You've been in many bands over the years. What are some of your favorite memories?
My fondest memories are of the time spent in the van, winding down from the gig when we reconvene as individuals and share our perceptions of the show. Often my band-mates and I experience the show differently, so it's interesting to see how we come together to find a collective understanding of what happened. Booking, promoting and performing each show is a big challenge, and the van ride afterwards feels like my time and place to celebrate our ability to overcome that challenge. It's nice to observe our conversation shifting from music back to everyday life as we drive; I think it's those moments that makes us band-mates instead of just performers. Friendships cultivated by a shared music making experience. In many ways riding in the van is my favorite part of being in a band - it's a shame we don't get to do it more.
You make rock music, acoustic songs as well as hip-hop and rap. Do all of these different genres have a similar starting point when it comes to creating new material?
No, not at all. The starting point for a rock song is usually a couple bass lines that I've written and then assembled into some sort of song structure. I may bring it to the band like that, or I may start to populate it with lyrics. Sometimes I'll even go so far as to write out string or synth parts. Occasionally I'll adapt something that I've written on piano or guitar and then bring that to the band. In some cases other band members will be the starting point, and I will just write my part or learn the part that they had in mind and then expand on it. With my acoustic songs I try to keep all pressures off when I begin writing, so I don't force the writing process and I don't force the song's style. In fact, it doesn't even really feel like a process... I just get sad, sit down with the guitar, and if I'm sad enough eventually a song will materialize. I'll build it one chord at a time and write lyrics and vocal melodies as I go. I really dislike the singer/songwriter genre as a whole, so I tend to keep my lyrics personal and focus on them from the beginning so that the songs will still resonate with me throughout the process. Most of my rap lyrics come to me early in the morning, before or during my commute to work. I revise them in my head during the commute and then add them to my ongoing gmail draft of lyric ideas. When I have amassed a good volume of potential lyrics I'll start piecing verses together into groups of 16 lines or so. I'll make the beats and then see which verses suit them, and edit the lyrics as needed. My rap lyrics are the musical outlet for my sense of humor, which makes it so much easier to do, plus the nature of the genre allows me to focus more on cleverness and embrace a certain lack of truth.
You are an amplifier aficionado. What advice do you have for the average person out there looking to buy an amp?
The best advice I can think of is to play as many amps as you have the patience for. New and vintage, cheap and expensive, big and small, tube and solid state. Play amps your friends own. Play every amp in every store. Ignore brand names, follow your ears and the good ones will jump out at you. Buy one that meets your needs sonically, logistically and monetarily, with the understanding that you can always sell it later if you don't like it. As you play it you may start to love it... or hate it... and then the journey will unfold accordingly.
What are five things your dream performance space would have?
An engaged audience
Prompt and relatively early start times
A place to sit
Clean and private bathrooms
Do you have any advice for other DIY artists?My general advice for all artists would be to hold yourself to high standards. Love your work as much as possible, because nobody will love it more than you do.
What should I ask the next person?
What sets you apart from other musicians in your field?
Jesse's favorite songs:
1. from before 1970: Connie Francis - Everybody's Somebody's Fool
2. by an mostly or all-female band: Slant 6 - Baby Doll
3. sung in a foreign language: Annie Philippe - J'Ai tant de Peine
4. from a lesser-known artist: Esau - I Hate5. to dance to: The Smiths - This Charming Man
6. best heard in live performance: Front 242 - Headhunter
7. in an odd time signature: June of 44 - Anisette
8. to listen to at high volume: Polvo - When Will You Die For The Last Time In My Dreams