With lush vocals that warm your heart and fill you soul, Jessica Rotter‘s voice has been echoed all over with her modern folk band JEMS, as well as across multiple platforms including: movies, TV shows and commercials to backing vocals and collaborations with other artists—in addition to her original songs. She has worked with notable artists such as Daft Punk, Carole King, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Sara Bareilles, and many more. To name a few, Rotter’s soaring vocals have been featured in Trolls Word Tour, Mulan, Birds of Prey, Frozen II, and The Lego Movie 2.
Jessica is a talented full-time music artist and mama. That’s right! This woman is also a mother to a sweet 7-year-old son. When she’s not hustling hard in the world of music, she’s hustling hard as a mother. There ain’t no hood like motherhood, if you’ve been there, you know this to be true.
In this latest Sonic Motherhood session, I recenlty chatted with Jessica Rotter about her motherhood journey and her career in music. Every mother’s journey is unique, and each have many joys and struggles. We hope her story inspires all mothers, especially those working in the music and entertainment world.
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Sandra: What were Some of your greatest challenges in juggling your career in music with becoming a mother for the first time?
Jessica: I think becoming a mother was kind of like the best way to motivate me into becoming my full self. I got pregnant unexpectedly in 2013 and while I was working as a singer I had never released music. It kind of forced me out of my comfort zone cause I was certain if I didn’t start making my art I’d get too busy as a mom and wouldn’t invest in it. Now that I’ve seen what motherhood is like, I realize music is the most powerful thing keeping me as an autonomous creator. We do so much for our kids and lose so much of ourselves if we don’t find a way to stay wholly us. But I do remember three months after having my son feeling like “okay it’s time to get back to singing again! I miss me!” And I also think he’s become super independent and self assured because he’s seen his parents be the same way. But the biggest challenges that I’m working against every day are remembering who I am in my life. Not just in everyone else’s lives.
Sandra: So important! It took me at least a year to get back there and “remember who I am.” I think we lose ourselves for a bit, learning to become a mother.
What helped you honor yourself and who you are? What kind of support did you have in those early years of motherhood?
Yeah it’s so hard to juggle everything! But it looks like you’re killing it.
I definitely had to reclaim my shine consciously. For so many reasons. I think I recognized that investing in myself was a full picture thing – mental, spiritual, physical health, being with the right partner, not surrounding myself with people who didn’t believe in my worth, all of that. In the earlier years of motherhood I was with my son’s dad and we did a pretty good job sharing the responsibility. My parents are also nearby and they helped! Along with all of my friends. My son hung out with a lot of grownups! And came to a lot of recording sessions. I breastfed and pumped in way too many studios and I am thankful for an industry that is learning to prioritize women’s wellness and destigmatize motherhood.
Sandra: Aww. That is so beautiful to hear. I love that you breast-fed in the studio and had so much support. A village is crucial. I’m thankful to have my mother nearby who has helped me some ever since Victoria was born. Was there ever a time where you put your career on hold?
Jessica: I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mom!!
Sandra: Same, girl. So much same. So thankful.
Jessica: I have never had to put it on hold, thankfully. Though I’ve turned down opportunities that would have taken me away from my son for too long of a stretch when he was really young.
Sandra: Now let’s talk pandemic parenting. What’s been the most challenging part for you and your son? For me, I finally was getting a grasp of motherhood and finally getting myself back and then the pandemic hit and threw such a wrench in my flow. I feel like I had to start all over again.
Jessica: Oy. Yeah my son’s dad had to move away for a job in 2019 so I was just starting to get the hang of my new normal basically full time parenting. I broke up with my boyfriend in Jan 2020. Found out there was a pipe leak in my house. Tore out a wall. We had to put a kitty down. My band had been on NPR and had a documentary made about us and thought things were moving up but then everything was just crashing down all at once. I think I honestly just turned to absurdity to make it through the first month or so of the pandemic. My son and I started making green screen music videos. I let him start an Instagram and he led workout classes on Instagram live. I wallpapered everything. I baked everything. And I just included him in the madness. I caved and got him an iPad. I think the hardest part of all of it is feeling like I have to create structure so when we could be free and creative it was fun. But now I’m like doing homework all morning and yelling to turn off the screens and my cortisol is through the roof and my pants keep getting smaller and he’s in school for 2.5 hours a day and I kind of wish it was summer again because that little crumb of free time is a joke. The hardest part is feeling like I have ANY space to breathe or think my own thoughts. My son misses play dates and not being worried about germs. Our playdate pod has definitely been a life saver though! And actually the pandemic made having a parent in a different state way easier since I get to record at home now. And my dad gave me his Peloton so I’m pretty grateful to have that outlet now too.
Sandra: Hahaha! “That little crumb of free time!” 🤣 I agree! It’s definitely been rough for everyone, especially parents. I have a Peloton too and it’s been so wonderful on my mental health. The community and that sliver of alone time, well, for the most part. My toddler is always chiming in to see the instructor.
Has your son been to concerts and or music fests?
Jessica: Yes! My son started riding 😂 he loves Cody! Omg yes he loves concerts and festivals. He loves dancing. He has a “band” called Shark Blood. And writes way cooler songs than I could ever think of. The other day he wrote a song called “Cactuses are sharp like your heart.” 😂 He played drums with JEMS when we did a thing a dodger stadium and he still brags about it. It’s so cute.
Sandra: Oh my goodness. I love that. That is awesome … What kind of future do you want to, do you envision for your son?
Jessica: I want him to be happy. My parents are both musicians and so was my grandpa so it was easy for me to fall into a life in music. I want my son to feel really free to be whoever he wants to be. I never want him to feel defined by an industry or achievement. He’s already so forward thinking and I just hope he can stay peacefully content as a child not overly concerned about his future goals. But logistically, I want him to take a gap year if he decides to go to college. I think there’s so much to be said about knowing who you are before you start being what other people want you to be.
Sandra: Beautiful. Alrighty, one last question: I am a sucker for birth stories. They’re so beautiful and triumphant, and really hone in on the magic of mothers. What’s your birth story? (If you are comfortable sharing.)
Jessica: Ahhh haha mine was ROUGH.
Sandra: I had some pretty epic back labor. Thankfully she came quick. Broke my butt along the way tho. 😭 aka tailbone 😭
Jessica: My water leaked after eating spicy tacos and I was certain my baby was just pushing on my bladder. I legitimately put a baby diaper in my underwear because I had to do some thing! I had a doctors appointment the next day anyway and I told my gynecologist that I couldn’t stop peeing… He was like, no girl your water broke. Go to the hospital! So, I had this whole plan to do a completely natural birth with this Doula and everything and I hadn’t started any contractions…. so I went on a walk, took last minute maternity photos, finally got to the hospital. I was in labor for 36 hours listening to Christmas music instead of the push playlist I made at the request of my son’s dad 😂 and after two rounds of pitocin I got an epidural and then had an emergency c section. My son was rushed to the NICU, I was on a bunch of antibiotics, my incision had complications, lots of nonsense…. but ultimately, we went home and snuggled with my incredible little soulmate child. But it taught me a lot about control! Def an important first parenting lesson!
You broke your tailbone!!!
Sandra: Wow. That is quite the story. So glad you and your son are here. Birth is scary! Birth is beautiful.
What advice do you have for music artists taking that leap into motherhood for the first time?
Jessica: I know! It really is beautiful. I’m so grateful I get to be a mom.
So many of my friends ask me that – will I survive?? Will I have a life!? I think life has a way of meeting us where we are. My career blossomed when I had my son. It made me a different version of myself and the world responded to that change. Just make choices in love. If you make love and light your priority, things will make all make sense. It’s the most natural form of creation! It’s love art! Haha
Interview by: Sandra Burciaga Olinger
Keep up with Jessica Rotter via her her personal Instagram, JEMS’s Instagram and her website.