Growing up in Liverpool, Jetta John-Hartley had a favourite spot to sit with friends at the top of Hope Street: surrounded by the Anglican Cathedral, the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and an array of inspiring, inimitable culture, she would gaze across the city and marvel at the possibilities that lay before her. “I would watch the sun set over the docks, and think about how I’ve watched it [the city] develop,” she recalls. “The view over the Mersey was so inspiring; it gave me that sense of determination I’ve had since I was a child.”
JETTA’s forceful, poppy RnB is imbued with a fierce sense of empowerment, which ultimately makes her such a striking artist. Whether uplifting or sombre, a sense of purpose lends a focus to her music, none more so than in the rousing call-to-arms of Start A Riot. “When I was a teenager, I gravitated towards artists who were a voice for their generation, like The Streets or Destiny’s Child,” she enthuses. “I write from wherever I am emotionally that day, and at the time [of writing Start A Riot] I was reflecting on that sense of adventure of starting a journey into music.”
Jetta’s introduction to music is as remarkable as they come; her mother runs the acclaimed Sense Of Sound Choir and has also performed in an a cappella quartet, while her father works as a sound engineer. This unique background shaped how Jetta approached the medium: her mother introduced her to artists like Joni Mitchell who narrate stories through their intricate rhythms and melodies, while her father’s love of T.Rex and The Police turned her towards the big band sound. Put them together and the substance is almost overflowing.
Her father’s profession also encouraged a deep fascination in the technical side of music, namely the feeling of control through the level of precision that music production affords. “I love being able to discover things for myself,” Jetta declares. “I was given a laptop with Logic for my sixteenth birthday and I spent the whole summer hidden away writing songs! All my friends were asking what I was doing, but I had no care for the sunshine; I just wanted to get stuck into it.”
Jetta’s summer ended with organising her debut performance in the city centre; stepping out of the isolation, the next move was all too obvious. “When I saw the positive reactions from everyone, this bubble burst. I realised the one thing that made me feel complete was being on stage.” You might anticipate a sense of pressure considering that her parents were both so engrossed in the profession, but Jetta assures us that this was never the case. “It always felt right; I saw it as something positive because people could relate to it. I was given free rein to do what I wanted; it just happened music was what I wanted to do!”
Having attracted the attention of Paloma Faith’s manager, she moved to London at 18 to solidify her reputation as a backing singer. With her dominant vocal range and strong sense of direction, it was only a matter of time before the fire started to burn; now signed to Polydor, it has escalated to the point that Feels Like Coming Home, an unashamedly strong ballad that falls as quickly as it elevates you upwards, was chosen for Google’s Zeitgeist review of 2013. But even this was eclipsed by a call from her American label last year: Pharrell Williams wanted her to jam with him in Miami. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It’s the biggest compliment you can get when someone says they want to work with you, especially when it’s Pharrell!” she laughs, the sense of disbelief still evident in her voice. “It was interesting talking about our different journeys in music.” Pharrell’s influence on production is evident in the irresistible swing he brings. But it’s also unmistakably Jetta, through the myriad vocals that give a nod to the all-encompassing harmonies of the a cappella style. Most importantly, you can hear the honesty in Jetta’s voice. You can also hear an appreciation of her roots in her music, which is evidence that Jetta is acutely aware of the city’s capability in developing itself as an organic force. “Wherever you are in Liverpool, music surrounds you,” she reasons. It’s this energy that keeps Jetta coming back to her roots.
Keeping her message so clear-cut couldn’t be simpler for Jetta: just tell it like it is. Perhaps this is why audiences instantly identify with her music. She recalls how a tear-stricken woman came up to thank her after her performance of Take It Easy at the South By South West festival in Texas earlier this year. “That’s a winner for me, because although these songs are coming from my place, the whole point of music is to connect with others. South By South West really is one of a kind because the whole city shuts down; you can’t imagine it on a normal day!”
Jetta’s continuous stream of creativity means a debut LP is always on the mind. “I don’t believe in stopping writing when you hit that number of songs for the album. I write songs because I love to. It’s balancing two states that are at opposite ends of the scale: isolating myself, getting inside my own brain to figure out what’s going on, and then emerging to share it with others.” Jetta’s determination sees her straying from the footpath in a commercial pop field to find the ripest pickings. First you hesitate at her boldness, then you follow on.