compacting on me. Then I feel like I went through this other journey and came to this side of being soft and vulnerable, and being okay with that and considering that as staunch. That should also be a celebration and how we move through life and how we grow.
Also, I always meditate straight away when I wake up for at least 10 mins a day, just to bring me back to whatever I need to get back to. I go to the gym, and I try to get to the ocean as much as I can. I have a great group of friends and we always go on bush walks and to the rainforest and beach. Those are the things that bring me back to myself and make me feel calm. I also started reading books! I read 10 minutes every night before I go to bed—just little things in my life made me feel more connected to myself.
What are you reading at the moment?
Okay Wow. Great book! You mentioned throughout this interview your little self quite a bit. What is the relationship between your music and your inner child?
I think it comes back to talking about me wanting to see people that looked like me when I was little—on TV or just walking down the street. I always try to stay present but also remember those roots as well and how much of a battle it was for me to get to this place. I literally started from nothing to get here, and it is really important to me to always remember that. I always wanted to be who I am now but didn’t know how to get there.
I’m a huge fan of your partner Hannah Bronte’s art – and I know she does some work with you through DJing and some of your visuals. How is it creating with the person that you love?
It’s pretty incredible. Before we were together, we were already creating and working together. I think it’s really cool to be able to dream with the person that you love, and to be able to dream up things and bring them into life. It’s quite wholesome and beautiful. It can be tricky at times but above everything is really special. It’s really hard to find someone to love to let alone create stuff with. It’s absolutely incredible.
I know you’ve played at some pretty amazing festivals [like Splendour in The Grass, Groovin’ the Moo and Laneway]. Do you have a bucket list or a particular accolade that you want to tick off or do you kind of roll with it?
I love to tour! I really want to do a 500-cap tour and sell it out. It’s been my goal since I was jumping up and performing gigs in front of literally no one. Sometimes when these things come through today it’s crazy to think that I’ve even played them. Like holy shit, I remember being a teenager and wanting to go to these festivals and trying to find tickets or trying to figure out how I’m going to jump the fence. It’s pretty surreal. Whenever those moments do come up, I always try to take time to be present. This is here. You are here. I never want things to pass me by and not remember how it feels. I’m just loving it. I feel like I’m living my dream.
What does next year hold for you?
I started working on a lot of stuff but I’m really keen to see what happens after this mixtape, and my goal is always to take a step. Even if it’s one step at a time—just keep going up that staircase. You never know what’s going to be up the top and the journey is the most important and beautiful thing. I just want to keep evolving and growing.