Jess and the Drunkles : Band turned Best Friends


Whitney Veazey | Staff Photographer

Jess Downey, frontwoman of Jess and the Drunkles, poses for a portrait.

Whitney Veazy, Staff Photographer

Jess Downey, frontman of local band Jess and the Drunkles, never thought she’d find herself majoring in the Entertainment Industry.

She’s always been drawn to music, whether it be singing in the church choir or playing the piano. Downey said she begged her mother in the third grade for piano lessons, and she responded by gifting her daughter a keyboard. 

Downey has been on a multitude of academic paths, studying Public Relations, Social Work, and Communications before finally making the switch over to the Entertainment Industry program. In all her previous pursuits, she found herself still trying to relate them back to music.

Being from a small town, Downey said that the idea of pursuing music seemed far-fetched and unrealistic. 

“It made me seem silly and I didn’t wanna say it out loud,” said Downey. 

Pursuing these other paths were ways for her to reach for what she wanted without making the public commitment to declare it.

But when COVID struck during Downey’s freshman year, like everyone else she had to go home. During that time, she stayed in contact with her best friend – now manager of Jess and the Drunkles, Marina McMullen – and spoke with her about changing her major once again. This time, it would be to what she truly wanted. 

McMullen herself was originally a business major with hopes of opening a bed and breakfast, but decided to switch her major as well and become Downey’s manager. 

Downey called the decision to switch “the most fun and terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.” She’s extremely thankful to the people in her life that encouraged her to be where she is today, because she otherwise wouldn’t have made the decision on her own, she added. 

Wes Stricklin, guitarist and original “drunkle,” met Downey in a shared class. Together, Downey along with McMullen and Stricklin, began working in the studio and putting music together. Stricklin introduced Downey to the people who would soon become the rest of the band when Downey was booked to perform at an event in April of this year. Downey decided that the amount of money they were being paid warranted there to be more than just herself and a guitar on stage. Stricklin brought in lead guitarist Jonathan Moody for the gig, and they briefly called themselves “Jess and the Man Band” before switching to “Jess and the Drunkles.” 

Downey said the name came from drummer Dax Morris, and they all agreed on it as a temporary title for the sake of performing that one gig. 

“We thought it would only be one show, and now we’re at show, like, eight thousand,” said Downey. 

Downey said that the group is in the process of finding a new band name for the purposes of music release and marketing. 

“It’s [the current name] really fun, but we need something a little more sophisticated if we’re gonna be competitive in the market,” she added. 

Downey said that the group is currently working in the studio and striving to release music sometime in January. 

The relationship of the band is quite important to Downey, as she described each member with the utmost fondness and endearment.

“Marina’s my best friend, Marina’s the reason why we do this, everybody knows how much we love each other,” said Downey.

Downey credited McMullen for the amount of work she does to not only book gigs but to create entirely new performance opportunities for the band. In fact, on Oct. 21, Jess and the Drunkles will be performing on Mobile Street as part of a music fest created by McMullen. 

Downey also credited the band’s existence to Wes Stricklin.

“I think Wes really, like, brought the whole band together -like Wes is the reason why we play together. Like he knew everyone outside of us and asked me if it was okay if we all play, so, I really owe the band’s whole generation to Wes,” said Downey.

Downey described drummer Dax Morris as the group’s “silly boy,” calling him “so fun, and so scary”. 

Downey said she can always rely on bass guitarist Will O’Rear for comfort during rough patches, and that he reassures her and expresses gratitude for the opportunity they get to perform together. 

“He’s like a big teddy bear, really,” said Downey.

Jonathan Moody is labeled as Downey’s “hero,” and Downey said she hopes that if nothing else, she wants to keep performing with him for as long as possible. 

With no music yet released, the band performs live together, drawing people in with more familiar covers of classic rock songs and using that energy to build excitement for their original songs. 

Downey compares the band’s sound to the color purple. Downey believes that while some of their slower songs can be sad, they’re not a “blue sad.”

“Purple can be a fun color, like we all have so much fun. That’s the best part about me and my boys, we are best friends, like all of us…” said Downey.

The band’s performance style is described with the color red. Downey calls their stage presence “intense, but like a good intense”. Downey said she takes inspiration for her performance style from Harry Styles; she admires his ability to fill up a stage and put on a good show, and she strives to make shows an experience of “pure, utter, controlled chaos” for the audience. 

Downey is very firm in the fact that Jess and the Drunkles would not exist without the talent of its members. While Downey herself plays a role in songwriting, she credits Stricklin, Moody, and Morris with the ability to incarnate and bring the music in her head to life. 

“I was like this is what I’m hearing, can you make it happen?’ And they made it happen,” said Downey. “They are the most talented people. Like I know I said I wrote all the songs but they made them what they are.” 

Downey called these songs “pop lyrics with a rock sound.” When she first started writing, like many artists, her earliest goal was to appeal to the largest number of people possible. She wanted her songs to be marketable, and tried molding them to fit the TikTok virality formula. 

But in her years of growth as an artist, Downey has come to realize that what she values most about her music now is its authenticity and transparency. 

“Everything I write is about an experience I’ve had, or something that I’m feeling, or something that someone has been through that I know personally.. I just want everyone to be able to relate to at least one thing in every song that we write,” said Downey. “Songwriting is so emotional. Literally you can hear the pop songs on the radio and you’re like ‘Ah, this was written by a team of writers, this is stupid,’ but someone in that writer’s circle had an emotional tie to something in that song.”

 Downey’s lyrics are relatable to college students and those in their 20s still trying to figure out life. “Terrible Twenties” was written by Downey, Stricklin and McMullen, and is dubbed as Downey’s favorite song that she’s ever written.

“It’s just about being broke and in your twenties: overworked, underpaid, afraid of everything, you don’t know what’s going on. Like every person in this entire world can relate to that song… so I like that one a lot, that one’s my favorite,” said Downey.

The band’s next performance will be on Mobile Street on Oct. 21st, and they expect to release music in January.