South Bend’s Jerica Paliga can write a song from just about anywhere.
She has written them in her bedroom and developed them in recording studios. However, her best writing gets done as she cruises down the road in her beloved 2017 Jeep.
“I like driving because it lets me be alone with my own thoughts,” she says as she sits outside on LaSalle Street, a backdrop melody of whizzing cars and beeping horns playing behind her. “I just start singing a melody and record that melody on my phone. It’s then that I start to put some lyrics to it and get a feel for what I want the song to feel like. Then, I’ll go home, get my guitar or my piano and start from there.”
Jerica, who moved to South Bend a few months ago after spending two years in Nashville, Tennessee, is a rising country music star. Since releasing a two-single EP and her first album, “Better Than That,” in 2017, the 25-year-old has created a buzz in the industry around her music, a soulful cross between country and pop.
In addition to having opened for country music superstars Eric Church, Jerrod Niemann, Canann Smith and Phil Vassar, she won the semi-finals of the iHeart 95.5 Coors Light BIG BREAK singing contest and was a finalist in the Live Nation Bon Jovi Opening Act Contest.
“It’s been a crazy year or two,” she says with a laugh, the faintest hint of a trademark country twang in her voice. “I love it.”
Jerica has been a lover of country music for as long as she can remember, singing along to Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks as soon as she was old enough to carry a tune. Originally from Chesterton, Indiana, she said her hometown was immersed in county music, which helped foster her love of the genre. To this day, she loves the warm sound of banjos, and steel guitars remind her of home.
“I’ve grown up listening to [country music]. It’s all my parents listened to,” she says. “I love everything about it, the whole vibe and the country community.”
Though she may have been bopping her head along to country music since before she could walk, it was not until she was 15 years old that Jerica got her first taste of performance.
She was taught to play the guitar by Mike Bruccoleri, a former member of Herman’s Hermits. Eventually, he invited her to play a venue in Michigan City to show off her skills. Sitting outside of the Lauber Kitchen and Bar in South Bend, Jerica looks down at her hands and says she can still feel the nervousness her 15-year-old self felt standing inside of a tiny dive bar, half-filled with her family, half-filled with strangers.
“I just remember, I couldn’t look up at the crowd,” she says. “I was just staring at my guitar, strumming and singing. I was so shy. … I was expecting people to hate it because I had never sung in front of anyone before.”
However, instead of the embarrassment she expected, the crowd gave a round of compliments and applause, which gave her the confidence to continue performing.
“I knew that night I wanted this to be my career,” she says. “Ever since then, I’ve played whenever I could.”
By the time she was 19, she was recording with studio professionals in Nashville. However, after a bad experience with a false record label, Jerica, a self-described “family person,” moved back to Indiana to be with her family. At 23, she signed with Chicago-based G4 Music Artist Development. G4 produced her first album, “Better Than That,” which she said she has been working on since she was 15 years old.
The title song of Jerica’s first album also happens to be her favorite. “Better Than That” tells a story about a former boyfriend who cheated on her and how she realized she deserved better.
“I wrote that song just to say that I deserve better than that and I shouldn’t be treated this way and I’m not going to cry over that,” she says. “I like that song because it is kind of a power anthem to me. It says, ‘hey, I’m not going to cry over stupid boys.’ It’s about telling yourself that you deserve better. I feel like most girls can relate to that song in some kind of way.”
Another one of her favorite songs on the album, the first she ever wrote, is “Take Your Time on Me.” That song also deals with her personal heartbreak. While it might seem strange to some to put their whole life, heartbreak included, on record for the public to hear, Jerica believes that by telling her stories, she can empower others who have had similar experiences.
“It was a really personal album, but I was proud of it because I got to lay my life out there,” she says. “My favorite thing out of everything that has happened is when people tell me they relate to a song. That’s kind of why I write these songs, so people can relate to it — so that they can find peace in knowing that they are not alone in what happens to them.”
Jerica is currently working on her next album, which she plans to start releasing songs for in the near future. Though her second album will differ in style from her first with less pop sound and more “outlaw country” sound, Jerica said it would remain as profoundly personal as her first and that her new songs will be about her own experiences. Her favorite song on the new album is titled “After All This Time,” which is about her current boyfriend and their love story. She has not played it for him yet.
Now that she is happily settled in South Bend and working on a new album, Jerica says she is excited by all the possibilities before her. No matter what comes next, she will continue to pursue her passion, which she has been following since her first performance when she was 15.
“There have been so many times I’ve wanted to drop the mic, say ‘this is it’ and give up. It gets so hard sometimes,” she says. “But you have to keep going with everything you have and follow your heart. That’s exactly what I did. If it’s something you feel like you have to do, and it’s something you love, you have to do it.” χ