“Your responses are so zen,” I observe to Jesse Thomas, a singer/songwriter whose addictive sound combines droll lyricism, lilting nostalgia, and the loveliest rasp. Today Jesse’s sophomore album, Burn The Boats, is dropping right next to Tori Amos on iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts. “I’m zen as fuck,” she replies, and so commences the coming out of Jesse Thomas.
Photo by Jen Rosenstein
“Everyone in my personal life knows about my sexuality,” Jesse explains “I don’t hide it. But being gay was something I’ve always kept out of my music and my public life. I felt that I had to walk a weird line on my little platform as a musician because I wanted my music to be something that anyone could connect with. I was fearful that some people would not be able to relate to my music if my personal story sounded less like theirs.”
After years of preparation and paying dues, Jesse Thomas is teetering precariously on the brink of stardom. You might recognize the Kentucky-bred, LA-honed singer’s voice from TV. Her songs have appeared on Degrassi, The Vampire Diaries, Shameless, The Fosters, Heart of Dixie, and The Real L Word. Or maybe you’ve seen Jesse perform with the likes of Lights, Andrea Gibson, Meiko, John Mayer, Dawes, Brett Dennen, and Cary Brothers. If you’ve never heard Jesse Thomas sing then crank up Burn The Boats and allow her to make your day.
AE: How old were you when you realized you were gay?
Jesse Thomas: In psychology class. The weekend prior, a woman hit on me for the first time and I couldn’t stop obsessing over it. I was like, “Holy shit why did I like that so much? What does all of this mean?!” Then I got hot flashes and went out and paced up and down the hallway for about 15 minutes laughing and crying at myself.
AE: When did you come out to your family and friends?
JT: I was 19 when I told my parents. They were cool. Shocked of course, but supportive. I started with only telling close friends for a few years, but now I pretty much tell everyone if it comes up.
AE: What’s your longest relationship?
JT: I’ve actually never called anyone my “girlfriend.” Which is fucking crazy. I guess I’ve never really had a long term relationship. I did date a girl for four years back in Kentucky. I loved her, she was fantastic. She was extremely closeted. Preachers daughter-type situation. We told no one. It was one of the best and worst periods of my life. Carrying shame is one of the most toxic things i’ve ever experienced. I felt my highest highs with her and also my lowest lows.
AE: Are any of the songs on Burn The Boats inspired by girls you’ve dated?
JT: Yes, of course. They are all inspired by real life shit.
AE: Which songs?
JT: “I’m Not Scared” was written after I kept finding myself throwing pity parties every time my relationships didn’t work out. I felt like often times I was letting people walk all over me then blaming myself for it. This was my revenge song where I got to be the bad girl. I could never really do those things in real life, but it was fun to take on a fuck off persona for the song. My song “Swallow That Pill,” was written after a friend and I decided to casually hook up. It was her idea. We did our thing and then once it stopped she was extremely cold to me and told people it was my idea and shit got really weird. I felt really used and gross, and I never really told her that. The song is just about doing shit to please people even when it hurts… it’s an awful feeling.
AE: When was the last time your heart was broken?
JT: In July of last year. I was convinced there was a mutual growing love happening over a series of months. I spent those days in pure bliss. We spent all day every day talking. It was great. Due to some complications I couldn’t really make a move… so after months when I finally did, I was rejected and told it was all in my head. I was crushed. Ouch. IT WASN’T ALL IN MY HEAD, YOU GUYS. IT WAS REAL.
AE: What’s your type?
JT: Sweet. Driven. Smart. Intentional. A dreamer. Simple. Confident. Physically, I like girls who are not too boyish, not too girlish. Natural. Comfortable in boyfriend jeans but also a skirt. Minimal makeup. Messy hair. Good shoes. Not trying to hard, but not boring. I don’t really care about physical attributes. If someone has good energy and walks with confidence, that’s sexy enough.
AE: Why did you decide to speak publicly about your sexuality for the first time?
JT: I’ve decided that it’s important for people beyond my circle of friends and family know that I am gay, that I’m proud to be that way and I’m not scared of what people may think about that. I felt that I was “lying by omission” as Ellen Page put it recently in one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard. I want to live openly and authentically, and I hope that I can inspire others to find the courage and strength to do the same. Being in the closet is corrosive and really keeps you from feeling your best. It’s extremely exhausting having to filter yourself all the time, constantly silencing your own thoughts and editing your own words. I want anyone who might be feeling that way to know that I’ve been there, and that I’ve found that living honestly about who I am and who I love is the best way to live. Free your mind. It’s a beautiful feeling.