Born in Gillette, New Jersey (April 4, 1984), Baylin hung around in the bar and restaurant her parents owned throughout her childhood. "The energy in there is powerful," Baylin relates. "We got some shady regulars, and I grew up completely enchanted by their stories." Her mother would join her in singalongs of classic pop music, but by age 13 young Jessie had discovered some of her greatest influences - Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. She was also inspired by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland and their emotional intensity electrified her. "They just let it all hang out," she notes. "Something about artists who looks vulnerable enough to break but at the same time are so powerful... I love that fine line. That's why I put so much into my stage performance, because that's what inspires me."
Baylin moved to Los Angeles after high school to escape her "comfort zone", and admittedly, "to escape New Jersey". Baylin wrote her first song with a friend and immediately knew she'd found her calling. Afterward, she cut some demos, resulting in a residency at the Mint, which led to a growing interest in her work in the record industry. Signing a record deal with Verve Forecast in 2008.
"It's a collection of a bunch of moments in my life," Jessie Baylin says of her Verve Forecast debut Firesight. "I'm just trying to be as honest as I can, and hopefully people will connect with the songs and recognize moments of their own life in them."
Firesight makes good on the critical praise and grass-roots fan support that's already been heaped upon the 24-year-old artist. The album offers a vibrant, soulful showcase for her talents as both an uncommonly insightful songwriter and a deeply expressive, effortlessly charismatic vocalist.
Recorded in the artist's recently adopted hometown of Nashville with noted producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Rogue Wave), Firesight features contributions from some of Nashville's most respected rock players, and songwriting collaborations with such notable co-writers as Whiskeytown member Mike Daly and Grammy-winning songwriter/performer Jesse Harris, L.A. troubadour Zack Hexum and the Rembrandts' Danny Wilde.
All-star support notwithstanding, it's Baylin's lyrically incisive, melodically intoxicating compositions and bracing performances that make Firesight such a revelation. Such tunes as "Leave Your Mark," "Lonely Heaven," "Not A Day More" and "See How I Run" boast a level of emotional insight that's rare in such a young artist.
Although Firesight shows her to be a natural songwriter and performer, Jessie Baylin's road to a musical career has been an unconventional one. She gained her initial performing experience during early childhood, singing for customers at the Fire Sight Inn, the New Jersey restaurant/jazz bar that her parents owned. It was there that she developed her lifelong affinity for music, as well as gaining some early insights into human nature by observing the establishment's colorful clientele.
"That's why I wanted Firesight to be the title of the record," Baylin explains. "It's where I come from, and it's who I am."
As a child, Baylin felt a deep connection with the honesty and intensity of such classic jazz and pop divas as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, whose influence would later inform her own singing. She also demonstrated an early penchant for introspection and self-examination, writing poetry and keeping personal journals while still in elementary school.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Baylin demonstrated her iconoclastic spirit by deciding to leave her family and friends behind to move to Los Angeles. "I was really comfortable at home with my family," she explains, "and I really needed to get uncomfortable and take a big risk. It was nuts, but I just felt as though it was something that I needed to do. L.A. was completely alien to me. I didn't know anyone when I moved there, and I didn't make any friends there for about a year."
It was after arriving in L.A. that Baylin stumbled upon her gift for songwriting. "A friend came to visit from New York," she recalls, "and he brought his little baby Taylor guitar. We were sitting around singing some of our favorite songs, and then he started playing this melody and I picked up my journal and I knew the words that needed to go with that music. I started singing them and it all just connected. That was the first song I wrote.
"I knew right away that this was what I was meant to be doing," she continues. "I had been searching for my purpose, and it smacked me in the face. It was scary, because I didn't know anyone in the music business. But I knew that it was what I was supposed to do, so I just went with it."
After an extended period honing her budding songwriting skills in solitude, Baylin recruited a band and booked her first show at the L.A. club the Mint. Almost immediately, she developed a local buzz and an enthusiastic following. "When I started playing out in L.A. and finding myself as an artist, it was the first time in my life that I actually felt like me," she says. "I could walk into a place and feel like all of me was there."
She soon became a fixture at the Hotel Café, emerging as a pillar of a vibrant grass-roots scene of young singer/songwriters. Before long, she was receiving offers of record deals, but passed on them because she didn't feel she was ready yet.
"The Hotel Café was a really amazing scene," Baylin states, "and it's great that it sprung up in L.A. yet had very little to do with the music business. Everyone was being offered record deals and turning them down. We were just trying to figure out a way we could just have it be our own thing."
In 2007, a co-writing session with songwriter/producer/recording artist Jesse Harris (best-known for his Grammy-winning work with Norah Jones) organically grew into a recording project that became Baylin's first album, You, which received a low-key independent release. In addition to demonstrating her evolving songwriting and performing abilities, the project also saw Baylin recording with such legendary veteran musicians as Jim Keltner, Van Dyke Parks and Leland Sklar.
Baylin continued to win new fans on national tours with James Morrison, Brett Dennen and Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan. She was also a featured performer on the 2006 Hotel Café tour and its 2008 sequel, alongside such Hotel Café alumni as Cary Brothers, Ingrid Michaelson and Greg Laswell.
With Firesight establishing her as one of the year's most exciting new creative forces, Jessie Baylin is eager to share her songs with rapidly expanding fan base.
"Listening to this record still sends a chill up my back," she says, adding, "I think that most artists struggle with fear and insecurity, and I certainly do, but I've never felt more confident and comfortable on stage than when I'm playing the songs on Firesight. It just feels so good and so right; I just fall into it, and I'm in the moment and it's beautiful."