Jessica Willis Fisher Is Telling Her Story Her Way, and It’s Glorious
Jessica Willis Fisher says she'd push a blank slate button if she could. This magical solution to her problems would certainly be easier than the life she's endured publicly since 2016, privately for 20 years prior. "I'm an abuse survivor," the 30-year-old offers in summary toward the end of a conversation with Taste of Country.
That's an understatement. For over a decade, Willis Fisher was the fiddle player, lead singer and primary songwriter for the Willis Clan, her family's band. TLC created a reality show for them, and for two seasons, viewers enjoyed following the group (12 kids total) as their career developed.
In 2014, they appeared on NBC's America's Got Talent. Two years later, the house of cards collapsed when father Toby Willis was jailed on child rape charges. He's currently serving 40 years in prison while the rest of the family tries to recover from decades of sexual and physical abuse, which Fisher says started for her at around age three.
Trivializing Fisher's debut solo album, Brand New Day, as a light at the end of a dark tunnel isn't just simplistic, it's inaccurate. It took several years, a new career in hospitality and quite a bit of therapy to even return to music ("I needed to acquire other tools," she says), but in 2022 she's her own light in that crevasse. You'd say the blonde-haired vocalist is bubbly if it wasn't so darn cliche. Still, she radiates, even when discussing songs from this album that were written during or inspired by this horrible time in her life. "Fire Song" came first.
“I just wanna put my music out there," she says, just days before her 61st appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. "I also want to, like, change the world. That feels a little bit vulnerable to say, because you could just get laughed at. I really believe I could be a part of those things and that it’s worth my time and the effort to have hard conversations and step into, sometimes it feels like battlefields."
A few things stand out on Brand New Day, a 10-song, bluegrass-inspired project that supports comparisons to Allison Krauss. The first is that while it was written "straight from the vein" of her real life, it's remarkably accessible. An acoustic ballad called "My History" is an example.
"My story now belongs to me / I will try to build a better life for me / No one else will know what I could see / I am a survivor and you will be my history," she calls out at the chorus. It's a song of redemption that never names names. Instead, she recorded it generously as something her fans can attach themselves to without giving up her connection.
Love songs like "Hopelessly Madly" are universal. The story of Jessica and Sean Fisher is unique in that their love began before she went public with her father's crimes. Outlets including God Updates share that he was the one who provided her with the emergency phone she used to get away from the abuse for good. Their relationship survived the aftermath, and they'd marry several years later.
"That was my first experience of going, 'Oh, I'm going to write a love song about my happily married life,'" Fisher says. "I wrote one line — bawling."
"Slow Me Down" is another example of something listeners can plug themselves into quickly. It's a more mature story about how life can get in the way of the easy good times two people like to share. Gratitude and appreciation are often first to go when things get busy. Ironically, it was written and first recorded when Fisher was a teenager. She was writing about her family, whose career was at full speed.
“That song actually came from me feeling like we were losing those things," she shares. "Because I was performing with my family, but it felt like we were ceasing to be a family as we became this commodity.”
"October First" is the only song that presents as biography first, but very little about this new music is generic. Vocally, Fisher sings like she has wings. She sings like a woman who knows she has options. She sings like a woman who once longed for that blank slate button but now understands the benefits of not having one.
“I don’t have that option, so I’m whole-heartedly embracing that I don’t have to be a public figure in any way. I don’t have to do music. But is that really what I want? No, it’s not.”
"Statistically, things should have gone way worse in my story," Fisher adds, her voice cracking for the first time in 40 minutes of conversation. "I'm going to make the most of, basically what I look at as a second chance in life."