Jesse Ott doesn’t have time for traditional genres. She’s too busy carving out one of her own. Ott, the Little Rock native turned Nashville songstress who performs under the moniker Whoa Dakota, will perform Saturday at Smoke & Barrel in Fayetteville along with Dylan Earl.
Ott is touring in support of her debut LP “Patterns,” a dreamy indie pop record with well crafted songs, shimmering guitars and big hooks reminiscent of vintage Madonna.
She was born in the Arkansas state capital to a state champion bull rider and a “wild child mother,” as Ott states in her bio, and grew up “part-time on a cattle farm, and part-time in the city.” That dichotomy, she says, played an integral role in her upbringing and her songwriting. On “Patterns” you’ll get everything from danceable electro-pop numbers, to acoustic ballads, and a little bit of everything else in between.
Ott was kind enough to speak with Shindigmusic recently to discuss her record, songwriting style and what you can expect to see at her show on Saturday.
Shindigmusic: “Patterns” is a great little indie pop record with strong lyrics and elements of rock, blues, R&B, pop and country blended in. Where do you draw inspiration for your sound and style?
Ott: Thank you! I grew up listening to a lot of country music with my dad (George Jones, Chris LeDoux, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash) so I think a lot of what I know about telling stories and songwriting comes from that. When I first started singing in college, I was really drawn to the blues. I went to school in Chicago so I really dug into the history of the blues there and even got to sing at Chess Records. My taste just developed from starting with the early recorded music of the jazz and blues greats and then working my way to modern music.
I have a real passion for all types of music. So, I think when it comes time to write and record, I get inspired by all of it and I really feel like it all has a place in the story of who I am sonically as an artist. I love artists like Kimbra and St. Vincent who aren’t limited by genre and just focus on making great music. That’s where I hope to live all the time.
Shindigmusic: Did you set out with the intent to combine multiple styles in your music, or did it just sort of happen naturally?
Ott: I don’t think it was that intentional, no. I just wrote these songs and they lived in the space where they lived. I think the reason it doesn’t feel jarring is that they are all accurate representations of where I come from, so the thing that ties them together is the authenticity behind them. I think had I said, “OK, track two will be a country song and four will be a pop ballad” the record would have sounded contrived.
Shindigmusic: Many of the songs on “Patterns” cover a lot of ground lyrically. At times, it sounds like this could be a breakup record and at other times, it seems like it could just be your perception on life, family and friendships. Where does the lyrical inspiration come from?
Ott: What I love about music is that the listener has the authority and the right to interpret it for themselves and can give life to a song in any way they see fit. A lot of the content for me happened around a friendship that had ended. A lot of the record is also about entering a new romantic relationship and being terrified of how my life was changing. Then there is reference to the uncertainty of being alive in the world right now and how hopeless it can seem.
The record functions as this time capsule for where I was in my life when I wrote it. There is never just one paradigm we are living into as humans on this planet. We have daily struggles and daily triumphs and they all vary from minute to minute. That’s why I appreciate art so much. It acts as a mirror for what we are going through. If anyone hears a song from this record and is able to apply it to a problem they are facing then I will have done my job.
Shindigmusic: There are several skits or spoken-word snippets on the record, including one with a woman named “Nanny.” Can you tell us about her and the impact she has on your songwriting?
Ott: Nanny was my father’s mother. She lived with us growing up and was like a mother to me. Like a lot of women who were brought up in the south in the 30s, she was very resilient and had faced a lot of hardship in her life. I really idolized her growing up (and still do) and was always so taken by her ability to face her life with hope in spite of the tragedies she endured.
The thing I hadn’t realized growing up is that in idolizing her the way I did I sort of adopted this notion that in order to gain her brand of strength and wisdom, I would have to use struggle and heartbreak as a rite of passage in my life. I subconsciously put myself in situations that were doomed to failure so that I would have to learn something from them. I didn’t realize until the record was finished that I had romanticized heartbreak. What I’m much more interested in focusing on now is self-preservation in the face of emotional upset and in making conscious choices about what and who I let in my life.
Shindigmusic: We look forward to seeing your show Saturday at Smoke & Barrel. For those that haven’t seen you perform, what can you tell us about your live shows?
Ott: I look forward to seeing you guys as well! The show takes you on the emotional journey that I faced in writing the record. Sometimes we contemplate and recognize the ways in which we’ve hurt ourselves and then we get in dance mode and just let it all go. The guys that play with me are all phenomenal musicians and I’m really excited to take them on a tour of my home state. Anyone who is there needs to be ready to have a great time and connect with us. I love nothing more than when an audience is really available to take the ride with me at a show and just let themselves be free to enjoy their life.
The show begins at 10 p.m. Saturday. There is a $5 cover.