CONNECT is now home to a constantly growing roster of great emerging artists, and we discovered a majority of these artists on ReverbNation. These discoveries come courtesy of Reverb's Curation Team, a group of passionate tastemakers and music experts who share a deep commitment to identifying and exposing the best new music. Over the next few weeks, we'll introduce you to some of these Curators. First up is DJ and Tastemaker Jessica Gonyea. Jess goes way back with Simon Perry, Reverb's Chief Creative Officer and Head of A&R, who brought her onto the Curation Team to kickstart music discovery on the site a couple of years ago. We asked Jess some questions about her music hunting tactics and her life in general.
When did you first Get involved with music?
I'd been a visual artist, set and costume designer for years in Chicago. I’ve been obsessed with music since I can remember, though - collecting vinyl and cranking out mixtapes for my friends with original art. In 2006, after a little stint of performance art with my friends' indie rock band, OFFICE, they asked me to join as a full time member. I sang backup and played keyboards and started DJing soon after. Eventually, I started making electronic music with Chess Knight (FKA Mother Hubbard, founder of the long-run Chicago dance party Life During Wartime) under the names Rocktapussy, and later, Moneypenny.
You’ve been involved in a few different bands/projects. Tell us a little bit about those.
OFFICE was an incredible experience. Every member of the band was so talented and hilarious, and when we got signed, it was a dream come true. I got to make indie pop and rock music, perform, and travel the US and Canada with my pals. However, despite being on TV and in magazines, we were often making $20 per day, and it wasn't sustainable as a career.
When I began DJing with Rocktapussy and eventually writing original electronic pop music with Moneypenny, I began to see music as a viable profession. Unfortunately, DJs are often paid much more than rock bands. There's also less overhead, so we were instantly able to turn a (meager) profit from DJing and selling original songs.
How did you get involved with ReverbNation/CONNECT?
Simon Perry, Chief Creative Officer and head of A&R for ReverbNation, is the man I credit with teaching me how to write songs, back in the Moneypenny days. Naturally, when he approached me to join him in a new venture with ReverbNation, I trusted him instantly. As artists, we've both dealt with the shortcomings of traditional record labels and the dark side of the music industry in general, while maintaining an intense love for the art of it all. I knew from the beginning that we'd be doing something fresh and original.
From the beginning of his time with ReverbNation, Simon has cultivated the creative team by handpicking professionals from all corners of the music industry. I find that we're able to innovate and experiment in a way I'd never experienced working with a traditional label.
When you’re reviewing music, what are the top three aspects you’re listening for?
Within my genre specialty - electronic/dance - the most elusive aspect for me is originality. This genre has suffered a bit of groupthink under the increasing influence of big labels and brands. Lots of producers try to replicate what's hot, using the same types of builds, drops, synths, drum kits and patterns, or vocal styles. A few years ago, everything sounded like Skrillex. Then it was Martin Garrix, and Oliver Heldens. When I hear someone take chances, I keep listening. Production quality is equally important. I listen for subtle changes, skilled musicianship, and clean sounds - no muddled frequencies or key clashes. There are always exceptions; bands like SALEM or Prayers have a deliberate simplicity that works because they've nailed the first quality - originality. Another quality for me is a bit more intangible, and that's emotion. Whether it's on the pop or minimal tech end of the spectrum, if a song can "take you there," it's successful. There are a million different moods and emotions, and when a song can capture one perfectly, it will be a hit for someone, somewhere. Think of the dark, explosive intensity of Gesaffelstein's "Hate or Glory" or the bubblegum, tongue-in-cheek silliness of Sophie's "Lemonade." There's a million sweet spots of humanity to hit.
Aside from finding new music on ReverbNation, where are you finding new music these days?
I always check in on BBC's Annie Mac and Pete Tong - their radio shows are never the same, and they are constantly sandwiching well-respected underground artists with the plucked-from-obscurity act du jour. I often turn to fellow DJs, too. Last week, our CONNECT artist Whitney Fierce played me a bunch of incredible African jams.
Who are your favorite artists right now?
I've been pretty much in love with anything Tiga, Audion, Maya Jane Coles, Julio Bashmore, Jimmy Edgar, and Claude Von Stroke do for years. I don't think there's anything Kaytranada touches that doesn't sound sexy. I'm newly digging easy electronic pop by Tei Shi and Shura, and house legends Cajmere/Green Velvet and Todd Terry are forever awesome.
Who are your favorite CONNECT artists right now?
Autograf is supremely talented, and have such confidence in what they're doing - though no song or remix sounds the same, you're instantly transported to Autograf Land by their lazy tropical house vibe. Whitney Fierce, who's also been in Hercules and Love Affair as well as New Order's tour DJ, has an absolutely flawless grip on my favorite dance music vibe - dark, moody, and urgent. Empathy Test, with their Cure/New Order vibes, are also in heavy rotation.
Where are you currently spinning?
I have a residency at the Standard in Los Angeles, and I also spin at the Virgin Hotel in Chicago and tour all over the world with DJ Sasha Grey.