A Breakthrough Year
by By Levi Soulodre For The Session
March 14, 2012To be a busy singer is to be a successful singer; and rising young country/pop chanteuse and songwriter Jess Moskaluke is working harder these days than she’s ever been thus far in her blossoming music career.
“My plans for 2012 are to be as busy in music as I possibly can,” she says en route to Montmarte, Saskatchewan. “And so far, I’ve been doing just that!”
The Session caught up with Jess in the full midst of a regional winter tour. A few days ago, she admitted she was too busy to chat just then, as she had not one, but two performances that day, with her first show’s soundcheck just around the corner. The Langenburg, Saskatchewan native is however no stranger to packed performance schedules: a string of showcases, talent searches and a fated trip to Nashville have all led to her astronomic rise as a budding country phenom. Her 2011 breakout original composition “Catch Me If You Can” has surpassed 750,000 YouTube video hits at the time of writing this! And her fans are craving more. The video’s latest fan comment, posted one week ago, is quite fitting to many other of Moskaluke’s similarly-opinioned fans: it simply yet quite reasonably reads, “Lovely voice.” Two comments down, another fan blushes the sentiment: “You are just amazing!” This praise is without a doubt due to Moskaluke’s powerful, unclouded vocals; hers is a voice of integrity and unwavering devotion to her craft, as she is fully involved not only in the performance aspects of her career, but the songwriting and publishing end of things too, making her a musical force to be reckoned with.
Another fan posted, “Love her voice in anything she sings. Want to hear a ton more!” And much more is exactly what Moskaluke plans on doing: her current tour through the prairies is called the Grassroots and Cowboy Boots tour, now on its second leg. She’s excited to be touring with two other Saskatchewan artists, Blake Berglund and Chris Henderson, and Moskaluke says they are promoting their tour in a unique way through collaborative means. “We are a trio made up of solo artists. When it comes to our shows, the audience gets originals (from each solo artist), along with an array of covers featuring three-part harmony,” she explains. “It’s a real treat to be able to tour with close friends and talented, respected musicians.” Fittingly enough for three young, up-and-coming musicians from Saskatchewan, they’re bringing their music back to the province they call home by performing in smaller centres. “We are touring mainly small towns that wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to host concerts such as this in their theatres,” Moskaluke says. The Grassroots and Cowboy Boots tour has spanned around 50 shows, everywhere from Medicine Hat AB, to Hudson Bay SK to Lorette MB.
While I was admittedly unfamiliar with her music before this article, Moskaluke’s strong vocal capacity makes an immediate and endearing impact upon the ears just a few seconds into one of her YouTube offerings. Through her natural talents, Moskaluke has come out on top in an array of competitions over the past few years. In June 2011, Jess triumphed in Big Dog 92-7’s “Next Big Thing” original artist talent competition, receiving a prize package worth over $15,000 plus landing her an opening spot for Dierks Bentley in Regina. (Incidentally, she competed in the finals for this competition against current tour mate Blake Berglund - and Chris Henderson won the contest in 2010!) Moskaluke notes, “I want to express my gratitude to Big Dog and SaskMusic for the opportunities that have been brought to me through winning The Next Big Thing. There are tons of competitions out there, but they rarely support the artist’s original material. This one truly helps give an aspiring artist a leg up and breeds great Saskatchewan talent and good music.”
Jess also she took the coveted top honours in the New Artist Showcase Award at the 2011 Canadian Country Music Awards in Hamilton ON, after performing a selection of her original songs including her second huge YouTube hit, “Amen, Hallelujah,” the title track from what she considers her first original EP. Released in the fall of last year, the title song has received prominent airplay from Canadian radio coast-to-coast. Its accompanying video, complete with footage of Jess rocking in the studio, has now also reached over 535,000 views. Amen Hallelujah offers her fans original material: the catchy track delivers a stomping country beat with a rock presence. Moskaluke’s vocals tie the song together, blending her take on country with a hint of soul-satisfying gospel. The chorus lyrics are also quite indicative of her budding career: “Amen Hallelujah / It’s just what I’ve been waiting for /Amen Hallelujah / I can’t wait for what’s in store…”
Quite the numbers for a small-town Saskatchewan country chanteuse! No doubt that the amount of people Moskaluke has reached is in part due to her connection to tourmate Tyler Ward, a Denver CO-raised, fast-rising pop musician in his own right, who is currently touring the United Kingdom. Ward and Moskaluke toured together in the fall of 2011, and Ward featured her two aforementioned YouTube videos on his personal Tyler Ward Music YouTube channel, which brought Moskaluke exposure to thousands of new fans.
She’s been performing steadily since the age of 15, and from the get-go, it was clear that Moskaluke was poised for the spotlight. In 2005, Jess was awarded the title of “Most Promising Entertainer” at a local talent competition, and received 2nd place the following year. In 2007, she won another local talent competition. In 2008, however, Moskaluke had to drop out of the Canadian Idol competition due to a severe case of laryngitis. Nonetheless, she still placed in the top 200.
This amount of attention and success could be enough to faze any twenty-one-year-old, but Moskaluke is no stranger to the stage, nor has she allowed the natural anxieties that come with performing in a competition-type environment to stop her from progressing. “I’ve always loved doing competitions, but as much as I had looked forward to them, I always got the butterflies as well,” she explains. “I’m very proud and humbled with all that I’ve accomplished through those competitions, but I’m pretty excited to have moved on from that portion of my career to focus on my original material.”
With an original album in progress, Moskaluke recently released EP “Cover Up”, an offering of warm country and pop numbers. But Moskaluke doesn’t consider it an official record, per se. “As the title suggests, it’s just a cover EP that we released to accompany the YouTube videos - so that the fans could have something to put on their iPods,” she says.
2010 was also a big year for her, with Jess winning the “Painted Hand Idol” (Yorkton) and the 620 CKRM Big Country Talent Search (Regina), a local competition that she had started entering five years prior. In June of 2010, Jess made her first trip to Nashville, country music’s golden nest. It was on this trip that she was approached by Identical Entertainment, an artist development agency and publishing company who, upon hearing Moskaluke’s rich, sonorous voice, signed her to an artist deal. “Signing my publishing deal in Nashville was life-changing, to say the least,” she reflects. Years of competition and community-type events had helped to hone her confidence to make an impression down south. Now, connections and a working team in Nashville have allowed Moskaluke to break into the heart of mainstream country territory. “Nashville’s an amazing experience, and has become a second home for me,” she says. While Cover Up was recorded in Los Angeles, all of her prior original music was recorded in Nashville. Moskaluke has high praises for the talent she has worked with down in Tennessee’s capital. “The musicianship there is amazing,” she says. “It is absolutely incredible to have written a song with nothing but an idea in your head and a guitar in the room, and then go into the studio and hear the musicians develop their own interpretation of the same song. It really makes your work of art come to life, and I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.”
In her youth, Jess performed in many radio competitions, sang in church choirs, and was always singing at local events. She also pursued two years’ worth of vocal lessons, and says that she “began coaching herself.” While she acknowledges that her family has always been supportive of her time and energies spent with music as a hobby, they were at first a little apprehensive and understandably concerned with her choice to embark on a full-time career in music - given that she was pursuing her university studies at the time. Juggling full-time music and school is always a challenge, as Moskaluke discovered. “I would be lying if I said that they completely supported my decision to do music as a full-time career right off the bat,” she explains. “I had been studying Criminal Justice (at Brandon University) for two years already when I was approached by Identical Entertainment with a publishing contract, so it took a lot of family meetings, a lot of discussions, and a lot of ‘what-ifs’ to figure out how to make it work.”
In a music business which often finds shadowy characters looming in the corners, Moskaluke is fortunate to have partnered with a talented and trustworthy team of producers and players; she also expresses how supportive her family is. “After they had seen the support system I’ve built around myself in Nashville, my family has been extremely supportive and proud,” she beams. “My family isn’t a very musical one at all, so I think this is just a new undiscovered path that we’ve stumbled upon, and they just had to get used to it a little bit. They’re my biggest fans!”
While describing herself as a huge lover of all kinds of music, Moskaluke divulges that she was heavily influenced in particular by one of Canada’s legendary country stars, Shania Twain. “Growing up listening to country in the ‘90s, as a Canadian female, I was enamoured with Shania Twain,” she reflects. “She was one of my favourite artists as a kid and, to this day, I can credit her for a lot of my style. I have so much respect for what she has done for country music. She created her own genre, and that’s something that I would love to have the opportunity to do.”
Aware of the breakneck speed of today’s music industry, and the shifting sounds that come with it, Moskaluke is keen on contributing to the evolution of the traditional country sound with her own voice. “Country is changing so much right before our eyes,” she says, “and as much as I respect classic country and artists like Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, I think it’s exciting to see a brand new form of music come to life - and I’d love to be a part of that.”
Moskaluke recently completed recording her debut full-length album, which will give listeners and fans the opportunity to hear her passionate contribution to an ever-changing musical topography. Half of the record was tracked in Nashville, and the other half in Vancouver. But as excited as she is to be preparing her new album, she is also keeping incredibly busy with her breakout song “Catch Me If You Can”. “I’m very excited for my radio single to be released at the end of February, and I’m just as thrilled to release my corresponding CMT video!” she says. The song’s significant YouTube views attracted the attention of Country Music Television (CMT), which plans to release a new production of the video nationally, bringing a refreshed energy to the song and opening up new avenues for Moskaluke to gain fans. “They wanted to re-shoot the video to air it on their channel,” she explains. “We are also in the process of having [the song] air on Family Channel and/or YTV as a positive message to children.” She will follow up these releases with a Canada-wide radio promotion tour later in the year.
The chorus of Catch Me If You Can is the sound of her formal dedication to pursue music with a full heart and full schedule. Now it’s up to the world to catch up with her musical ideas and designs for the future, if we can; she certainly seems blessed with the right combination of elements to ascend to the ranks of her heroes: a great voice, a great team, support from fans and family, and perhaps most importantly, determination and attitude.
For more information on Jess, please visit:
and on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/JessMoskalukeMusic