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“Boys are so much hotter/In the summer/Take your shirt off/In the water/Pull me under/I must be dreaming/You got me singing.” “Boys in the Summer”
Why should California Gurls have all the fun? Jessie James carries the torch for southern pop, as the 22-year-old Georgia girl comes with the heat on the first single from her sophomore Mercury Records album.
Co-written by Jessie with James Michael (Motley Crue, Papa Roach, Alanis Morissette), and opening with some bluesy rock guitar riffs right out of ZZ Top, “Boys in the Summer” imagines it’s “hot as hell, even in the shade,” while squeezing out a little bit of lemonade, standing on line at the Dairy Queen or laying on the hood of your car.
“It was inspired by an ex-boyfriend who I wasn’t really attracted to until the summer,” she laughs. “That’s when he had a tan and a little bit more muscle from being in the sun.”
A larger-than-life talent in a petite package, the “little-bit-of Greek, and predominantly Italian” James has been ready for her close-up since she was two, when the well-traveled military brat, born a fiery Aries in a military field hospital in Italy, began singing into a toy microphone and tape recorder, a gift from her mom. By the time she was nine, she was composing her own songs on a plastic guitar, performing at the opening of Sea World and the Republican Convention, before auditioning, and getting turned down, for every country record label in Nashville, despite winning a yodeling contest at the age of 9.
Described as “southern pop,” Jessie’s music is a candid celebration of her pop and country influences. “I’ve wanted to do country music my whole life,” she says. “But I’m really inspired by the pop world as well. I love both Christina Aguilera and Shania Twain, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Working with the likes of Katy Perry, Kara DioGuardi, Mitch Allan and Jamey Johnson, her debut album produced the Top 25 pop and Top 20 dance hit, “Wanted,” a song she co-wrote with DioGuardi, Allan and David Hodges. The swaggering, hip-hop-influenced “Blue Jeans” was featured on the soundtrack of the hit Touchstone film version of the best-selling novel, Confessions of a Shopaholic, while Perez Hilton previewed the twangy “My Cowboy” on his influential website. Maxim magazine named her one of the 100 hottest women in the world, and she went to the Middle East with Kid Rock and Carlos Mencia to perform for the U.S. troops stationed overseas. The daughter of an Air Force officer, Jessie says, “I felt right at home. Many of the people I saw over there were friends of my dad.”
Produced by John Fields [Switchfoot, Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Eat World], James returns with a new album which marks her maturation into a performer who easily straddles the worlds of pop, dance, rock and country. “Boys in the Summer” is already making headway at both pop and country radio, with the video premiering in full rotation at CMT.
“My debut album was sort of like a trial period, at least for me,” she says. “It gave me a chance to discover who I was musically. Now I feel I know where I’m at.”
Co-written with Blair Daly, “The Bartender” is a fun song “about flirting and falling in love from across the room,” she says, with lyrics like “I don’t want Jack/And I don’t want Jim/All I want to do is leave with the bartender.” “It’s a true story,” she adds.
The soaring ballad, “What Am I Here For?,” which she wrote with Ted Bruner, who has also worked with Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Bonnie McKee, shows just how far she’s come from her first album. “The vibe in his studio is tremendous,” marvels Jessie. “He just turns all the lights out and has just this disco ball lit. It’s just such a soothing thing. I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever written. I’m really proud of it.”
“Gentle Man,” has an ebullient Shania Twain vibe, which James describes as “a sweet song about how a man should treat a lady.” She calls “Last Call,” co-written by DioGuardi and Mitch Allan (her collaborators on “Wanted”), “a real southern rock song… I can’t wait to perform it live,” comparing it to another DioGuardi hit, “Undo It,” which she co-wrote for Carrie Underwood.
“Ego,” the “only mean song on the record,” is about calling a guy out on his arrogance (“The person it’s about is going to hate himself after he hears it,” she says), while “Pretty” is the opposite side of the coin, a number about “falling in love with someone who makes you feel good about yourself,” something Jessie can relate to, admitting she’s finally in a “very healthy relationship.”
“The theme of the album is happiness,” she explains. “There’s just such a joyful sound to it. It puts me in a feel-good mood. I’m in a very, very good place. I’m very content now.”
Although she can compete with the current wave of hit pop divas, Jessie James is out to forge her own unique path to the top.
“I’m an Italian girl from the south who’s very passionate,” she says. “Love is what makes you do everything. It really does conquer all. With my first album, I was writing about empowerment hoping that would make it true. And now it is. I’m in charge. I make the rules. I’ve been writing since I was nine years old and I’m very much involved in the creative process. And now that I’m in a happier place in my personal life, I’m spitting songs out left and right.”
It’s no wonder Jessie James didn’t wait to put out her second album. And we’re all the luckier for it.