Singer/songwriter Jessica Paris has a song on her new CD, Tempting The Gods, called “New Orleans.” Since the record came out this year, you might think, especially given the activist bent of many of her songs, that Paris’s composition was a reference to Hurricane Katrina.
You would be wrong, although the hurricane did inspire Paris to record the song.
“Actually no, the song was written pre-Katrina. (Some friends and I) went to New Orleans in 2001 and had a blast. I wrote ‘New Orleans’ in the summer of 2001 and after Katrina happened it really made me think of what an awesome place it was. I figured I should record it because that’s how I remember it and how I would love to see it again,” says Paris.
With her sexy web-page photos, strong but saucy voice, and emotional, quirky, and intelligent lyrics, Paris looks, sounds, and acts the part of a rock-and-roll siren. She is a fun-loving person who enjoys the feeling that playing music gives, as well as the impact it has on those who hear her.
“Well, I don’t like to take myself too seriously,” she says. “Life is short, and I think you can get into trouble if you do take yourself too seriously. It would make rejection so much harder, and in this business — and life — you’re going to get rejected, plain and simple, no matter what you have to offer,” says Paris, who will appear on Friday, November 9, at Ivy Tavern, 3108 Broad Street in Trenton.
“I love to laugh and try to see the lighter side of life, even when things are going wrong,” she says.
Paris, 32, was born in Florida and moved to Ringoes when she was 13. Her father runs the print shop at Ortho Pharmaceuticals in Raritan, and her mother works for FedEx. She says she has always had an interest in music, but she didn’t play until she was in high school.
“I picked up a guitar when I was 17,” she says. “I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. Even when I was young I would write little songs. I just love doing it. It feels good. I’m self-taught so the only music teachers I’ve had have been the high school band and choral directors. I was last chair for the flute when I was in high school, but then I switched to tenor sax, and I was first chair.”
Not bad. “Of course, I was the only tenor sax .. but that’s not the point,” she says.
After graduating from Hunterdon Central High School, she joined the Army and was sent to South Korea in 1995.
“Korea made me appreciate being an American. Women are still second-class citizens in their culture, and though I feel that women still need to make strides in the U.S., I’m very grateful for who we can be over here.”
Paris’s MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty, was administration. She left the service after five years active duty and four and a half years in the National Guard as a sergeant. “I was actually really good at being a soldier. I liked having the responsibility. I liked leading soldiers and being a mentor. It was a good experience. Even though I missed it when I first got out, I’m happy that I did it. Now I can focus on my life.”
As a veteran, but not of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, Paris has interesting insights into what is going on in the military, and the manner in which the American public, and her fellow soldiers, are dealing with it.
“I still know a lot of people that are in,” Paris said. “It seems to me that if you don’t know anyone in the military then you’re more likely to be for the war because you don’t know anyone that could die.”
She wrote a song, “Medals,” that is emotional and heartfelt about the loss people feel when friends are killed or wounded. The inspiration from the song comes from real life.
‘I know someone who saw one of his sergeants get blown up,” Paris says. “I know another person who got hit with an RPG in the chest and survived, and a close friend of mine who’s still in had her husband die in Iraq after just 3 months of marriage. That last incident inspired ‘Medals.’
“I watched my friend cry on his casket. She would go in and out of moments of devastation, and there was nothing I could do for her. She got the flag put on her lap, she got his Purple Heart, his two daughters got his Bronze Star, and that was it. They got medals for his courageous acts — and they were — but they would much rather have him,” said Paris.
Paris, a supporter of Senator Barack Obama, considers herself a patriot, and she chooses to exercise her patriotism by being outspoken in her beliefs. “Our country is great, but it is not perfect, and I believe that it’s okay to say that,” says Paris. “I believe that dissent is the greatest form of patriotism; it keeps the powers that be in check. It is our patriotic duty, if we’re not taking up arms — which I have — to try to protect those that are fighting by questioning the intentions and decisions of those in power.”
Like songs dealing with the military and politics, much of Paris’s material is derived from what she sees and hears, but not always overtly. “It depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s serious, or I’ll get a line in my head that makes me laugh,” says Paris. “There’s a line in ‘Insanity’ where a woman is yelling at trees and enjoying her ‘conversation.’ It’s such a ridiculous picture that I had to write about it.”
She has also written a song about Slinkys, the classic children’s toy. Then there’s “The Whore.”
“I wrote that about why I think women get into the porn industry. It’s not a song of judgment, but it’s more about how I feel sorry for the women that get trapped in that industry,” she says.
Paris is now enrolled full-time at Rutgers in New Brunswick. She is studying nutrition. It’s quite a complicated subject, but she’s fighting her way through it.
“I’m going for dietetics,” she said. “The course is kicking my butt, but it’ll be worth it when I get the degree. You only need three things in life — shelter, nutrition, and air. Good nutrition affects your well-being and your mood so much, and people don’t realize it. The obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse and worse, and we’re taking more medications for ailments and illness. Could some of it be averted by proper nutrition? I think so.”
Food for thought.
Upcoming appearances: Ivy Tavern, 3108 S. Broad Street, Trenton, at 10 p.m., 609-888-1435. Friday, November 9.
The Harvest Moon, 392 George Street, New Brunswick, 10 p.m., 732-249-6666. Wednesday, November 14.
Triumph Brewing Company, 400 Union Square, CD release party, 10 p.m., 215-862-8300. Friday, November 23.