Jessica Tonder was born in Baltimore to parents who are of Peruvian and Croatian descent. She moved back to Peru with her mother when she was a small child, shortly after her father had passed away. In light of the terrorism happening in Peru at the time, Tonder and her mother eventually landed back in the states, in south Florida. Tonder grew up singing in church. As her attendance tapered off, she still felt a desire to sing and a need to connect to the world through music. She sang her first song at three years of age to an audience of over two hundred people. She knew, at that moment, a life in music was her destiny.
Jessica's rich vocal performance is laced with haunting, soulful sounds deeply rooted in an Afro-Peruvian, folk heritage. Read our interview with her below on her art and check out her album A Rise of Peace on SoundCloud.
Who are some other artists you identify with?
Well, I'm influenced by sensibility, the dramatic and vulnerable artist that also hits you in the stomach and makes you want to curl up with your mother, or that make you laugh uncontrollably and fill you with so much joy. All of the most extreme feelings brought out by humanity. Nina Simone was one, Maria Callas another. Both for very different reasons, but, mainly as I said earlier, more than the artist, I identify with feelings and emotions.
What kind of work do you most enjoy doing and why?
Writing songs for film. I enjoy creating cinematic music. Mostly, I describe them as sonic films—lyrically and stylistically emphasized in range and color, very dynamic, sweet and soft and then very evoking and powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, but always beautiful to listen to.
What materials do you use to create?
Usually, it begins on the piano and I proceed with melody and lyrics until it becomes revealed to me what it will be. It's always either a small idea that is difficult and tedious to finish, or the entire piece is done within the hour.
What do you dislike about the art world—or the world of your work?
The tasteless ways they are imposing their idea of "good work" onto the artist for financial reasons. I believe the reason we create is for freedom, and because we have to as artists. Many times it is to work out emotions we may have that have been tied-up deep within us and to share in humanity. Being tied down to the market is not being free. These days, everything is judged by technicalities and whether or not your work is deemed marketable or profitable. It discounts your abilities, your potential, and dismisses any chance you may have of actually allowing yourself to be heard creatively and also make a living doing it.
How do you get ready for a performance?
I first imagine it and dream it. I watch the whole thing in my mind before it begins. I think up the order, and transitions, and what I shall do in between—the costumes and the fantasy and how I will sing—how I will deliver the songs, how I will connect. Once I'm on stage, it usually all goes out the window. I never really know what I do once I'm there, but I do know I have to feel it deep inside my heart or I don't do it at all.
What is your dream project?
Creating a space where I can write the music and have sets built with ornate and dramatic costumes, like watching a gorgeous live film with a filled orchestra pit in an old-world opera house.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given?
If I am not for me, who will be? If I am only for me, what am I? If not now, when?
Professionally, what is your goal?
I feel it more as what is my purpose? And that's something I work towards everyday, to give the best of what I have to others.
The Five Minutes With series is brought to you by Stephanie Nicole Smith, a visual artist and make up artist in Los Angeles, CA. You can find her work at stephanienicolesmith.com and follow her @stephanienicolesmith.