Interview with Jessie Torrisi from Please, Please Me

jessie torrisi
Jessie Torrisi

Interview by Scott Preston
Photos by Todd Chalfant

Live, Jessie’s known to sing from behind the drums, pull the audience onstage to play kazoo, & have bandmates constantly switch instruments. This summer, Jessie will be on tour with her band The Please, Please Me hitting the East Coast, Chicago, and Austin in the coming weeks.

Jessie Torrisi & Please, Please Me will be performing TONIGHT December 11, 2010 at Arnold’s Bar, 210 E 8th St, Cincinnati, OH at 10pm.

Cincy Groove: When did the Please, Please Me get together?

Jessie Torrisi: Well I just moved to Austin a little more than a year ago. I lived in New York City for 10 years where I was the drummer for many punk, glam, folk, you name it bands.

Recording an album was kind of my last will ‘n testament before living NYC. I’d been a closet songwriter for so long… Some part of me was scared to take the leap or just didn’t believe I had the voice of a REAL SINGER inside me.

But after making the album, I got more & more excited about the idea of truly doing this. I knew I needed someplace warmer, slower, friendlier — less rat race & more permission to be creative & try stuff you or may not be awesome at. I’d always loved Austin.

A lot of people have come through the Please, Please Me circus (as my manager likes to call it) — all of them great musicians. But I had to find my people one by one. First enter Alissa Schram, my best friend’s girlfriend; when we found out she had a cello collecting dust at her parents’ house, we made her drive up & get it that weekend.

Then Carlos Mendoza, the man on the hip swivels & quirky guitar sounds. We started playing together about 6 months ago. I asked him to help me with two songs & instantly, my resistant to a guitarist in the band melted. He thinks in soundscapes & vocal melodies & has this way of refusing to let anyone — on stage or in the audience — passively sit by & listen. You dance, you smile, you sing along… or you’re out. He’s contagious.

Our newest is Dave Gironda Jr., straight out the boat from Phoenix. I found him right before our last Midwest tour…. We were one person short & put an ad on Craig’s list of all things. He plays trumpet, keys, a mean tambourine, Ringo Starr kinda drums, sings harmonies — and hits up with a constant stream of cool new music in the tour van.

One thing is we all play a bunch of instruments. That’s key to how we work it — where often I sing & drum (Phil Collins, Levon Helm style). I always admired the Arcade Fire for the way they literally throw drums to each other in the middle of the set & instantly change the vibe. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums can get very staid if you’re not insanely creative. I like to push the envelope.

Cincy Groove: What made you want to start your own band?

Jessie Torrisi: Too many bands that broke my heart by talking big and then not delivering. Almost record deals, too many Friday nights spent fighting in the rehearsal studio instead of playing, diva bandleaders, never really touring.

When I’d made my record, I’d just finished graduate school, gone down to live in New Orleans for a stint & was gearing up to leave New York… I realized I’d been giving everyone the power & authority to make a run with my musical dreams — except me.

Cincy Groove: Any new recording projects in the works?

Jessie Torrisi: Yes, new record, new record, new record! I can’t wait. Right now, we are searching for the right producer. They’re two guys in Nashville who seem really great & one in Austin (he did the Butthole Surfers & some other pretty famous bands) I’ve been told is THE ONE if I want to capture all those great drum ‘n bass sounds off of old soul records — Be My Baby, Do You Love Me etc.

I’ve grown so much as a writer, performer, singer… have so many songs that really dominate our live set & make us that much more indie crazy quirky, fun, sing/dance along. I am totally impatient and inspired to get back in the studio. Of course, money is always the limiting factor. But it’s my top priority going into 2011.

Cincy Groove: With the year coming to an end, what have been some highlights for you and the band in 2010?

Jessie Torrisi: For me, finding each other. Feeling like I have finally found the right people to play with — and (forgive me for sounding cheesy) they’re like little little beams of light. They’re people I love to hang out with, drive with, drink wine with, get down on a dance floor with. I played in so many bands for so long where people misbehaved or just couldn’t be consistent. I always said if I was the leader, only cool people would be let in. And by cool, I mean awesome.

Also, finding my way back to the drums has been incredible. It was clear to me that I couldn’t push 15 years of being a pretty good drummer aside… but it took awhile to figure out how to bring it into the live show.

Cincy Groove: Who are some of your musical influences?

Jessie Torrisi: Yes, anything & everything good I hear. Right now, I’m obsessed with new Beach House album. It’s just so melodic & subtle & they are all these great poly-rhythms hidden in this soundscape of keyboard pads & drum loops. It’s been awhile since I found an album that I can’t stop listening to, and love more every progressive time. That kind of layering and depth is rare in pop music today.

Other staples — Otis Redding, Regina Spektor, Feist, Jason Collett… I’m hoping someone will get me tickets to see Lauryn Hill in Brooklyn for my birthday later this month.

Also — Pete Yorn, The Kooks, Tapes n Tapes are among my newer discoveries. I’ve been trying to really push myself to see what’s great that’s coming out NOW. I hate it when people complain there’s no good music. All that means is they’re too lazy to leave their house or turn off pop40 radio.

Cincy Groove: How do you feel about how the internet has affected the music industry?

Jessie Torrisi: Well… on a personal level, the fact that there is now so much stuff we can read, listen to, learn from, share is awesome. It’s like democracy in action. And it does mean the reigns of control are wrestled from the big corporate giants.

But the fact that most music is now free and illegally downloadable sucks. It cripples artists & industries. I believe music — all art — and also journalism are of tremendous value to our society. What people don’t understand is… the money’s got to come from somewhere. It’s not free for the people making it. And if we don’t somehow band together and come up with a system where people are paid for their work, a lot of greatness is going to disappear.

My crowning wish is that some tech genius finds a way to make it so that you have to buy music to have it again. And while I’m still young enough to do this… I’m not optimistic that people are going to start paying for something they can get for free. At the same time, over & over people say that, if they couldn’t steal it, they’d buy it. Everyone loves music! We just need a new system to emerge that allows for the fact that money matters.

Cincy Groove: Are there any upcoming shows you are excited about?

Jessie Torrisi: Yes, this tour. Cincy, Columbus (first time), Cleveland (first time), Chicago! (my new fav city), Indianapolis, Milwaukee. All the dates are up at

Cincy Groove: Was it hard to find bandmates who could play multiple instruments?

Jessie Torrisi: My biggest fear is that I would never find the right people or I’d find them but not be able to hold onto them or get them to commit or go on tour. Was it hard? I don’t know. It depends on your sense of time… I tend to be impatient. It took about a year. Looking back, I feel very lucky indeed.

Cincy Groove: What has been the most unusual performing situation you have been in?

Jessie Torrisi: Perhaps the end of our show every night, when whatever drunks, new friends, Torrisis are in the audience jump onstage & kazoo with us. I can’t tell if it’s really ugly and cacophonous or strangely beautiful — in an Andrew Bird meets John Cage kind of way. But one thing I know for sure, it is fun, a cool coming together… and I think more music in our society ought to be about everybody creating sound together.