Jess Knights: Pandemics and perseverance


“Here’s your hand sanitizer and drink the booze because it’s pre-purchased.”

Calgary soul-roots singer-songwriter Jess Knights played her last gig on March 13th. She’d spent the first few months of 2020 gearing up for the release of her first feature length album, Best Kind of Light. The release strategy included that mid-March show to debut some of her new material.

“I saved money to promote the album and my friends and album collaborators, Joshua Van Tassel and Robbie Grunwald, were coming through Calgary from Toronto. So, we put the show together… And it honestly felt like the apocalypse, it was like the world was ending,” Knights recalls.

Deflated, but undeterred, Knights decided to embrace the challenge of releasing Best Kind of Light in the pandemic.

“The best thing was taking that risk, getting excited and doing it anyways. I think there is an appetite to consume music right now, especially earlier in the pandemic, when the world was at home.”

We caught up with Knights in August when she joined the Re:Sound team for the latest installment of our popular Artist in the Office series for a virtual “fireside chat” and an acoustic performance.

Knights has been described by critics as “unapologetically herself,” which may account for the strong voice and perspective she brings to both the creative and business side of her work. Her counsel to artists who are just starting out: don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help or advice, and don’t be dismayed if you don’t hear back.

“Six times out of ten people won’t respond to you. But those four times that someone replies to you, you’ll get nuggets of information from industry professionals who you respect and it’s invaluable.”

This approach introduced Knights to many of the people she worked with on Best Kind of Light. “It started as reaching out and asking a few questions.”

Perseverance pays off. Among those creative collaborators was Juno-award winning singer-songwriter, Donovan Woods, who worked with her on the album’s title track.

Knights stresses the value of writing with someone else.

“Songwriters tend to sit by ourselves in a room, hunched over a guitar, trying to put our feelings to four chords and a beat, but someone else can bring an element out of you that you weren’t really tapping into before. Donovan cuts through a song and gets to the point. He makes music from this very human point of view. Rather than using all these poetic words and phrases, he’s just like, this is how it feels, this is what we say.”

After the songs are written and the tracks recorded, Knights stresses the importance of understanding the business side of the being a musician.

“When I was starting out, I didn’t know the difference between a performance royalty, a mechanical royalty and a song-writing royalty. But breaking down those the categories and understanding where you can make an income as a musician – and actually make a living as a musician – was a turning point for me.”

Her advice to other artists is straightforward, “The biggest thing to learn is how to run your own business, manage yourself, be your own agent, book your own tours… know how to read a contract. Start there so that when someone and says, hey, I’m interested in investing in you as an artist or, joining your team, you’re informed.”

Visit JessKnights.com to learn more about Jess, check out her videos and purchase Best Kind of Light on CD or vinyl.

Photo credit: Sebastian Buzzalino, Unfolding Creative Photography