While a good number of us were reaching the end of Netflix and embracing sweatpants chic as the new normal, singer-songwriter Jesse Palter was busy. The Michigan native and former Music, Theatre & Dance student, now based in Los Angeles, felt the pandemic was an opportunity for change when stasis felt suffocating. Parting ways with her previous record label Mack Avenue Music Group, Palter found new strength in the tricky transition to life during COVID-19.
“I think it just got to the point where artistically, and in terms of business, our visions weren’t aligning. And so it was time to shake hands and part ways, though it was a funky time to do that during a pandemic,” Palter said in a Zoom interview with The Daily. “But also, like, we have this built-in grand reset. So I think prior to the pandemic, I was in a place where I felt internally like something wasn’t right, and something needed to shift. And I was trying to come to grips with what that was.”
“The solidarity that I felt, from there being this forced hard reset, and this opportunity to turn in words and like really strengthen my connection with my gut,” she continued. “For a while, I’ve been feeling, I literally had this feeling like I was sort of like handcuffed on a sinking ship for a while. And it’s such a challenging thing to feel when it’s your career, and it’s your passion. And it’s, it’s everything that you work towards in your entire life.”
With the new perspective that such a life-changing moment can bring, Palter decided to break from her established place at the label and start on her own. Riding the success and musical ingenuity of her 2019 debut album Paper Trail, the singer wanted to begin a new chapter of her life as both an artist and writer, even if it was from the comfort of her own home. This transition inspired the new single “Better Days,” released this year in collaboration with producer Jake Bass.
“The perk of being an independent musician is that you don’t have to wait two and a half years like I did with my previous release, which by the way, in two and a half years for an artist it’s like dog years for an artist,” she laughed. “Yeah, you write a song and your best song is the next song that you write as an artist, you’re already on to a different thing … So I was like, dude, I’m free. I’m not tethered, like, this feels like a song. This is exactly what we’re all living right now, why don’t we just make this?” Palter said of the single.
The track has the same jazzy flavor and classic pop inspirations as her previous work, infused with a novel sense of freedom. Its sentiments echo those that pushed her to reinvent herself as a musician in the first place, as she sings “Being there with you / Feeling control / Now walking in this unknown / I’m walking all alone / And wondering what to do.” If “Better Days” is an ode to the limbo of uncertainty that 2020 has brought most, it seems that Palter has discovered solid ground in her music. She has been a solid fixture in the industry since her teenage years, and returning to the hustle has reinvigorated the songwriter’s love for translating life into melody.
Palter has come a long way since her time at the University of Michigan, sharing an apartment with none other than famed songwriting duo Pasek & Paul’s Justin Paul. Now, especially in the wake of COVID-19’s hard stop on the traditional touring grind, she is using her memories to fuel this new era of music-making. “It was both of us as songwriters in this small little apartment, trying to find our way — so much of college is trying to find your way,” she added. “And I think, if I could, like, just go back and say to that girl, one thing, I would tell her that it’s all good. It’s all going to be okay, just embrace everything. To make her feel like she’s being her most authentic self. And you just keep stepping forward in that.”
Though her album Paper Trail came out two and a half years after most of the songs had been written, the songs took on new meaning throughout the process of release. “I always try and use everything as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow,” Palter said. “(The record is) a snapshot of my life at that specific moment in time. And, you know, even though the songs are really specific, as a writer, you try and leave a little room between the lines for people to make it their own. Because, you know, I don’t want people to see me in my songs, I wanted them to see themselves and their own experiences.”
If anything, “Better Days” brings Palter’s intention of universality to new heights, using the collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic to create an intricate, genuinely heartfelt piece of art. We have all wished for better days in the last year, and the track offers a sincere and soulful answer to that struggle.
Daily Arts Writer Clara Scott can be reached at email@example.com.