To travel into the creative mind of singer-songwriter Jesse Montoya, a good starting point is her song, “Ashtray for Two.” Softly driven with a languid, bossa nova vibe, “Ashtray” has an effortless feel, with Montoya’s soulful croon ruminating on her apparently absent lover. “It was written at a time when I was practicing a Brazilian beat or samba. It just kind of grew out of my practice and exploration,” Montoya tells Folio Weekly. This kind of off-the-cuff, searching sensibility within her creative process is a key element that helps Montoya stand out from the crowd of acoustically inclined hopefuls. Combined with her accomplished skills as fingerpicker on acoustic guitar, Montoya’s awareness of traditional music injects the folk, blues, and country hues that color her work. Locals can check out Montoya when she opens for Chris Woods and Sundy Best at Jack Rabbits on Aug. 27 in San Marco.
A Jacksonville native, Jesse Carole Montoya was born and bred to be an artist. She found a creative outlet through drawing, which she learned from her father when she was very young. After her dad instilled in her a passion for creativity, Montoya continued to flourish in the visual arts realm throughout her school days. “If it wasn’t for magnet schools like Pine Forest, LaVilla, and Douglas Anderson, I would not be where I am today,” admits Montoya.
In addition to her music, the now-25-year-old Montoya continues to create other fantastic works using a variety of media. She is of Native American ancestry on her father’s side of the family tree, and it’s a major inspiration. “My work is largely based on the human figure. The figure is the most interesting and most difficult subject. I enjoy the complexity of it. It’s meticulous and loose at the same time and so beautiful,” says Montoya. “I think the artwork reflects a more introverted part of me and the music does the opposite.”
As for her music, Montoya recalls a habit of constantly singing that has been with her since childhood: “My grandmother, Little Nana, still tells the story of this little girl who just wouldn’t be quiet, because she couldn’t stop singing.” Montoya cites Paul Simon, Sarah Vaughan, Patsy Cline, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Elizabeth Cotten, Ry Cooder, and Dušan Bogdanović as her main influences. With a repertoire that includes both samba styles and old-school folk numbers, including Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver Blues,” it’s clear that her eclectic sound draws from a broad spectrum. Montoya writes originals, with the melodies usually preceding the words. “I have a hard time with lyrics,” says Montoya. “The music comes more easily to me. Right now, I must have a dozen instrumental songs that don’t have lyrics yet.”
Montoya’s 2014 album, Jesse Montoya, Guitar & Voice is still available; she’s a regular at local haunts like Burro Bar, The Parlour, and Underbelly. Last year, Montoya was voted one of the top 10 Creator Projects in the music category at One Spark. This year, she’s gained regional notoriety, being named “Florida’s Solo Artist of the Year” by Bridging the Music Productions.
“When they first asked me to participate, I thought, ‘Sure, this sounds like fun!’ I didn’t think it was going anywhere,” says Montoya. “I’ve never had a ‘title’ before; it’s a big step for me and an honor. I am very grateful.”
Montoya also shows gratitude for those in her life who continue to inspire her creative endeavors. “My biggest songwriting inspirations besides obvious, famous ones are, honestly, my friends,” she says. “Charlie Shuck, Darn Whippoorwills, Beverly Driskill, Tala, New Strangers, and Joseph Shuck. I hope they know how much I admire their gumption and honesty in their music.”
As for the future, Montoya hopes to go mobile with her muse. “I would use my experiences on the road as inspiration for my art and music and bounce around, playing festivals and house shows; it would be so great. I really can’t wait to do that.”