His Own Man: A Conversation With Singer/Songwriter Jesse Kinch

As the lone winner of the short-lived TV reality show, “Rising Star,” singer/songwriter Jesse Kinch is literally the one and only. The series, which was hosted by Josh Groban and a panel of judges that included country artist Brad Paisley, pop star Kesha and rapper Ludacris, lasted just one season, but it was enough to springboard Kinch to national prominence and set him on the road to what would be a roller coaster following few years.

For the win, Kinch received a recording contract with Capitol Records, but the marriage was short-lived and the two parted ways due to creative differences shortly thereafter. Kinch persevered, however, eventually bringing his talents to ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars,” where he performed two songs and later signed to Curb Records from which he delivered his first album in 2018, the appropriately named “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.”

And just like that, the 25-year-old New York native was back in business, this time with a larger cache of time-tested and battle-worn knowledge he hopes he can use in this, his version of round two. Time will tell whether or not he succeeds in his mission to bring his music to the masses, but hit or miss, one thing will stay the same: He will not be an “everyone else.”

Kinch sat down with ListenIowa to talk about the new album, his television experience, and his mission to bring his generation a musical passion it so desperately needs.

You just performed in Durham, North Carolina. How did that go, and are you going to continue to branch out from the regional territories to try to expand your base?
The Durham performance was fantastic. It was my first time there, and truly enjoyed the experience. We did a tour of upstate New York in the spring of 2018, I’ve performed in Nashville a number of times, and we are going to perform in some festivals outside of New York. Within the next six to 12 months, we’ll be also be going into the studio to do a second album. Fans can brace themselves for that. It’s coming.

And you also will be heading overseas in July to the Blackthorn Music Festival.
Yes, that will be my first time overseas. We released the album in the U.K. in the fall. I’ll be performing at Pizza Express, which should help me expand my fan base over there. There’s talk of us possibly going to Australia, Japan, South Africa and different music markets around the world.

Your debut album, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” was released in 2018. What is the significance of the title?
The title is actually an obscure song by The Kinks. They had the popular songs, but they also had this song that I loved, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” It was a B-side. I always liked it and thought it had raw potential. It sounds like a raw garage rock song, but for some reason I heard it as something more epic. When I arranged it, I had piano, a string line on it, and changed some chords to make it sound more dark and musical. The song is about staying true to yourself and not conforming.

Are there any other high points on the album for you?
Oh, absolutely. Two of my favorite songs are actually ballads. One is called “Masami (The Elegant Beauty).” It’s a really elegant, epic song that I wrote a few years ago. There’s so much intensity and a lot of dynamics. “How Do I Reach You?” is another great ballad that I love. “Nighttime New York City” is about my experiences in New York City as a child. I love every song, and each one represents some part of my soul.

I understand your influences reach back to music in the 1960s and 70s. Where did that come from?
As soon as I picked up a guitar my dad introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Doors. I heard that music, and I heard artistry. I heard real music, and real lyrics by real souls who had something to say. I feel that’s missing from today’s modern music. I remember in elementary school, a lot of the pop/punk stuff was going on, like Blink 182. That’s what a lot of kids considered rock in my age group, so some of the kids in my age group would look at me like an alien when I asked if they’d heard a Steppenwolf song. Even though I was embracing classic rock, though, I still loved some of the hard rock that was coming out at the time like Korn, P.O.D and Rage Against the Machine.

How was your experience on “Rising Star?”
I can tell you one thing: When you saw me on the T.V. every week, that was 100 percent Jesse Kinch, and that was the beauty of the show. I went on the show with a platform, which was to reinvigorate my generation with the music I grew up on, which I felt was missing in this, the modern era. I feel like I accomplished it. I wanted to reintroduce that passion, the melody, the lyricism, and the energy in general that is desperately needed. I went on, and the producers of the show said that as long as they could approve the songs, I could sing them. I remember getting messages and fan mail from kids saying they’d never heard the type of music that I was doing, and that now they’re actually rock fans. That was quite an honor. It felt like an accomplishment for me. I must have gotten a thousand messages. I certainly didn’t take the same path that certain other people took on other shows. I know from people in the industry and from people who experienced it that the judges make the song choices for you. That turned me off about the other shows. What I liked about “Rising Star” was that it was no BS. They told they that they weren’t going to be filming the audition rounds and putting them on TV. We auditioned and went straight to live TV.

What snippet of advice from any of the judges has stuck with you since then?
I remember after I won the show I walked outside to get ready to do a red carpet interview. The cameras weren’t set up yet, and the journalists were getting their microphones ready and everything. Kesha walks out, and, I didn’t know it at the time, but she was going through something very bad. She said she got screwed over very badly by her record company, and one person in particular, a man, she claimed abused her. She told me she wasn’t happy with a lot of her music because she felt like it didn’t represent her. When she was younger, she wanted a record contract and wanted to be famous. She kind of rushed into it and didn’t realize the price she had to pay for her desire to be famous. Her desire to be famous was greater than her desire to be true to herself. You don’t think about that when you’re younger. So she looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t make the mistakes I made. Don’t ever take that path. I’m paying the price for that right now. Don’t let anyone screw around with the album or your sound. You are perfect the way you are, and America loves you the way you are.”

Basically not “selling out.”
Right. She definitely had an emotional look in her eyes, and you could she was coming from a place where she wished she hadn’t sold out and had taken a different path. It was amazing getting that kind of advice from her, and it has definitely stuck with me, even five years later.