Wake up, wake up. This ain’t a dream. In its first words, Jessica Willis Fisher’s debut single “Fire Song” emits the trepidation, sorrow, and recovery from a most vulnerable time in her life, and the realization that oftentimes things must burn to the ground in order to rebuild stronger.
Following the sudden departure from her family band, The Willis Band, who were featured on the TLC series The Willis Family and America’s Got Talent, after her father was arrested and jailed for sexual abuse, Fisher was mostly elusive as she started rebuilding her life.
“Fire Song,” co-written with Jon Randall (Whiskey Lullaby, Tin Man), and the first single off her debut album Brand New Day, marks a new beginning for the Americana singer and songwriter. Though the subject matter of the song came from a real-life and horrific dream, the sentiment of the song is not downtrodden but more empowering for the artist.
“Right before I left, I was having these nightmares that the house was on fire and I was the only one who could tell, and everybody else was going about their normal lives,” Fisher shares with American Songwriter. “I was shouting, ‘Wake up. Wake up. We gotta get out’ and I realize now that that was me, trying to say to myself, ‘We have to get out of here.’ We’re starting with ‘Fire Song,’ because in my story, I didn’t get to start over until I went through that fiery part.”
Produced by Ben Fowler and recorded in Nashville, “Fire Song” fits right into the theme of Brand New Day, a collection of songs, Fisher says are rooted in acoustic sounds with Celtic and bluegrass elements.
“I love art that has deep roots and breathes new life into old traditional cultures,” says Fisher. “I grew up playing traditional Irish fiddle and singing 100-year-old songs. When I write lyrics, I’m both telling stories directly from my life and also trying to articulate my glimpses into the universal triumphs and challenges we all feel.”
Every song on the album shows a different way of looking at renewal and shares a different chapter of Fisher’s story, so far, beginning with “Fire Song.”
“For this song, I wanted to get across the danger and urgency that sometimes accompanies a new beginning,” she says. “For me, I had a horrible situation I had to get out of in order to start over my life. My father was abusive in every way a person can be and, though it’s a long, complicated story, I finally made the decision to get out at 23 years old.”
She adds, “At the worst point, I really didn’t know if I was going to survive, and this song captures the drama and darkness of that time.”
Starting out with chord progression and a melody Fisher was working through, she first presented her many pieces of what would become “Fire Song” to Randall in 2020 during a writing session. “He totally got what I was going for and we really ended up with something that felt true to my original idea but took it all to a whole new level,” says Fisher. “I love his bluegrass roots and wanted to feature the fiddle so we played up those elements during the writing of the song itself.”
On “Fire Song,” Fisher believes she’s the person singing, and also the one being sung to. Capturing an urgency in the uptempo track, Fisher sings Let go, Let go / There’s nothing left to save / There’s poppin’ in the embers and the sky’s about to cave… It’s too late now to try and count the cost / What’s done is done / What’s lost is lost, going through the metaphoric motions of waking herself up to get out before it’s too late.
“My childhood home also burned down when I was younger,” shares Fisher, “so that image was seared in my mind and seemed like the most powerful image I knew to use in getting across this part of my experience.”
All Fisher hopes is that “Fire Song” can help rescue someone out of a situation that may seem unbearable at the moment.
“Sometimes the only way to survive,” adds Fisher, “is to let it all burn to the ground and start over.”
Photos: Sean Fisher