Inside Jessie James Decker's Hustle, From Her No. 1 Country Album to Helping Veterans & Rescue Dogs

Alysse Gafkjen
Jessie James Decker

Between her music career, television appearances, and her successful fashion line, it seems possible Jessie James Decker might pass herself as she's going in another direction. “Many times I do just that,” she admits to Billboard with a chuckle. “There are many moments where I feel like I am coming up for air. But it’s all great."

Earlier this fall, the singer achieved a first with the chart-topping debut of her Epic album Southern Girl City Lights. Decker said it was a career experience that she wasn’t expecting. “It was a thrill, and also very much a shock. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t have any songs on the radio, and haven’t had one in years. When they told me that, I had to ask them ‘Are you sure? Really?’ But it was so exciting to get that news.

“I’d been working on the album for quite some time. The last time I put out a full-length physical album, it was 2009. It had been a long time, and a process of figuring out what I wanted to do. I feel like I had to go through a lot of things in my personal life to be able to put together this album after all these years that I feel confident about that is also a reflection of where I am at musically in my life.”

Decker looks at it as confirmation that she was on the right path all along. “I work really hard, and have had many opportunities to give up and throw the towel in. But I never did. I love music so much, and have since I was a little girl, and always dreamt of a moment like this. So, I’m glad that I never did give up. Just to get to this point is something that I’m so grateful for.”

She credits a lot of that restless creative spirit to her upbringing, which consisted of several moves as a military brat. “I was born in Italy on a military base, and lived in fourteen different places since. I always moved. Even living in Tennessee now, I get the itch to move from house to house – my husband wants to kill me of course. I just grew up that way. It made me very adaptable and open to new adventures and things. It really prepared me for life as an artist.”

One of the spotlight tracks on Southern Girl City Lights is “Hold A Candle,” which was co-written by one of Nashville’s most critically-acclaimed singer-songwriters, Maren Morris. Decker said she has always been a fan of the “My Church” singer. “I signed with Big Yellow Dog, and have been with them for years. The president of the company is a woman named Carla Wallace, who is an amazing publisher who just has a knack for female artists. Another person that is signed to the company is Maren Morris. I told Carla that I thought Maren was a great writer and wanted to cut one of her songs. So she sent me ‘Hold A Candle.'”

Decker had a hand in writing or co-writing nine of the album’s twelve cuts, including “Another Dumb Love Song,” which she says came to her on the road. “I had just landed in Nashville from Los Angeles. I was headed home about ten o’clock at night. Nobody was on the road, and I just kept humming this melody to myself. I just kept saying those words over and over again. I thought ‘I wonder if that has ever been written – that’s just another dumb love song.’ It just stuck with me, and I thought it was such a clever title. It also brought some emotions to me about love, and whether the other person ever thought that the song I had written was about them – or whether it was just another dumb love song.”

Musically, Decker’s influences run the gamut, with one female artist in particular captivating her attention – Bobbie Gentry. “She’s always been one of my main influences,” says Decker of the country-soul singer. “I sometimes don’t mention her because I feel that my audience might not be as familiar, but my grandfather, who was in the Vietnam War, was obsessed with Bobbie Gentry, and he used to make me these tapes. I just fell in love with her story. She’s such a mystery. Nobody really even knows where she is today. ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ was her biggest hit, but it wasn’t even her best song. She’s got incredible songs that I don’t think a lot of people have heard,” she said, citing the cuts “Slow Cookin” and “Mississippi Delta” as examples.

In addition to her music career, Decker also is staying busy with her clothing line, Kittenish. “I have had it for about three years,” she said proudly. “It started out pretty small online, and then we started selling out of things left and right. It just grew to be a massive company, and continues to grow. It’s something that I am very proud of. I’m a very creative person, and I get these ideas which pop in my head. I love clothes, and I want to make women feel confident, and I want to design pieces for the everyday girl like me, so I just did it. I think that people can have their hand in as many different things as they want. You’ve just got to put your mind to it, and just do it.”

Married to Tennessee Titans WR Eric Decker, the songstress is excited to be exactly where she is right now. She’s a proud mother of two with a third child on the way. “It really is a great time in my personal life right now,” she beams. “I can’t believe that we have another baby on the way. I never thought I would have three kids, but we are so happy about it. I have the best husband in the whole world, and he is such a supportive man.”

Of course, with her rising country career, it helps that her husband is a member of Music City’s NFL franchise. “It’s crazy that we wound up playing for the Tennessee Titans. It surely made things easier for me. I think a lot of people assume that you can just call a general manager up and say ‘I’d really love to play for your team.’ It doesn’t work that way. It was such a crazy coincidence, but I think it was a blessing for our family to be home. While we were on other teams, we’d have to travel back and forth. We were so grateful, and are having a blast.”

On game days, fans at Nissan Stadium know that Decker has her husband’s back in the stands. “I’ve been very vocal,” she says sheepishly. “I know I probably make a lot of people crazy – including the team. But, I can’t help it. I’m a firecracker when it comes to my husband.  I’m a stand by my man kind of girl. If I feel like something isn’t being done right, I say it. I know I make him nuts some of the time, but I’m just proud of him. It’s just part of being a football wife. You’re a lot more emotional about it because you love the person out there.”

The two also make a successful team when they give back to the community, something they take a great deal of pride in. “We wanted to start a foundation together, and we couldn’t figure out what to do. Being a military brat, I really wanted to do something for them. We had just gotten a dog together, and Eric was so madly in love with it. After a game, sometimes he wouldn’t want to be very vocal. This dog would be his service dog, and make him feel better, and give him that emotional support. We came across this organization called Freedom Service Dogs, which we fell in love with. We organized Decker’s Dogs, and what we do is rescue dogs from kill shelters, train them, and send them home with veterans suffering from PTSD. It’s a pretty incredible thing.”