20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers

Published October 22, 2021

In part 43 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,

Jessica Balisle —bassist, radio host, and hard-core Frasier fan—

joins us with contagious enthusiasm, energy, and humor to talk about her band, the Hook Knives, co-hosting Studio Live on KSMU Public Radio, her love for funky outfits, and more.

A big congratulations to Jessica in her recent promotion to Operations and Compliance Coordinator for KSMU. She has informed us that thankfully she will be continuing her work on Studio Live, which will feature locally acclaimed Jalopy on November 12.

NoteWorthy Music is also pleased to announce that Jessica will be emceeing the premiere of our Queen City Roots series in which we showcase Parker Millsap on Thursday, November 11, at SBC’s The Cellar. Rolling Stone hails Parker as “… a pristine listening experience …”, and Elton John says, “… I saw one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Parker Millsap & Sarah Jarosz. Both were astonishingly good. … It restored my faith in music.”

Don’t miss Jessica and Parker on Thursday, November 11. Get your tickets now!

Welcome, Jessica, and thank you for joining us.

~Bambi Grinder, NoteWorthy Music

Jessica Balisle | Photo by Kara Remington
Jessica Balisle | Photo by Kara Remington | Photos courtesy of Jessica Balisle

20:20 with Jessica Balisle

NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Jessica: Hello, my name is Jessica, and I’m a bass player, cat lady, plant lady, and a public radio nerd.

NWM 2: What was your first concert as a fan?
Jessica: Imagine 1996 at McDonald Arena. I was in 6th grade. It was such a thrill to see real people perform songs that I grew up with. The Beatles were always a staple for me. The concert definitely ignited my love of live music. The first big name concert I went to was Bob Dylan when I was a junior in high school.

NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
Jessica: Cats. Plants. Todd Balisle.

Jess at work at KSMU Studios | Photo by Jess Balisle

NWM 4: You co-host Studio Live on KSMU. Please tell us about this show and what working on it has meant to you.
Jessica: Studio Live is a live music show on KSMU Public Radio 91.1 FM that features a local band once a month. You can catch the show every second Friday at noon. We also do Studio Live Social Hour, a live show held later that same day, at a local venue that our listeners can attend to see the band in person.

Studio Live focuses on original music, so each show is sure to be unique and engaging. It’s an incredible opportunity to bring this type of content to our listening audience. In turn, I love being able to give musicians the chance to showcase their craft on the air.

Studio Live focuses on original music, so each show is sure to be unique and engaging.

You can find more information about Studio Live at www.ksmu.org/studiolive.

NWM 5: Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist and radio host?
Jessica: Both as a performance artist and radio host went hand-in-hand. I had Violet and the Undercurrents from Columbia, Missouri, booked for the March 2020 Studio Live show. We went back and forth a little bit as to whether or not to do the show, and then the band decided not to travel. One week later, we were sent home from Missouri State University, where our station is located, with no return date in sight.

At the same time, shows with my band the Hook Knives began to drop like flies. We had just started recording an album in late 2019, so that came to a screeching halt. Life as I knew it literally stopped. It was very isolating.

Hook Knives | Photo by Kara Remington
Hook Knives | L-R Bill Jackson, Mike Henderson, Jessica Balisle, Ran Cummings | Photo by Kara Remington

NWM 6: You perform with a number of different bands in Springfield, including The Ozark Sheiks, Brother Wiley, and the Hook Knives.

Please tell us about your different projects, your roles in them, and the varying styles and how they appeal and stimulate you creatively.
Jessica: The Hook Knives is currently my main group, made up of myself on bass, Ran Cummings on vocals, Mike Henderson on guitar, and Bill Jackson on drums. We play Stonesy rock and roll, ranging from garage rock, to pop rock, blues rock, country rock, and spaghetti western rock. We just released our first full-length album, Breaks and Heartaches, and it’s been touted as Springfield’s Exile on Main Street. (Source: Todd Balisle)

The Knives are a great group for me. I’m not a songwriter, so I love that Mike and Ran bring snippets of song ideas to practice, and we all get to hash it out together. I really like that kind of collaborative songwriting. It’s also important to me that everyone in the band is friends. If I’m going to spend time rehearsing, recording, and gigging with a group of people, I better like spending time with them! And I couldn’t ask for better friends and bandmates in the Hook Knives.

[The Hook Knives] just released our first full-length album, Breaks and Heartaches, and it’s been touted as Springfield’s Exile on Main Street.

JM Buttermilk Hot Buttered Soul and R&B Revue at Imagine 2018 | Photo by Emily Gray
JM Buttermilk Hot Buttered Soul and R&B Revue at Imagine 2018 | Photo by Emily Gray

The Ozarks Sheiks and Brother Wiley are both on the back burner for now. Wiley is technically retired, and the Sheiks are currently hibernating, but there are rumblings that we might rear our collective heads soon. While I’m usually a bass player, I also sing with the JM Buttermilk Hot Buttered Soul ‘n’ R&B Revue and the Rolling Stones cover group Shattered. Like the Hook Knives, all of these projects are with dear friends and the collectiveness, creativity, and hard work that goes into and comes out of these bands is really something special.

NWM 7: What is a favorite cover you perform, with which group, and why?
Jessica: ‘Gloria’ with the Hook Knives. We’ve spliced together Patti Smith’s version with the Them version, and it’s so much fun to do. I take the first half singing Patti, then Mike comes in with a rippin’ guitar solo, followed by Ran singing Van Morrison. We wrap back around and end the whole thing with the end of the Patti version. It’s very dramatic, and I love it.

NWM 8: How do you express your creativity other than through music?
Jessica: Clothes! As a kid, I read a ton of Baby-Sitters Club books, and Claudia Kishi was then, is now, and forever will be my style icon. (Ok, I admit it—I still read the Baby-Sitters Club.) I love, love, love picking out funky outfits and jewelry. Lately, I’ve also been inspired by Brittany Howard’s style. She has such a bold, wild look and looks so good doing it. Girl can get it. I want to be like her.

I love, love, love picking out funky outfits and jewelry.

Hook Knives | Photo by Steven Spencer
Hook Knives | Photo by Steven Spencer

NWM 9: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Jessica: ‘Smooth’ by Santana featuring Rob Thomas.

NWM 10: The Hook Knives just released their album Breaks and Heartaches. Tell us about the conception and creation of this album and its significance to you.
Jessica: Gah, this record took forever to make. Thanks, pandemic! I’m so pleased with how it turned out, though. If you look at the track list, you’ll find that several of the song titles are women’s names. When we started as a band, that was kind of the direction we fell into with our song titles. Eventually we shifted away from that, but still felt like we had a cohesive group of songs.

We used my x-ray for the album cover, and I must say, it looks pretty cool.

We went into the studio with Jimmy Rea at Drury University and had a bunch of our friends come play on it, including Jimmy and Melissa Rea, Dallas Jones, Molly Healey, Todd Balisle, Caleb Carter, Corey Puett, and Chris Rohrbaugh.

The album took a long time to record. Not only were we blown out of the water by a global pandemic, but I severely broke my leg and ankle in August of last year, setting us back even more. However, to give it a silver lining, we used my x-ray for the album cover, and I must say, it looks pretty cool.

Hook Knives | Breaks & Heartaches album cover
Hook Knives Album: Artwork by Kara Remington. Broken bones by Jess Balisle.

NWM 11: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Jessica: Nirvana. Specifically, their MTV Unplugged show. That or Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged. Or the Rolling Thunder Revue. Or The Band.

NWM 12: What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Jessica: Right now it has to be the Hook Knives’ ‘Mary’. Those horns just kill me every time I hear it. Ran’s vocal performance is so raw and passionate. Corey Puett’s sax solo is on fire. Caleb Carter’s swirling organ sweeps me away.

We always had music blasting through the house when I was growing up.

NWM 13: Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
Jessica: I am very lucky to have music-loving parents. We always had music blasting through the house when I was growing up. Growing up in the 90s, my sister and I watched a lot of MTV and VH1. (You know, when they used to show music videos all the time.) I’m pretty sure my mom recorded some of our favorite videos to VHS. I remember dancing to those, especially George Harrison’s ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ with the singing animals. That squirrel with the tobacco pipe saxophone gets me every time!

NWM 14: Tell us about your non-musical gifts/talents.
Jessica: I make really good guacamole.

Hook Knives at Founders Park, May 7, 2021 with the broken leg sit down | Photo by Kara Remington
Hook Knives at Founders Park, May 7, 2021 with the broken leg sit down | Photo by Kara Remington

NWM 15: What song/album could you play on repeat?
Jessica: Any of Haim’s albums. So catchy, so rhythmic, so good.

NWM 16: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Jessica: Does breaking my leg count?? That was surprising and messed up a lot of things in both my life and career. I never thought about something like that happening to me, so it was very shocking when it did happen. I got to ride in an ambulance, hang out in the ER, pee in a bed pan, and have emergency surgery.

Then I couldn’t walk for the next three months. That was wild. Shows were cancelled. I was working at home. I couldn’t get into the station for a bit to do any production work. Even though I get around alright now, I’m constantly aware of it. Right now as I type this, I can tell you that it’s going to rain in the next 24 hours due to a slightly stabby, achy pain. What a fun new talent!

Jess and Bill at Founders Park, May 7, 2021 | Photo by Kara Remington
Jess and Bill at Founders Park, May 7, 2021 | Photo by Kara Remington

NWM 17: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
Jessica: I can name every country’s capital city.

NWM 18: We often ask: Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’? And though we are interested in this answer, we would like to get a sense of what feeling you are getting now playing music in your area—are things beginning to return to normal with a continued element of caution or is everyone openly embracing freedom with a general feeling of being ‘over it’?
Jessica: Because I took so long to answer these questions, the Delta variant has emerged, and things are not looking like normal anymore. I am not excited to play or see indoor shows until vaccination rates go way up in our region. I just saw Wilco and Sleater-Kinney in St. Louis at an outdoor venue. The bands required vaccines or a recent negative COVID test for entry. That felt good. Like, really good. But I don’t think that’s going to be a thing in Springfield anytime soon, given our general politics. Things seem to be barreling along here with no real sense of caution and that bothers me.*

I’m someone who gets way too busy way too fast, and it was nice to be forced to slow down for a while.

But there are certainly things I’m looking forward to when this is all over: sitting at a bar (like, actually at the bar) and watching a baseball game. Big parties, extensive travel. Seeing friends more often. But I have to say, I have really enjoyed my down time during the pandemic. I’m someone who gets way too busy way too fast, and it was nice to be forced to slow down for a while. My goal is to try to keep some of those boundaries when it comes to scheduling things and try to take better care of myself and my mental health.

*Our aforementioned Parker Millsap show Jessica will emcee will, in fact, require masking as well as proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in the previous 48 hours at the artist’s request.

Hook Knives and the Margins at Lindberg's
The Hook Knives join the Margins for a performance of Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” at Lindberg’s, February 2020 | Photo courtesy of Springfield After Hours

NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you that we might not know to ask?
Jessica: My favorite color is green.

NWM 20: What’s next for Jessica Balisle?
Jessica: I’m going to Butterworld! Just kidding. Frasier reference.

I’ve got some upcoming Hook Knives gigs and a possible Ozarks Sheiks gig in the works. The Knives are already talking about another album. I’m just trying to maintain and find a balance between my work, music, social, and personal lives as we all get back into things.

But really, I would absolutely go to Butterworld.

‘Scarlett’ is an epic murder ballad inspired by spaghetti western soundtracks, especially Ennio Morricone. ~Jessica Balisle
Jessica Balisle

Jessica Balisle

Jessica Balisle is the new Operations and Compliance Coordinator at KSMU Radio and Ozarks Public Television. She is passionate about public radio, including local, state, and national news, arts and culture pieces, Tiny Desk Concerts, and music shows. In addition to co-hosting Studio Live, Jessica also produces SoundCheck, and you can check out her latest Sense of Community piece for KSMU here:
https://www.ksmu.org/show/sense-of-community/2021-10-01/ksmus-jessica-balisle-interviews-her-sister-emily-gray-about-moving-back-into-their-childhood-home

Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.

For more Hook Knives:
https://www.facebook.com/thehookknives
https://open.spotify.com/artist/6Mk2kZ9fkTh6vujrBWNsKn

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