Sometimes finding your voice as an artist takes complete vulnerability. Jessie Standafer found the intersection of music and activism after she came out as a lesbian. Since then, she has created impactful music that incites love, action, acceptance, and peace for everyone. Her latest video release “Just Be” was filmed live on the top of a sparkling NYC rooftop.
GO sat down with Jessie to hear more about how activism informs her artistry, and what we can all do to create positive change in the world.
GO Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about your love story with music?
Jessie Standafer: My grandparents and parents are musicians, so it’s a long lineage of music. My dad started teaching me piano when I was four-years-old, so from an early age, I loved being up on stage with my mom singing whatever she was singing. I didn’t start writing until later, though. I didn’t know I had anything to say, really until after I came out. Once I started getting much more comfortable and empowered within myself, I realized there was a lot to say about being true to who you are. My coming out story wasn’t super comfy, so there was a lot to say about it. In our politics right now there’s this ignoring of truth and logic, so when you can’t reach people with logic, sometimes you can get across to them with music. So I feel a big responsibility to say something with my art.
GO: When did you decide to go full force after a career in music?
JS: I think it came out of necessity, looking around and not seeing anyone else doing this. When I was coming out, I really wanted to see lesbians in pop culture who I could relate to. It dawned on me that I could do this; I could be the person I wanted to see out there. I don’t always sing specifically about being gay; I just have a different lens than other artists.
GO: What do you hope people gain from an experience when they listen to your music?
JS: I hope that people are comforted while simultaneously motivated to take action. A feeling of being understood and not alone and there are so many people feeling this inspiration that we can make change together. I’ve found that when I speak about something that is true for me, it’s often a universal truth. I hope it can speak to a lot of different people. It’s about using your voice and standing up for change you believe in, which is so important especially right now. Individual voices are so valuable and then can be amplified when we join together.
GO: Can you define conscious music for our readers?
JS: For me, conscious music is music that has a message of awareness behind it. I love romantic and pop music, but it’s recognizing that artists are the bearing of culture in our society and we have a responsibility to comment on the things we believe in. Especially in pop music, I think we can infuse messages of positivity and awareness for people to take away from.
GO: What does it mean to be able to spread a message of activism with your music?
JS: I feel like I don’t have any other choice other than to be true and honest in every aspect of my life. That includes my music. Putting aside the fact that I’m a woman and a lesbian, I have a lot of privilege in this world, and so I feel an insane amount of responsibility to amplify other people’s voices and give them a seat at the table. I would like to use this platform that I’m building for myself, to amplify and uplift others as well. My music is also a tool to bring awareness to things I care about. And sometimes that means passing it off to someone else so they can speak about certain things better than I ever could.
GO: How has your lesbian identity influenced your music?
JS: Orlando happened, and then there was a big uprising about Black Lives Matter, and I’m very passionate about both of those. After Orlando happened, I really didn’t want to feel like I was the other artist speaking up about it. And then allies and friends started to reach out to me, and I started to not feel alone in this. It really informed how I approach different issues, and how to be an ally. My lesbian identity has given me an access point to learn how to be more compassionate. It helps me know that it’s important to stand up next to someone and say ‘I’m there with you and will do whatever you need me to do.’
GO: What does the phrase “love is the movement” mean to you?
JS: It started as this recognition that love is one of the most powerful energies on the planet. It can be a movement and underly in everything we do. With everything that has been happening in our current political climate, I’m very angry. Which is totally fine, it’s valuable. But knowing underneath that is a love for humans and all the causes I believe in. If that’s underneath whatever else we’re feeling, it will help inform how we go about creating change and not let them run wild. It’s like an internal compass for me. Like yes, feel the anger but make sure that what’s underneath, what’s cradling it, is some kind of love.
GO: Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JS: Yeah, I’m planning my 2017 tour right now. In the meantime, I’m working up putting my songs in an acoustic mode to do some smaller shows in NYC this winter.