Jessica Hernandez had a good story to tell about being signed by the venerable jazz label Blue Note Records. She canceled a meeting with the company's president in New York, and instead had him fly to Detroit to hear her in a loft space she created above her family's bakery.
She got a record deal.
That was a few years ago, and recently her tale turned more typical. Warner Music Group acquired the label from Universal (a deal that was finalized in July), and Hernandez - who had been working on her debut album - found herself in the classic music-industry lurch.
"Once we started to get into the mixing process," she said in a phone interview last week, "they got bought out ... . And so I started e-mailing my team and trying to talk to people, and then realized everyone on my team had been fired."
Because the label's new leadership had no investment in Hernandez, and because the 25-year-old has no commercial track record, the ownership change meant her album might never see the light of day - owned by a company that had no interest in releasing it.
But here the story takes another twist. "Luckily," she said, "I had made a couple really great friends there, ... and they were really up-front with me. 'We don't know what's going to happen once [the new owner] takes over, and there's a chance they might shelve your record, because they don't have the time and passion put in that we did - because we signed you. So do you want to just take your record back? You're in the clear, you don't have to pay us back, take the album and do what you want with it.' ... I kind of got lucky, got my record back before the ink was dry ... ."
I asked whether this spoils the story of her getting signed. "It does and it doesn't," she said. "It almost makes it better because the reason I went with them is they seemed so honest and up-front. It seemed like a genuine relationship and friendship was built between me and the label. And it kind of ended that same way, with this trust and this openness and actually looking out for my best interests."
And while the people she worked with at Blue Note are no longer there, they're still providing her advice and assistance. "I'm actually approaching it [the release of her album] the same way that the label would approach it, but with me being able to guide the direction of things ... ," she said.
That's not the only thing unusual about the singer/songwriter. She co-founded the micro-funding-dinner organization Detroit Soup and hosted events in her loft space. And without a proper album, Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas will close out River Roots Live with an 11 p.m. set on August 17 following the Wallflowers. (Hernandez said a festival organizer saw her band perform at Rozz-Tox earlier this year.)
What's certain is that Hernandez will showcase her force-of-nature voice at the festival. Beyond that, her output is - intentionally - all over the place. Her three-song Live at the Magic Bag EP opens with surf-rock soul, follows it with a slow ballad, and closes with the catchy, horn-driven, not-really-an-apology apology "Sorry I Stole Your Man."
Her ReverbNation.com page offers two songs - one an evocative minute-plus piece of incidental music.
"The whole record's like that," Hernandez said of her debut album, which she plans to self-release early next year. "This is my first full-length, so I kind of just went for it and didn't want to limit myself as far as genre goes. I had a tough time with it at first: Do I cut this song because it doesn't fit into this feel of these other songs? ... At the end of the day, I was kind of just like, 'I love all these songs. I wrote all these at this point in my life, and this is kind of just what happened. So I'm just going to embrace that and put them all on one album, and have that be my debut.'
"And then I almost felt like, too, it lends itself to make the next record unpredictable. Is it going to go this weird disco route - there's a couple songs that are like that - or is it going to go this weird, dark gothic direction? I felt like it almost gave me more freedom, because I wasn't pigeonholing myself into trying to be one thing or the other."
But she said that the lyrics tie them together, all drawn from a "dark and confusing point" in her life: "Even the songs that are happy, the lyrics are still very dark and a little bit morbid."
Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas will perform on Saturday, August 17, at 11 p.m. at River Roots Live (RiverRootsLive.com) in Davenport's LeCalire Park.
For more information on Jessica Hernandez, visit JessicaHernandez.net.