Interview With Pop/RnB Artist Jessie Munro

LA-based R&B/Pop Artist Jessie Munro started her journey in classical music and musical theatre growing up in Toronto, Canada. She started with voice lessons and her teachers gave her pop songs to learn, but at the age of 8, her parents had her study classical voice to learn proper technique. This paid off as Munro built a foundation from which she transitions those skills into her love of R&B/Pop/Rock.

Munro would go on to be a musical theatre major enrolled at the Etobicoke School of the Arts for high school in Toronto. It was during her time at Etobicoke that she says she “caught the performance bug”.  After doing musical theatre for a few years, Munro auditioned to work on CBC’s search for Dorothy in its 2012 Over The Rainbow series produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and would come in sixth place.

This experience propelled Munro to enroll in the Berklee College of Music where the songwriting classes developed her ability into a musical maturity.  Since then, Munro has performed worldwide to enthusiastic, sold-out audiences and to critical acclaim. 

Munro is taking the next step in her musical journey and has recorded her debut album, On My Own, which is due for release in Summer 2018.   Currently, Jessie is working on more new music to be released sometime in 2018/2019. In the meantime, you can catch her at the Revival on October 4th in Toronto. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Jessie via email about her new EP, her first single release, old school classic sounds, her experience in musical theater, touring the world, and much more.

Congratulations on your forthcoming EP, ‘On My Own’ to be released this summer.  Its concept is tackling the stages of post-break-up. Explain the process of writing about what must be a painful process. 

There were definitely times writing when it was hard especially because a lot of the feelings I was having were so raw. But I think that’s what makes it all so worth it in the end. The whole process was kind of therapeutic for me. I remember being pretty sad and low when we started this whole thing and listening back now I’m like “Woah, I don’t feel this way anymore”. It’s awesome, and I hope that this EP could function for someone else the same way.

“Under Fire” is the first single released from the EP where you reflect on being “under fire” from everybody in your life but realize other people’s opinions aren’t definitive. Can you explain more about how you came to this realization? Can you talk about the circumstances?

I wrote Under Fire during a time when I was feeling a lot of social pressures from friends and people around me. I was going through a breakup and I was doing my best to move forward and find my footing as an individual. Everyone around me seemed to have an opinion on how I should live my life, hence ‘Under Fire’.

Explain your production process.

The production process is always changing. I often start with an idea that I’ll record into voice memos on my phone, start sending stuff back and forth with my producer and get into a session. Every time is different, that’s why I like it so much, every song takes its form in a different way.

In what ways have artists like the iconic Carole King, Daniel Caesar, and Charlotte Day Wilson specifically influenced your music?

Carole King is an incredible songwriter and storyteller, her songs can be broken down to their most basic form and still paint that same picture. I love Daniel Caesar and Charlotte Day Wilson’s modern soul vibe. They are both artists who cultivate a whole aesthetic and it carries through everything they do.

Building on the previous question, how did you “harness old school classic sounds and marry them to modern sounds”? What was the end result you wanted? 

For this EP we worked really hard to build every song off of live instruments. Real drums are the thread that ties this album together as well as to those old classic records. The modern elements come mainly from synths and modern vocal processing.

Overall the goal was to bring together the music that inspired me to be an artist and the music that I listen to now that inspires me.

What is it about old school classic sounds that you like?

I love how grounded classic rock music is. That era has such a recognizable sound and it has a strong focus on the songwriting and storytelling.

Tell us about starting out in classical music and your journey to being an R&B/pop artist?

When I first started taking voice lessons I had a few teachers that kept giving me pop songs to take home and learn. After a couple years my mom said to me “if this is something you want to learn you need to have proper technique” so my parents put me into classical lessons. Although I didn’t understand the importance at the time I’m so grateful to have built that foundation. As I got older I realized my love of R&B/Pop/Rock and transitioning those skills helps me still today.

Besides classical music, you also got a start in musical theatre. What is your background in it? What did you enjoy about it?

I started studying classical voice when I was around 8 and was always begging my teacher to let me sing pop songs (which wasn’t encouraged). The closest I got was theatre and I loved that I could take on different voices for different characters and I was hooked. I attended an arts school in Toronto called Etobicoke School of the Arts for high school and was a musical theatre major there. During that time is when I think I caught the performance bug.

Explain what led you to enroll in the Berklee College of Music. How did attending there propel your songwriting abilities and give you a musical maturity?

When I was in high school my dad thought it would be a good idea to look for some kind of musical summer programs and we found Berklee. I attended a summer program there and a few years later applied for the school. After high school, I ended up taking a year off and working on CBC’s search for Dorothy called Over The Rainbow produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. That experience later propelled me to attend Berklee.

I think taking songwriting classes taught me how to exercise that muscle. It’s like anything, the more you do it the better you get and I feel that way about songwriting as well.

You placed sixth in CBC’s search for Dorothy for its 2012 Over The Rainbow series produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. What was that experience like? Why did you want the role? Were you disappointed you didn’t get the role of Dorothy? Why or why not?

Working on that show wasn’t only an amazing experience but it was also a huge learning experience for me. It was the first time I had worked professionally in that capacity and with a team of that caliber. I went into it primarily with the goal of being a sponge.

I had been doing musical theatre for 4-5 years at that point and the role of Dorothy was one that was so iconic and inspiring that I had to audition.

During that time I would have thought that I’d be disappointed about not getting the role but I was really disappointed that I was leaving the other girls, coaches, and crew that had become family.

You have performed to sold-out audiences worldwide. Where have you performed and what were some of your favorite experiences?

Last fall my band and I toured China and South Korea. It was a really amazing experience and I have some amazing memories of our time there. During our last show, a kid ran up on stage during the final song and started break dancing. We ended up looping the last chorus 5 or 6 times. Was really crazy to watch.

How do you think women artists in the indie music industry can be supported?

By showing respect and exercising equality.

Hopefully one day we won’t need to ask that question about any industry.

What advice would you give to young women who are looking to pursue a career in music?

Don’t be afraid to do what makes you happy. If you believe in something, your sound, style or perspective, don’t compromise that for anyone. The strongest voice you have is your own. That goes for anyone and in every aspect of life.

What other projects do you have planned for 2018/2019?

I’ve been working on a lot of new music recently, I’ll definitely have some stuff coming in 2018/2019.

What tour plans do you have for 2018/2019?

I’m going to be in Toronto October 4th at Revival which I’m really excited about! Not sure about the rest of the year yet but keep an eye out.

Thank you, Jessie, for the opportunity to interview you.

Follow Jessie on Social Media:

Instagram: jessieleithmunro

Facebook: jessieleithmunro

Twitter: jessieleith

Check out Jessie’s new release, “Under Fire”:

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