Dream State’s Jessie Powell on Auditioning for Dream State, Going Full-Time Musician, and Channelling Trauma: Interview

“Aled spent ten years building Dream State so, for him, when the team went separate ways, he felt like he wasn’t ready to step away from something he spent a decade of his life building.”

Jessie fluttered into the press area, greeting everyone with a smile. Any nerves I had were immediately put at ease by her lively attitude. It was hard not to feel in awe of her confidence and her ability to instantly make the entire room like her.

I discovered Dream State around 2018 among an assortment of other alternative artists who had begun to break through the crowd, seeing success with their well-produced emo/post-hardcore singles ’White Lies’ (which now has over eight million streams on Spotify) and debut album Primrose Path. Dream State were mid-carving of their own corner of the UK alternative scene when the pandemic hit, forcing them into musical hiatus. After the departure of a number of members, including vocalist CJ Gilpin, guitarist and songwriter Aled Evans refused to let the project crumble.

Dream State was revitalised in 2022 with a new line-up, fronted by Jessie Powell, previously of Aurora. Naturally, this was going to be a dynamic shift for the band, and the question of whether this would impact Dream State’s original sound was bound to raise its head. But as we discuss, Jessie is living up to the hype.

Was there an audition process for you to enter Dream State?
“Yes, absolutely! I wasn’t actively looking to do anything [at the time]. They approached me on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a girl who can sing and scream. A few people have mentioned your name. Here’s some tracks that we’ve got, would you be interested in auditioning?’ And I, initially, was a bit against it. ‘I’m in my 30s, I’ve retired from music for eight years, no one’s going to give a shit, I’m married…’ I kind of put myself in a box.

It was my husband who said, ‘Jessie, I met you as a singer. I met you as a frontwoman who can scream lower than most boys I’ve ever met. You’d be doing yourself an injustice if you didn’t go for it.’ And then when I heard “White Lies” – I think I’d heard that track on the radio – I practiced singing it and it was literally effortless. Yeah, I don’t think I could have asked for a more well-suited band for my skill set.”

“So, yes, there was an audition process. I think they were expecting me to just get like a mobile [phone] and sing into a video. But I went all the way to Oz at Hidden Track Studios and asked him to treat me like a customer. He recorded the three [vocal] tracks – like mixed, mastered, properly did them for me. And then I went to Uprawr, which is a venue in Birmingham. My old guitarist, Josh from Aurora (he now does video), he filmed me doing ‘White Lies’ live as though I was onstage, and Uprawr let me use their stage and all their lights.

I sent the video of ‘White Lies’ to Aled, and three proper recorded tracks, and I remember Aled being like, ‘I only wanted you to, like, sing the songs in your bedroom.’ And I said, ‘I can see you’re a band that’s got a big platform, I just want to go above and beyond.’ And I think I got it the moment I submitted that detail.”

There’s no way he could have said no at that point!
“I spent like nearly £1000 all-in, but it was worth it because now I’m doing Dream State.”

And I’m assuming there’s no regrets there.
“Absolutely no regrets! I’ve been in the corporate world for 15 years – I’ve been doing my day job and the band for the last year, work has been really, really flexible – but, based on what we want as a band and where we want to take this, I’ve actually (like the other boys have, apart from Aled) just stepped away from my full-time corporate role.”

Wow, congratulations!
“Thank you! It’s a bit daunting because I’m used to a paycheck, but actually, nothing worth having comes easily, and I really have tried to do both, but if we want to get Dream State back to where it was pre-COVID we need to put more time into it. Jake’s left his job, Tom’s left his job … so yeah, I’ve officially left my ‘real’ job, and I’m actually now a full-time musician!

When I left Aurora, I thought that was my music career done. But I’ve been in the choir since I was four. I’m excited.”

“Obviously, I’ve got bills to pay, so if in a couple of years’ time this isn’t a potential job then I’m going to have to, obviously, go and get a job again. But this sort of opportunity comes round once, whereas a job you can get tomorrow.”

How have you found your reception?
“From the Dreamers? I’ll be honest – naturally, on YouTube, you can get everyone being positive, and then you get two or three idiots that want to say their twopence. And then you see their profile and they’ve got like … they’ve usually got no hair, there’s a type. Or people who’ve probably got no mates, sat at home bored.

But, what I will say is that the Dreamers have taken me under their wing. It could have gone one of two ways, and I’m so grateful it’s gone the way it has, because – I mean, I was here yesterday, I must have had about 20 pictures, someone just cried on me – they’re not even saying, ‘Oh my god, you’re like Charlotte.’ They’re saying, ‘It’s Jessie!’. I think my new tracks that I’ve brought to the table – to Dream State – I think people can resonate with them like they did with CJ’s style. It’s like Dream State but slightly heavier.

When I first joined, it was maybe like a 60/40 split, but I can confidently say now it’s like 80/20, positive-to-negative. I could be Hayley Williams and someone’s going to hate me, so I take those naysayers with a pinch of salt because as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’m happy, I think that’s all that matters.”

And other people are enjoying it, too! As an older fan, I like Dream State’s old sound, so I was intrigued as to how things might change, but I really love the new music too.
“And it’s okay to feel like that! It’s okay to be nervous because it’s change – people don’t like change. But I feel like I still give that Dream State flair but with a meatier edge to it.”

One of your tracks that stood out to me is ‘Taunt Me’. Your lyrics are mixed, discussing someone taunting and stalking you, but then you have the line, ‘I always get back up.’ Combined with the band’s positive energy, it comes across as motivational.
“Yeah, a few people have said that to me today, that’s really nice!”

Is that a conscious thing?
“Yes! So, I’m somebody who has suffered from depression chronically throughout my life, and no matter how many times I hit rock bottom, I always get back up, and it feels like I always get back up stronger!

Pre-COVID, I hit this really weird wall of depression. I got furloughed for months which is actually when I had time, for the first time in years, to write again. And that’s where ‘Taunt Me’ came from. So whilst my message is positive, it’s about coming through the darkness, and I think that’s where me and Charlotte do almost correlate because she sang a lot about her struggles.

‘Taunt Me’, in a nutshell, is actually about being bullied, and that action stays with you – it haunts you. But then, no matter how much they bring you down, you keep your head up high and rise above. And I’ve done that throughout my whole life. I had gender dysmorphia till I was like 15, so I identified as a boy even though I was a girl, and I went through abuse in that cycle of my life, pre-‘trans’ and the pronoun movement – all the acceptance that we have to a better standard now. ‘Taunt Me’ relates to my childhood and the chaos that I went through. But because I’m me and I pushed on, I can now think, ‘Every time you fuck with me, I’m going to get back up stronger.’ It almost fuels my fire, like, ‘Thank you bullies, I’ve now written some bangers!’

I want people to know that, if they’re at rock bottom and they’ve lost everything, you can always start again. And I hope that ‘Taunt Me’ resonates with people in that way.”

Jessie’s vitality for her role is black and white. Just from sitting opposite her, I could feel her buzzing with conviction. Her energy and ambition for Dream State’s success are inspiring and she left a real impression on Courtney and me.

Big change for any artist must be terrifying. Beyond the financial burden that creating high-quality music carries, it is a fundamental change to a sound loved by fans. The positivity in Jessie’s words and the ambition that her actions display clearly show that she understands this and is ready to give Dream State whatever it needs.

After hearing Jessie’s story, watching Dream State’s headline set on the second stage of Radar Festival made me emotional. She thanked the crowd repeatedly between performing a mixture of the band’s old and new material, and leapt into the crowd to mosh with her Dreamers. The energy of the weekend had been hit-and-miss between some of the larger acts, but I felt the connection of every fan in the room like electricity during Dream State’s set.

“Dream State would be nothing without these boys”, she introduced the band towards the end of the show. But I left believing that Dream State owes Jessie just as much.


Photos: Courtney Turner
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About Tom Farley-Hills

Writer, journalist and musician - I create professional content by day and enjoy music by night. I don't restrict myself based on genre and approach every track with a fresh eye. I like to cover relevant issues and music that pushes the boat out. Artists of all shapes and sizes welcome!