Let’s make this clear from the beginning, no one, and I mean no one messes with Jessie and Amy’s music. Not even the sound guy trying to figure it out.
This was what I gathered the first time I got to see Jessie and Amy perform at the Acoustic Live Challenge’s second set of semi-finals this past May. Issues with the sound had been happening all night. While most of the performers accepted it and played any way, Jessie refused to start until it was right. I soon learned this passion and persistence was only one of several recognizable talents which earned the ladies an invitation to step out of the coffee shops and bars, and onto a bigger stage at this year’s MojoStock set to take place July 29th and July 30th.
When asked how it felt to be included in MojoStock’s talented line up, Jessie enthusiastically replied, “Surreal! It’s not just background music now, people are there for music and only music so it’s a rush. Playing with these well known musicians of Indy is an honor, and I’m loving every minute of it!”
Jessie Phelps and Amy Zehr, although relatively new to the Indy music scene, are no strangers to playing music. Both have years of experience merged together in one finely tuned duo that is grabbing many people’s attention. An entertaining interview with Jessie and Amy provided insight into their musical journeys of the past, how the two influence each other in the present, and where it seems they’re destined to go in the future.
Musical influences have surrounded Jessie her whole life beginning with her grandpa and uncle. She started off playing the drums on her grandpa’s sparkly, orange drum set held together with a lot of duck tape. Through the years of out playing the boys in school, coming in second place in a Bedford, IN songwriting competition, and bouncing around several different bands, she also learned how to play the guitar.
To her frustration, playing the guitar did not come as easily as playing the drums.
“I just sucked,” said Jessie. “Finally I flipped it over, so it was upside down, and I got it. And now I always play it that way.”
Amy first picked up her mom’s old guitar right around eighth grade. Inspired by her mom and sister (who both played), and encouraged with a new guitar as a Christmas present from her dad, she pursued her passion by teaching herself to play.
The fateful pairing of Jessie with Amy happened several years ago when the two met at a mutual friend’s cook out. An unprompted duet of the song “Landslide” written by Stevie Nicks (one of the duo’s influences) was all it took to convince them playing together was the next step.
Amy recalled, “My first impression when Jessie and I began playing ‘Landslide’ together was, ‘Cool, she likes ‘Landslide,’ she has good musical taste.’ Second impression was, ‘Wow she can sing.’ Third impression, ‘YES! She can harmonize!’”
So the lovely ladies began playing and writing music together, and performing for friends. They quickly started picking up gigs at various coffee shops and bars around town. It was at one of their favorite venues, Loughmiller’s Pub, where they were offered one of their first “coolest” opportunities, to play a VIP section at Voodoo Music Fest in New Orleans.
The next big step came when they decided to test their talent at the annual Acoustic Live Challenge. Encouraged by a friend to try it out, they contacted Mr. Rob Snodgrass and proceeded to dominate the competition.
“We were so nervous, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Jessie. “So we said, ‘Let’s just play like we always play. Let’s just be us.’”
Jessie and Amy being “just” Jessie and Amy landed them upfront with a fifth place rank among many brilliant musicians. Their dazzling display of talent transfixed the crowd and judges each time with their harmonious voices, and alternating presentation of instrumental mastery.
But all would be impossible without the special dynamic the two share. Mutual respect mixed with two strong, yet opposite personalities equals a balanced musical duo focused on continually growing and learning. Jessie elaborated on their differences with a funny little example of how Amy makes a copy of their playlists and tapes them to Jessie’s guitar.
“Amy has to have it all planned out, while I’m more free-spirited…go with the flow type,” said Jessie. “She keeps me in line and I lighten her up. But we’re really two big goof balls.”
Amy added, “Jessie and I definitely balance each other out well. Though we do both write, and sometimes co-write, most of our originals are Jessie’s songs and I get inspired by her to write more. We both enjoy finding unique ways to add depth to our songs, whether it be through harmonizing, 2 guitar parts, or percussion.
It helps that we share similar styles in both music and lyrics, but when we do have different opinions, we have always been good at offering suggestions and coming to agreements without getting offended, and I think that is a key to our success in playing together.”
Another impressive thing about Jesse and Amy is the large following of loyal fans. Each of their performances at the Acoustic Live Challenge was packed to barely standing room only. And if you weren’t there to see them, you left wanting to see more.
When I asked Jessie to describe their music to someone who was unfamiliar she replied, “It’s very raw, I guess homegrown. It comes from deep down. Emotional, but still a lot of energy.”
All following in line with the several musical influences mentioned such as Tegan & Sarah, Indigo Girls, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Tracy Chapman, Brandi Carlile, Joan Jett, Joan Osborne, The Dixie Chicks, and Adele, just to name a few.
“My attention is caught by raw musical talent and poetic and meaningful lyrics,” Amy said. “Especially by artists who don’t allow themselves to get caught up in mainstream distractions.”
The girls are moving into the future by wrapping up other commitments. With more time to focus on their music, they are planning to take the next successful steps. Amy just finished up her second year as a teacher. And Jessie is currently finishing up with her college degree in sports management at IUPUI. Not to mention, she is also an assistant coach for a middle school volleyball team.
Participating in the Acoustic Live Challenge showcased their many talents and proved to open several more doors leading into the future. Incase you haven’t joined the fan club yet (like the rest of us), you can check them out on their website, or better yet live, at the upcoming soon-to-be-sold-out-show MojoStock.
Tickets available at http://mojostockindy.com/