You know those people that just seem to find THE COOLEST stories? Those people that celebrate tradition, culture (basically all of the good things in life) by passing along hidden gems we all yearn to know about? Well that in a nutshell describes our friend Jess Graves, founder of The Love List. If you haven’t heard of The Love List then you’ve been living under a rock for oh, I don’t know, 10+ years now. Founded in 2006, The Love List provides intimate glimpses into the lives of creatives and makers alike. My favorite part; Jess’s ability to make me feel as a reader like I’m right there in the heart of it, sitting next to her crew, laughing along and moving to the beat. A beat that caught us here at WOM a few weeks ago when we sat with Jess to take a behind-the-scenes look into what makes The Love List what it is.
WOM: It’s easy to see that you’re passionate about the good things in life: food, music and culture (etc.). We’re suckers for all of the above. Can you share with us how you established your niche for The Love List, and how you made it to where you are today?
JNG: Haha, I don’t know that there was any intense plan of action when it came to establishing a niche, I’d like to say I was that strategic, but I just come at it from a genuine place. The Love List started wayyyy back almost ten years ago as a literal list of things I love, and I think that idea’s just kind of evolved as I grew up, and the content grew up with me. I take what I learn from working in magazines and apply those ideas to digital content, which is where we’re at now. We like telling stories about the South, and we try not to do it in a stuffy or cliche way, quality over quantity. And I say “we” literally, not royally – there’s no way in hell any of it would get pulled off without our team/contributors. Without them, I’d be up sh*t creek writing listicles.
WOM: You’re one of our favorite storytellers, and you always seem to know how to get your subjects talking. How do you prepare for an interview? And do you ever suffer from “writer’s block”?
JNG: Well thanks for saying that! I like telling stories, but I honestly don’t prepare that much! Haha, I sound like such a flake. I just don’t really hunt stories or subjects down. I’m out in the world more than I’m sitting at my desk, and by constantly going places and meeting folks I’m genuinely interested in, stories find their way to The Love List pretty organically. By the time I actually sit down with someone, I’ve usually already known them awhile, and it’s just us having an informal conversation, spending time with them, letting them lead us through what they’re working on, and filling in the gaps later on once I sit down to write. And yes, I totally get writer’s block, but usually if I pick up a great book and read something killer by some writer who is way better than me, it un-blocks me.
WOM: Tell us about your most memorable story: how it came about, what you learned from it, etc.
JNG: Every story Caroline and I do together always makes for a great memory. We’ve been working together so long now we kind of have it down to a science. We’re like sisters, we definitely bicker and sass, but we’re good travel buddies and partners in crime, and we both push each other to be better, work harder. She loves the subject matter as much as I do, so sometimes we have these moments where we’re coming back from shooting a video with an amazing musician or being half-drunk with some great chef that we’re just like, “We get to do this?!” Acting jaded or like you’ve seen it all is lame. We’re real-life fans of the stuff we cover, so we’re jumping up and down inside 99% of the time. I never want to lose that appreciation or take those experiences for granted.
WOM: We know you have a soft spot for the tunes, especially those from emerging Southern musicians. Do you have a go-to source for discovering new music?
JNG: People always ask me this! I wish there was some magical secret source I could toss out, but honestly I think it comes from just being embedded in it constantly. We’ve got great relationships with musicians, record labels and music venues that are always putting things on my radar, but sometimes I’ll just fall down a rabbit hole on Spotify and see what I can find. My friends all know I’m a music nerd too, so people are always texting me stuff, which I love. Sometimes a song just comes on in a friend’s car and I Shazam it. Like anything, it’s just a matter of having your eyes (or in this case, ears) open all the time.
WOM: Are you guilty of playing a favorite song to death?
JNG: Um, yes. I call it “secret repeat” because it’s usually something really uncool. I hate myself for loving the new Justin Bieber album. Not because it’s pop, I love a good radio jam, but because I feel confident Justin Bieber is not someone I’d like to hang out with haha. *shakes fist at Diplo’s catchy beats*
WOM: Where do you seek inspiration/fill your creativity tank?
JNG: People! People are what inspire me and keep me thinking and pushing. Everyone said Millenials as a generation were doomed to fail, but I think we’re kind of killing it right now. The value we place on history, integrity, and creativity is creating the kind of energy (at least in Atlanta) right now that makes you feel like you’re a bee in some kind of cosmic hive. That’s kind of a heady thing to say, but there’s a creativity fever here, and everyone is catching it. And the women here are the greatest. I have the best girl friends here.
WOM: Who would you have around the table at your dinner party (dead or alive)?
JNG: I don’t care, as long as they come to eat, intend to stay late, and aren’t an asshole. There are currently no vacancies for assholes at the dining table that is my life.
WOM: Favorite city/neighborhood?
JNG: Atlanta. I really love it here.
WOM: Signature drink?
JNG: Probably bourbon, though I’m hesitant to say that because there is some kind of hard-ass cliche that comes with being a “whiskey woman”. Liking whiskey doesn’t say anything about my personality except that I like whiskey.
WOM: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
JNG: Aside from the aforementioned Bieber thing? Probably Shake Shack. It’s way too close to my house.
WOM: Favorite song or band (currently)?
JNG: Haha, that’s literally an impossible question. I really like Great Peacock out of Nashville, though. And Leon Bridges. And Chris Stapleton. And the list goes on forever…
WOM: Dream vacation? Next vacation spot?
JNG: Cuba. I am obsessed with Cuba right now.
WOM: What are you currently reading?
JNG: A lot of Hemingway, which sounds so like, “oh, how original, you’re sooooo Southern” but I did a cocktail article for another publication that kind of sent me down that rabbit hole that re-obsessed me with Hemingway, Cuba, and Cuban rum. So, here we are.
WOM: Favorite way to unwind?
JNG: Hot bath, many bubbles, loud music, phone off. The greatest luxury in life is turning your phone the hell off. Also, wine with my closest girlfriends. There is nothing like the combination of cocktails and catharsis.
WOM: Top item on your wish list right now?
JNG: I don’t need anything, life is good. My only wish is to keep making a living at what I’m doing and for my friends and loved ones to stay in good health. I did my fair share (*cough understatement*) of screwing up during the first half of my 20’s – I turn 30 in March, so I’m enjoying being a slightly less stupid human being at the moment. I wouldn’t kick Jon Hamm out of bed though, if someone’s offering.
A big, big thanks to Jess for giving us a little peek behind the scenes of The Love List. We can’t wait to see what exciting things Jess and her team have in store for her readers in 2016. Cheers, Kat