Songwriter Profile: Jessie Jo Dillon

A perusal of Jessie Jo Dillon’s titles in the BMI repertory names her as a writer on 907 songs. As listed alphabetically, first is “10,000 Hours,” a massive global hit co-written and performed by Dan + Shay with Justin Bieber. A No. 1 country hit, the song is two-time platinum certified by the RIAA, with over one billion streams. “What a wild ride that song has been,” marvels Dillon. “I still feel like it’s so much bigger than me.”

Nominated for Song of the Year at the recent ACM Awards, although “10,000 Hours” didn’t take the top prize, Dillon was well-represented by a performance of “To Hell and Back” from the song’s co-writer, Maren Morris.

Dillon is a songwriter on a proverbial roll. “Break Up in the End” by Cole Swindell, nominated for a Grammy and an ACM in 2019, was honored as the NSAI’s Song of the Year. “That one feels extra cool, because it’s your peers voting,” notes Dillon. “We all sang onstage at the Ryman Auditorium. I remember having an out of body experience of ‘How did I get here?’”

Nashville is Dillon’s hometown. Her father, the celebrated songwriter Dean Dillon, is a 2020 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dillon says this heritage was problematic. “I was desperate to not be a country music songwriter, because I was scared. My dad is a legend. It was a big shadow in my mind.”

At 19, she moved to the West Coast. “The best thing I ever did,” she avows. “There’s something about being a kid, and needing to get out of your hometown. I went to Los Angeles to grow up.”

She attended a community college for what she describes as “a hot second,” and considered a journalism career. Her epiphany came courtesy of Kathleen Carey at Sony Music. “She said, ‘I don’t care who your dad is. You write country music. You need to get over it. Buck up and go home.’ I needed someone to tell me to quit being a baby.”

As her recent cuts with Brett Eldredge and Brandy Clark confirm, Dillon often collaborates with other artists. “I’m a lover of people and have an interest in psychology, so it’s fun to see someone else’s perspective and to help them while inserting little pieces of myself.”

Penned by Dillon with Chase McGill and Jon Nite, the title track of Tim McGraw’s new collection, Here on Earth, offers global and personal perspectives. “I feel really lucky to have these type of songs out in the world,” says Dillon. “They have meatier subject matter. It’s always such an honor when an artist wants to take a chance.”

While McGraw’s version of the song is propelled by a massive electronic production, Dillon notes that it was presented as a simple demo. “Nowadays, there are people who do tracks, and they’ll be credited as writers, since they’re almost producing. When I’m writing with one or two other writers we can get away with a simpler demo. If you dig the song, you’re going to like the message, rather than us trying to put a bunch of bells and whistles on it.”

Singer-songwriter Brandy Clark and Dillon collaborated on “I’ll Be the Sad Song,” from Clark’s full length Your Life is a Record. Lyrics recall a special season and locale. “You pour a glass of something/And let your heart start running/To that summer at that bar on Division Street.” Dillon confesses that the tavern referenced is the Red Door Saloon in Nashville. “I loved and lost and did a lot of my living on Division Street. If I ever did a record I’d name it Division—it has such a double meaning.”

While a hit list of accomplished songwriters on Music Row includes an increasing contingent of women, it has been tougher for female artists
to be heard on radio. Dillon is optimistic. “Because of ‘Me Too’ and all of the problems as shown from our brothers and sisters of color and their struggle,” she says. “The whole damn business needs to change now. It needs to be diverse and inclusive. It will only make the music better.”

Contact Shelby Paul, Big Machine Label Group, [email protected]