In an era when more Americans are being threatened for their diversities, Jessica Hernandez is using her art to bring different cultures together. "I think just because of my name being Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, so many of our fans are Hispanic," Hernandez says, "I feel like 50 percent of our audience come from bilingual households. They're teenagers or people my age that also have this similar story of being American, but also identify with this other part of themselves." And the idea of exploring heritage is what drove Hernandez's desire to make the band's forthcoming, bilingual record Telephone/Telefono. "I thought it was a really cool thing to combine the worlds of what I'm doing musically, but add Spanish into it," the 29-year-old singer explains.
Fusing the ska/punk ethos of Save Ferris and the roaring range of Amy Winehouse, Hernandez has dominated the Detroit music scene since 2010. For the band, led by Hernandez and supported by Michael Krygier, Steve Lehane, Taylor Pierson, John Raleeh and Kevin Medina—who together make up the Delta—the followup to their 2014 debut Secret Evil has been very much anticipated. While Secret Evil dabbled in voodoo and oozed gritty blues, Telephone/Telefono is a culturally relevant body of work that's angsty, but more polished. But longtime fans of the band won't be disappointed as Hernandez's vocals still soar with the strength and conviction of Kathleen Hanna (which isn't surprising since Hernandez did an official cover of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon" in 2015).
With Telephone/Telefono, Hernandez found herself in more personal territory, but it was something she knew could connect her with fans. "My father is from Cuba, so [Spanish has] kind of always been spoken around me, and I speak it with my grandmother," notes Hernandez. "She really taught me Spanish. As a kid, she spoke to me in Spanish, and I spoke to her in English." The creation of Telephone/Telefono was an opportunity for Hernandez to do something she always wanted to: speak Spanish as well as she understood it. "As I've gotten older, I've kind of been like 'this is ridiculous:' I'm 100 percent fluent as far as understanding it, so I don't understand why I can't just force myself to practice it. Over the years, Hernandez has made a lot of friends in Mexico City making music, so she'd go out there for months at a time and force herself to practice with them—something that improved her Spanish-speaking skills and helped her craft the album. Even when it came down to actually recording, mixing and producing Telephone/Telefono, Hernandez's personal touch was all over it. "My record label gave me 100 percent creative control with music videos and the album and everything," Hernandez explains. "It was this liberating thing of being able to do what I always wanted to do musically but never had the resources to do."
For Hernandez, the title Telephone/Telefono sums up the theme of the LP. She wrote the songs just before she got engaged, leading up to her marriage to her (now) husband, The Growlers' Kyle Straka. "A lot of the songs were like telling the really good and really bad parts of like being in a long distance relationship for seven years with another touring musician," admits Hernandez. "Our lives basically revolve around the telephone because there would be months at a time where we were both on the road, not able to see each other and the telephone became this giant part of our relationship: an ongoing theme between the two of us."
In revealing the band's sophomore album to the world, Hernandez wanted to establish the tone of Telephone/Telefono's Latin influence, so she initially shared the single "Run Too Far." "I feel like it translated really beautifully in both languages, so it kind of had like a little bit of everything that I was wanting to make people feel with the record," Hernandez explains. "It's still grimey, but has a pop aspect and Latin percussion." It's also exactly the way that Hernandez wanted to express American heritage. "I think it's really important to redefine what being American means," she explains. "Being American means something different to so many people. Doing the album in Spanish is kind of saying: this is what being American means to me. You can do stuff in two languages, be proud of your heritage, be proud of where you're from and where you live. I think is really important right now to change people's minds in a positive way instead of shaking your fist."
Hernandez's new album finds hope in a dark period for America, and that's something she is working to extend to listeners. "I've always been really proud of being American," she says. "I come from a family that's kind of lived the American dream; [they] literally came to this country with nothing from communist Cuba and built themselves up to have this really beautiful life. My family has always passed that down."
To hold you over until the release of Telephone/Telefono on June 23, we're premiering Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas' latest single "Hot To Trot" on Noisey. "'Hot To Trot' is a sort of stream of consciousness about owning yourself and no one being able to take away what you own in and about yourself," explains Hernandez. Dig into both English and Spanish versions below.
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