Within every song is a story, but sometimes these stories translate to the larger collection within which they are released.
This is the case with singer-songwriter Julie Hess and her February EP Promises, a thematically similar trio of songs that all relate back to the title one way or another. “The EP explores the theme that no matter how much we want to hold onto [promises], sometimes you just can’t keep them,” Hess said of the overall meaning of the songs. “That’s just a part of life.”
Written with her brother, Jeff, but performed and produced by herself, Promises is an acoustic and emotional performance born from a brother-sister bond that allowed for a deep vulnerability and connection to shape the music.
She writes most of her music with him, citing him as her “biggest inspiration when it comes to writing music,” in part because of how she admires that “there’s just something so passionate and honest about his lyrics.” With her self-taught background in the piano leaning towards classical and jazz styles, she usually takes the weight in composing the instrumental while he provides often-finished lyrics, but she is known to write lyrics as well. The Hess siblings hail from the suburban community of Newtown, Connecticut.
Opening track “My Promise” eases gently into the EP, beginning with merely piano and vocals before she’s joined by more percussion and harmonies in the second verse creating an uplifting sound that carries the pop melodies throughout. The song is followed by “Frozen Lake,” which is a mellow reflection set in a dreamy landscape as dark and brooding as it is captivating and lyrically poetic. To close out the trio, “Magnolias” sits comfortably between its sister songs thematically, contemplative yet with a build throughout the song giving it a flair of a finish.
Despite collaborating with her brother, it took Hess some time to really fall in love with music and decide it was what she wanted to do with her life. She said of her realization, “What really catalyzed me to make music my entire life was the arts high school I attended back home where I met other people that felt the same about music, and taught me there are so many avenues I can go down within the industry.”
This is also the time when she met her bandmates and got valuable experience playing live. “Room 113 formed the summer after my Junior year of high school,” she shared, “when my good friend Jordan from the arts school I attended texted me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to start a band, and saying yes was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” Her time in the band helped her fall in love with the performance side of the craft, and she explained that “gigging is a one of a kind experience that really teaches you how important it is to give everything you’ve got, even when there’s two people in the audience.”
Now studying at Belmont University in their acclaimed songwriting program — which has developed notable alumni such as Emily Weisband, Russell Dickerson, and Trisha Yearwood — Hess has spent more time working on her solo work.
The culmination of this experience and inspiration is Promises. It was a project that allowed her to explore and express this independence in an artful, tangible form. “I recorded the EP on my own in my music room at home over the course of a couple months,” she revealed, “and recording and producing by myself led to a lot of perfectionism with no one to tell me that the music was at a good release point.”
Before Promises, Hess released singles “Ocean” and “Empty,” each with a music video to go with them. This is only the beginning of her career. Eighteen years old, a freshman in college, and her first EP finally out in the world, there will be plenty more to be seen from Hess, starting with a full-length album. “Jeff and I have a lot of songs we really love that I can’t wait to bring to life and release,” she shared. “And after a couple semesters as a Songwriting Major at Belmont University, there are a ton of new elements I want to bring to our music.”
In the shorter term, she has some gigs lined up for the summer that fans can look forward to. Her family runs a backyard summer festival called “HessFest,” which is currently planning to take place on a small, COVID-safe scale. She is also lined up to play at restaurants and vineyards around Connecticut with Room 113.