J. Graves is setting out to pioneer something different, with bandleader Jessa Graves squeezing together a tightly packed ball of anger, grief, and acceptance in her latest album Fortress of Fun - an outpouring of wild fury and plaintive sadness with a dark, angular sound.
Big new ideas abound, not just musically, but conceptually, too. COVID’s onset in March 2020 forced musicians worldwide to adapt creatively to the impending digital-only era, so it’s rare to see true innovation in an otherwise saturated market, but J. Graves have come up with a captivating idea: a “choose your own adventure” album.
Wanting to do something with a little more depth that would engage audiences creatively while welcoming listeners into their experience, the idea was borne from finding a choose-your-own-adventure book in a sci-fi themed studio during the recording process of previous album Deathbed. Early 2020 was tough for the band; like many artists, their built-up momentum was quickly shuttered by COVID’s insurgence. So, in mid-2020, the band went on a getaway to the coast, and the house they were staying in – lit up at night next to the dark ocean – became known as their “fortress of fun,” a title that seems immediately at odds with the album’s often-dark undertones, but one that nonetheless suits Graves’s fight to stay in the light.
In that sense, the album exists in two states: the first a mournful and mysterious effort that parses waves of difficult emotions; the second a lush, eclectic undertaking that puts listeners and viewers at the forefront of the band’s collective imagination. Each song from the album comes with a video, through which viewer/listeners can make choices that will lead to further interactive videos. Though the songs are, thematically and contextually, fully distinct from their choose-your-own-adventure video counterparts, the emotion remains raw and real, and J. Graves, with the help of mixer/producer Sylvia Massy, has fine-tuned their sound like never before into something simultaneously painful and buoyant.
J. Graves is Aaron MacDonald (drums), Kelly Clifton (bass), and Jessa Graves (guitar, vocals).
"Pairs well with: Dancing away from your mistakes; Amping yourself up to sing "Maps" at karaoke
J. Graves says its song "Eleven" is about "reckoning with guilt, loss and acceptance"; it's a heavy topic, set against the band's appropriately thudding garage-rock sound and singer Jessa Graves' passionate and powerful voice. Filmed at Myna Bird Studios in Portland, Ore., the entry video shows off the band's tightly-coiled performance energy and the studio's great taste in houseplants." —Marissa Lorusso NPR All Songs Considered
As we head deeper into the ’00s-garage-rock-revival revival, there are plenty of up-and-coming bands revitalizing the riot-grrrl-inspired sounds of Sleater-Kinney and dance-punk energy of Yeah Yeah Yeahs—but only one of them is doing so in the form of a choose-your-own-adventure story. The album rollout for the new album Fortress of Fun from Portland’s J. Graves has involved a two-singles-at-once approach which allows the listener to plan their next move on the band’s official site as a visual narrative accompanies each choice. —KIM MARCH Flood Magazine
Fortress of Fun
"Go it Alone"
"Ass U Me"
"Lo the Mourning"
LP / CD
"J. Graves has got a voice like no other, and she belts out these verses like her life depends on it. Something tells me that, bells and whistles aside, she’s capable of delivering just as physical a performance on stage..."
"If this is what her sound is all about, then she’s in for a lot more attention as she prepares to release her debut album..."
John McCall, Too Much Love
"J. Graves has the kind of talent and heart you can’t help but root for."
"The song is full of the nuanced technical balance that can only result from great chemistry between the members. Together, they produce the sort of rock we want to see more of in the world."
Avril Carillo, The Deli Portland
"Hi J, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hiya Vents! Jessa Graves here from J. Graves. So excited to be answering some questions – thanks for having me!
There’s a ton going on right now in preparation for our next single release, upcoming performances, and a record release so I’ve been working on staying focused and productive and grateful."
Read the interview with Vents Magazine
"Her voice floats above the guitar and the garage-rock percussion like a tug boat keeping afloat during a hurricane. She’s gritty, yet so full of hope. Her passion is unmistakable..."
"Fans of Nirvana – this is a no brainer. This is a band to keep on your radar and Graves has the charisma to march in stride with Kurt Cobain. “Chapters” has that Pacific Northwest cloak hovering over the pain and joy. It has that dreary, dark garage tonal values. Fall for it – the trip is worth it."
John McCall, Skope Magazine
“As J. Graves, they create a fascinating listen that resides somewhere in the neighborhood of punk, garage, and dance rock that fans of Riot Grrrl bands, the early days of Sub Pop records, and diehard anglophiles should be paying close attention to."
"The Pacific Northwest has gifted us many incredible outfits over the years, including The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie and Sleater-Kinney. We can now add J. Graves to that growing list, as Marathon is nothing short of vital."
—Tom Hougen, Daily Vault
“Wow! A tremendous debut from this Portland, Ore. trio. J. Graves plays a full slab of songs evocative of mid-‘90s Touch & Go/AmRep stuff, with heavy thud providing a foundation for singer/guitarist Jessa’s skittering guitar lines."
Everything here is fully formed and immediate, with occasionally harrowing lyrics and vocal delivery reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s Early stuff. It’s great to hear such a new band present such a compelling, unified statement of intent and vision. Thumbs way up.
—Michael T. Fournier, Razor Cake
"Marathon has that something, that mood built on guitar tone. It's dark, attractively deleterious, passionately delivered, and does not break for a ballad, bridge, or measure during its entire length. It’s a shocker of skittering cymbals and thudding bass, an ice bath of a punk album, a body seizing banger tinted with tones from late 70s Manchester (New Order), to early 80s London-goth (Siouxsie And The Banshees), to 80s nascent Portland DIY (LowTek, Ice9), and 90s post-punk.'"
"Which is to say I’m always waiting for the next Marathon. Albums like Marathon are important. Soft rock has never kicked me into gear. I don’t get lulled into action. From the opening notes of the single “New Favorite” I knew the album would be good"
Sean Jewell, American Standard Time
"Call it a garage band. Call it dance punk. Whatever you call it, artist J. Graves released their first full-length album September 13, 2019 and we cannot get enough of this raw female energy! "
"Wondering what’s so special about this record that will make you sit up and say, wow, that’s good? The trio uses pared down instrumentals to give listeners a chance to hone in on the sheer passion of the queer vocalists’ pipes and heartfelt lyrics. Within the span of a chorus, Graves’ vocals range from calm and collected notes to a fierce shout that will make you want to belt the words out with her."
Kelsey Radomski, Indie Band Guru
"Jessa Graves (lead vocalist) is incredible, ... her delivery is so passionate and resolute."
"The Pacific Northwest – the land that gave way to Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Decembrists, She & Him and even the Kingsmen, have a new boast: J. Graves."
Mindy McCall, Indie Pulse Music
"[J. Graves] at their first meeting someone said “Rock and Roll has too many strings attached. All we need is drums, bass, guitar and a vocalist singing their lungs out.”
"Graves’ vocals and guitar star, but the bass and drums are never truly take a back seat." -C. FRANCIS O'LEARY, Oregon Music News
"Jessa Graves’ charismatic delivery and fronting this band is part of the “Chapters” success, in my opinion, but again, the musicianship and overall vibe of “Chapters” is precisely what makes indie bands so enjoyable to discover. In a crowded mess of YouTubers, Instagram stars and Spotify lists, J. Graves’ “Chapters” is the real deal."
"Their new single, “Chapters” delivers a resounding fist in the air for listener’s wanting killer music – or in their words “sweet and agonizing garage rock.”
Michael Rand, Mobangeles
“[J. Graves] manages to take the New York garage rock of the early aughts and blend it with the post punk aesthetic of the late 70's. Think if Karen O fronted Interpol and dressed like Joy Division."
"Marathon is an wonderfully strong foundation on which to build from and is a much needed breath of fresh air. J. Graves are an example of what the world and future needs more of - badass, honest women who can play the shit out of a guitar."
—Chris Fitzgerald, Stage Dive Magazine
" J. Graves gushes with vocals reminiscent of Karen O and Corin Tucker, and fans of Riot Grrrl will appreciate the punk sparseness of the instrumentation..."
"Calling all Riot Grrrls: Hear propulsive new music from J. Graves now and then celebrate the release of her debut LP 'Marathon'"
Katey Trnka, Vortex Music Magazine