Get to know Jess Kent, the up-and-coming musician who opened for Coldplay

Get to know Jess Kent, the up-and-coming musician who opened for Coldplay

The sweet spot

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Universal Music

Jess Kent is a contemporary throwback to your Lily Allen and M.I.A.-listening days

You can call Jess Kent a pop culture commentator of our time. At 22 years old, the England-born, Australia raised singer-songwriter's five-track debut EP boldly reflects on the crises faced by many a youth: A new kind of famous, keeping it low key and acknowledging that sometimes, "Ain't nobody got time for that". But before you cast the newbie's music aside as cookie-cutter millennial pop, you'll recognise voices of popular music's past — whether it's a Lily Allen-esque English lilt in Get Down or the M.I.A. vibes in The Sweet Spot. Then there's that drop on Bass So Low, an unexpected twist that takes the listener to another level.

In Singapore last weekend as the opening act for Coldplay, Kent's 50,000-strong audience is a far cry from her busking roots back in Australia. Born to a blues-rock guitarist father, Kent and her brother spent their childhood busking the streets, often having run-ins with security. When she was 18, she moved to Sydney with her guitar, leaving her communications course in college to make a living as a musician. Now signed to Capitol Records in America, her unique hip-hop, electronic and dub-y reggae sound has seen her perform in arenas such as Splendour In The Grass and St. Jerome's Laneway Festival. We speak to the easygoing newbie on her debut in Singapore. 

How old were you when you started busking and what stuff would you perform?
11 or 12. We couldn't get gigs anywhere because we obviously weren't old enough to get into pubs or clubs, so that was kind of the main reason we started to do that. We learnt a bunch of classics like Van Morrison, The Beatles, Bob Marley and The Clash and a lot of stuff from our hometown in England. So a lot of Brit pop and The Police and stuff like that.

What was the biggest crowd you got?
If we started to get a circle, we would try to get people to fill in the circles and come closer. So sometimes, it would be a lot. We would get into trouble because the security would be telling us to clear the space, because there were too many people blocking the path. Then we have to be like, "Sorry, some people have to move". We would fill a shopping mall.

What is your top tip for buskers who want to make it big?
I have always written my songs. So it kind of transitioned naturally because if we were playing and there was a good vibe, we would be like, "We're going to play one of our own", and just slowly work it to the set and then those songs became the core of my songwriting style now. It is very [heavy] on guitar and story-telling.

What are the themes surrounding My name is Jess Kent?
The whole EP was written in Australia and the songs were all written around the time that I first started recording music. So this is my first body of work. A lot of it are stories of growing up in my hometown and moving into a city by myself. Basically having no money, just having a guitar, a suitcase and trying to work out the world in all of its wonderful ups and downs and colours.

How often do you spend writing and what has your creative process been for the EP?
It was different for the EP to how it is now, because now if I have 10 minutes in the car or something, I will be singing into my phone or writing in my notebook. For the EP, I would go into the studio and my sound engineer had a little room that he would decorate with lights and I would like finish the song quickly and I'll sing it as I went, so I kind of pretended that I already written but I was kind of writing as I was going along finishing it off.


What have you learned from Coldplay by being their supporting act so far?
Oh, I've learnt so much. Everyone is cheerful and respectful and has a great time. I think they are amazing mentors. So I feel very privileged to be able to call them that.

Whose career do you admire and wish to emulate?
I've been really pondering this for a long time because there are lots of various elements that will come to together to make music that I've made. I write a lot of my songs on guitar and then there's all these electronic elements. I guess like Ed Sheeran is one, you know, he writes all his songs on guitar and plays his show as just one man. My show is not too different. There are two of us. I play the guitar and I have a drummer.

What is the best thing about being a musician in this day and age?
I think the best thing about having the ability to put thing out into the world now is the reach and the ability to connect with people all over the world in an instant (snaps fingers). So, as a songwriter that is a really great inspiration to draw from because a lot of the problems and inspirations we share is universal. As I travel I find the world really sees to get smaller and smaller and we all have common insecurities and stories and families. So, I think it is really inspiring time for me as a songwriter. 

Jess Kent performed before Coldplay on 31 March and 1 April at the National Stadium.