Our first Miami profile, Jessica Tonder, rocks Adele-esque vocal chords and injects self-examined soul into her Alexander Wang boots and feminine conviction into her mens ties. Living in the city where she was raised, we are obsessed with Jessica's acceptance of the inevitable failure along her journey as a musician as we are with her puffed-out Ralph Lauren Victorian/pirate shirt and chunky Peruvian necklaces.
As for Jessica's roller-coaster ride through the formulaic pop music world -- that story is as resilient as her favorite green turtleneck that's full of holes but is still trucking. After Berkeley music school and some stops in New York and New Jersey, Jessica signed the "worst contract of her life." She was help up in an Atlanta house with no furniture, water, or electricity, and was abused by a producer who wanted her to cut her hair, lose weight, and perform songs that she felt "completely unconnected" to. "I forced myself to wear a pink velour robe that I hated in order to do something about the situation," Jessica recalls. "Finally, one day, before we were scheduled to go on tour, I said, 'I'm not doing it.' I remembering blacking out, throwing my phone, and tossing the robe into a peach tree." As the tenacious throwback says, "Reaching rock bottom can be helpful. People are ashamed to start over. But who hasn't had to start over a million times?"
With a mom who raised Jess by herself after her husband died in her arms, and a grandma who went from selling dresses door-to-door to founding a chain of restaurants in Peru, Jessica is a descendant of South American "badass bitches." As her Wild West footwear indicates, she gets back on the horse -- shame-free -- after she falls off: "Every time I try to quit or leave music, something comes along that pulls me in again." Reconnecting to her family and profound spirituality, Jessica returned to her roots -- meaning, Miami, the Bible, and the Afro-Peruvian music that initially ignited her passion for singing and songwriting. "They came from such a deep-rooted place," she states. "They expressed themselves through song, but they were really just talking to you. That's something that music is missing now. It wasn't a formula. When you hear someone sing, you need to feel that they have given everything that they can."
After listening to Jessica's new album, we're sure that her biggest fear -- that her music will not be heard -- will most whole-heartedly NOT come true. "I don't want to die with my music inside of me," confesses Jessica. But Jess has zero to worry about it. A Rise of Peace, her album that's been seven years in the making, will be released in April, and it's sure to be as moving as her take on a navy blazer, palazzo pants, and tasseled loafers.
Elisa & Lily
Jessica was shot, interviewed, & photographed by Elisa & Lily
Follow her on Instagram @jessica_tonder