During the start of the pandemic, L.A-based artist Jesse Palter parted ways with her record label to start anew and focus on the next evolution of her music and sound. Out of that dynamic came Better Days – an ode to quarantine and lockdown.
One of Palter’s earliest memories takes her back to when she was four years old in nursery school, answering the teacher’s question: ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ Without missing a beat, “a singer” she replied, promptly belting out the chorus of Tomorrow from Annie. Chuckling at her determination and certainty at such a young age, Palter says that knowing what she wanted to do from this age has been both a blessing and a curse. “There was never a doubt in my mind,” she asserts over Zoom. “To be completely honest, the doubt in my mind came not too long ago when I was locked into a contract, surrounded by a team of people that just weren't right for my brand or for my specific project. I started thinking, ‘man, I've been fighting for this all these years and making a lot of sacrifices; moving away from my family... this isn't cute anymore’. When I was four years old, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. It was a cute little hobby. Then it became more than that when I really started writing music, telling my own stories and composing. Then you realise, ‘gosh – it's a business, it's not just a passion’.” During the start of the pandemic, Palter parted ways with her record label, and free to write from the heart, she released the aptly named Better Days. Reflective and optimistic, this tune is co-created and produced with Jake Bass and features notable musicians Jeff Babko (music director for Jimmy Kimmel, James Taylor) and Ben Williams on the keys and bass, respectively. The song was written over Zoom and each segment of it was recorded in everyone’s individual living spaces; a fitting tribute considering Better Days was written in and is about the quarantine lockdown.
As Palter puts it herself, “now, more than ever, I trust you understand, just as I trust that there are better days to come. When quarantine hit, I had gone several months without feeling creative, and that's such a frustrating feeling for a songwriter who places a lot of self worth on their latest song,” she admits. “I was just looking for some fresh energy and I remember Jake being so positive at my show when he came to see me. The song fell out of me, which doesn't happen every single time, sometimes you have to chase the song, and then sometimes it's just sitting there, ripe for the picking.” She shares that she has a video (that she will never play to anyone) where she recorded herself freestyling the entire thing:
“The video is hilarious. It was just like a total stream of consciousness, so clearly it was something that needed to exist. I just tried to trust that. Longing for a brighter and better future felt so appropriate to what we're all collectively experiencing right now. In my gut I felt like, ‘just don't overthink it, don't give yourself a chance to talk yourself out of it’.” Palter made the decision to part with her record label last year (“my hands were tied for so long and I felt so out of control of my career – I was just screaming to be heard”), and is now an independent artist. Most importantly, she is feeling inspired again. “This is just the reminder that I needed to be like, ‘okay, being on a record label might have been your dream at one point, but that's not the end goal’ – the end goal was to feel creatively fulfilled as a creator. It was an incredibly empowering experience for me to begin to get back in the driver's seat of my career, and even though all of these transitions perhaps haven't been particularly fun, they've been necessary – and the creative juices started flowing. Anytime that I feel inspired, that's the reminder of why I'm doing this in the first place. “For me, the most exciting thing about writing music is creating something out of nothing. It's that bit of elusive magic that after all these years of doing it, I still didn't understand, and yet it feels so good. That really fuels me and keeps me going. It feels really good to me to know that even in a time where we're all handcuffed in a way and we're all feeling really stuck, that art will prevail. Creativity is really the heartbeat of what we do; it’s just a matter of thinking outside of the box. I'm really grateful that I found my mojo. Better Days is my first single as an independent artist after leaving my record deal.”
"Even in a time when we're all feeling stuck, it feels really good to me to know that art will prevail..."
Palter’s philanthropic passions include raising awareness for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. She has written a number of op-eds on mental health in the music industry, and is very open about the fact that suicide runs in her family on both sides. On the subject, Palter reiterates that having a strong sense of purpose and lofty goals at such a young age was a blessing and a curse. It meant never having to take a job aptitude test, but it also meant she was pursuing one of the most competitive and challenging career paths, signing up for a 24/7 job in a constantly evolving industry, all the while setting herself up for a constant cycle of affirmation and rejection. Palter calls herself a “professional dream chaser”, and points out that on paper she is living her dream. But big dreams come with big expectations, and big expectations don’t always lead to smooth sailing in the mental health department. “Discussing this has been my saving grace,” she says. “Throughout my entire life I have dealt with anxiety and depression issues. I've learned that that's sort of what makes me the artist that I am. It has been integral to my family for us to be open and to speak about mental health-related issues, because the more that you talk about it, the less alone you feel. My anxiety and my depression has been triggered directly by my experiences with the music industry, and the profound impact that being an artist chasing a dream and going through all of the ebbs and flows of the industry has had directly on my mental health. “The one thing that I do have is my truth, and perhaps by speaking it, I will feel a little more free, and perhaps somebody else that hears it might feel a little more free as well, and less alone. That's such a powerful experience. It's another way that feels like I'm contributing to the greater good, that I'm using my voice positively. That means so much to me.” Palter says that she’d be lying if she said she had everything all figured out, but these days, when it comes to her music, she’s just doing what feel right: “I've got a lot of material, and clearly, I have a lot to say! I'm just trying to take one step forward in a really weird time. I think that artists have a way of giving voice to the voiceless, or painting the world in a certain way, or shining a light on collective experiences. The cool thing about being an artist is that we all have our unique point of view, and so you're never really in competition with anybody but yourself. Nobody can say things the way you will say them as an artist – that's what makes you the artist that you are, so be authentically you and walk towards that vision,” she smiles.