After label hijinks, Jessica Hernandez is ready to go with first album

Adam Graham
Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Jessica Hernandez received a crash course in record industry politics on the road to the release of her debut album.

That album, “Secret Evil,” is out today. It presents the 26-year-old Detroiter as a fiery, soulful singer who mixes elements of rock, blues, jazz and pop in her Motor City-honed sound. Hernandez and her backing band, the Deltas, toast the release of the album Wednesday night at the Magic Stick in Detroit.

Its release is certainly a cause for celebration, especially for Hernandez. The album was initially due out in spring 2013 but was delayed when Hernandez’s record label at the time, the boutique jazz label Blue Note Records, merged with Universal Music Group. The merger rendered much of her team jobless, and rather than waiting for the dust to settle, Hernandez left and signed a deal with Instant Records, the label founded by “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back” songwriter Richard Gotthrer.

Hernandez’s career so far has been a series of stops and starts, but she’s now finally ready to go full speed ahead.

“I love this record, but I’m honestly ready for the next one,” says Hernandez, seated on the outside patio of Armando’s, the Mexicantown restaurant her family has owned for 30 years. “This one has been such a process that I’m just relieved that it’s finally out there.”

Already, momentum is building. Through constant touring, Hernandez is starting to grow a fan base, and says in the last year and a half she’s gone from playing shows for 15 people to 500 people. And she’s learned a valuable lesson from the Blue Note debacle.

“Having to wait this long for the first one,” she says sternly, “I’m like, ‘Never again.’ ”

Hernandez, whose mother is Mexican and father is Cuban, grew up working at Armando’s and at the Mexican bakery next door, where she decorated cakes, frosting flowers being her specialty. She was a rebellious teenager who attended hardcore and metal shows at clubs like the Shelter and Harpo’s and didn’t care much about school, save for the plays she acted and sang in where she was usually cast as the villain. The heavily pierced teen ended up in military school in North Carolina for a semester during high school, where she learned to spin 13-pound rifles as part of the drill team.

That rebellious streak is still in her, but it’s not as prominent.

“I feel like the older I get, the less weird I get,” she says, flipping her fingers through her short, black shoulder-length hair. “I have a mom haircut now.”

After high school, she briefly attended Columbia College in Chicago, where she studied fashion design before dropping out to pursue music. She ended up outside of Kansas City, where a classmate from Columbia gave her access to a recording studio. She would write and record late at night when her friend was finished with his recording sessions.

Since age 16, Hernandez has moved around a lot, and says she gets bored if she’s in one place for too long. She lives in California with her boyfriend of four years, a member of Cali surf rock band the Growlers; when in town, she stays with family in Southwest Detroit.

Hernandez and her band have been on the road most of this year, and Wednesday’s show kicks off another round of dates that stretches until November. Touring keeps her occupied, which she appreciates.

“I feel like I’ve been so busy my whole life that sometimes I don’t even notice what is going on,” Hernandez says in between sips of a Mojito, her drink of choice. “I’m one of those people that doesn’t know how to relax. I’m very neurotic, and I have to be doing a million things at once or else I’m really sad. I’m super focused on what I need to do to make sure everything runs smoothly and things can expand and grow, and then I try not to worry too much about the next step.”

She does have plans for that next step. She wants to have an EP out in six months and another album six months after that, to keep new music flowing. She has a band with her boyfriend, the Violetts, that she hopes to start recording new music with soon. She handles the Deltas’ merchandising and designs the band’s T-shirts, a holdover from her fashion days, and down the road, she hopes to start a clothing line and open up a store for her fashions.

“I want to do so many things,” says Hernandez, who cites Gwen Stefani as a role model. “I think Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas will always be my primary thing that is most near and dear to my heart, but I also feel like, just like people don’t have just one side to their personality, it’s the same thing creatively.”

Aside from her other interests, she says she currently has enough material for three more albums.

Hernandez has several tattoos, one of which is a Spanish phrase scrawled on her left forearm. It’s a line borrowed from the patriotic Cuban anthem “Guantanamera,” and it was her first tattoo. She knew her parents would be disappointed she got inked, but figured they would be less disapproving if the tattoo was meaningful. They were upset regardless, but the words still have meaning to her.

Its translation: “And before I die, I want to share the verses of my soul.”

Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas

with Mexican Knives

8 p.m. Wednesday

Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets $13 or (313) 833-9700