By Tom Semioli
Stop, look and listen to Jessie Torrisi, the sultry, sexy, super-charged singer / songwriter / guitarist / band leader of Austin trio Please Please Me and you’d think she was born and raised to be a roots rocker ala Shelby Lynne, Lucinda Williams, or Ryan Adams. Now for the truth – she’s from Philadelphia, and made her bones playing drums in one of New York City’s most notorious glam / punk / shock-rock outfits in the 00’s– Unisex Salon. “I woke up one day and I was a part of it” says Jessie of her proudly checkered past. “I was prey for these charismatic characters… there’s this evil little sister side of me that makes me dress me up and wear outrageous clothes and make-up!” Jessie pauses for reflection. “ I’ m an only child and my mom’s gay so there was no fashion sense instilled in me – I was happy to be pulled into other people’s vision. “
That was then and this is now. Inspired by, among others, a performance by Patti Griffin at SXSW along with an inner voice (aside from the aforementioned devious litter sister) prodding her to follow her muse- Jessie packed her bags and migrated from the unforgiving Big Apple to the Live Music Capitol of the World. “I really felt like I had this songwriter’s soul inside of me –and New York City was impossible for me to realize that truth. I'd wake up and I'd feel as if I were ten years behind. I don’t have famous parents, I'm not rich, the pace was too fast - I felt like a ‘nobody.’ I’m too vain –I needed to go somewhere where I could create something.” Welcome to Austin, Texas.
Not long after her arrival in The Lone Star State, Jessie waxed her debut solo record Bruler Bruler -that's "burn burn" in French - and earned accolades aplenty whilst seamlessly making the transition from rock ‘n ‘roll side-women to roots rock chanteuse. She found kindred spirits and toured the country in planes, trains, and automobiles to rave reviews, drawing comparisons to Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith.
However Jessie yearned put together a steady band rather than employ a rotating cast of players who may or may not deliver night after night, nor have the dedication to help realize her artistic vision. Fate intervened with an unlikely cast of cellist Alissa Schram and drummer Agustin Frederic – aptly dubbed The Please Please Me.
“Alissa is the cream in the Oreo” proclaims Jessie. One of the first people Jessie befriended upon her move to Austin, Alissa had no previous experience in anything remotely resembling a rock / pop music ensemble. But that didn’t stop her. “Being in this band was a real left turn for her” notes Jessie. “She was the first one to get all these crazy effects pedals – she has to be the bass, the soloist, the keyboards - Alissa brings all the cool sound-scapes to our music – she has electronic bombs going off!”
Jessie lovingly refers to Agustin as “the military hippy”. “He’s slight but strong, has hair down to his ass and goes to yoga – the dude is hardcore Type A!” A busy local sound engineer who works the console for stadium shows, theater and club gigs, Jessie credits Frederic for the band’s thoughtful arrangements, vastly improved sound and for kicking Jessie’s ass to get her guitar chops up to speed. “Yeah, he put a gun to my head and convinced me to be a guitar player –which I had no previous intention of doing – there’s too many Stevie Ray Vaughn characters in Austin…for every time I’ve wanted to kill Agustin, I realize I could not have improved without him!” In turn, Jessie has taught her drummer a few things as well, such as the importance of supporting a song with a groove and dynamics.
To make Shake A Little Harder a reality, Jessie, Agustin, and Alyssa turned to Kickstarter – a website which allows artists the platform to raise money for creative projects by crowd funding - i.e. "kicking in." Among the noted artists who've utilized Kickstarter to fund their independent projects include photographer Spencer Tunik, and filmmaker / actors Ed Begley Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, and Mathew Modine.
"What started out as a brilliant idea for struggling indie artists has blossomed into a viable model for established artists,” emphasizes Jessie. “I have a fan base and they’ll cut me a better deal than a record company – and it’s more genuine –it says something profound that we cut out the middle-man.” Some of the extra perks for Please Please Me patrons include a limited edition cover for the new EP, and practical goodies including officially sanctioned Please Please Me underwear. “I am taking credit for the panties…it’s our biggest seller on the road!”
With CJ Eiriksson (U2, Live, Phish) as producer, making an album from start to finish under their own financial power also offered the band a rare opportunity to find out who they really are –artistically. “This would have never happened with a record company – at the end of the day, everyone gets signed and dropped –if you don’t have something that really rings true to you and your fans and something that is unique – it’s not worth it. Doing it ourselves was the best way – it was a tremendous learning experience.”
The tracks on Shake A Little Harder were road-tested to ensure the best quality for your consumer dollars. “You can sit in a rehearsal studio all day long-but playing before a live audience is the real deal. There are certain truths that emerge when you play in-front of real people.” The Please Please Me opted for the mini album format based on the advice of producers, their musical peer group, and numerous industry folks. “They keep telling us it’s a singles world…we’ll get more bang for our buck…nobody gives a shit about albums anymore…it’s sad, but we have to adapt to the marketplace.”
Among the standout tracks on Shake A Little Harder is "Dreaming" - a song which was filed away in Jessie's drawer for over a year. The retro melody is undeniable. "There’s something about those 1960’s song hooks like ‘Be My Baby’ reveals Jessie. "I debuted the song at a party and kept it simple. That was a song I had to muscle to the finish line – I still don't know where it came from…"
Can The Please Please Me make a dent in a musical landscape dominated by an X Factor, American Idol mentality? “I think half of Austin has been on those shows” laughs Jessie. She says she won’t disparage those brands which have defined the music business for the last decade – but she does anyway. “They’re all make-over shows…none of them get to the truth of the art. Could Lou Reed sing? Kind of. Could he play? Kind of. But he can write his ass off! And he can put forth a unique attitude. And that’s what I feel like The Please Please Me have to offer – together as a band and as recording artists, we are what is in short supply in the music world today.”
Shake A Little Harder is slated for release in April 2013 – and will be available at major retailers. Keep tabs on The Please Please Me at www.thepleasepleaseme.com
(PHOTO: Left to right: Alissa Schram, Jessie Torrisi, Agustin Frederic a.k.a. The Please Please Me)