Jessica Nitties is a singer, songwriter and producer who goes by the name Sparrows, flying wherever her soul-filled wings and sweet voice carry her; ever on the hunt for new soundscapes
Jessica Nitties hears the world differently to most people. Music enables her to make sense of the world we live in – both by making it and listening to it. Jessica - a Sydney based singer/songwriter whose latest project is performing under the moniker Sparrows - is always on the hunt for sounds which she describes as "field sounds" to complement what goes on in her imagination. Jessica attended the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) in Sydney, and has had her heart firmly set on the music industry from a young age, teaching herself to play Stairway to Heaven on guitar and such, as many do.
The hours spent in her bedroom listening to and playing music came in handy when she landed a job working as a personal assistant for Australian radio host Jackie O at Sydney’s 2Day FM which gave Jessica a crash course in the commercial Australian radio and music industry. After leaving 2Day FM, Jessica has gone on to produce, write and record her own pop music, but is also a keen collaborator and attended APRA’s four-day songwriting camp, The Tower which included workshops with ARIA Award winner Montaigne, Evanescence's David Hodges, composer Francois Tetaz (Gotye) and former guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie, Chris Walla.
Upon meeting Jessica, one can instantly see her drive and incredible work ethic. She wants it all and her focus is laser sharp. Last year she released two singles under her stage name Sparrows. Entitled On Your Own and Get to Know You - the latter of which is soulful and mellow as all get out - both songs landed coveted positions on Spotify playlists. And her latest release is another cracker - a song called Take My Heart Out. While her music is electronic, her voice is raw, organic and brimming with gorgeously warm jazz tones. Jessica spoke with Music Love and we discovered a loving, adventurous and wide-eyed wondrous soul.
What does music mean to you?
Music is my north star. And just like [the current north star] Polaris - it is the brightest thing in my constellation. It's always guiding me. I make sense of the world through making music and listening to it. It's much bigger than all of us. I've met the most amazing people through music. A girl came up to me after my last gig and she told me in her broken English, "I travelled with you", pointing to her phone. I was like, "Wow, you follow me on Spotify?!' and she was like, "Nooo, I travelled with you, pointing to her head and chest." I got very teary. That's music for you.
You have a really unique approach to your music making. What first inspired you to incorporate found sound into your songs?
Oh thanks! The idea of grabbing a sound, taking it out of it's environment and finding a new home for it in a song gets me very excited. I remember the best apple I ever ate - you know the type you bite into that makes a big crunchy sound and the juice runs down your chin? I was sitting on the couch, really losing myself in this apple, but then my phone rang - I didn't answer it, then I got a Facebook message and then my friend texted me. And I thought, bloody hell, I can't enjoy an apple anymore without being distracted. I decided to sample the crunch of that apple with a stack of voicemail messages and layer it with juicy apple beats. The rest was history - found sounds til I die. By the way, it was a Fuji apple.
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you hear a sound and think it would be perfect in one of your songs?
All the time! I've recorded so many sounds. My second release Get To Know You included bouncing ping-pong balls, staplers and lighters. The one before that I had my dog chewing peanuts. I'm currently sampling the various sounds that my car makes as it ties in with the theme of the song. It'll be subtle though, to the point where you wouldn't know that's it's from my car. It just makes it more fun for me.
You said that music is what gets you up everyday. Has it always been that way?
Yes there was always music. I use to hang in my bedroom a lot listening to all kinds of stuff and teaching myself Stairway to Heaven on the guitar and writing sad teenage songs. My dad played bass and he was a great singer. Mum, not so much. I remember when I was thirteen, she let my brother Johnny and I choose one CD each. He got a Michael Jackson album, I chose Portishead's Dummy... I was soooo excited to play it. Once I put it on for everyone to listen to, she was like, "Jessica, this is 'stoner' music!" I love Portishead.
You previously worked in radio with the Kyle and Jackie O show. Tell us about that.
I was Jackie's PA for around eighteen months, I think. It was a lot of fun and a nice eye-opener into commercial radio! Constant laughs and pranks, no two days were the same. The team they had around them too were a great bunch of people, super talented and bloody hard-working.
What has been your experience working as an independent producer in Sydney?
I'm still pretty fresh off the boat, but starting to produce and write for other artists now which is very exciting. Give me a year and I'm sure I'll be able to tell you a bit more. What I am learning though, is that it's a pretty small industry here and making contacts seems to be the biggie. It's often about who you know so making those connections with people that genuinely dig your stuff is important. Another thing, music is like perfume and food - not everyone's going to like what you put out and that's totally fine! So all you can do as a producer is make music that you 100 per cent dig (well that's impossible though. I never feel satisfied with my music. It's addictive though. I think, okay, my next song is going to be perfect... hahaha, who am I kidding?!)
Where is your favourite place to see live music in Sydney?
Hmm of what is left standing?! I love the Oxford Art Factory. Most recently I attended the Women in Electronic Music Showcase - the energy was insane! Also K-Flay in May, phwoaar what a show!
You talk about creating an interactive space with your audience at your live performances. What does this mean?
Did I say that?! Aha, I think when I was starting out, I was like, right, for my show I'm going to get live body paint artists, dancing girls in the crowd, visuals, the whole bit. But after playing a few shows, I was like, slow down sweetheart - just get the music right first... It'll happen, I can see it in my head. For now I talk a bit in my shows, sometimes probably too much. I just like talking to the audience about the songs and where they come from.
In April you got a really cool opportunity to work with some talented musicians and songwriters with APRA. What was one thing you took away from that?
That we are all human, and all songwriters and musos have good and bad days. And it's ok to pull the plug if a writing session isn't working. I was in a session with Ricki-Lee [Coulter} and [LA producer] Bram Inscore and we were all trying so hard for hours, and definitely had a few moments of oooh this is good but in the end, it just didn't happen. We all got on really well and you could tell we were all busting to write a cool song but yeah, no go. We ended up having champagne at 4pm and calling it quits.
Your lyrics are just as edgy as your music making. Are the issues they allude to important to you?
Big time! It's how I make sense of the world. There are a number of themes that continue to crop up which I'm going to continue to explore further. Songwriting sessions can often feel like checking in with a psychologist, only it's free!
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
That's tough, there's a truckload. A few though. Marianna Annas: One of the best music lawyers in the biz (Head of ABC Music Publishing). Besides a shared love of Kate Bush and our Greek heritage, she is very supportive of artists and good songwriting. Milly Petriella [APRA]: This woman is a pocket-rocket. I met her at the the APRA SongHubs and, wow, watching her run that event with her talented team was amazing. She is charismatic and oozes passion for supporting songwriters - big fan! Juliet Guterres [producer and vocalist]: If it wasn't for this chick, I wouldn't have met a bunch of producer girls that I hang with now. She holds this night called "Beat Bingo" which brings producers together to show their music. She makes beautiful music too! I could go on and on! I'm looking forward to meeting and working with more women in music throughout my career.
As an independent artist this can mean a balance of long periods of working on your own to lots of travelling. What do you do in your downtime?
This has stumped me to the point where I think I need to reassess, as all I ever seem to think about is music! I do enjoy exercise, reading, drawing and starting to get into making video. Oh and my dog, Monkey, who we're hoping will soon be a Delta Therapy dog, so I can share her love with others!
What’s your favourite place in Australia?
I love taking Monkey down to Gordon's Bay and finding a rock and just chilling in summer. I use to love hanging in the mountains with my cousins in Mullumbimby years ago - it would be nice to get back there,
Well my Mac died today, so I am currently having a little pity party. Once that's sorted though I will be immersing myself in finishing tracks, producing/songwriting for other artists, playing shows, finishing my EP, teaching, volunteering - anything music really.