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The Ugly truth

Jessica Hammond told David Hennessy about her new music, performing with Demi Lovato and her appearance on BBC’s The Voice.

Jessica Hammond from Belfast was always going to be an entertainer. She started guitar lessons at six and by 14 she was gigging and even performing with a superstar like Demi Lovato. Still only 17, she appeared on BBC’s The Voice in 2012 when she turned all four judges and chose to join Jessie J’s team.

The Belfast-based singer-songwriter has just released her debut single Ugly.

Jessica told The Irish World: “We’re just getting started. It was a song I always wanted to release just because it was something I wrote going through an experience and it was quite a powerful and personal song to me. We’re just delighted with the response and the exposure that it’s got.”

Jessica wrote the track about someone she dated to find they were not as beautiful within as they were on the outside. The song’s message somewhat echoes GRL’s Ugly Heart and sounds like it could be just as anthemic.

“It’s a girl power type of song. They’re my favourite type of song to listen to and write.

“The next one coming is called Tomboy and it’s another girl power type of song. Originally the song was about my childhood and growing up a tomboy. When I was a kid, I was playing football, I was obsessed with motorbikes, I was obsessed WWE wrestling.

“I used to put on WWE wrestling shows and be John Cena and get my friends to all join in. We would put on a wrestling show on my trampoline and I charged the other kids 50p to come in and watch. It would have been a great business idea but my mum made me give them all the money back.”

Jessica says this is what the song was ‘originally’ about because it will also reflect on a relationship where a boyfriend pressures his girlfriend to make special efforts to please him.

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“I changed it into an idea of coming from a relationship where maybe the girl is in tracksuit bottoms and t-shirt and the boy is trying to make her fit into what he wants as a girlfriend. I think a lot of girls can actually relate to that. He’s trying to almost dumb her down and make her feel bad about maybe not wearing a dress for dinner or maybe not having her make-up or hair done around the house.”

You could say the world first saw Jessica Hammond on Disney’s My Camp Rock.

“My mum was always trying to help me get opportunities. It was all a bit mental.

“It gave me the opportunity to perform alongside the likes of Demi Lovato. I used to always try and sing one of her songs- La La Land it was called- I remember singing that in the garage at 14, no wonder our neighbours never really liked us.

“Any 14-year-old kid would be just been mindblown and I was sort of taken aback how glam she was, how pretty she was. There’s me: A little fat kid with a weird haircut. It was definitely an amazing experience.”

Although she says this was mental, Jessica was already playing local gigs with her guitar at that age.

“I remember my first gig at 14 and I played in a bar. That was my first gig that my guitar teacher got me supporting his band and I remember playing a half hour set and none of the audience were listening.

“I was used to playing to my mum and dad’s friends on a Friday night. I remember playing for the first time and nobody was listening so I turned around and I shouted down the mic, ‘Will youse all shut up?’

“I remember coming off and my mum telling me to never do that again. Down the years I’ve just learned to sing louder.”

Jessica then went on to tour as a solo artist and recorded her debut album at aged 16 which received airplay on Northern Ireland’s top radio stations including Cool FM & Citybeat.

It was in 2012 that a teenage Jessica was brave enough to play Jessie J’s Price Tag with the original singer right there. Even more impressive was that she got Jessie and her fellow judges Tom Jones, Danny O’Donoghue and Will.I.Am to all turn, choosing to go with Jessie J. She would leave the show in the battle round.

“I’ll always be really, really glad I did it. It was one of those things my mum put me in for.

“We got to go to dinner with Jessie J. I remember we all sat down and got a burger each and I remember just sitting, thinking, ‘Does Jessie J eat burgers?’ I think I was too nervous to even eat mine.

“She gave us some insight into the music business. She just told us to keep going. It was going to be a show that would come and go but to stick with music, gave it our best shot and just enjoy the process. And I did. I can honestly say looking back that that’s what I did both times, just enjoyed the experience.

“I remember the producers trying to make it competitive and wanted me to say things on camera. I remember thinking, ‘I’m not here to put anyone else down or get into that whole competitive vibe’. It was more looking to make contacts and get those big London management companies interested and build my own fanbase. It was an amazing experience.”

The Belfast musician laughs and remembers Jessie J giving her a gift.

“Jessie gave us a gift of manuka honey and told us it is what she uses. I ate the whole jar. I definitely thought it was going to make a massive difference but it just gave me another chin.”

Jessie’s advice had a profound effect on Jessica who chose to pursue a career in studio engineering in addition to her own performing.

“The driving force is the actual music. Fame is one of those things that comes and goes but if you can write a song good enough that it’s going to last 20 years then you’re set for life.”

After The Voice, Jessica moved to London to pursue a performing career.

“You know when you go through that phase at like 18, 19, you’re like, ‘I’m going to London to make something of myself’? I sort of did that whole phase at 18 off the back of The Voice and my management and everything being based in London.

“I thought, ‘I’ll take myself off to London because that’s where everything is always happening’. And then about a year later I found myself very, very broke and couldn’t afford to live there anymore so I came back. I just thought, you know what? I’m going home,” she says laughing from the memory.

“I was working in studios and in a bar over there. None of the gigs that I was doing were paid gigs, it was working for experience and all that.

“It was a joke thinking back. I was dragging my guitar and full PA system by myself at 11pm at night and gigging until 1am, for exposure.”

Jessica also remembers some slightly ridiculous living situation while over here.

Jessica on The Voice

“It was actually about half an hour out from London in a little place called Chorleywood. It was a really nice posh area but I unfortunately had to live in a rich person’s garage. It was a little apartment in his garage. If I was bringing anyone back, they would see all the swimming pools and tennis courts and be like, ‘Happy days’ until I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re just over here in this garage’. You would drive past all the porsches and then see my little mini.”

While in London she gained studio experience working alongside Grammy Award-winning songwriters and producers. Jessica has since established her own recording studio in Belfast where she now works full time as an artist, writer and producer and is now releasing her own music.

“I came back and then I tried to get a job as a studio engineer because I wanted to learn the studio side of things. I’ve always been really interested in the writing and the production of music. That’s where I felt most comfortable, behind the scenes as opposed to the whole artist thing.

“I came back, couldn’t get a job. Nobody would take me on as a studio engineer so I went and did my diploma and then I still couldn’t get a job so I decided to start my own studio.

“I needed to find a way to make money and do what I love. I wanted to start my own studio business. I started my studio business when I came back from London. We grew it from there and have had hundreds and hundreds of clients around Belfast.

“People are like, ‘Do you think you’ll ever make it?’ I feel like I already have. I get to write music in my own studio and work with different artists every single day. It’s great craic.”

The single Ugly is out now.

Tomboy is coming soon.

For more information, click here.

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