Jessie Reyez On The Power Of Sad Songs

Feb 1, 2020

The 28-year-old Colombian-Canadian singer Jessie Reyez makes emotional music that has connected deeply with fans. She recently received her first Grammy nomination for best urban contemporary album for her EP, Being Human in Public. Hear the full profile -- 'How I Made It: Jessie Reyez' from NPR's Latino USA.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Jessie Reyez sings sad songs, and it makes her happy - well, maybe a little too simple. But it certainly helped her emotionally and connected her deeply to fans. The Colombian Canadian singer recently received her first Grammy nomination for her EP "Being Human In Public." The producers of NPR's Latino USA sent this profile.

JESSIE REYEZ: Early on I fell in love with music.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOS PANCHOS SONG, "BESAME MUCHO")

REYEZ: My dad plays. He always played at home. And, like, on a Sunday morning, I remember waking up to hearing him practicing. And I'd hear, (singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESAME MUCHO")

LOS PANCHOS: (Singing in Spanish).

REYEZ: And then I'd go up and start singing with him when he used to sing that all the time. He still does. He'll grab the guitar every now and then and hop on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESAME MUCHO")

LOS PANCHOS: (Singing in Spanish).

REYEZ: My name is Jessie Reyez. And I sing sad songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "CRAZY")

REYEZ: I knew early on that I loved music. And being around it because of my dad really helped to figure that out. But I guess writing wise, it wasn't until I was in grade seven that I started learning about poetry.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "CRAZY")

REYEZ: And then my first heartbreak when I was like 16, I couldn't be in class because I'd cry. I couldn't, like - I had a hard time with my first heartbreak.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "CRAZY")

REYEZ: I was still writing music. But, like, I'd been writing music since I was little - since I was 11 - and mixing it with poetry. But when I was 16, that's the first time that I made somebody cry with my song. It was an experience for me. I was like, what? Like, I just - I don't know. It was just new.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "CRAZY")

REYEZ: It was new. And it was strange. And it was interesting. And it was crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY")

REYEZ: (Singing) I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying. And I'm crazy for loving you.

Sometimes, when you're singing a song, it's like a wound you're trying to heal, but then you keep opening the wound every time you sing. So it's difficult. But it's interesting. And it's a moment. It's a spiritual moment between me and friends that I've never met.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGURES")

REYEZ: (Singing) Figures, I'm the bad guy 'cause I can't learn to trust love. Figures, you say sorry once, and you think it's enough.

"Figures" was inspired by a low point in my life. It was heartbreak. I was sad. I was across the world. I was in Sweden at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "FIGURES")

REYEZ: I, like, cried in the studio. I broke down. It was a mess. I was drinking. I was skinny as hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "FIGURES")

REYEZ: It was sad. There was a lot of songs I wrote that week. I don't know if it makes me feel better, but I don't - but, like, once I write a song, at least you're busy. It's not even just, like, better but busy because then at least you're doing something that keeps your mind off the pain.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "SAINT NOBODY")

REYEZ: The reason I don't write a lot of happy songs is because happiness is like eating a cake. Happiness is like eating something you love, something that you eat like soul food. Like, you put it in, and it's like, mm. You just feel good. And you like that in your body. And you like the feeling. But heartbreak is like poison. Heartbreak is like eating, like, just the grossest, like, 50-year-old, like, egg that got left out or something. And you have it in you. And it's not even - you don't even have to think about throwing up. Your body just does it.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "SAINT NOBODY")

REYEZ: I feel like that's why sad songs come out of me because it just hurts so bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "SAINT NOBODY")

REYEZ: And I just - I don't know. Maybe I want it out. Maybe I just - I don't know. But it comes out. Like, it just comes out.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSIE REYEZ SONG, "GREAT ONE")

REYEZ: But there's two sides. I'm happy I was able to make a little bit of money - make some money, make some shows off of heartbreak. I'm happy I was able to flip that because this is what I want to do with my life. But it's also hard because every time I sing, it's that. It's like if - you have a wound, and you're trying to heal it. But every time you sing, you're sticking your fingers in an open wound. And it's bleeding. But then, at the same time, to play devil's advocate, when I'm at a show and I'm doing that and I'm singing and I'm way - I'm, like, 10 meters into my heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REYEZ: (Singing) I'm running out of patience. I want to be a great one.

And I feel like crying. That's me going way in the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REYEZ: (Singing) ...Spirit calls me, I want to throw my hands up, ready to be saved, yeah. And when my day's done, I hope I die faded.

And then I come back to the present because I hear people singing. And then I open my eyes. And I see people singing back to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REYEZ: (Singing) What is...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) ...Life? What is love?

REYEZ: (Singing) What is time? What is trust? What is everything? Every...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) ...Thing is nothing without you.

REYEZ: (Singing) What is life? What is love? I hope I am enough. What is everything?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Everything is nothing without you.

REYEZ: And I'm not alone in that pain anymore. And now it's us. And it's my dreams. And it's all of that. It's such a juxtaposition. It's such an incredible contrast 'cause it's like pain and dreams just behind my eyelids.

MONTAGNE: Singer Jessie Reyez. Her new album "Before Love Came To Kill Us" comes out next month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.