Don't let the cutesy title fool you. Jessica Tonder's debut, The Robot and the Little Girl, isn't as juvenile as it sounds. But the 22 year-old did have to develop her own voice to get to this point. "It's really important to stay true to yourself and let others see you can be different," she says, explaining the motivation behind her release.
Since moving to Atlanta from Miami last May at the behest of producer Derrick "Drop" Braxton (who produced songs on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool), Tonder's gained notice from her collaboration "The Bee" with rap duo Proton. On the song, the vocalist soars like Ella Fitzgerald over an electronic heartthrob beat awash in soulful background sighs.
Tonder models more than just her voice after Fitzgerald. "It was about how she felt and what she was hearing that motivated me to be what I wanted to be, singing-wise; to go and listen to different things in my head and figure out what I wanted."
Tonder lays her jazzy vocals atop trip-hop beats, but the tunes on The Robot and the Little Girl aren't mere dancefloor fodder. "The Smoking Gun" takes a poke at the outgoing presidential administration, with Bush being described as "a jack of all trades, master of none." And the song "Detox" introduces Tonder's robot pal, Just X, whom she conceptualizes to help spread peace. "I've opened his eyes to his new world and we want to rid the world of all its evils," she says.
The title track features Tonder in the role of the little girl, as she proclaims, "We have come to save the day," over a bouncy, scratchy backbeat built to move butts. It bubbles with the same effervescence heard in early Portishead or Esthero, and Tonder is just as certain about pursuing an alternative path.
"There are ways of making really cool music that doesn't have to be mainstream," she says. "It can be just what you like."