Jessie Reyez talks pop triumph ‘Phone Calls’ and being “a fan of leaving people hungry”

Rising Canadian musician Jessie Reyez is capping off her massive 2017 the only way she knows how – constantly dropping out-of-this-world new music. Her one-two punch of ‘Phone Calls’ and ‘Cotton Candy’ rounds off a stunning year – so we met up with Reyez to talk the new attention, ‘cakes’, and sexual harassment in the music industry.

How were you feeling when you wrote ‘Phone Calls’?

I was fed up and I was angry. You can feel when someone’s being synthetic, and I was angry because I could feel a lot of people being synthetic with me about the time when we went into the studio to write this song.

Do you find that happens a lot now?

It’s a part of success, you know what I mean? I very much mean it with all the sincerity I can muster that I’m not completely mad at the new love. I love the new love, I love that people are like connecting with me, sending me messages and telling me that it changed the energy of their day, something like that. That means a lot to me, but at the time it was very hard and difficult for me to swallow.

So is that filtering into your songwriting, then?

My mom told me, ‘you can’t keep that bitterness in you because it’s going to poison you’. That energy that you feel, as much as you want to direct it to someone else, if you keep that, that’s poisoning you. You have to change your perspective on it. So I did and then I started looking like ‘it’s okay, it’s appreciation’. I have to appreciate all of this, which I do. I’m a person of extremes, I’m usually very polar in a lot of things that I do. It’s like ‘fuck you’ to the fakeness, but it’s also ‘I love you’ to the people fuck with me for just being me.

Has the internet changed how you release your music at all do you think?

I’m a fan of leaving people hungry, I don’t like leaving people satisfied. If I gave them a little piece of cake and the cake is fire, it’s like crack cake, you’re not going to be like ‘alright give me something else’ you’re going to be, like, ‘give me some more cake even if it was just a little bit’. So for me personally I prefer to do it this way and make it as concise and as potent as I could.

Your song ‘Gatekeeper’ has been getting more attention recently – what was the story behind that?

Some shit that happened to me about five years ago, and I was young and naive and I was fucked, so the song is about tragedy and sexual harassment in the music industry. It’s a satirical perspective from the abuser, the male and it’s fucked up.

I remember not thinking about it, the same way that I just said it wasn’t predetermined walking in there being like ‘this is what we’re going to talk about’. Me and William Larsen, the producer, were just having a conversation and started vibing out and it just came out. I remember us playing it for people and it was just so interesting to see how people reacted. People that I’ve played it to before, their energy shifts – it’s almost like persecution, it’s like they’ve been called out. Then there’s other people where you play it and I could see tears start to form because those girls have been through it too. That fucked me up because it’s not like we were thinking about that and then when I saw it to start connecting it was like two sides to the coin.

I was happy that it was connecting, but I was also sad because it’s been over 5 years [since the song was written] and look at the climate we are in right now and the fact that it still resonates and causing a reaction. It’s great that there’s a conversation about it, but it’s bullshit that it’s hurt so many people and there’s so many people that do it still.

Jessie Reyez’ ‘Cotton Candy’ is out now

NME’s New Bangers 2017

The best new music released across the globe, curated by NME's New Music Writer Thomas Smith, and team