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Tobias Jesso Jr.

A Grammy-winning songwriter and solo artist whose sound is steeped in the '70s singer/songwriter tradition, Los Angeles resident Tobias Jesso, Jr. emerged from western Canada in the mid-2010s. On the strength of early songs, he won public accolades from Adele and booked his first national TV appearance before releasing his heavyhearted debut album, Goon, in 2015. While the record was well received, he went on to excel behind the scenes, writing and producing songs for the likes of John Legend, P!nk, Adele, and Harry Styles. In 2023, Jesso won the inaugural Grammy for Songwriter of the Year for his work with the latter two singers as well as FKA twigs, Omar Apollo, and Orville Peck. Born in North Vancouver on July 11, 1985, Tobias MacDonald Jesso, Jr. joined local indie rock band the Sessions as their bass player in the mid-2000s, then moved with part of the group to Los Angeles to briefly back a young pop singer, Melissa Cavatti. After that work fizzled, and not confident in his own singing ability, Jesso set out to make a career for himself in Los Angeles writing songs for others. In 2012, after failing to find work as a songwriter and licking wounds from a recent breakup, he was hit by car while riding his bike (injuring his hand and having his bike stolen in the process), and the next day he learned that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. The accumulated events prompted a move back to Vancouver. With his music equipment still in storage in Los Angeles, and deciding that songwriting would be relegated to a hobby, he used the family piano to write "Just a Dream" -- a father's lullaby to his newborn in light of a dream about an impending apocalypse -- for himself, and he sang it himself. Jesso posted the song on social networking sites, got good feedback from friends and soon strangers, and word began to spread about his work as he posted more material. He reached out to bassist/producer Chet "JR" White after hearing that his band Girls, a favorite of Jesso's, had just broken up, and included links to his demos. This led to recording sessions with White and a record deal with True Panther. Producers Patrick Carney (the Black Keys, the Rentals) and Ariel Rechtshaid (Kylie Minogue, Usher, Vampire Weekend) also worked on the album. As with the demos, singles released in 2014 and 2015 in anticipation of his debut LP immediately created waves. Pop diva Adele posted a link to his "How Could You Babe" video to her over 20 million Twitter followers, and Jesso was booked on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon for his TV debut before the album was even released. Written entirely by Jesso and centered on his vocals and piano, the heartache-themed Goon was released in March 2015. He relocated to Silver Lake, Los Angeles, later in the year, around the time Adele's 25 became the then-fastest-selling album in history. He had co-written one of the singles, "When We Were Young." With Jesso's songwriting clout firmly established, he quickly found work with John Legend, Shawn Mendes, and Sia on 2016 releases. His 2017 résumé included songs for, among others, P!nk and Niall Horan. His streak continued in 2018 with artist such as Florence + the Machine, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and LANY, and by the end of 2020, his work had also appeared on releases by King Princess, Ellie Goulding, and HAIM. He collaborated again with Adele on a track for 2021's 30 ("To Be Loved") and went on to compose for such artists as Jake Bugg, Diplo, and Marcus Mumford while continuing to earn the occasional producing or piano performance credit. Early 2023 saw the release of songwriting collaborations for Lewis Capaldi and, again, Florence + the Machine before Jesso won the inaugural Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical Grammy Award in February. His output for the period of eligibility for the trophy had included songs by Adele, Harry Styles, FKA twigs, Orville Peck, and Omar Apollo. In his acceptance speech, Jesso called the award a win for everyone in the songwriting community.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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