When asked to describe the inspiration for their debut album, Leading the Horse, Jaden South—comprised of Jessica Draper and Deborah DeLoach—would likely deliver an answer colored with references to coming-of-age experiences and adoration of the musical blueprints created by luminaries such Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac.
But it’s not that cut and dry; there’s a profound maturity within the deeply melodic songs that reflects something much more than just classic lyrical themes and retro leanings.
“These songs are stories that characterize a few years of wide-ranging, roller coaster experiences,” says Jessica. “There’s nothing muted, edited or withheld; rawness and authenticity were the focus.”
Recorded in Nashville this past fall, the album was produced, engineered and mixed by two-time Grammy-winner David Leonard (Prince, John Mellencamp, Indigo Girls, Rush and Paul McCartney). “Hardly anyone makes real rock albums anymore, so it was really important to us to brand the project that way from the beginning—we wanted a rock record, and that’s what we made,” Deborah says. “And working with David was incredible because he was able to steer the recording and complete the vision we had.”
The album’s 10 diverse tracks balance intense guitars against rootsy, rich vocals and harmonies, as well as touches of piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and cello. Lyrical signposts range from good-riddance to a demised relationship, restlessness (“I’m Leavin’”), discovering identity (“Norma Jean”), overcoming an eating disorder (“In Her Eyes”) and the boundaries of responsibility (“Not On My Hands”).
Deborah grew up in Lakeland, Fla., and Jessica in Auburn, Alabama. Sharing a love of music and songwriting, the friendship and musical collaboration blossomed while the girls were at college in Nashville. After relocating to New York City in early 2006, Jaden South focused on writing and performing, becoming a part of the downtown scene. They returned to Nashville in 2008 to commence work on their debut. The self-actualization candor of “Glitter Town” reflects the emotional journey of those two years: “That was written as a breakup song to New York City,” Jessica notes. “I had a tumultuous time initially, but living there turned out to be the most important experience of my life thus far, and it inspired many songs.”
“Honesty is a centripetal force in our songwriting,” Jessica adds. “And I hope people find substance in our sincerity.”