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Jessica Willis Fischer has an amazing story to tell. It’s hard to hear, but you won’t want to miss a word. Her episode is one of the most important things I’ve ever done. She has written an incredible book called “Unspeakable,” which gives a lacerating portrait of a girl who was famous yet unknown, dreaming of freedom and terrified of finding it. She survived child abuse like nothing I’ve ever heard and found the bravery (along with help from some great people) to escape a dangerous father and tell the world her story to help other victims. Moving isn’t a strong enough word. After we taped the episode, I read her book and couldn’t put it down. She is impressive and important and also makes great music. I am beyond grateful to have her on the show, and I promise you will be blown away. - Brad
Guided by joy, courage, and gratitude, Jessica Willis Fisher reclaims her voice on her debut solo album, Brand New Day. By centering her story around original songs, expressive vocals, and acoustic arrangements, she begins an authentic new journey after a dramatic and sudden departure from her family’s band.
“I had some trepidation going into the studio because I wasn’t sure if I could soak up that time, and do the work I needed to do, and have all of these positive emotions. I was afraid the past was going to get mingled in there,” she says. “But I felt super lucky that the sessions were really magical. It was a totally new artistic moment and chapter for me. At the end of the day, I remember thinking, ‘Ah, this is how it’s supposed to be.’”
Tapping into the most vulnerable moments of her life, Brand New Day calls to mind the pristine vocals and eloquent material of roots music heroes like Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Married to husband Sean Fisher since 2017, Jessica Willis Fisher plays fiddle throughout the album and wrote eight of the album’s 10 songs alone. Yet she has stayed out of the public eye since leaving her family’s touring group, The Willis Clan, after her father was arrested and jailed for sexual abuse. Her personal struggle to find freedom is evident on “Fire Song,” a co-write with Jon Randall and the first single from Brand New Day.
“Right before I left, I was having these nightmares that the house was on fire and I was the only one who could tell, and everybody else was going about their normal lives,” she remembers. “I was shouting, ‘Wake up! Wake up! We gotta get out!’ And I realize now that that was me, trying to say to myself, ‘We have to get out of here!’ So, we’re starting with ‘Fire Song,’ because in my story, I didn’t get to start over until I went through that fiery part.”
Produced by Ben Fowler and recorded in Nashville, Brand New Day opens with the empowering title track, which she calls “my pump-up song.” Even now, its message of strength still resonates with her. “A lot of times, I am both the singer and the person being sung to – or at least a past version of myself who needed to hear these songs,” she says.
Throughout Brand New Day, she looks at her life from multiple viewpoints, ranging from the romance of “Hopelessly, Madly” to the contemplation of “The Lucky One.” She also revives “Slow Me Down,” a ballad about being present in the moment which she previously recorded with her family. An emotional centerpiece of the project, “My History” finds her discovering that there is indeed a way forward through music. “I wondered, had my creative compass been broken beyond repair?” she says. “It’s been a journey of finding that it’s still in me. It’s one of the strongest parts of me.”
As a young child, Jessica dreamed of someday being a librarian surrounded by books. A few years later, she fantasized about becoming an author, so she could put her own stories on the page. Meanwhile, she absorbed the sounds of the traditional Irish music her parents favored, but knew little about popular music, other than the albums by The Corrs, Alison Krauss, or Nickel Creek in the family’s collection. An interest in poetry led naturally to songwriting, yet she never quite felt creative freedom because her dad would take control of her songs for the band to use. After essentially disappearing – “trying to survive,” as she puts it — Jessica Willis Fisher resurfaced with a blog entry in 2018, describing the traumatic incidents of abuse. During the most difficult period of her life, she wrote two of the songs on Brand New Day. While on tour in Ireland, she composed the melody of “River Runaway,” then wrote the lyrics in her bunk on the bus. Looking back on it, she says, “I had reached a level of subconscious understanding that I was going to have to run away. I was going to have to leave, and I wasn’t sure I had what it took to do that.”
In contrast, “Gone” came after a confrontation in the studio with her father, and she wrote it while burning off her anger on the treadmill – which explains its stomp-stomp-stomp undercurrent. “There was a defiance there that I absolutely did not act on for another year, but it was a song that I needed,” she says. “It was something I was only admitting to myself. We almost recorded it as a family and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do this as a family.’ I think some part of me knew: ‘No, that’s yours, and you’ll do it some other time in some other life.’ In a sense, when I sing that song now, I realize I am fulfilling that prophecy. It was a promise I made to myself, and I kept that promise.”
One of the album’s most tender moments is “You Move Me,” a poignant love song written by Gordon Kennedy and Pierce Pettis which conveys the fresh start her marriage represents. Another is “October First,” the closing track inspired by a journal entry which also reflects her love of changing seasons. With Brand New Day, Jessica Willis Fisher is embarking on a new season in her own life.
“Music has been one of the things that’s helped me survive,” she says. “It is a therapy for me and yet it betrayed me and broke me down at some point. So, coming back, it’s been full circle. I would say the last five or six years have been, step-by-step, about reacquainting myself and getting a whole new lease on my creative life. For me, music is about getting to know myself better. It’s really, really important to me. I feel lucky to be coming back to it.”