It's a Wednesday night, and Jasmine Tate hits the stage at Eclipse Lounge's open-mic night wearing a sweatshirt that simply says: "Genius." On some it might seem like hubris, but on Tate it seems fitting; the 22-year-old is quiet and unassuming, but commands the healthy crowd with her confidence, pipes and courageous and clever songwriting. Tate is young, but used to being in the spotlight — just not always for her music, though.
"I came to Robert Morris on a full basketball scholarship," the Columbus, Ohio, native explains. She played parts of all four years, but faced injuries in her junior and senior years; she graduated last year, but had already grown into her new passion, music.
"It was a completely new deal," she recalls. "I'd moved to Pittsburgh to study corporate communications, and media and the arts have always been my thing; I've been really passionate about it. My freshman year, my friends and family members kept having dreams — they'd have dreams of me, on a stage, playing guitar and singing. They kept telling me, it kept happening, and I'd say, ‘I don't really know what to tell you; I don't play an instrument, I don't even like the sound of my voice, so, that's just not gonna happen.'"
She has had multiple experiences, she says, wherein she'd be at church — different churches — and be singled out to sing. It all kept pointing to something.
"That kind of stuff just kept happening," she says. "Finally, four years ago this month, I was with my mentor, she's a lawyer, and she told me: ‘Jasmine, you can either say yes to God — because clearly there's some weird God thing going on here — and he'll show you how to do it, probably, or you can say no, and he'll probably find someone else to do it.' And I thought, that's so lame! I don't want somebody else to get it because I'm scared and don't know how to do it!"
So Tate — with no real music training, learning by ear — set out to start playing in public, first at open-mic nights at Robert Morris, then eventually at bigger venues in the city. She drew from singer-songwriter traditions as well as hip hop; she notes Tracy Chapman and Lauryn Hill both as major inspirations, and those do shine through.
As she built her repertoire, she began to build a network as well.
"Not being from here, I had to find a way to get connected to everybody," she says. Outside of college, she started playing a café in Grove City, where she lived during the summer. Then she took her show to venues in town, hooking in with artists and scene fixtures like Jacquea Mae and Nate Mitchell, from 720 Music, Clothing and Café. She eventually developed a close bond with singer-songwriter Joel Ansett, with whom she's about to kick off a tour that'll go a little different from most artists' tours.
"We didn't set out to do something different — it's not like we woke up and said, ‘Let's come up with a new model!"' she says with a laugh. "But we both carry similar hearts behind our music: love, and hope. We want people to know there's more than just this 9-to-5 thing people get so stuck in. And we felt like the normal model for [touring] was not congruent to the message we had. We want to talk about loving people; both of us are very relational."
"Relational" is a word Tate uses a lot — not as a fallback, but as a central tenet of her music and life. To her, making a one-night stop in a town doesn't help her relate to the people there, or vice versa. Stopping for a week at a time in each city? That's relational.
"Instead of going night-to-night, I believe the shortest we'll be in a city is three days, all the way up to two weeks — I think our trip to Minnesota is our longest one," she says. "In every city, we'll do a regular venue, a house show and something like a high school or church or nursing home — something like that.
"We're doing it that way because we obviously want to hit a regular venue for people who enjoy coming out to a show, but we wanted to do a house show as well, because a lot of time people invite friends and family to a house show — we want to build those relationships."
The tour is called Life and Love, named for the new album Tate releases with a show Fri., April 4, at 720 Music, Clothing and Café; it's her first full-length. It's a fully orchestrated set of songs with a social conscience; Tate, even with her effervescent personality, isn't afraid to take on topics that are difficult to listen to. (One of her best-known songs, "Believer," is about the sexual assault of a child; as she began to describe it before the Eclipse open-mic, host Henry Bachorski chimed in to note that it made him cry the first time he heard it.)
"I have this conviction that people are wired for depth," she says. "We all try to stay at this shallow place, typically, but if you really cut to the chase, everybody's looking for depth in life. You can sit at a bar and talk to somebody and people will pour out their life story. I want to talk about the things that nobody else wants to talk about. If you can reach into that core, I think you can really inspire somebody, compel them to love, open up their ability to receive love."