Sometimes it seems when you go see an artist in concert, it’s like the act opening for them was haphazardly tacked on to the start of the show, as if no one really took the time to actually check out any of their performances, or even listen to their music before adding them to the line-up.
In the case of this summer’s Femme Fatale tour, the decision to bring together two of the current biggest forces in pop and hip-hop with two of the most exciting, energetic music acts emerging on the scene is nothing short of brilliant.
Jessie and the Toy Boys is one of those two acts, and along with the Australian duo Nervo, will be opening for Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj on the 30+ dates of the Femme Fatale tour’s trek across North America.
Though Jessie Malakouti, obviously the “Jessie” of the “Toy Boys” ensemble, only founded the band in 2010, her voice might not be totally unfamiliar to many who catch her on tour with Britney and Co. The SoCal native has had several of her songs featured on MTV’s “The Hills” in 2008, and made headlines a couple of years ago when people recognized that Spears’ 2009 single “If U Seek Amy” had a dangerously close resemblance to Malakouti’s 2008 single “Trash Me,” which Malakouti had apparently pitched to be recorded by Spears for the “Blackout” album. But that brief moment of controversy is evidently all in the past as the two ladies embark on tour together and Malakouti’s sound continues to evolve into a sexier, dirtier sounding, electronic-influenced style of pop music that she now creates with four mannequins backing her as the "Toy Boys."
Jessie and her "Boys" have been on a whirlwind tour of popular gay clubs and events on the East and West coasts in the months leading up to the Femme Fatale tour and just last week released her latest EP “Show Me Your Tan Lines," which is available on her website and ITunes. The EP features her wildly catchy and fun single “Push It” and a cheeky playful tune perfect for beach season called “Summer Boy.”
We had a chance to chat with Jessie a few weeks ago, just before the Femme Fatale tour kicked off in Sacramento on June 16, to find out a little bit about her and the music she makes now that she’s got the Toy Boys backing her.
Examiner: You credit a lot of your current sound to your immersion in the European club and music scene. Do remember the first electronic –rooted pop artists you heard that made you think, “ooh yeah, I want a sound more like that?”
Jessie Malakouti: Honestly, several. A few modern and a few, I guess, older artists. I really got into the Pet Shop Boys when I moved over there.
E: Didn’t you do background vocals on a song of theirs?
JM: I did. I was helping them with their last album, “Love etc.”, and yeah I sang background on a few different tracks. They influenced me a lot. And then mostly DJs, like DJ Fred Falke, a French DJ. I got to meet him and work with him on some stuff over there too. He influenced me a lot. And artist-wise I really got into the whole dubstep scene so people like Rusko and Skrillex.
E: You’ve said you had a number of versions of “Push It” before the final version. How did you know that this one on the EP was the correct one to release?
JM: It just felt best. It’s interesting when we crafted the song, it definitely doesn’t follow the traditional song writing structure you know where it’s verse, pre-chorus, chorus, second verse, pre-chorus, chorus, etc. When you become a songwriter there’s definitely a formula that everyone is supposed to follow, and part of why I love Push It so much is because we didn’t follow any formula. It’s totally kind of just hook after hook after hook and we just have fun with it. And so the main thing with playing around with the different sections and where we were going to place them in the song and once we got it to where it is now we all listened to it and sort of looked at each other in the room and were like “Fuck yeah” this sounds amazing.
E: You’ve called “Valentine” your favorite song on your previous EP; why is that one so personal and important to you?
JM: I love “Valentine.” “Valentine” is definitely one of my favorites overall just because I feel like it has such a fresh, sonic quality to it, while it’s still really super heavily referencing freestyle and eighties music.
I love Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and I felt like no one was really tapping into those references and I was listening to a ton of freestyle and it just makes you feel good. And of course being true to who I am, the dubstep roots in the bridge, it’s like a happy marriage of all of my favorite elements of electronic music.
E: Are there any songs that have come out in the couple of years that have come out that you’ve loved so much that you thought “oh I wish I had written that song!”
JM: Yes. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. That’s the shit. I love that song so probably that song.
E: Over the past couple of months you have hit up a number of gay clubs on the East and West coasts, what do you like about performing for a predominantly gay crowd?
JM: The gay clubs are the best place to perform. First of all, I love my gay fans so much. And the entire gay community I am so thankful for all of their love and support. They’ve been on board with me for a while now and they’re the most loyal and amazing fans and they have the best taste in music so I love playing live for them because they just have a good fucking time. You know, it’s not pretentious or anything like that. Everyone is just down to have fun and down to dance and they’re just in it, like they’re living on the dance floor and I love that and it pumps me up as a performer. I love performing for a vibrant crowd and they never let me down. I have so much fun any time I play a gay club.
E: Are you nervous to go on the Femme Fatale Tour? Yes, you’ve done some great big things before but that’s kind of huge.
JM: Oh, it’s definitely going to be the biggest thing I’ve done so far. I’m so excited, I’m not nervous at all. I’m honored and humbled. I can’t wait. I definitely have nerves but they’re sort of good nerves. It’s more like I’m so pumped and I can’t wait to just do it. It has been a dream of mine forever. And it’s really crazy how if you really set your mind to something and you really focus you can make it become a reality because just a year ago I was asked in an interview what I want to be doing a year from now and I literally said, playing the Staples Center, and what’s crazy is that’s what I’m going to be doing and a bunch of other arenas. I just can’t stop smiling like nothing can get me down. I’m so excited and honored and humbled to be a part of the Femme Fatale tour. Because Britney Spears is amazing and Nicki Minaj is incredible, and Nervo, everyone’s great. I think it’s going to be a really exciting show.
E: Assuming you’ll be performing “We Own the Night,” “Push It” and “Valentine” on tour, will you perform any of your old songs too like “Standing Up for The Lonely?”
JM: No, I won’t be. One of my favorite artists of all time is Madonna. The reason being is because she’s always keeping it fresh. She switches it up and she is constantly reinventing herself but it’s never contrived, it’s always from an organic place. And I love that so much about her. The thing about songs like “Standing Up for the Lonely” and some of my other older material was that was Jessie Malakouti time. That was me transitioning from being in a rock band and getting into pop and sort of figuring out who I was, and once I did that, that’s when I became Jessie and the Toy Boys. And the Toy Boys, it’s funny, but it’s almost like each Toy Boy is a different variation of my own personality, like a reflection of this whole record really. It’s like there are angels and devils on my shoulders or something with the Toy Boys. I don’t really want to play any of the older stuff because it doesn’t feel like who I am or where I’m at artistically right now. Everything’s going to be Jessie and the Toy Boys stuff but I promise everyone, when they hear the new material, it’s going to blow anything I’ve ever put out before away.
E: So we shouldn’t hold our breath for a live mash-up of “Trash Me” and “If U Seek Amy”?
JM: [She laughs.] No!
In case you won’t be able to catch Jessie and the Toy Boys on the Femme Fatale tour this summer, check out the group’s website later this season for dates of the Identity Tour, an electronic music tour Malakouti and her mannequins will be joining for 20 major cities in North America this fall.