Singer-songwriter Jess Klein has recently released her latest single, “That Was My Family,” showcasing her distinctive talent for storytelling and emotionally charged lyrics. In this captivating song, Klein brings attention to the ongoing crisis at the southern U.S. border by skillfully blending vivid imagery and melodic guitar to depict the experiences of immigrant families, both in the present and the past. Through her music, she reminds us of the shared narratives that shape our collective history.
With a personal connection to the subject matter, Klein conveys a heartfelt message about the struggles faced by individuals who seek safety and refuge. Drawing inspiration from her own Jewish heritage, she reflects on the journey her ancestors undertook to escape oppression in Russia, acknowledging the new life of security and opportunity they were able to build in a foreign land.
I want every American whose ancestors weren’t First Nations or brought here forcibly through enslavement to recognize that the people trying to come to safety from Mexico and South America — they are like so many of us. They want what many of our ancestors wanted: freedom, safety and the chance at a future for themselves and their families. We owe it to our ancestors to treat refugees and immigrants with the humanity and respect our families wanted.
Please tell readers a little about yourself, your musical influences, and your current projects.
I grew up in Rochester, NY listening to classic rock and oldies radio. My mom had a great Motown collection which had a big influence on me as a songwriter — I really connected with the big choruses and the drama of falling in love. When I was older, I started to get into 70s songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and later 60s-era Chicago blues artists like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, followed by Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin.
My forthcoming album, When We Rise, comes from a lot of those influences mixed together. “That Was My Family” is a folk song. As we recorded it, I imagined singing it to a group of kids, trying to teach them about the origins of my family and how immigration connects us all.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your new single “That Was My Family.”
I think a lot about the journey my great-grandparents and grandparents made to get to America. They were Jews escaping terrible oppression and violence in Russia. When I see folks trying to cross the southern U.S. border today, I see that they could have been my family. I feel an ethical responsibility as an American to recognize our shared story.
What was the songwriting and recording process?
I wrote this song after inheriting a box of 100+ years old family photos that also included a passport showing all the countries my great-grandfather had to pass through to get from Russia to safety in America.
We recorded the song at The Aerie in Austin. My producer, Mark Addison, helped keep the production focused on my voice and guitar, building the track around them.
What do you hope your fans/listeners take away when listening to your music?
I write to empower myself and others. Self-expression is healing. I hope people who listen will feel something real, let themselves be taken somewhere, or look at something in a new way. Even if just for the length of the song.