Ten seconds into Jessie Reyez’s debut album, “Before Love Came to Kill Us,” she sings, “I should’ve fucked your friends. / It would’ve been the best revenge for the fire that you started.” The entire 14-song project is a testament to what Reyez was going through at the time: pain, heartbreak, anger, and resentment from a love story gone left. Her sophomore album “YESSIE,” out today, also reflects where the Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter is today: healing.
“‘Before Love Came to Kill Us’ was very mournful. This one isn't as mournful,” the Toronto-based artist tells Refinery29 Somos about “YESSIE.” “This [project] has a lot more healing energy in it than before. I’m in a different place now.”
With “YESSIE,” Reyez finds the power that she thought she lost amid trials and tribulations, coming back stronger. Her soft care and love for her longest admirer — herself — seeps through the 11 tracks as chapters in her life. What hasn’t changed is the vulnerability, honesty, and ability to switch from English to Spanish gracefully in her lyrical storytelling.
“Before I had any sense of making myself a priority, I was constantly bending backwards for love or for other people that were undeserving, and then getting upset or mad about why my back was broken. It's a conscious decision sometimes when you lack self-love or when you lack being down for yourself because it’s like you put your hand in the fire and then cry that it’s burning. So I had to take responsibility, and taking responsibility after years of that is fuckery in itself,” she says.
The journey she is on isn’t linear, and she is learning more about herself each day through her music. “It sums up where I am at the moment in my life,” she adds.
Known for starting off her projects potently, the first track on her latest album, “MOOD,” sets the tone of the entire project: raw, complicated, and in perpetual development. “I get along with most men more than I do with some women. / Used to be different way back when my girl was in the picture,” she sings, recognizing an uncomfortable reality that requires introspection and correction. “I find it funny because I identify as a feminist. But the fact that that's an inclination, I was like, ‘whoa, you have to fucking assess that that's a sisterhood wound. That's some shit that needs addressing, and you got to be aware of it,’” she says on stage during Somos’ listening party for YESSIE on September 8.
We chatted with the Grammy-nominated singer about her highly anticipated LP, healing through songwriting, personal and artistic growth, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Congratulations on “YESSIE!” I love the album already. Toward the middle of the first track, “MOOD,” you can hear the classic vallenato “Los Caminos de la Vida” by Colombian group Los Diablitos. Why? Does this song bring you back to a significant moment in your life?
The building of the song wasn't a one-day process; it was poquito-poquito. The concept “life ain't easy” reminds me of [Los Caminos de la Vida], which I know is true for me and for a lot of Latinos. Es parte de las memorias que tienes de chiquito. For anyone who doesn't speak Spanish, the song translates to “The walks of life, they're not what I thought they'd be. They're not what I was told. And they're hard to fucking walk.” Just that sentiment is so profound yet simple because you know, we're fucking promised a different kind of life when we're kids. It's this fucking fairytale, and then all of a sudden, you realize that nobody knows what the fuck they're doing. And everybody is just guessing. So it just hit. You have to embrace the fact that there's no end, and there are questions that we're never gonna get the answer to, until maybe the day we die. When you accept that, it's so freeing. We don't know shit. Nobody knows shit, and we're all just guessing. So fuck it.
What would you say is the difference between your debut album and this one?
We almost didn't release “Before Love Came to Kill Us.” What's different, I think, is just my mind, like my space, like me as a person. I've learned to say no a lot more often. I’ve been a lot more generous with my no’s and boundaries. People don't love it, but fuck it. You gotta respect it or get out. I took a long ass time [to finish YESSIE], but that's normal. My truth has always been the process of live life, create, get kicked down, and create.
A lot of beauty can come from heartbreak, even if you don’t see it at first.
Sometimes hearts need to break to fucking open, you know? Anger has helped me move on in certain ways, so that's why it's in the music.
You have one feature on this album, and it’s with 6LACK. This is the second time you collab with him. The musical chemistry and the energy between the both of you is palpable. How did this song with the two of you, "FOREVER," come about?
At this point, we're just homies. So I just hit him up and was like, “I need you to bless this.” He was like “bet,” and he did. It's so nice when you're a fan of someone's artistry and then you meet them and they’re fucking cool.
What keeps you inspired during songwriting?
Life, bullshit, liars, fuckery, and trauma. I write from a dark place because that's just when I get motivated to do so — when I go through depression, or when I go through trauma or fuckery. Sometimes we as humans want to pick scabs, or we hear an old song that feels like it opened a wound that hasn't fully healed yet, or you find a t-shirt that you thought you had thrown away. This is that for me.
Someone said to me the other day, “It sounds like you're in a better place. It sounds like you're working on healing. It sounds like you're working on leaning into happiness. Are you scared about your music becoming shit now that you're becoming happier?” And I’m like, do you think that I haven't tried for years to heal? Like you think I haven't tried? And I'm still failing, but that's how you proceed in life. You just fail, and you fail, and you fail, and then you fail faster because, eventually, you crack it and make progress. But if I ever get to that point where I'm not inspired by life because I'm happier — am I going to complain? No.
You mentioned previously that you write from past personal experiences. How do you keep yourself from reliving past traumas while creating the music you do?
I have to practice detachment. It's not easy. It has fucked me in everyday life, because I'm not the best at communicating my problems and I am working on that as well. But it's because I find such solace in music, like writing out my thoughts. That's my home base. That's my equilibrium. I picked up this book called “The Power of Now,” which I fucking vouch for changing my fucking life, like Eckhart Tolle changed my life. And I did this workshop, if anyone's ever like looking for growth, called Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Abundance Meditation course. The more I got closer to myself, the more I was watching my thoughts more often.
You sing a lot about loyalty. What does loyalty mean to you?
It looks like defending someone when they’re not in the room. It looks like saying the same things to your face that you would to someone else. It looks like following through. It looks like honesty. To me.
Have you learned anything about yourself after finishing recording this project?
I learned I wasn't loving myself right. In so many ways. For the first time, I feel like I'm making fundamental changes that I've been able to sustain past the 21-day mark. I was struggling with self-love and struggling with being afraid to love because I always just felt like it was a tidal wave. It was a tidal wave, and then you're fucked. And then you're fucked when you're heartbroken. When you love so intensely that you lose yourself, when that ship goes left, it's like, how the fuck are emotions making me feel like I'm bleeding out? There is no blood. Why do I feel like I'm dying? I think that the main thing I've learned is that I can't be afraid of love. And I can't be afraid of getting hurt.
And you get so much less afraid to just jump when you know that your bones are going to heal. So fuck it if I end up falling in love with somebody that breaks my heart. Fuck it, because if they break it, I know that I can pick it up. It might take me a few weeks, but it's not going to take me years like it took me before because a bitch is better now. And I just know what to do if I aim for something in my career, and I don't make it when I wanted to make it. It's OK because I'm well-equipped to know that I'm OK and I can just go back to the drawing board and nobody can tell me anything because I've accomplished way more with way less. So watch me do it again.