‘Fifteen years after R&B singer Tameca Jones withdrew from Baylor University, she’s established herself as the “Queen of Austin Soul.”
Jones made the decision to leave her senior year instead of continuing on to law school after she became pregnant with twins. Without a job to provide for her new family, she turned to her lifelong talent — singing.
“I desperately tried singing to feed my family,” Jones said. “Those first shows didn’t pay very much and they’re kind of grueling when you don’t have a crowd.”
Since then, she’s collaborated with Austin icon Gary Clark Jr., performed at the Austin City Limits festival and will take the Continental Club stage for her first South By Southwest Festival March 20. In the years she spent building up her reputation, Jones said she trudged through a grueling schedule, waking up early to take her kids to school and staying out to perform late night shows. She kept at it, hoping eventually people would appreciate her soulful takes on classic songs.
“I thought I had something to offer Austin,” Jones said. “They have no amount of soul, no amount of females, especially black females kicking ass in Austin. I knew I could make money if I just kept working at it.” Though she’s known around the city for her soul music, Jones said she draws most of her inspiration from pop or rock, including artists from Led Zeppelin and Nirvana to George Michael and Mariah Carey.
“I think [soul] is just something that comes through me,” Jones said. “I just take songs that are not soulful and make them more soulful. It’s not something I seek out to do.”
It was at her middle school talent show that Jones first discovered her penchant for R&B. Though she received a standing ovation for her performance of Mariah Carey’s “Vanishing,” she said she didn’t consider pursuing a music career until years later. “It’s where I first got my love of singing,” Jones said. “That’s probably the first time I sang publicly.”
The response Jones evokes from her audiences has kept her going over the years. Jones said she loves seeing people in the audience enraptured in her songs. “The vibe you get from the crowd — it’s like oxygen,” Jones said. “Feeling the crowd relate to what you’re doing and trying to give one hundred percent of yourself one hundred percent of the time — I love it.”
Jones said it took five years for her to really establish herself and break into Austin’s music scene. During a performance in Paris last year, she debuted original songs – an experience she said made her feel as though her hard work had been worth it.
Despite the accomplishment, Jones said her experience as a musician has been full of its highs and lows. With her career beginning to take off, she’s reluctant to rest on her laurels.
“It’s constantly light and dark,” Jones said. “You can have that amazing night where you’re on top of the world and feeling like a rockstar and then the next day nothing can go your way.”
Throughout her success, Jones said she sometimes reflects on the decision she made to become a singer while providing for her family.
“Sometimes I wish I would’ve stayed in law school,” Jones said. “It’s a very unstable career. There’s no 401k and I have kids. There are times I get really dark thinking about the long run. You can’t really retire from this.”
While Jones has been known for her R&B-style covers, it’s her original songs that have been taking over her life for the past year. When she began work on her debut EP, to be released this month, Jones said it was difficult for her to try and find her sound. “(The EP is) a reflection of who I am as an artist,” Jones said. “Most of the stuff I’ve been doing is my interpretation of other people’s work and this is just my raw, naked talent as an artist.”