How Singer Tameca Jones Rediscovered Herself in a Place She Left Behind

After a stint on the West Coast, the musician is back in Austin with a renewed vision and a brand-new album.

In June 2022, soul singer Tameca Jones gazed out over an adoring crowd of friends and supporters at Antone’s. The sold-out show was a farewell for the artist, who had decided to depart for Los Angeles in pursuit of a wider range of career opportunities. Jones felt that Austin was particularly difficult for local Black artists, who were constantly left out of major venues or marquee productions like Blues on the Green. Even back then, she felt a twinge of uncertainty standing on that stage at Antone’s—an inkling that the road ahead might not be as smooth as she’d imagined. But she’d already made up her mind.

Eighteen months after that moment, Jones has a dynamic new collection of songs, Plants and Pills, out Feb. 29, and a renewed perspective on life. But those successes were hard-fought gains that had nothing to do with LA’s bountiful music industry or tapping into some divine inspiration in the City of Angels. Instead, she arrived at a place of self-discovery only after a series of tumultuous months and a return to the city she’d left behind—Austin.

When Jones arrived in LA, it was immediately more of a slog that she ever expected. The city was filled with aspirational dreamers working by day as they pursued their goals, so even odd jobs felt unusually competitive. Finally, a friend put in a good word for her as an admin assistant at Warner Bros., and she felt like her luck might have turned. When the job didn’t pan out, Jones was crushed.

On top of everything, the artist was having to reintroduce herself to an entirely new audience. Back home, she was the Queen of Soul, but out in California? Not so much. “In Austin, I was a medium fish in a big pond, but LA is an ocean, and you’re a drop in it,” she says.

But it wasn’t all bad. Jones focused on the synchronization sector of the industry (having her songs appear in commercials, television, and movies), and was able to get two songs placed, one in Walker, Texas Ranger and another in a show called Black Cake. Each placement earned her between $5,000 and $10,000, and she didn’t have to worry about figuring out promotion or sales, as she might with tickets for a show or the release of an album. This is the part of the industry that Austin is severely lacking, and that makes markets like LA and Nashville so appealing.

Despite those successes, Jones felt like time was running out to land as steady job that could pay the bills and day-to-day expenses. In summer 2023, she headed back to Texas with a newfound appreciation of the audience she had built there. But even that had become fraught. Almost exactly a year after that farewell show at Antone’s, the musician returned to the same stage, but the show barely broke even, which devastated Jones.

Over the next six months, she poured herself into finishing the songs for a new record, borrowing inspiration from the hardships of LA and the heartbreak of a return home. Sonically, the album spreads out across genres, ambitiously encompassing modern soul, R&B, pop, and hip-hop. Upbeat and breezy as a listen, Jones doesn’t shy away from delving into the hardships and frustrations she’s confronted. “I’ve given the best of me…I’m running out of f*cks to give,” she sings over the steady kick drum and snare groove of “All Out.”

Many of the songs are therapy sessions set to sound that explore love, self-medication, anxiety, and internal strife. As Jones refocused her efforts on healing, she has begun to reignite her audience and—in the process—find herself. “I think I suffer a lot from victim mentality,” she says. But lately, she’s focused less on the people who didn’t come to her show, and more on the people who did.

It wouldn’t be fair to write off Jones’ circuitous sojourn out to the West Coast and back to the capital city as a fruitless detour. To the contrary, it’s a perfect representation of what success, and life, looks like sometimes—anything but a straight line. It’s also an important example of a musician living out loud and being willing to show others that everything in the entertainment industry isn’t just life in the limelight.

In many ways, Jones’ career sits at the nexus of many problems facing the music industry. Victim mentality aside, it’s fair to recognize the acute hardships Black artists confront, particularly Black women. (According to a 2021 survey conducted by nonprofit org Black Lives in Music, 42 percent of Black women said their mental health had worsened since starting a career in music, and 16 percent had sought counselling due to racial abuse.) And it’s important to recognize just how difficult the music industry has become for independent artists, as revenue streams from recorded music have dried up and touring has become less tenable. Viewed from that perspective, Jones’ path is not only one of growth for herself but also a journey that illuminates issues with which the music industry and the city of Austin are still grappling.

“I want to be grateful for the people who support me and project an image of endurance,” Jones says. “And empower people through my trials and tribulations.”

This story was created in collaboration with our sister publication, Austin Monthly.