Jessica Hernandez: Singing To The Rafters, No Matter The Style

Aug 23, 2014
Originally published on August 23, 2014 4:30 pm

The new album by Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas has it all. Secret Evil offers a softly strummed rootsy ballad one minute, the oom-pah of Balkan-inspired brass the next, or twangy rockabilly guitars followed by the punch of New Orleans-tinged horns. But in song after song, one thing is consistent: a powerful, undeniable voice.

In an interview with NPR's Scott Simon, Hernandez says she found that voice early, as a kid in Detroit who turned just about everything she saw and heard into a song. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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Boy, the new album by Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas has it all - a softly-strummed rootsy ballad one minute, the um pa-pa of Balkan-inspired brass, the next - twangy rockabilly guitars followed by the punch of New Orleans tinged horns. But song after song, there is that voice.


JESSICA HERNANDEZ: (Singing) Hunt you down - going nowhere - no place left to hide. Hunt you down - going nowhere - time ain't on your side. Walls come down and they end up drop down low - know just what I would find. Walls come down - they end up drop down - no place left to hide. So I go around singing.

SIMON: That voice belongs to Jessica Hernandez. She's now at the studios of WDET in Detroit to talk about her debut album with her band, the Deltas. It's called "Secret Evil." Thanks so much for being with us.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Boy, a voice like that - when did you learn you had it?

HERNANDEZ: I was pretty young. I wouldn't say I thought I had a good voice. I was more of the annoying little kid that was always singing. Anything my parents were doing - I would write a song about it. So if my mom was making pork chops, I was in the kitchen like, (Singing) Mama's making pork chops. Mama's making pork chops. And I just was like - I don't know. I just always loved singing and loved writing a song about everything that was going on around me.

SIMON: But at the same time, I gather, you haven't had any formal training.

HERNANDEZ: I haven't. I was kind of in a lot of - I guess you can call them profession choirs - growing up. And at the time, you know, I didn't read music, and for a lot of the choirs that I was auditioning for, you had to read music. And I remember the first one I auditioned for. I listened in through the door to hear what all the other auditions were doing, and I just had to memorize what they were singing and pretend that I read music. And that's kind of been my MO - I guess - for the past few years - is just playing by ear and trying to have a good memory and remember the things that I like and the things that sound good.

SIMON: Let's listen to one of your songs, here - OK?


SIMON: "Sorry I Stole Your Man."


HERNANDEZ: (Singing) Well, I'm sorry I stole your man. Oh, I'm sorry he loves me most. But I took his heart, and I lost my own. And I'm sorry he's got my name written below his chest. Oh, it's not my fault I took him for myself.

SIMON: Kind of a non-apology, isn't it?

HERNANDEZ: It is. I've actually been getting a lot of funny comments on the Internet about that song from a lot of angry women. But - I mean, it's funny to me because, I guess, I don't take that song very seriously, lyrically. I mean, it's a true story, but when I wrote that song...

SIMON: Which party were you in this true story?

HERNANDEZ: ...I stole the man. We've been together for four years now, so.

SIMON: There's a statute of limitations on that if you're still together, yeah.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I mean, it was more, you know - we met. We became really great friends, and we were both in relationships. And we decided we wanted to be together. And at first, I was writing it as an actual apology. And then somehow, after a few drinks alone in the studio, it turned into this really sassy song.


SIMON: You grew up in Detroit. Your parents still run a bakery there?

HERNANDEZ: They do. They have a Mexican bakery and a Mexican restaurant that are right next to each other in Southwest.

SIMON: And you used to work there - I understand, right?

HERNANDEZ: I did, yup - I was a cake decorator.

SIMON: So do you go back there much - to the bakery?

HERNANDEZ: Just about every day - our practice space is actually above the bakery. And so that's kind of me and the band's home away from home. And we have this really big loft that - sometimes, we do shows. We used to host yoga. So we're in the bakery almost every day.

SIMON: And what draws you there? What pulls you back to Detroit?

HERNANDEZ: The main thing is my family.

SIMON: You know, ordinarily, we'd hear music like yours and say, where does she live in Brooklyn?


SIMON: So that's why I ask why you're in Detroit.

HERNANDEZ: I just - I love the city. I love being a part of something that's growing and that's not already huge.

SIMON: Yeah.

HERNANDEZ: And I feel like in cities like New York or LA, I don't think that it's really about who's the most talented. I think it's about who's the most cutthroat, whereas in a small city, it's about community. And it's not about trampling on the people around you to get where you need to go.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song - a little bit softer this one - "Cry, Cry, Cry."


HERNANDEZ: (Singing) I'm sorry, baby, but I should have told you that my heart was maybe hanging on another man. I tried to let you know. I tried to let him go, but I kept on loving him instead.

SIMON: So is this a song about two people who are no longer together and are trying to do the right thing?

HERNANDEZ: Kind of. When I started writing that song, it was before I had actually started dating my boyfriend. And it was when I was dealing with that whole thing. And then, I didn't finish the song lyrically, actually, until we had already been dating. And when I finished the song, I kind of wrote it with a different intention and that of the man being my music and his woman being his music. And even though we are in love and we want to be together, our number one is still our music.


HERNANDEZ: (Singing) Fall apart again and watch the pieces go together when you start. Don't tell me how and when you will put your life together part by part.

SIMON: What's next for you and the Deltas?

HERNANDEZ: Well, we have our album release. And we have a big pig roast with all the - the whole band and all of our families.

SIMON: The traditional big roast with which you celebrate a new album coming out. (Laughter). You know, they often they do that at Lincoln Center a lot.

HERNANDEZ: (Laughter). My family - my dad's side is Cuban, and my dad's from Cuba. So pig roast is in order for every occasion. (Laughter).

SIMON: Another song on this album you would like to point out to us - something to go out on?

HERNANDEZ: Let's listen to "Dead Brain."


HERNANDEZ: (Singing) I fight to go out. My body's gone dry. I feel like I'm...

SIMON: Jessica Hernandez of Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas. Their debut album is called "Secret Evil." Thanks so much for being with us.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you so much for having me.


HERNANDEZ: (Singing) Oh, your brain's gone dead. You feel no - where is your head? You ran me back. Just run with me now instead. Your brain's gone dead. You feel no power - where is your head?

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.