From singing to dolphins to touring with Robert Ellis. It’s not Point A to Point B, but as far as journeys go, it’s a pretty incredible path that Jamie McDell has taken. And now, with her latest single “Not Ready Yet,” the New Zealand-born multi-hyphenate is ready for the world to take notice. The track, which will appear on her forthcoming Nash Chambers-produced album due in 2022 (ABC Records), is available now.
I recently sat down with McDell to discuss early chord progressions, anchored audiences, and that New Zealand innovation.
Americana Highways: Your new single “Not Ready Yet” recently dropped. What was it about this song in particular that you felt was a good introduction for the album, which is due out in early 2022?
Jamie McDell: When I started writing this record I promised myself that I would only write what I meant. This seemingly simple goal brought out personal stories of my family, celebrating an adventurous upbringing on the sea while also understanding the impossible ideals placed on mothers and fathers. This record also follows my unpacking of my own internalized misogyny and understanding of what being a woman means to me. “Not Ready Yet” came from a place of comfort in not knowing what’s next for me, knowing that motherhood is something I’m looking forward to in the future (if I’m to be so lucky) but I’m not ready yet, and maybe, in today’s world, that is all I should need to say. This song introduces an important theme of the album wrapped in production inspired by one of my favorite bands, The Chicks.
AH: Can choosing singles be a stressful practice? How do you give that confidence boost to one song and not all of them?
JM: To be completely honest, I’ve never been great at picking singles so sometimes I just trust my gut. In this case, “Not Ready Yet” is one of my fiance Jake’s favorite songs off the album so that gave me some confidence to put it on the table.
AH: There’s always a method to the madness in releasing an album, but is it hard to sit on the finished songs and wait for the momentum to build? If you had your way, would you put it out into the world today?
JM: It definitely feels like I’ve been sitting in a waiting room with my headphones on listening to rough mixes for a long time. The pandemic has caused some delays, as I know it has with many artists’ releases, so there’s comfort in knowing we’re all in the same boat. Mentally it has been challenging to close this chapter without physically handing over the tracks to the world and move on to writing new material, but I have a lot of faith in my manager and my team. I know they love this record as much as I do and want to give it the best chance to succeed so I’m more than OK with that.
AH: Is it nerve-racking for you to relinquish control over your creativity, especially when you put so much of yourself into a song or collection of songs? From an outside perspective, it feels like this would be harder than ever in the social media age because as much as social media platforms can help promote art, they can also open the door to unnecessary negativity.
JM: I got into the music industry at quite a young age. I was 16 when I signed my first record deal and that was right at the beginning of things like YouTube being a tool to achieve massive worldwide success. Social media was a big part of propelling my early music career and I believe that’s given me some good practice at how to manage and balance that element of artist promotion. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing it as a marketing tool and a way to connect with fans when I need/want to – negative comments don’t really impact my everyday life these days. I can just as easily push it to the side when I need to be creative and I think my team really understands and supports that.
AH: What are you most proud of with the upcoming album and why?
JM: This could be a really strange thing to say but it’s the first album I’ve made that sounds like me. My dad strumming the guitar, playing John Denver, James Taylor, Harry Chapin was my introduction to chord progressions, harmonies and story songs. Those elements always echoed in my mind, signifying real and true. In my early days of recording I didn’t know how to articulate or even write in such a way to achieve those things the way I’d hoped. Now I feel I have landed, and with the help and guidance of Nash Chambers, I’ve achieved something honest, and country, and me.
AH: You spent a portion of your childhood being raised at sea. How much of that societal isolation lead to the spark of your creativity? Did you fill your time with music because being at sea made that possible – having the time to commit to it?
JM: It’s funny I’d actually never thought about it in that way, as isolating. My parents have told me stories of me walking up the bow of the boat in the middle of the night and singing songs to the bay of boats anchored nearby. Perhaps I was always able to imagine there was an audience of listening ears where often there wasn’t any. I don’t think I consciously filled my time with music, it was just part of our daily entertainment, whether it be singing with mum and dad or putting on performances with my sister, it was just something to do. I also had a wide imagination and would write songs and sing to the dolphins often, thinking they could hear me and might consider letting me swim away with them some day.
That does sound like a product of isolation!
AH: You now have a catalog of music. Would the young Jamie who first boarded that boat at 7 years old be amazed at all that you have accomplished? What would she say if she could have looked into the future back then?
JM: Funnily enough, I think 7-year-old me might have imagined it! When it came to singing and performing, I was a very confident, attention-stealing young girl with big dreams and big main character energy. In fact, I get a bit anxious thinking about what she might say. She’d probably ask me where my sold out US tours and my Grammy nominations were? I’ve had many experiences that have knocked me down a peg or two since that age.
AH: What makes your musical POV part New Zealand and part Nashville? How do the two come together to form Jamie McDell?
JM: I think coming from the small island nation of New Zealand certainly teaches artists how to be innovative, because you have to be. Country/Americana music obviously hasn’t had the same presence in NZ history and in a way that makes space to incorporate new narratives and perspectives that are unique. Experiencing Nashville and other parts of the US most importantly allowed me to educate myself on where country music was born, how stories were told and why they were told, so hopefully I can bring those elements into my sound with honor and respect.
AH: I love me some Robert Ellis. You two toured together not that long ago. What is the most memorable aspect of that tour that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your life?
JM: I love Robert Ellis so much! I just loved watching him on stage every night. His musicianship and his stage presence – I would love to have even a quarter of some day. During his set he would invite me up to duet The Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and I’ll always feel super grateful to him for making space for me in that way and on many other occasions.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
JM: No, I wouldn’t. I’m a fan of the unknown and I don’t think there’s any future scenario that would sway me from the path I’m on now.
To keep up-to-date on the new album by Jamie McDell, visit http://www.jamiemcdell.co.nz.