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Introducing Jesse Jo Stark and Her Melancholic, 70s Retro Video for "Driftwood"

She may be a well-connected LA cool kid, but her collaborations with Jonathan Rice and Grandaddy's Jason Lytle spotlight this 20-something's real songwriting chops. So we tracked her down.

"You always go through different phases in your life, but I always stuck with music," says singer Jesse Jo Stark. While she may be a new name in the music world, Google would beg to differ. From her designer parents (known for creating the edgy-lux label Chrome Hearts), to her friendships with model of the moment Bella Hadid and celeb offspring Atlanta de Cadenet, to her cameo in Gia Coppola's Palo Alto, the 25-year-old singer has been entrenched in the LA cool kid scene for years. (Having Cher as her godmother doesn't hurt either).


But behind the up-and-coming it girl, is a young woman who has wanted to be a musician since she was a kid: with the help of her music teacher, Stark wrote her first song at 12 years old; she took classes for her voice, violin, guitar, and piano lessons, while filling diaries full of poetry. In and amongst all this she also began designing clothes, spearheading a variety of projects for her parents' brand, and even managing the company for a year when her family set up franchises abroad. Needless to say, growing up in a creative household was the perfect incubator for Stark's burgeoning talents. "My parents were my greatest teachers because they always allowed me to be around what they were creating—it was definitely what made me, me."

While Stark's parents influenced her plenty, her dad's (famous musician) friends, also helped cultivate her growth as an artist. Under the guidance and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, Stark began writing and recording as a young adult. "I don't think I really got what [Jones and McKagan] represented until I was older,"  Stark explains, "I just thought they were my dad's cool friends. They 100 percent influenced my music taste. I love their honesty and rawness. They can tell me I sound like shit or that I'm good."

In 2014 Stark made her public debut with a gritty pop-punk sound when she dropped her EP Down The Drain (produced alongside Jones), but three years on and the mood of her music has shifted into something entirely different. "I can see how [in the beginning] a lot of my stuff was more rock-oriented with poppy elements, but I've always been influenced by the same things: old country, rock 'n' roll and blues," notes Stark.


Now, it's harder to associate her with the initial descriptors—instead, her most recent release "Driftwood" (co-written with musician Johnathan Rice) sees Stark lilting to the tune of an eerie folk ballad—all slide guitar, and forlorn, lightly revered vocals. For Stark, it's a vulnerable track about the consumption of love, with a shift in tone and songwriting perhaps attributed to her collaborations with Rice, with production credits going to Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. "Johnathan has such a beautiful way of telling a story, and I love adding the elements of horror and death into my love songs," says Stark. "So to be able to combine his head with mine, we were able to make this romantic horror story with ['Driftwood']. I love the quirkiness of old horror stories—not the crazy, violent side of horror, but the language that comes with it. I try to incorporate that into my music and the way I dress too."

Meanwhile, Lytle brought out something new for Stark: "I'm really shy, but Jason asked me things I didn't want to answer and with that he brought a mood out of me I didn't know I had."

Premiering above is the accompanying music video for "Driftwood" which perfectly aligns with her lyrical candor. Filmed at a friend's bar—Hollywood's The Peppermint—Stark decided to create a one-take visual that showed her playing to an empty audience. Although this isn't the first video she's made for "Driftwood," it's the one that stuck. "I wanted it to be raw and intimate, and I love the space I chose," Stark says. "[The bar] feels so old-world when you go into it."


The looks is very 70s—from the bar's retro fittings to Stark's high-waisted flares. In it, she also tips her cap to one of her favorite bands: The Cramps. "I love The Cramps—they're a huge inspiration in my life," says Stark. "I felt like wearing their t-shirt was my ode to them within my own song. They make me feel strong, like I can be who I want to be, and weird is cool."

Right now Stark is being exactly who she is and is lucky enough to be on the rise with one of her besties, Bella Hadid, who she has known since she was 13. The duo recently took part in a cover shoot together for Teen Vogue, which showed off their longstanding bond. "We're both such big supporters of each other, which is great because not everyone can be so supportive," explains Stark. "Just being a part of the [Teen Vogue] cover was just an example of how she shares where she's at. She's my ride or die."

And she's for real: Stark understands why she's often described in articles as "Hadid's BFF." "I get it," says the singer. "You've gotta have the field twist on the first sentence. I really love what I'm doing, I love my music and I want to have the respect of that. I am her best friend and she's mine, so I don't mind it at all." They may be in different creative corners, but their relationship is beyond admirable.

Stark does have new music coming down the pipeline, but it might be some time until she delivers her full length. Instead, she prefers the idea of releasing more singles possibly a six-track EP, with some songs produced by Rice and others by Lytle. It's fair to say that working with the duo has helped Stark tap into a maturity previously untapped. "I've never felt more at peace with the kind of vibe that I'm in right now," says Stark. "I think it's growing up and growing into my own lyrics."

Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.