Seattle-based musician Jess Pillay has worn many music-related hats throughout her life: singer, stage performer, choir member, piano teacher, worship director, band leader, songwriter, and recording artist.
But if you were to sum her up with one label, it'd be this one:
That is the undercurrent of Jess's life and all of her creative endeavors.
Her musical journey began when she was very young. As a child, she actively participated in a variety of music and performance programs in school and church. She took (and later taught) piano lessons, sang in different choirs, played in several worship bands, and studied music theory in college.
In 2016, after many years of being a well-established and sought-after church worship leader in the Seattle area, Jess decided to “break up” with her Christian ministry pursuits and relaunched herself as an independent singer-songwriter. She then began writing original music that—for the first time in her life—told the truth about her own story.
Her 2022 debut EP Can Anybody Hear Me? was produced by Derik Nelson ("Glee," "Modern Family," “New Girl,” “The Voice”) and features international talents like Quinn Archer ("Continuum") and Danny Gough ("Britain's Got Talent"). This collaborative collection of songs rings clear with a poignant theme: the power of finding your own voice and authentically sharing it with the world.
Jess’s music often crosses genre lines but can best be described as pop fusion. She seamlessly incorporates elements of folk, blues, rock, funk, and jazz to create an eclectic and heartfelt musical experience for her listeners. Drawing inspiration from artists like Rachael Yamagata, Norah Jones, Missy Higgins, Tracy Chapman, and Lake Street Dive, she frequently gravitates toward introspective, melancholic ballads. She’s not afraid to grab her rawest emotions with both hands and uses her lyrics to explore hard themes like faith and doubt, grief and loss, systemic injustice, and the messy, ever-changing nature of relationships.
But no matter what genre she’s wading into or what lyrical subject she’s tackling, it’s Jess’s sultry alto voice that anchors and fuels her sound–along with her general disposition toward hope.
I spent many years leading music in a church context, where, Sunday after Sunday, I’d put together these carefully-crafted song sets about God’s greatness and how we shouldn’t doubt or worry. And while I unrelentingly believe that hope is the way forward, I found many of the church songs I was leading to feel trite or dismissive of what I was often feeling inside.
When I finally gave myself permission to start writing my own original music, I felt relieved and liberated. Life can downright suck sometimes, and it was important for me to explore those moments through my art. Songwriting gives me a pathway to safely ask tough questions and process what’s happening around me. My ultimate hope is that these songs would serve as a mirror for my listeners and their experiences—that folks might hear their own stories reflected back to them. I’ve found that real healing comes from embracing the hardest parts of life and the feelings that accompany those experiences instead of shying away from them.
Jess can be found performing around the Pacific Northwest at venues and events such as the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, The Royal Room, Seattle Town Hall, McMenamin's, Edmonds Porchfest, and the Edmonds Arts Festival. Her music has also been featured on the Local Roots NW radio show and on The Takeback Podcast.
In addition to being an independent musician, Jess is a writer, podcaster, and social media manager. As a first-generation Indo-Fijian-American, she is a fierce advocate for social justice and anti-racism and constantly seeks out opportunities to elevate and encourage other creatives of color—especially women of color who are trying to navigate the cut-throat world of creative entrepreneurship.
When she’s not making music or participating in some form of activism, you’ll most likely find her curled up on her couch with a good book or falling down an internet research hole about the orca populations of Puget Sound.
You can stream or download Jess Pillay's music on all major platforms.