By Ellen Chappelle
At first glance, Edmonds resident Jessica Ketola resembles any other suburban mom. Stopping for coffee between Pilates class and errands, she’s dressed casually, but fashionably. And her face lights up when she talks about her kids.
But this mother of four has even more on her plate these days than usual. After a lifetime of singing, she’s finally, seriously, giving a career in music a shot.
As a little girl in a musical family, Ketola could often be found at the piano, writing and singing her own songs. She performed throughout high school and college, even recording a few gospel tracks. In recent years, she served as a worship leader at her church. But life got busy, as it tends to do, and music took a backseat to caring for her family.
A dream reborn
Dreams have a funny way of resurfacing, though, and Ketola’s dream came knocking a few years ago on a hot summer day at the Gorge.
Ketola had been writing songs about “transition and going through a healing process” and wanting to record them, but with a husband in graduate school, four children, a dog and a full-time job, she couldn’t see how it was possible.
On that day at the Gorge, Sting and the Police were preparing for their pre-concert sound check. Ketola was there with coworkers from Unitus, a nonprofit organization that was the tour’s sponsored charity.
Sting invited members of the group to step up to the microphone and sing – and Ketola jumped at the chance. Clearly impressed by Ketola’s soulful voice, Sting asked her to sing with him during that night’s performance, calling her his discovery!
That night, like a long-dormant flower, Ketola’s dream began to unfold. Singing with Sting “gave me the boost,” Ketola said. “I gotta do this.”
Since then, she’s launched a website, started performing her songs locally, and recorded a three-song EP that previews her upcoming full-length album titled Sea of Tears.
Although her music isn’t overtly spiritual, it’s clear that Ketola’s faith has had a great influence on her viewpoint and causes her to believe that singing is what she was created to do. It also comes out in the hope that resonates in her deep voice.
Sea of Tears features reflective, passionate songs that illustrate those agonizing moments we all have where you “can’t really see where it’s all going” and cling to that hope that the tears will end. Everyone who has ever felt pain will relate to the intimate introspection and feel the emotion in Ketola’s voice, lyrics and music.
Woman in bloom
A couple of weeks ago, Ketola was featured on the Mountain radio’s Marty Riemer Show and Riemer’s co-host kept calling her a “woman in bloom.” Not sure what a woman in bloom was, Ketola later googled the term, discovering that it describes a woman in transition, usually pertaining to someone in midlife.
“My first thought was MID LIFE…the nerve! I’m not even out of my 30s yet,” Ketola exclaimed. “Yes, I’m holding onto every minute! But once I let go of the mock offense, I resonated with the term.”
Despite being a late bloomer in music industry terms, Ketola is choosing to focus on the positive aspect of starting down this road later in life. With age comes wisdom, so they say. “My music is now truer to who I am,” states Ketola.
Building a fan base
In years past, artists had to have a recording contract to produce an album. In the internet age, it’s possible to record and distribute music on your own. Ketola had gathered “a top-notch producer and some crazy-good musicians” to help her bring her songs to life, but she needed one more thing. Funding. So she launched a fan-funded project to help her record an EP.
After exceeding her original financial goal, she’s decided to go for a full-length album. Fans can donate at various levels through a special page on her website, earning everything from a free copy of the upcoming album to a house concert and even executive producer status on the record.
She also has a fundraising concert in the works and is hoping to book more local performances to promote the album. In the meantime, she’s busy building a fan base through social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Fortunately, Ketola’s most supportive fans live right under her own roof. Her husband and their four musical children are all very excited about this new chapter in her life. Her son even assists by chiming in with constructive comments such as, “Mom, your voice is too throaty.” (Someone should tell him that Mom’s “throaty” voice gives her a unique, edgy, alternative and chocolaty-rich sound!)
Ketola’s laughter as she talks reveals her joy – both in her beloved family life and in the adventure that awaits her, whatever that may be.
“So many [younger] artists pursue their music, but they don’t really build a stable life,” she explained, “I already have that. So whether fame comes to me or not, it doesn’t really matter… I have what’s most important.”
So what does she want the readers of My Edmonds News to know about her? She thought for a moment and smiled. “My creativity heals me and hopefully heals others.”
Sounds like a woman in bloom to me.
Ellen Chappelle covers the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She brings a life-long interest in the arts and many years of writing experience to the task, detailing upcoming performances, local art events and stories of Edmonds artists. A theatre and journalism major, she has toured with a professional theatre company and performed on a cruise ship. She has also served as the Pacific Northwest Regional Editor of Dog Magazine and the Seattle Dogs Examiner for Examiner.com. Since then, Ellen has been busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry.