“She first took me under her wing in my teens,” explains rocker Jess Pomerantz of Phoebe Snow, her legendary folk musician cousin who sadly passed away in 2011. Ms. Snow is most remembered for 1975’s “Poetry Man.”“I miss Phoebe, but I’ll never forget her telling me that, ‘No matter where I am, when it’s finally your turn to hit it big, know that I’m with you and watching you,’” Jess continues. Now a pop rock artist who draws influence from 60s/70s singer-songwriters like Snow, as well as 90s rock and musical theater, Jess hopes her new album, Simple In Disguise, makes her cousin smile from heaven. The EP features “Simple,” a touching song that tells the story of a young girl being bullied by a popular mean girl. We spoke to Jess in New York.
Do you feel an obligation to continue your cousin Phoebe’s legacy?Jess Pomerantz: I don’t feel an obligation to continue her legacy because there is only one Phoebe. I do feel an obligation to make her proud. She told me when I was 16 that music and singing were part of my DNA and that I should never give it up.
How does your music compare with Phoebe’s? Our music is very different. She sang folk pop music, while my music is more pop rock. I have more of a 90s rock edge to my songs. Although our musical styles are different, we are both known for our big, earthy voices. I love when people say things like “it’s so obvious you are related! You both have huge voices!”
Do you have an overall message in your music? Each song contains a different message, but at the core of my writing is the need to be consistent and stay true to myself. “Simple” has apparently impacted a lot of people. I wrote that song about a bullying experience I had as a junior high school student. Through “Simple,” I hope that kids and adults learn that they don’t have to conform to anyone else’s standards. That what makes us unique is special. Being different isn’t bad. I want to touch people’s souls and help them stand up for themselves and heal.
It’s interesting you say kids and adults. Who is your audience? I don’t have a specific age range. I want to reach people on many different levels. They should feel good when listening to my music, or have fun and let go, or allow my music to have a deeper impact and give them motivation to search inside their hearts and souls.
What inspires you to dig inside your heart and soul when writing a song? I’m inspired by what I’m feeling and what is going on in the world. Sometimes, my writing is more spontaneous when my feelings are bubbling and can’t be contained. Other times, I make a conscious effort to let my feelings simmer so that they can become part of a more cerebral evolution. Overall, the writing experience is cathartic and helps me feel my feelings instead of trying to escape them.
Besides your famous cousin, who are some of your music influences?My biggest music influence is Sara Bareilles. I have admired her for so many years, lyrically, vocally and musically. We have similar ranges and vocal stylings and I would literally give anything to write a song with her. She tells a beautiful story woven into a gorgeous melody. Furthermore, she went on to Broadway! I was raised on the theater and am currently writing my first musical as well! Other influences range from Alanis Morissette and Indigo Girls to Silverchair and Dave Matthews Band.
How do you measure success? I measure success by progress. I perform as much as possible. Hopefully in five years, I’ll be playing the Beacon Theater and selling out across the nation!
What has been the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is trying to let go of what everyone else thinks. It’s so easy to get in your head and question “will enough people come out tonight? Will the venue continue to book me? What if my voice isn’t on tonight?” I’ve worked really hard to overcome that fear and know that whether I’m playing in front of thousands or just ten people, those people came to my show to hear my songs, escape for a while and have fun. Give them a good time.
Do you think Phoebe dealt with the same challenges? Performing in Phoebe’s time was likely easier. It was a more natural time. It was all about the voice, the music, and less the image. I think today is harder because there’s no development of the artist anymore. They want a big instant radio hit to make money, instead of standing behind someone who has talent, content, and passion to move, as well as entertain, others. It’s challenging and frustrating at times, but I can’t stop!
What keeps you going? The rewards of performing are limitless. The first time I performed one of my original songs, I had a table of 40-something-year-old women in tears. One of them came over to me after I sang and said, through tears, that she finally found someone who was able to express what she was feeling. She had been going through a horrible divorce and said my song and voice helped her release in a way she didn’t think was possible. It made me feel so good.
Besides music, what is most important in your life? Hands down, my family and friends are most important to me. I grew up very close to my parents and sister and I still am. We speak every day and they’re my #1 support. I’m so blessed to have 100 and 101-year-old grandparents who are Holocaust survivors. They represent true love and survival through hardship. Nothing I go through in my pursuit of musical success will ever compare to what they went through. They taught me to keep on fighting for my dream.