Jessie Reyez On How Saying ‘No’ More Often Led to Second Album ‘Yessie’

·4 min read

 Jessie Reyez never quite got to celebrate the release of Before Love Came To Kill Us, her long-awaited 2020 debut album. “It came out the same f–king month that everything happened, everything paused,” she recalls. “No one could really point me in any direction or give me any sort of advice, because we were the guinea pigs doing it in the middle of the pandemic.”

Although there have been a series of highs in the interim (a No. 4 debut on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart, an opening slot on Billie Eilish’s tour), the Grammy Award-nominated singer is eager to experience a proper album launch with the release of her second album, YESSIE, out Sept. 16 on FMLY/Island Records, noting that this project “almost feels like the real first one.” Filled with vengeful ballads (“Mutual Friends”) and intimate collaborations (“Forever” featuring 6LACK), the album, says Reyez, is a blend of “bullsh-t I’ve gone through and the bullsh-t I anticipate going through.”

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The artist will hit the road in support of YESSIE, for which she’s preparing with a vocal coach, practicing guitar and working out, showing off her chin-up progress on Instagram. She already knows what song she’s most excited to perform live (“Break Me Down”) and can’t wait for fans to create new memories to her music. “Hopefully, this time around, people will actually have the chance to just live life and sit with [my album],” she says. “I’ve always made music for myself, and the fact that people resonate with it is just this beautiful, unintended byproduct. It has changed my life that people give a f–k.”

You announced YESSIE just over a month before its release. Why the relatively short rollout?

Delayed gratification is one thing, but we live in a world where there’s billboards everywhere, screens everywhere, and everything pulling our attention. So I figure if I’m going to have a stop sign for you, I’d rather the intersection be damn near close, not f–king miles away.

Does the title indicate that you have been saying “yes” more lately?

If anything, I feel like I’ve been saying “no” more, which I kind of love. It took me a long time to realize that “no” is a full sentence. I was originally thinking I was going to name the project Self, because I feel like I’ve made such an emphasis on self-discovering, self-healing. I’ve been way more selfish than I’ve ever been in my life. You need balance, but I needed that extra push to get close to myself again and treat myself with kindness. I’m so nice to everybody else, but when I’m alone I’m criticizing myself or being too hard on myself and not being kind, not showing myself grace. I finally realized, “How you going to be cool to everybody but not cool to you?”

On lead single “Mutual Friend,” you sing about your real-life experience of a mutual friend of your ex wanting to talk. How did that mutual friend react when they heard it?

They were like, “F–k, Jessie, come on.” I’ve done it before, where I’ve written songs an hour after a fight: got out the car, slammed the door, went to the studio. [Debut EP] Kiddo was made that way. So it wasn’t really new to me, but I guess it was new for them to have a song that came from a convo that happened literally within the day. So they were just like, “How? When?” It was funny — for me.

When you’re working on music, how much are you thinking about how it will translate to the stage?

For me, that comes after. I don’t do that because if I do, then I’m out of the moment and I’m not present and I’m focusing on the future. The thing I love most about being in the studio and creating is the magic of the moment. It’s not tainted. The industry is f–king tainted. When you’re in the moment in the studio, you are creating something from nothing and literally being a conduit for alchemy. It’s beautiful.

How does having your own Island imprint, FMLY, help you to stay in that moment?

It’s having my own imprint and also having a team that respects and supports and sets the precedent so that people know what they’re getting into. If [someone wants to] collaborate with me on something for my project, then people should know I’m f–king driving.

This story will appear in the Aug. 27, 2022, issue of Billboard.

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