It’s one of the first cool days of an LA fall when I sit down to talk with Jess Delijani about her debut EP, xoxo, disco. Jess’s characteristic bleach-blonde hair and doll-like eyes are both pieces of Disco Shrine, the identity Jess created as the projection of her love affair with music, but talking with her there’s no performance: just eagerness, a bright tell-all attitude, and a person ready to meet the moment head on.
I get the impression that she feels no need to hide anything about who she is; Jess is as inseparable from the lustrous pop aesthetic of her music as that gloss is from Jess.
That confidence that took time to develop, though. Growing up first-generation Persian-American, “there was still a lot of pressure to fit into pop culture, which at the time was cookie-cutter, white American families,” Jess says. “I always felt a little self-conscious about being Persian, so I would downplay my ethnicity and my culture.”
It wasn’t until learning more of her family’s story post-college, an emotional history which inspired a well of feeling in Jess and culminated in the release of her first song, that she felt like she could shed her shyness and start living as herself.
Her father was imprisoned as a political journalist in the late ‘70s Iranian Revolution; her mother forged a note for his temporary release so that they could emigrate to the States and win freedom for their family. It was a story that they kept quiet while Jess was growing up so that, Jess suspects, she would feel more like a “normal American.”
Processing this history as an adult went hand-in-hand with Jess’s development as an artist zeroing in on her niche in music. While Jess was recontextualizing and owning her Persian heritage in a new way, she was also in the midst of a year spent DJing with Dance Yourself Clean, using that platform to tour the U.S. and mainland Australia.
“I came out of that year saying, ‘I know what kind of music I want to make; I know what my why is and what my story is, and what I want to put out into the world,’” Jess says. “When I put out ‘Up In The Air,’ I felt so liberated. I consider it the first real Disco Shrine single because it was completely from my heart, and it was about my family emigrating to America.”
That was the advent of Disco Shrine, a name Jess created in reference to the image of a shattered mirror put back together as a disco ball: a reflective altar for rearranging parts of your history and seeing yourself.
Disco Shrine is not so much a persona as a space for Jess to live authentically. That realness is where she stands as a person, and where she stands in relation to her EP. xoxo, disco is a love letter to her creative prowess, and a claim to empowerment within the bad moments as much as the good.
It’s a goth-pop album, with emo, rock, and trap influences pulling through in the production and lyrics. The songs are big statements, dealing with sweeping feelings of love and heartbreak.
“I wrote a lot of the songs last year. I put my head down and was really focusing on myself. I wasn’t purposefully writing music, it was more so that I was living my life and trying to survive,” Jess says. “All of these songs have their own stories. They’re kind of time stamps of different things that happened in my life throughout last year. A lot of what I wrote ended up being about the people I was with in those moments of time.”
There are songs about wanting to be independent, and others about lust at first sight. The titular track is about “being done,” as Jess so succinctly puts it. “You just want to be on your own, you don’t want to change that [solo] time. My future is what’s most important to me, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
And Jess is in a place where she can own her heritage, nurture her aesthetic, value herself as an artist, and honor her emotions. She made the choice to follow her intuition in pursuit of music and it’s going well, even if the feeling isn’t always good, because it’s herself she’s found.
“I’m calling the EP xoxo, disco, because it’s my love letter to myself. It’s me saying, ‘You can feel loneliness, and you can feel love at first sight, and you can still be independent. These are the things that you’re going to go through that are going to make you who you are.’”