Becoming JESSIA: Rebelling and Returning

Becoming JESSIA: Rebelling and Returning


Jessika Harling grew up in rural British Columbia, Canada. Tofino is a small village brined by salty sea winds from the Pacific Ocean and seasoned with accounts of wayfarers who had come to the end of the road to find themselves.

At the age of two, Jessika’s main activities were singing and making sand castles. Little did she know that 22 years later she would be sharing her songs from stages around the world.

Her journey has taken her through many self discoveries and life lessons; she has grown, but ultimately returned to her routes to achieve professional success and gratification.

Tofino was rich in culture, though with a population of 1500 people, it did not provide many preforming opportunities. Supported by her mother, a respected music teacher, Jessika was encouraged to sing and explore her musical talent and passion.

In high school years Jessika sought outlets elsewhere, where she could preform and found musical theatre. She even gave up the opportunity to go to Italy for a summer in order to participate in a musical theatre production.

After a local director encouraged her to pursue her first and biggest passion, Jessika turned her attentions back to singing. This led her to the larger city of Victoria where…

I ended up being the epitome of a ‘starving artist’.

Victoria was full of challenges, least of all finding the time and inspiration to write polished pieces. Working full-time and writing part-time she put all of her extra energies in to trying to make her creative outlet into a career. She felt struck by the feeling that she didn’t have the tools to write and preform the music she wanted to.

I decided I needed to have respect from not only myself, but other people, as a musician. Which led me to university.

Starting in the music program at a local Island University, she began with the assumption that her professors would be able to enable her to succeed at whatever vocal style she wanted to tackle.

That hope was taken away in the short span of one class, where Jessika entered the lesson searching for advice on how to approach Listen from the Broadway Musical Dreamgirls, as preformed by Beyoncé. The lesson was redirected to singing classical etudes; a gentle indication that she would not be coaxed to explore the style of singing exemplified in Listen.


She loved the song as it demanded emotion and technical precision. For her, it encompassed all aspects of contemporary music, most of all “belting”. Belting was something that Jessika had encountered the power of while in musical theatre. While she had left acting behind, the desire to be able to sing in this style was a huge goal.

That year she was told by another teacher that she should not make pursuit of that style her main goal. Belting was what her idols excelled at, what made her feel untethered. Being told not to belt wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Furthermore, she didn’t believe the teacher’s claim; that being able to wield your voice in that way was not achievable for everyone. By the end of that first year of school, Jessika’s initial enthusiasm and impetus gave way to dissolution and let down.

Over the summer she had heard about MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. Within a week Jessika got accepted to MacEwan University’s (MacEwan) music program; packed her bags; said goodbye to friends; and prepared to make Edmonton, miles away from the coast she loved, her new home.

First year was everything I expected it to be and more. I was finally learning how to be a contemporary artist and surrounded by like-minded people.

In the second year, Jessika’s belief, that anyone could learn to belt, was reaffirmed by a professor at MacEwan. That encouragement propelled her at top-volume in to third year.

Her voice was her shield and her power. She felt accomplished until, part-way through the year, it was too much for her vocal chords. The healing process was long, and dragged down her performance confidence and trust in her voice. Ultimately it caused her to split last year of school, an already long journey, in to two years.

As is often the case with setbacks in life that cause us to slow down, something was gained. This time allowed Jessika to break out of the MacEwan’s simulated ‘school version’ of the music business and to apply what she’d learnt into the “real world”.

I took what I needed, and I left a lot, she said of MacEwan University. It gave me a good foundation and a safe space to try different versions of myself

She remembered some of the biggest lessons learnt from that time:

Everybody fails. And you just have to accept that you are going to fail. And you’re not going to feel good about all of your performances.

Another lesson was to surround yourself with musicians you admire.

It taught me how to be a really efficient musician.

This allowed her to gain respect and to build a reputation around efficiency, reliability, and professionalism.

Though Jessika had natural talent, throughout the struggle to prove that she could sing the music that inspired her, university also taught me how to “fake it ‘til you make it.” While professors offered her jazz coaching, she realised it was not part of the future she envisioned.

In the final year of school, the accumulation of Jessika’s setbacks, achievements, and lessons culminated in a persona she calls JESSIA.

In rebelling against the constrictions that were imposed upon her style, she brought forth power. At the same time, this process called her back to her roots, realizing that a softer

R’N’B/singer-songwriter musician had been forgotten and neglected.

JESSIA is all encompassing [of these styles].

One of the biggest fears of leaving university is the question of now what? The career of an artist is one most unreliable but Jessika found herself falling into a career as a session artist for producers around the world.

I started singing and writing for local electronic producers and it just snowballed from there. I have worked with producers from Australia, Europe, the US, and elsewhere. It is so cool living in a time where worldwide collaboration is so accessible.

She continues to release her own music weather it be high-quality produced electro pop or a stripped-down acoustic cover.

I am now able to completely identify myself as JESSIA. She is a persona, but she represents the soft small-town girl and the sassy diva. That is what JESSIA is. She is both sides of a contemporary spectrum. And she doesn’t have any rules, but rather is everything that she wants to be on stage in that present moment.

As a final question, what are your current artistic inspirations?

Beyoncé and Lianne La Havas.

Presently, Jessika is touring around the UK, Europe (she finally got a trip to Italy). Follow her @jessiamusic on Instagram and Spotify, @iamjessia on Facebook, or go directly to her website