A successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of an EP capped off the first month of a potential breakthrough year for singer-songwriter Stephanie Jacques. It'll be a deeply personal set of songs, inspired by Jacques' late parents and with a title that combines their middle names, Miles Jean.
Surpassing her financial goal with help from 128 backers rewards Jacques' willingness to always put her true self out there as more than just another calculated social media persona.
"I'm an independent artist, so I've funded all of my singles and all of the stuff that's come out so far and my songwriting," Jacques told Wide Open Country. "For this, I really wanted to release the project as a whole, which costs more money to do it as a whole. It's about my dad and my mom. There's songs I wrote with Cassadee Pope and Madeline Edwards and John Tucker kind of during the season of my dad passing away.
"He had cancer for the last few years, but during the pandemic it got worse," Jacques continued. "And my mom passed away when I was 2. So I wanted to do a project in their honor. The only way I know how to deal with grief is to write music about it and to put all of my feelings into songs, so that's what I did."
I miss you ? pic.twitter.com/5KZ7tBYhzJ
— Stephanie jacques (@Stephiejacques) November 30, 2021
Songs for the still-unrecorded project started taking shape before Jacques' father, Bridges Miles Stewart, died on Nov. 26, 2021.
"About two months ago, I went to my grandmother's house, and I found a box of my mom's things that hadn't been touched since she died," Jacques recalled on Jan. 12. "That started inspiring me to realize how different life is, and so I talked to my dad: 'Can I write a song about you?' He's like, 'Yes, you can.' I wanted to get his permission. I kind of just was writing what I was feeling in the last couple of months, and I wasn't expecting him to pass away. He passed away the day after Thanksgiving."
Jacques trusted Pope and other co-writers to help her tell deeply personal stories.
"It's good sometimes to have an outward person that's not fully attached to help you create the song," Jacques said. "With [Pope] and Madeline, I'm so close with them that I'm able to be 100 percent real and authentic and cry. I felt like those were people that could help with the project. When I got the songs out of it, I went, 'These are the songs that I wanted.' While I could've done it myself, I felt like they held space for me to create and then just brought a little bit of what I needed in, which is that soul and Americana vibe."
Doing these songs justice and releasing them all at once instead of telling the Miles Jean story in increments required Jacques to cast the doubts that come with crowdfunding aside and ask her growing base of listeners and colleagues for a helping hand.
"Am I asking for too much? People that don't know the music industry, do they not realize how much it costs? Is it going to look like I'm asking for an exorbitant amount of money when really, I'm not going to take a lot of profit for this? It was scary," Jacques explained. "But I also realized that I never asked for money before publicly. I've never asked for help. I thought it was important to be honest about where I am. To do this project, I can release it as singles one at a time. I think this is a passion project, and it needs to be released all together. For that, I needed help."
Such honesty has become old hat for Jacques, as evidenced by her streaming series of interviews, Jacques Talk (available through Apple Podcasts and Instagram Live (stephaniejacquesmusic)).
"I was having conversations about race and the music industry and diversity with my friends, and I realized so many people could benefit from that information," she said of the series' 2020 origin. "I do believe that conversation is the only way to change. I think that people need to just hear things in a way that's not scolding. So I asked my friends--[Mickey Guyton] was on and Cam's been on a few times-- if we can just have a conversation on Instagram Live. Everyone was open and people reacted to it, and so I kept it going."
Jacques and her guests discuss country music's track record with LGBTQ+ and Black creators and resistance they've individually faced in Nashville and beyond.
"It allows people to realize that it's okay to verbalize where you stand," Jacques added. "It's okay to also not know answers to certain questions or not know why certain things are the way they are. Not knowing the history of the Opry or things like that. We can discuss them. We can learn together. Learning's cool. We don't have to know everything. I hate the idea of having to know it all. Let's just learn, folks."
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Jacques lauds repeat guest Cam for being among the handful of white artists with mainstream exposure to ignore "shut up and sing" pressures and live their truth.
"She's done the work, and she's such an ally for equality and equity and growth inside country music that her or Maren Morris or Cassadee, they walk the walk," Jacques said. "They truly believe in what they are saying, and they're willing to put their name behind it. I wish more artists were willing to put their platform behind standing up against hate and the system of country music that's built kind of in hate. That's the roots. It has a lot of racist and hateful ties. It's easier to acknowledge it and just start to change it than to say it doesn't exist because it does."
A prior co-write with Pope, "Because of That," reflects the African American experience through this decade's lens, making it what Jacques calls her "most personal song to date" and a reminder that the best country songwriters still deal with the cold, hard truth.
"I was so nervous about the backlash from it, and I didn't get a ton," Jacques explained. "So I feel like being authentic and being real works for me. If you follow me on social media, you see me cry, you see me happy. You see all sides of me. I'm not one to shy away and just show one piece of me. Even when I share about my dad, people knew he was sick the whole time. I didn't hide those things, which for me is natural. For some people, they're more private. I'm more like, 'I want you guys to know what's going on. I want you guys to share this with me and know why I might be in a grumpy mood today or why I might be crying today.'"
Not that Jacques lacks experience when it comes to ignoring hate and shutting out trolls.
"I did get people that were like, 'Well, you're just talking about race. If you didn't, you'd be further'," she said. "And I'm like, 'I'm talking about me, and country music is our story. This is my story. My story involves that. That's what country music is.'"
For a taste of Jacques' earnest storytelling, check out her new single "Suburbia." To further fund Miles Jean, visit her GoFundMe campaign.
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