SSO: Your career has really taken off. Coming from Darwin, this must be a big change for you?
Jessica: Yeah definitely, when I was growing up there was always music in my house and I was one of five girls so the stereo was always on and CD’s were always playing. It’s so different now though living in Sydney and travelling a lot and trying to look great all the time in the fabulous world. I grew up with a lot of country music like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton because that was mum’s favourite music and so we had to listen to it too. I used to do a bit of busking here and there. My uncles would play the guitar and I would sing. It would be a backyard thing and we would have neighbours that would come to the fence and peer into our yard and hear us sing a couple of tunes. So yeah, it was always very music and loud.
SSO: When did you discover Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and music like that?
JM: At about the age of four. As I got older I would just belt out Mariah tunes in between the hallway and the bathroom because it had a great acoustic sound and that’s where I’d be all the time. Everyone was always telling me to be quiet because I was always singing or humming. Even at school I was always getting in trouble and being told to get out of class.
SSO: So the transition from Darwin girl to glamour girl must be a huge shock to the system. You went to the Telstra Road to Tamworth when you were 13 years old. Tell us a bit about that.
JM: That was huge. I mean, doing the Telstra Road to Tamworth was quite a challenge. While competing I felt more nervous and scared than I was when I was doing Australian Idol. With country music I felt more intense than I do with the whole pop vibe. Tamworth is very culturally strong with that type of music. But my heart really wasn’t in it and what I really wanted was just to sing the belting Mariah ballads and add the pop into that. That’s what I really wanted to do.
SSO: Did you know when you type ‘Jessica Mauboy’ into YouTube, the Tamworth ‘Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun’ film clip still comes up…
JM: Oh my goodness! I remember that. That was the first film clip I ever made and I remember being in that room wearing a lot of pink [laughs]. I never really spoke about the Telstra Road to Tamworth or that film clip when I went back to school because I felt a little embarrassed about singing country music when all my friends were into pop and rock. At school I was always really quiet. I never put my hand up in class or asked for help. Then all of a sudden I was singing in front hundreds of thousands of people. All of that and being in front of the camera, I mean… I never had any media training it just came really naturally. And then there was Idol and the Opera House and I coming runner up. I never got to finish school. I was just growing up really fast but I knew what I wanted. All my friends were worried about their HSC but I was dreaming about going overseas and writing with Darkchild [Destiny’s Child songwriter] and Rodney Jerkins.
SSO: Los Angeles must seem like a whole other world.
JM: Yeah totally a different world. Sometimes I would cringe because these people really know their stuff and I’m just someone who wants to write music and I’m so fresh. And there were times when I wanted to walk out because I felt like people were wasting my time. I was working with Jazze Pha [Ciara] in Atlanta for the new record and he left me in the studio for a good 3 or 4 hours with his groupies and all I wanted to do was write a song. I didn’t know any of these people in the room and I became really upset and overwhelmed. And then a songwriter came in TC who does a lot of Brandy’s stuff. He was really great and we started off talking about Australia and then we wrote a song. Then Jazze finally came back to studio and said he hated our song and basically just scrapped it. I was like eff you! I just lost a lot of respect for him and I had never felt like that before. So that’s when I decided that I really have to step up my game and tell it how it is.
SSO: What was the point where you realised ‘Wow, I’ve made it’?
JM: I was working with Harvey Mason, Jr. who is such a lovely man. We wrote four or five tracks in five days and I was just having a ball. He really saw the artistry in me and that I really wanted to make good music. The track ‘Here With Me’ which Harvey produced is a big song that is all about the vocals. Harvey really pushed me vocally and I think on the new album you can really hear that my voice has changed and developed. I really just gave it all I had. I enjoyed working with Harvey and he really inspired me and helped me to realise that I can do this and that there is room for me.
SSO: When you were in the studio, did you have a posse? Was anyone with you?
JM: No, I didn’t have a manager or a record label I just walked and presented myself. I didn’t have anybody and when I walked into a studio I didn’t have anything written down I just went off whatever vibe I felt.
SSO: And it takes about a day to write a song…
JM: Yes, I love a quick, productive day. I just write about whatever I’m feeling.
SSO: Did you write the songs on your last album?
JM: Yes, I did but I didn’t feel as connected to it as I do with my new album. This new album is on a more personal level and a lot of that is due to me being in control of my own sound.
SSO: You have a lot of songs about love on the new album…
JM: Yes! I love love! [laughs] I love it! The whole time I was just thinking of my family…
SSO: There nobody that you’re really in love with…?
JM: Well, track 14 No One Like You is a track I wrote with TC in Atlanta and I was at my lowest point and I really needed a shoulder. I really wanted to see my mum and dad and my boyfriend and just have them be in front of me. So No One Like You is for my boyfriend.
SSO: So I’ve been telling people that I would be hanging out with Jessica Mauboy, and they all told me that I have to ask about your song ‘Get Em Girls’ and what is ‘Get Em Girls’?
JM: Well, Get Em Girls is about shoes. The whole trip [to the US] was about writing whatever I wanted and knowing that nothing sounds crap, nothing sounds silly and I just felt like writing about shoes! [laughs]
SSO: How did you get Snoop Dogg on the track Get Em Girls?
JM: There was a lot of help from the record label with getting me the producers. The producers themselves felt quite comfortable with me and I felt there was a genuine connection between me and them. It was just really real and up front. I was working with [music producer] Bangladesh and he was also working with Snoop and Ludacris at the time. He was nice enough to show the track to Snoop and Ludacris and it just went from there. I really love that track and as soon as it was completed I knew that I wanted it to be the first single. I had to fight the record company a bit to get them to release that song first. I knew the song and the video would be a shock to people but I really wanted it.
SSO: The film clip is quite full on. For an Australian to have Snoop Dogg putting his hand up your leg like that…
JM: [laughs] I know! From being 16 years old on Australian Idol to this, I think some people were thinking that they wanted to punch Snoop in the face and say ‘Don’t do that to our little Jess!’ [laughs]
SSO: Tell us about working on the film Bran Nue Dae?
JM: When I received the script I remember saying ‘Oh my goodness! This is just how I grew up, just wanting to be on stage and having a jam all the time.’ I felt really close to my character Rosie and really enjoyed the whole experience. I really want to do more film. I really do. I really like horror and scary films. Actually, I wanted to pitch my track Scariest Part for the Scream 4 soundtrack. I wrote that track with [music executive and songwriter] Evan Bogart who wrote If I Was A Boy for Beyonce. I just thought I want to write something that is very mysterious and haunting and I’ve always thought it should be a theme song for a scary movie.
SSO: You’re involved in the PC game Sims 3 singing some songs in the Sim language. Apparently there’s a language call Simlish?
JM: Yes! There is. I haven’t really had the time to play the game yet. The Sims 3 producers actually approached me because they really liked my track Saturday Night. I didn’t actually realise I would be singing in this made up language for the game. The Simlish language is actually Ukrainian and Singaporean mashed together. I can’t speak it but I can sing it. It was great fun.
SSO: You’ve done a movie and you’re an accomplished musical artist. And now I hear you’ve done a duet with Elvis?
JM: Yes. I did a duet with Elvis Presley – Love Me Tender. It was great and Lisa Presley said she loved it. She found me on YouTube and loved my vibe and rang Sony Music to organise it. They were doing this thing were they find artists from all around the world to complete duets with Elvis recordings.
Lastly, any truth to the rumours that you’re going to do a retro launch of Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline numbers?
I would love to. That would be brilliant. I would also love to do a duet with a country artist because I still love country music.