It’s been over a decade since Saskatchewan songstress Jess Moskaluke first burst onto the Canadian country music scene.
But even as one of the most celebrated female performers out there, one accolade always seemed to be just out of reach — until now.
In a year that saw many in the industry struggle to find their footing, the singer/songwriter scored her first No. 1 with Country Girls, making her the first woman — and first solo act — in her home province’s history to take top spot.
But she’s not done yet — not by a long shot.
On Friday, Feb. 19, the JUNO and CCMA Award-winning artist is set to release The Demos, a brand-new collection of 11 tracks, featuring Country Girls, Halfway Home and current radio single Mapdot, as well as a glimpse behind the scenes with three reworked demos, all put together virtually thanks to help from Moskaluke’s long-time producer Corey Crowder.
Recently, we talked to Jess about the inspiration behind her new release, some amazing collaborations, and what it means to reach the top of the charts.
With a new album coming out, what’s it like working on a project during a time like this, where you’re not getting the chance to collaborate with your team in the normal way?
It’s been very different, and to be totally honest with you, that’s why this album happened. The reason this album is called The Demos is because of the pandemic, essentially. I couldn’t travel to Nashville or anywhere to write, and I couldn’t really get into a studio because we were all forced to be home. This past year actually gave me a way to record songs that I had already written and always wanted to release, but I never really had the opportunity for whatever reason. There’s a lot of different factors that go into why I may fall in love with a song and not choose to release it at a certain time. Maybe it’s just not what the world needed to hear at that point, or maybe it just wasn’t the sound we were looking for.
That said, I finally had a reason to put a lot of these songs that I’ve always wanted to release out into the world. We took the demos of a lot of the songs that I had already partially recorded and we kind of just refreshed and cleaned them up. It’s really going to give fans a kind of interesting take on the whole process. We even included a few of the actual demos to really give people a glimpse behind the scenes at everything that goes into producing a finished track.
So, there are two versions of a couple of the songs on the record — kind of a before and after, just to kind of get a little insight on the whole process. It’s been kind of fun, and something I’ve actually wanted to do for a long time. A lot of the time when we’re writing a song, like Country Girl for example, the demo sounds almost exactly like the actual song we released to radio. Other times it’s fun to listen to a song and go back to the demo, knowing how it started was so different.
I know asking this question is kind of like asking someone to pick their favourite child, but do you have a standout favourite from The Demos that kind of speaks to you more than any other?
Well, Mapdot would be that was one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written. But I mean, for a lot of different reasons, so many of these songs mean different things to me. For Leave Each Other Alone, I was super excited about recording with Travis Collins, who is the Australian artist that’s featured on that song. It was an amazing duet, and as you’ll hear on the demo version, it wasn’t always meant to be a duet.
It was kind of cool to watch that come to life. Drive His Truck is a song I wrote with my producer, as well as RaeLynn and Sarah Buxton, both of whom are extremely talented singer/songwriters. I’ve actually been a huge fan of Sarah Buxton for my whole life, so when Corey told me we were going to write with Sarah that day I was like, freaking out and hyperventilating. She also offered to do background vocals on the song and she just knocked it out of the park. I’m so pumped that song took on a whole new life because of Sarah.
What makes Mapdot so special and personal to you?
Mapdot is a song I had wanted to write for a long time, both literally and figuratively. I had the title sitting in my notes folder, where I keep all my song ideas on my phone, for a very long time. It had never really struck a chord with any of my co-writers as a good song idea, I guess, so we kind of tabled it and it just sat there. I had always wanted to write about where I came from, because people had always told me I would have to move to Nashville or Toronto or Vancouver in order to be a successful musician, and I’ve never felt that way. I figured, I travel for a living, so why can’t I live where I want? Where I’m happy? So, I wrote the song to tell everybody about where I come from, because I really don’t think anyone fully understood. Really, it’s kind of a love song to my hometown.
And obviously, the video also speaks to that, with real people and real locations, straight out of your real life.
Some of my best friends are in that video with some of their families. It was really important to me to have all real people in this video, it was also shot by crew based out of Saskatchewan, which was also really important. I also think that because we’ve all been forced to be home for so long, the song really comes at a great time. I hope it encourages people to shift their focus, and instead of seeing being home as a chore, I kind of hope they can learn to appreciate their communities and their small towns.
Can you speak to the inspiration behind any of the other new tracks on The Demos?
Too Much Too Soon I wrote a long time ago, gosh, maybe two years ago. It was actually about one of the other writers’ experience in a relationship that we kind of thought was fun. And it was the same sort of experience I had when I first met my husband. You think, this is all going too well, too fast. Sometimes it seems too good to be true. Is that OK? It seems like it should be wrong, but it’s not. No Place Like You was written ironically at the height of when I was touring, and just kind of talking about missing my husband, but not. We chose to take kind of a more positive spin on it. Like, oh my gosh, I miss you so much — this sucks — but know what, wherever you are is where I want to be right now.
In March of 2020, Country Girls hit top spot at country radio. You’ve had so many incredible songs, not to mention tracks reaching gold and platinum status. I think it rocked everyone’s socks to realize that that was your first No. 1. What was it like to finally get there?
Yeah, that was kind of the reaction I didn’t really expect from people, to be honest with you. I kind of just thought everyone would know it was my first. Honestly, I learned there is no more flattering response to for some many people to question whether it was true. So many people were listing off songs they thought had made it there, which to me means those other songs had really resonated with fans despite where they may or may not have landed on the chart. That was a pretty cool feeling. In such a potentially discouraging year, the timing was fantastic — it was really truly flattering, and it felt good to see how many people were on the bandwagon and were supporters. It was such a cool experience.
When you look at all the other things you’ve accomplished; I mean, everything from winning a JUNO Award to putting out some of the most played singles on country radio, what does a No. 1 song mean to you at this point in your career?
For me, a No. 1 was a goal that I had wanted for so long, since being a part of the country music family, and it seems like something that was always so far out of reach. Frankly, it seemed like a silly goal that I had in mind. Sometimes it’s very challenging for Canadians to get a No. 1 at all, let alone a female. It really just means to me that Canadian country music needs to continue to be supported, and really getting the chance to feel that support is the best feeling in the world.
That would definitely be a major milestone to cherish in such strange times! What has the past year been like for you personally?
It’s definitely been a challenge. In the beginning, when the pandemic started, I was actually on tour. I was two or three days into this tour that I was on with a bunch of my friends and we all went home and at that time you’re thinking, OK, so we’ll have about a month at home, whatever, we’ll get rested up, we’ll practice, and we’ll be with our families and then we’ll hit the road again. Here we are, almost a year later, and we’re still home. So, that provides a bit of a challenge for everybody, not just musicians, but I have tried to say, OK, here are all these things that were put on the backburner . . . what can I do next?
People had always asked me for years, what do you like to do in your spare time? And I would just laugh. Now, everyone’s focus is a little bit different. In the beginning, I really just wanted to record and get some time with my family, but now I’m done resting. I want to pick it up, so let’s release a bit of a different kind of album and have a whole new adventure.
For more about Jess, check out her website: www.jessmoskaluke.com