Interview: Jessica Harper
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I have always been a musician, much like others who claim we’ve been singing since birth, our love for music is not a choice – it’s a fact. The choice lies in pursuit of a career as an artist. I decided that in high school when I begged my parents to send me to a boarding arts school. And, honestly, I believe there is no timeline where I don’t choose music.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
When I’m not playing music, I’m playing dress up! I grew up in theatre and briefly did pageants, where I fell in love with transformation and grandeur. So, in my free time, I like to experiment with new styles of fashion, hair, and makeup to bring out sides of myself I don’t always present.
How long has your band been around?
My new project, Dama Blake, has not been made public yet. However, I have been working on refining her character and sound for over a year!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m currently based in Los Angeles, which has opened my mind to the “pop star” path and sound rather than that of a typical acoustic singer-songwriter.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Dama Blake is my royal title. It encompasses both feminine (Dama) and masculine (Blake) which is an ode to the character’s hyper feminine presentation while holding herself with the power and audacity of a man.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
I started to embody the persona of Dama Blake at my first live show back since the pandemic at The Hotel Cafe! I wore a long platinum blonde wig and arranged my band to be more synth and electric guitar driven than the former acoustic shows. While I was still performing as Jessica, I was able to see into the future as Dama which made me even more excited to share her with everyone.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
My friends and I all play at Hotel Cafe, so that venue feels like home now!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Lady Gaga, David Bowie, and RuPaul as a special guest ;)
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
My advice would be to have fun with it! The romantic ideation of a tortured artist is silly. If you get to spend time creating or playing for a living, that is a gift.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Try everything. Every genre, technique, color, persona. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll be one step closer to finding who you are and what you want to share with the world.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
It’s not very polite to choose a favorite child, now is it?
I don’t want to talk too much about songs that aren’t out, so I’ll speak on my 2019 EP, Michigan. I felt the least connected to the single, “Rainy Day”, until it was released. I was at a point in my life where I mistook happy/fun songs to have less meaning (and similarly thought that of Top 100 songs). But, after seeing the positive reaction to what I had dismissed as “cute”, and creating a theatrical music video for it, I was reminded that this work is fun! So, while I will not choose one song to mean more than the rest, I will say “Rainy Day” was pivotal in not taking myself too seriously.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“Rainy Day” gets requested the most for sure! That one has been a lot of fun to play because it makes people smile, as cheesy as that sounds. My goal as a performer is to create an experience for the audience, and the “Rainy Day” experience is always warm and fuzzy :)
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Honestly there is no “one process” for my songs. Each one is approached differently because they are their own thing. Sometimes I’ll hear a melody in my head and write lyrics to it; other times, I’ll hear a phrase and turn it into a lyric that is later assigned a melody; there are even times when the initial idea is just the concept of a song, so I’ll spend a while writing prose about the topic to find an angle or golden nugget of words to use as a jumping off point. The process is as creative as the outcome.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I’ve written about everything from mental illness to relationship dynamics. Most are social observations, whether that’s between individual people or groups. Recently, for my new persona, I’ve had a lot of fun writing character pieces. Dama Blake is a lot darker than I naturally am, so I’ve been writing about toxic relationships, control and power to get into her mind. One new song is specifically about being turned on by red flags.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Trying to embody a new persona takes a lot of work! There’s as much acting and learning the character as there is writing the music. So I’m constantly going back and forth between what I think/want and what Dama thinks/wants (spoiler: she always wins). It’ll get easier as I get more comfortable in the character, but right now it feels like I’m thinking and acting as two separate people.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’m planning on releasing my first single as Dama Blake in the Spring of 2022, with an EP to follow! Until then, I’m writing and recording everything to get ready for her debut :)