Jesse, in Charlotte you’re widely considered the archetype of do-it-yourself musicians. You’re involved in every aspect of the music process from actually generating music, to producing it in your own studio, to distributing your music. How do you think this affects the final product- the album?
For me its a great feeling because I can stand behind that type of release 100 percent. In that situation I am in control of the written music and the sound of the recording which to me is the nature of recorded music as an art. That isn’t to say that a musician recorded by a producer isn’t involved in art making. Its just a different type of art. In that situation the producer is basically a collage artist, piecing together sound waves that the musician is producing. For me, I can produce the sounds I want and then piece them together in the studio and manipulate them however I want. The part that I don’t have down yet is distribution. I have found ways to get my music pressed on vinyl and cd. I’ve had promotional materials and download cards made; however, I do not have any distribution deal and I’m primarily selling albums digitally or in local record stores.
Is there any part of this process that you find tedious enough that might make you consider looking to a major record label for support?
All the aspects of the process outside of writing, recording and performing to me are tedious. I definitely need to get a PR person and label support could help if it were the right thing at the right time. The music industry is tricky business right now. I don’t like the idea of whoring music out, or nagging people. I want people to hear my music in positive situations. The best being a live performance or friends showing friends the album.
Why did you choose A City Inside to produce Firewood?
A City Inside Records was basically assembled by my good friend Patrick Emmons with the sole purpose of putting out the record. Patrick heard the music I was working on and really wanted to become a part of it. When an opportunity comes up and someone says, “let me press this on vinyl,” you say YES. Patrick has been a great friend and has helped support this project from the beginning. He is in charge of all merchandising and my presence on the internet. I’m forever in debt to him.
The indie slowcore vibe stemming from the tracks of The Bear Romantic’s debut album is a drastic change of pace from the haunting, theatrical rock songs that we heard from HRVRD’s The Inevitable and I. What inspired this turn in musical direction?
I’m into all different styles of music and always have been. I haven’t written music in the vein of HRVRD’s sound in years. When I joined HRVRD I was primarily a vocalist. They would send me songs and I would write vocals. The songs that I wrote for “The Inevitable and I” were demoed and given to the rest of the band. They would in turn interpret my demos and then I would approach the vocals in that situation as a new song. The biggest example of this is with the song “On with Disease.” I wrote the shell (which ended up the verse and prechorus) and when I demoed it the song was a very dark and haunting tune. It was a lot like something from Firewood. Another example is the title track from The Inevitable and I. That song shows where my head has been in terms of writing music. Its very similar to Stay Mine, the first track on Firewood. When I was writing Firewood I knew I had to keep these songs and produce them myself because I had a vision for the sound. I knew that vision would be blurred if thrown into the HRVRD situation. I’ve felt for a while that HRVRD is better served with me being the vocalist that occasionally plays the piano or trumpet. The interpretations EP was my way of contributing instrumentally to HRVRD’s catalogue outside of accompanying piano and trumpet parts.
The Bear Romantic features Shago of Lucky Five, Tim of HRVRD, Emily of Sugar Glyder, and George of Marco Pollo. How did you become acquainted with these guys and girl?
The first time I saw Shago perform I knew I wanted to collaborate with him, I just didn’t know how or when. Not to mention he probably had no idea who I was. We ran into each other out at a bar months later and we realized we had a mutual interest in each other as musicians. I gave him Firewood and asked him if he wanted to be apart of the project as a live band. Since then its been like magic to me. He has something great and I’m glad to be working with him.
I met Emily when HRVRD and Sugar Glyder performed together at Tremont. We talked for a while about our passion for music and eventually began meeting up Amelies to talk about music and films. Emily is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When I was hanging out and playing music at her apartment I was able to get to know her brother George. He joined in our jam sessions. You can tell right off the bat if you have a connection with another musician, this was one of those positive connections. …And who can turn down having two asians in your band?
With Tim it was obvious for me that he be a part of it. We have always connected in HRVRD. When HRVRD is on tour we usually sit in the back together and listen to the same music with a headphone splitter and watch movies. I think we have similar goals and standards as musicians. We also have strong work ethic.
Marshall of Wretched played a big part in the production of Firewood. How did he and you become acquainted and what role did he play in constructing The Bear Romantic’s first album?
I met Marshall by playing shows with his band. He is a super talented drummer and a great producer too. We could sit together and talk about recording for hours. I felt like it’d be good for someone else to master the album since I’ve been analyzing and hearing it for a year. A pair of fresh ears to put final touches on the EQ was especially helpful.
There is an old-timey vibe to the album. Is there a concept behind this album?
Firewood is definitely not a concept album. The album was made in a stream of consciousness situation. I was writing and recording simultaneously. I actually wrote a lot of songs too, I just selected 9 tracks that fit a certain vibe or mood I wanted to convey. It matched a sorta mysticism and darkness that was around me at the time. I was living in a condo in Dilworth. I was going through some serious troubles in terms of balancing my spirit. I was experiencing deja-vu a few times a day, each one lasting between 30 seconds to a full minute. That alone was frightening, I thought something was wrong with my brain. I couldn’t sleep. Soon after panic attacks were setting in. I basically broke down and moved back to Raleigh to get my head straight. I think some of this is definitely audible in the album.
Why did you choose “Farmers” to be the first song you released by The Bear Romantic?
Farmers was the first track I recorded, it just made sense. I like the idea of showing people the truth in my music making process. I will be releasing some completely stream of consciousness pieces soon to give people a deeper look into the creative process.
I understand that “Farmers” tells an interesting story about an unwanted family. What exactly is the story behind “Farmers” and what inspired you to write it?
With the song writing on Firewood, I wanted to convey a feeling. What better way to convey a feeling than to tell stories. Instead of trying to describing the feeling you got when you watched a movie or read a piece of literature you can just show it to someone. So for me, telling a story about an unwanted family being run out town by locals would do just that.
Tell me a little bit about the rest of the track list- inspirations, songs that you’re particularly excited to perform live with the band, songs with interesting origins.
One of the most interesting stories is with the song The Shed. Its a really short song that I recorded in one take in my closet. I used one mic to pic up the banjo and my vocals, recorded some quick harmonies after the fact and it was done. That song is one of my favorites because it conveys the feelings I had connected to the place I was living at in Charlotte while also tackling a story from my younger days in Raleigh. The shed is a true story about my neighbor committing suicide when I was in high school. It was a surreal situation. I was riding my bike home from school that day. I remember slowly approaching the big hill that headed down to my house and seeing firetrucks and ambulances outside my house. I didn’t know what to expect. I got to my house and the door was open. I went inside and no one was home. All sorts of things were running through my head. I went back outside and I didn’t see any firemen or policemen anywhere, just their vehicles. They were all in my neighbors backyard. It ended up that my neighbor had lost his job. He was seen mowing the yard and clipping the hedges. Afterwards he made his way to the shed, where his wife later found him. Its a very sad story, but I can’t get it out of my head. I was told that he would appear to his wife and talk with her at night weeks after it happened. My heart goes out to anyone that has experienced such things.
I’m guessing The Bear Romantic is a side project of yours away from HRVRD. Where does the debut and promotion period of The Bear Romantic leave HRVRD?
I have always been hard at work when it comes to music. When I’m not on tour with HRVRD I’m writing and recording. Well, sometimes I’m even doing that even when we are on tour. I will always be creating music. I’ve actually released a 7″ since Firewood has come out called Native Trash. Being a part of other musical endeavors makes me sane. I think the other guys in HRVRD feel the same way. Garrett also has a project, Calormen, lee also accompanies him on the guitar live. Check them out!
2011 has really just started and you’ve already released a new album with a new band and promoted it a bit. What are your plans for The Bear Romantic in the immediate future?
I want to play as many shows as possible in charlotte and the surrounding areas. The live show is so different from the album, I want people to hear it.
I’d like to make it a touring band and continue releasing a lot of music. This will not be a band that releases an album every 2 years. That is part of an old music industry scheme. I will constantly be releasing new things. Some things for free some things to help fund the project.
I understand you have some close ties with a lot of bands in Charlotte. What bands have influenced you the most?
Unfortunately, I haven’t really been influenced by any charlotte bands musically. For me its more about the relationships I have with them. I’m good friends with the local/touring band My Epic. The singer Aaron and I hangout whenever we can. I think we enjoy each others company and inspire each other to be productive. Its less about influencing the style of music and more about supporting each other. I just recently met and befriended Cement Stars. I’m currently recording a song for them. Their singer Bryan has one of my favorite voices in Charlotte right now. We will be releasing a song together soon that we wrote during the last big snow we got, its called “The White Devil.”
This interview was conducted for an article that was published in Niner Times.