For years, Jess Garland has told people that she was "working on it." The longtime Dallas multi-instrumentalist and music teacher has spent most of her career playing in other peoples' bands while quietly working on her own sound. Finally, Garland's first single has arrived.
"Glow" is an avant-garde, ethereal pop song inspired by the struggles the artist faced in a decade-long relationship.
"Honestly, the lyrical content comes from an abusive marriage that ended in divorce," she says. "I'm telling the story of going through a challenging time and how was I able to overcome that."
It's difficult to condense the entirety of a 10-year relationship and its aftermath into the confines of a song, even when it extends to close to seven minutes, but the way the track's texture builds slowly from a single harp to a wall of percussion has an effect that echoes the message of forging a path through adversity and finding a way to glow.
"It was a relationship that definitely took over more than a decade of my life," she says. "It's a very big part of my adulthood. I wasn't really sure what my life was going to look like without that relationship. I found the strength to just keep on moving forward."
Garland doesn't go into detail. Neither on the phone as we speak, nor in the song. And she doesn't need to. The brilliance of the song is its openness to interpretation, something the artist has noticed especially in the days of the pandemic.
"The more I think about the song, the more I see that it can be relatable to any situation," she says. "Thinking about, like, the current challenging times now, just having this level of uncertainty but still having a motivation to keep moving forward."
Music is not Garland's only creative outlet. An avid writer, Garland says that many of her song ideas begin in the pages of a notebook.
"I write a lot of poetry," she says. "My creative process can look different at times, but a lot of times it's writing poetry, practicing at home, coming up with different chord progressions, and it will appear from there. It's me writing to heal myself and hopefully others are inspired from that music as well for whatever it may mean to them."
While it may not be her only creative outlet, Garland believes music has a profound power to transform the lives of those who learn to play it. That is why she has dedicated her life to music education and founded the nonprofit music program Swan Strings.
"I have been providing free music lessons in Dallas for the past three years, and I've been teaching guitar in Dallas for 15 years," she says. "I had to, within less than a month timeframe, find my own space to teach the lessons, find my own students and find my own guitars and raise money because it's not like you can get that funding upfront."
Today, Garland teaches music to 45 kids, thanks in part to the generous donation of about 30 guitars by her friend and mentor, Yells at Eels trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Her mission to change children's lives through music stems from Garland's own search for a voice as a quiet child.
"I started playing instruments when I was a kid, and I had access to different types of music, genres and education," she says. "Music is just something I've always been passionate about. And even as a child, even now, I express myself best through music … I was kind of a shy kid growing up, so I know like how important that is to just have like another outlet."
Just as music changed her life, "Glow" demonstrates music's ability to bring the shine out. Garland has seen how her students' lives have improved through the command of their instrument.
"Kids go through stuff, you know," she says. "They need something like this to process their emotions in a healthy way. People think that taking music lessons is just about becoming the next rock star, and it's not. It's about discipline, it's about a practice. And it's about creating a form of exchange; a lot of people are craving it right now."