Career Makeover

Jessie Baylin revives her sound after a major-label letdown

February 27, 2012
Pop singer Jessie Baylin is married to Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill.

Most up-and-coming artists would love to land a major-label contract. For Los Angeles-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin, that dream turned into a nightmare. Baylin released two albums of smart but largely indistinctive montage pop on the Universal Music Group-owned Verve Records, but “I felt I was going into a genre that I really didn’t choose,” she says.

Baylin negotiated herself out of that contract and set about making music that felt truer to herself. Released last month, “Little Spark,” marries sharp songwriting with Brill Building-style girl-group melodies and a looser production that puts a fresh spin on those retro sounds. “The words come from my journal,” Baylin says, “but musically, I wanted to write a love letter to Dusty Springfield.”

While inspiration for the disc came easily, production was more labored. “Little Spark” sat on the shelf for nearly three years while Baylin sought out a new manager and started her own label, Blonde Rat. In the meantime, she and producer Richard Swift made a gift for the fans who’d waited so patiently between albums: a free EP of covers showcasing Baylin’s influences.

“I felt like I needed to introduce a new sound to people, just to let them know where I am now,” Baylin says. She and Swift recorded the tracks in the rural home she shares with her husband, Nathan Followill, drummer for Kings of Leon. “We live in a glass treehouse, and we recorded on the loft floor. When I listen to it, I still can’t believe it was done in our living room.”

That’s the kind of experience Baylin says she knows she could never have had on a major label. “This is the freest I’ve ever felt in my life,” she says. “I just get to create and do whatever feels good to me.”

Inside Track: “Little Trouble Girl”
Baylin recasts this dreamy Sonic Youth gem (from its 1995 “Washing Machine”) on her ”Pleasure Center” EP. It’s a frazzled girl-group confection eerie enough to soundtrack a David Lynch movie.

Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Thu., 8 p.m., $10; 703-522-8340. (Clarendon) 
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Rachel Kaufman · February 27, 2012