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Photo by Jon Anderson.
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Hoover native Jessie Pitts finds her groove during a performance with her duo partner Matt Cermanski at Do Dah Day festivities in Birmingham in May.
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Hoover native Jessie Pitts and duo partner Matt Cermanski pose for a photo with young fans after a concert at Rhodes Park as part of Do Dah Day festivities in Birmingham in May.
America came to know Jessie Pitts as the girl with a voice “like a bowl of Lucky Charms – marshmallows only,” thanks to country star Blake Shelton on NBC’s “The Voice.”
But that was 1½ years ago when Pitts made the Top 12 during Season 7 of the hit show. Now Pitts, a 2013 graduate of Spain Park High School, is trying her luck with a new adventure.
In January, the 20-year-old moved from Nashville to Los Angeles to pursue her musical career in a different setting. By coincidence, she connected with Matt Cermanski, an alumnus of Season 5 of “The Voice,” and the pair are trying now to make it as a duo called Smoke & Hollow.
Pitts and Cermanski met through a mutual friend when Cermanski was looking for a female singer to work with him on a song he wrote called “Can’t Remember To Forget You.”
The friend recommended Pitts, so they got together and “it sounded awesome,” Pitts said. “We decided to start making some more music and writing some more songs together.”
They’ve recorded at least half a dozen songs together and are continuing to work on more and developing a marketing plan. They likely will have some music released by fall, said their manager, Ginger Ramsey-Grippe.
Pitts in September 2015 released her first solo single (“Heart on Fire”) and was getting ready to release her own extended play recording of original songs this summer, until she met Cermanski.
“We liked what we were doing so much that we kind of put everything on hold,” Pitts said. “It’s just kind of a process of figuring out what route you want to go and what kind of demographics you want to go for, what kind of genre.”
Cermanski described their sound as a little bit of country, a little bit of rock ’n’ roll and a little bit of Fleetwood Mac – “rock and soul.”
Pitts has a jazz background with smooth, sweet vocals, and Cermanski has more of a rock ’n’ roll background with hard edges. Pitts referred to them as “salty and sweet,” but both of them said their voices just blend together well.
Their manager said their voices fit naturally, like sibling harmonies.
“It’s definitely something special they have between them. It’s pretty awesome,” said Ramsey-Grippe, who is from Gardendale but has lived in Los Angeles for many years.
She’s been in the music business for 20 years and has managed some “American Idol” winners and knows a good fit when she sees it, she said.
“They’re complementary opposites. They both bring a different kind of energy. Even personality-wise, they kind of balance each other out,” Ramsey-Grippe said. “You can’t force it. You either have that chemistry or you don’t.”
After ‘The Voice’
After getting bumped from “The Voice” in November 2014, Pitts returned to Nashville and has spent a lot of time working on her writing and trying to develop herself as an artist, she said. She’s also been learning to play guitar, she said.
Shelton, who became Pitts’ coach on “The Voice” after she was cut from Gwen Stefani’s team, gave her a guitar, and “when Blake Shelton gives you a guitar, you feel like you owe it to him and yourself to learn how to play it,” she said.
Pitts last year came back to Hoover to perform in the Freedom Fest at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on the Fourth of July. She also sang the national anthem at Spain Park’s graduation in 2015, which she said made her more nervous than singing on national television.
“With high school students, you don’t know how they’re going to react,” she said. “Plus, it was my first time singing the national anthem in front of a crowd.”
Pitts moved to Los Angeles in January to take a full-time job with World Arts, an independent center for performing artists, but it didn’t work out, she said. So she decided to go full throttle after her music career.
“It’s the first time in my life where I’ve really been able to put everything into music, all my time,” she said. “It’s paying off.”
She was excited about her planned solo project release, she said.
“I didn’t want to change directions [and switch to a duo], but it felt so right. It felt so natural,” Pitt said. “What we’re doing feels so authentic.”
That’s where they got the name Smoke & Hollow. So many people in the music business and in Hollywood are hollow people, full of smoke and mirrors, Cermanski said. The name “Smoke & Hollow” is a reminder to themselves of what they don’t want to be, he said.
“What makes us good right now is being real,” he said. Plus, the name Smoke & Hollow just sounds cool, he said.
Ramsey-Grippe said a lot of people in the music business try to figure out a strategy to sell records and then make music to fit that strategy, but “90 percent of the time, it doesn’t work.”
The musicians who are most successful are the ones who do it because they love it and the ones whose songs come from true life experiences, she said.
Pitts said the artists whom she admires the most are the ones who are transparent to a certain degree. She wants her music to be art and not something made up to fit a marketing scheme, she said.
Melding with a new partner
Cermanski is from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, just northwest of Philadelphia. He grew up in a musical family, started writing songs when he was about 12 and started playing a guitar his dad gave him when he was 13. He taught himself how to play and grew up on rock ’n’ roll, he said.
At 17, he released an album called “Long Road Home.” He first auditioned for “The Voice” in the show’s fourth season but didn’t get picked in the blind auditions. He took vocal lessons and performed in bars and restaurants and came back a second time to “The Voice” in Season 5. That time, three judges wanted him on their teams, and he chose Adam Levine to be his coach.
After he was cut from “The Voice,” he moved to Los Angeles about two years ago. He has released a couple of singles, done some college shows and also done some acting while in L.A.
“It takes a certain will to not give up,” said Cermanski, who is now 23. “It comes down to commitment and working hard. If you have a good team working behind you and with you, it’s going to work out.”
Pitts said Cermanski is a strong guitar player, which has allowed her to work more on her vocals.
“The Voice” was such a dynamic learning experience, but no one from the show has really broken out and made it big yet, Pitts said. “It’s such a great platform, but you have to be your own artist,” she said. “However much you put into it is how much you get out of it.”
Smoke & Hollow made their debut performance together at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles in late April. Their second show was at Do Dah Day in Birmingham in May.
Pitts said she and Cermanski have gotten a lot of good feedback so far, but she’s eager to see how the rest of the industry responds to their collaboration. “I truly believe what we’re doing — there’s going to be great things come from this,” she said. “It’s been exciting.”