How CapU alum Jessica Maros found her calling in Nashville’s underground scene
Jessica Maros isn’t at all ashamed of her Canadian roots – it’s just that the band she fronts and the city she lives in couldn’t be farther from the land of beavers and back bacon.
Since 2011, the Port Moody-born singer has comprised one half of the “desert rock” duo, Escondido, with Tyler James. Their artistic path has led them on multiple excursions from Nashville’s indie underground to the far reaches of North America – to clubs, festivals, and rural recording studios – and at many points it’s nearly led them apart, but the music has always prevailed.
“The day I met Tyler I walked out with a demo and went home and it was just like ‘wow, this is the sound that I’ve been trying to do for years,’” said Maros. “We have ups and downs, but when we come down to the writing phase and recording, that’s what we always agree on.”
Studying theatre at Capilano College 16 years ago, Maros never imagined she’d one day be making a living as a professional singer-songwriter. “At the time I thought I would do acting. I had no idea; I was just kind of floating, but I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment industry,” she said. “In the program, we did some set design work and we did costume design and we also did some lighting, and it’s interesting that those elements of what I learned still apply to what I do now. I do a lot of costumes for our shows; it all comes full circle.”
Coincidentally, the North Shore campus was also where she found her muse.
“I met my first boyfriend at Capilano College and he was in a rock band which is now The Matinee,” she recalled. Hanging with the band opened Maros’ eyes to a career in music and she began taking classical voice lessons with a local teacher. Eventually, she secured a regular gig at Rossini’s Jazz Bar in Gastown where a friend happened to record one of her performances. The tape then made its way to Nettwerk Records where executives offered her a development contract for songwriting. “Because of all the acting I was doing at this time I called up my acting agent and said ‘Hey I think I got myself a record deal… do you guys have any management on the music side?’”
They did, and Maros was soon on a plane to Nashville to meet James and other members of a prominent indie songwriting collective known as Ten out of Tenn. “I still, to this day, am a huge fan of all them,” she said. “Those were the artists that I looked up to when I came here and wrote with and now they’re doing really well.”
Escondido’s debut album, The Ghost of Escondido, was released in March 2013. Recorded live off the floor in a single day, it blossomed with the spirit of their newfound partnership and a certain naivety for what might be looming just over the horizon. “We captured a real moment,” recalled Maros, adding that the follow-up in 2016 was a “much tougher” process.
They began production on a third album this past January, once again combining their contrasting approaches to music. “Tyler is very well-rounded; he knows exactly how he wants to hear the drums and he knows exactly how he wants to hear the washed-out guitars and it’s great. For me, I don’t really know,” said Maros. “I like just writing the songs, and in the writing process that is my goal, for something to be completely 100 per cent coming from the right place. I don’t necessarily like listening to other kinds of music during that process because I want it to be really pure. I mean, we all have influences, you can’t hide it, you can’t avoid it, but I like to have a clean palate.”
Live and in studio, Escondido’s sound is undeniably original, while also reflecting the musical melting pot from which the band emerged. “I feel like we have a Western quality and I think we’re very much in the vein of Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons a little bit,” said Maros. “I had no idea when I first came here that there was more than country. I mean, there are so many cool bands coming out of Nashville. You’ve got Jack White living here, you’ve got The Black Keys, you’ve got Third Man Records, you’ve got Nikki Lane and Margo Price and we’re all in it together in a way. It’s happened really fast.”
So how does Escondido, the band from Tennessee, connect to Escondido, the city in Southern California? So far, just by title. Before the duo had even formed, James had always loved the way the name sounded. “They’ve contacted us and asked us to play the city hall and it just hasn’t worked out yet,” laughed Maros, “But it’s probably going to happen soon.”
In the meantime, the outfit has kept busy on the American festival circuit, including a memorable performance at Bumbershoot in Seattle last September. “It was the first festival I went to that gave little gift bags of weed, which was hilarious,” Maros recalled. “My band members were like ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to come back, this is amazing.’”
A few months before that, she and James had another surreal experience that involved sharing a green room with Neil Young in Los Angeles. “He was hosting an album listening party at the National History Museum and we were playing it and basically we were upstairs watching him reveal his album to the crowd,” she said. “Tyler and I were like ‘Should we talk to him? Should we say something?’ But then we just didn’t. It seemed like he was nervous. I’m like, ‘If he’s nervous, I should be nervous.’ What does he have to be nervous about?”
It’s times like those when Maros can only pinch herself, marvelling at the twist of fate that caused a girl from Canada who “didn’t even like country” to end up in Grand Ole Opry territory, mining a musical underground she had no idea even existed.
“It’s kind of fun to look back,” she mused. “We’ve really questioned a lot of things about how badly we want to be in this band, you know. It’s so much work, but through the ups and downs we realized ‘Oh yeah, this is supposed to be. We’re supposed to make music.’”
For the latest Escondido news, tracks and tour dates, visit Thebandescondido.com.
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