AN original and terrific band is harder to find…
that you might imagine! Fortunately, as I find out; the L.A. band, Young Jesus, are guys worth sticking with! They discuss their upcoming album, S/T, and how it differs from their past work; how the band got together; what the remainder of this year holds; whether there is a strong and changing music scene in L.A. – the songs/albums that mean the most to them.
I ask whether a trip to the U.K. is a possibility and details about their new single, Feeling. The video is a stop-motion wonder and shows the detail the band put into their music. Young Jesus tell me about the importance of preserving music’s traditional formats; being compared with Broken Social Scene - if they have a busy Christmas lined up.
Hi, fellas. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey! We're good.
It's been an exciting week - announcing our release with Saddle Creek and all. But, also, very normal. We're back from tour so we're also back to our jobs (I (John) work at a bookstore called Skylight Books; Kern and Marcel work at the coffee shop down the street, Eric works at a cafe in Glassell Park...
It was Kern's birthday this week and we're all gonna hang out tonight and maybe do some karaoke - where I plan to sing Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
We started out in Chicago and now we're located in Los Angeles. We've been a band for about ten years. We do a lot of improvising and try to incorporate a lot of different influences into our tunes - from Jazz to Noise-Music to Indie-Rock.
Really…whatever moves us, which is a wide range of stuff. We try to push ourselves and trust each other as musicians and friends and try to examine extremely 'loud zones' and 'quiet spaces' as contrasts to one another. I, as a lyricist, tend to write a lot about emotion, anxiety and the sort of dissonant quality of life I feel every day…
That things don't quite fit together - but that there is (also) a beauty within that.
You have a new album, S/T, out in February. Can you talk about its title and the themes you address on it?
I like the way S/T looks.
It's both really banal to me and also carries with it a kind of crack that leaves some room - which is how I feel about just about everything. Not that things are really banal, but there are cracks in perception and solidity everywhere and they are worth investigating.
That's where life gets interesting and engaging.
PHOTO CREDIT: Killian Young
Otherwise, I end up just drifting along and not giving people the kind of attention and care they deserve. No one is ever what they present on first blush - which is a thing that is very hard to embrace while working retail all the time. The second you give yourself or someone else pause…you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and learn in that moment. That's the goal: to learn from the smaller and larger imperfections and mistakes of a life, to feel them and know them daily and not allow that darkness to take over - but rather to continue to embrace it with vulnerability and sincerity.
The implied title is "green river eddy under desert feeling storm" which was my attempt at a kind of poem. I was very taken with ancient Chinese poets like Wang Wei, Wang Anshi; Su Hui, Hsieh Ling-yün. They gave me a kind of ability to sit in contemplation and to allow simple moments to unfurl into a much larger feeling. Also, Clarice Lispector and Joy Williams: writers who get at the sort of impossibility of living and perceiving accurately and perfectly...
The frustration and (also) the funny stuff that comes from that.
PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Quirk
Feeling is its leading track – it is nine minutes long! Was it an easy choice choosing that song as a single?! Do you worry its length will mean few radio stations playing it?!
I think Feeling gets at the things we're looking to do as a band.
It doesn't give easy answers and hopefully just opens up a space for thought and interaction. If we made music based on what we thought radio stations would play, we would be very sad people. I know that is not true for a lot of people - and I have no problem with radio-friendly tunes. I love a lot of them.
But, for Eric, Kern; Marcel and I, to write according to those restrictions would be a consumer-based constraint that would be hard to live with…and I don't mean consumer like a listener, but rather a large and mysterious and corporate kind of cloud that is interested in feeding us certain things to operate within a certain system.
I don't think listeners really want that; especially now. There's something rotten in our culture and I think making things that glide along within our culture without questioning and investigating that rottenness can be troublesome. I think there's a hunger out there for an escape that should be represented. Even if it's just a few people, that's exciting. Why do so many people need to like your band? Well, money, yes. But music is a love for us - and money has a very difficult relationship with love. I don't have answers here really, but it's things we're trying to think about..all the while, I still understand if people do this for money.
It's really hard to live - and I admire anyone who gets through it. The contexts and circumstances of life are too vast to say, "This is it. Do this".
The video is stop-motion and features poetry and artwork in a visual collage. How painstaking was the creation and what was it like working with John Rossiter’s (Vocals/Guitar) work on the video?
Well, it was very cool to work with myself: I work with me and not-me all the time. I will say I am very difficult sometimes - and also, sometimes, very demanding…and, also, sometimes completely uncreative and stupid. But; I got to sit down with my friend Jordan Epstein and draw for twenty hours. I try to see a thing like a video as an opportunity to go into artistic spaces I haven't explored yet - and to test the bounds of my mental endurance.
Jordan will tell you I don't handle that very well all the time. But, it was, overall super-fun. Jordan is an old friend, so doing something so meditative allowed us to talk for a long, long time; really dig into some things - which is what I hope all of this is.
A kind of extended community where we have some time to talk and think.
People will take great interest in the L.P. Do you get nervous about reviews – how do you hope the record will be received? What has it been like signing to Saddle Creek, too?
Saddle Creek is a very natural fit for us.
We all get along really well and I think we have a kind of natural understanding of how we all live and hang out (and work.) Any sort of worries I had about working with labels has been dispelled: they're very supportive and, most importantly, good people.
Reviews will be what they will be: some people may love it and some may hate it. Or it could be very bland. But; the work itself does not define who we are. We're interested in the process of living and how we treat people day-to-day. The record's not a holy object - it changes every time we play it live, anyway. It's just a moment in time. I'd be a robot if I didn't say I hope it will be received well but, no matter what happens, it won't change the friendship and love that the four of us share...
That relationship is the cool/important thing.
Have you noticed a difference, in terms of sound and confidence, between Grow/Decompose and S/T?
Grow/Decompose was recorded with a very different band. Kern and Marcel were not on that record - and Eric wasn't featured as prominently. I tried to impose a lot of my intention on Grow/Decompose - whereas S/T is way more collaborative and open. We're trying to give each other trust and room to breathe. If we have any sort of confidence, it comes from the fact that we know each other and we have created this mode of playing together.
We believe in the thing we are doing - and we believe in each other's ability to speak and respond in kind…
How did the band get together to start? Tell me about those early days…
Woof. I left a small college in Ohio to join a band with my friends. We practiced all the time with our three acoustic guitars. It was a pretty innocent thing: somewhere between Indie-Folk and Emo. We were just having a lot of fun; being with all the drop-outs and working our weird jobs in the suburbs.
But, we were drinking too much and it was an unsustainable thing. At some point, I felt the need to be dedicated solely to the music and have the rest of it fade away. I felt irresponsible trying to play tunes and be optimistic while I was drinking heavily and very depressed. It deserved more thought; more consideration...
Not just in terms of the music...but in how a life can grow in parallel with it.
You have been compared with the likes of Pinegrove and Broken Social Scene. It seems you have a very modern aesthetic. Who are the artists you all take inspiration from?
Hmm. Kern loves Sun Ra and Anthony Braxton - and Zach Hill and The Fall. Marcel is a classically trained guitarist and composer. His interests are incredibly varied and exciting. He also grew up playing in Punk/Ska bands in Los Angeles. Eric loves ambient music like Stars of the Lid and Sigur Rós and many (many) other things. Jazz too; Bill Evans specifically. I'm very into Burial right now.
I love the later Talk Talk stuff and Mark Hollis' solo record. I love Yo La Tengo. I love Broken Social Scene. I love the new Colleen record. Grouper; Julianna Barwick; Steve Hauschildt. Alice Coltrane; Duster; Thelonious Monk. In high-school, Kern and I were both very very into At the Drive-In. A lot of the band is fusing those early Emo/Rock influences with our current interests.
I know S/T will be released on vinyl. It seems you are attached to traditional forms and methods. Is it important preserving music’s past, do you think?
That's a big question...
Music brings me immense amounts of joy and a lot of that comes from old stuff. But; the people who do the preserving tend to have a certain lens and worldview - and, usually, they've won something or hurt enough people to gain access to the ability to preserve things. So, maybe preserving can be cool. But; what is preserved does not come from an even playing field.
The act of preservation can often be a way to build a consistent cultural narrative and, like I was saying earlier, our cultural narrative is relatively fuck*d.
L.A. is where you are based. What is the city like for a young band?
The scene is really great here. Lots of excellent artists like Media Jeweler, Wreck and Reference; Pastel Felt, Fragile Gang; Jurassic Shark, Kera and the Lesbians; Goon, Slow Rose; New Balance, Young Lovers and Traps PS.
It's a place we feel very comfortable in that is very open to experimentation.
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Hmm.. My mom bought me Abbey Road on C.D. when I was a kid. I listened to that on my Discman constantly - Golden Slumbers blew my mind for some reason. I like melodramatic stuff. When Paul says "SMIIIIIIIIIILES AWAAAAKE YOU WHEN YOU RISE" in that ridiculous growl I just lose my smoothie completely. I love it.
I sang Octopus's Garden in an a capella group in the fourth-grade.
Can we see you perform anywhere soon? You guys coming to the U.K. next year?
Hopefully, in 2018!
We'd love to play in the U.K. Visit some bookstores. I'd love to go on the same walk through the Suffolk W.G. Sebald did in Rings of Saturn.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Be yourself and be insistent on the thing you love. But, make sure you consider the context and circumstance you operate within.
You do not exist in a vacuum: art does not exist in a vacuum.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you all have plans already - or will you be busy working?
I'm gonna get a tree, probably, and make some paper ornaments. We'll probably all hang out. I'd like to have a Dogby then - but I won't. Maybe Eric and Jordan and I will make latkes for Hanukkah.
I have to ask, as you are called ‘Young Jesus’, if you, like Jesus, disappeared for three days – I know he was crucified – how would you spend that time off the grid?
We would spend it contemplating how to return to the world in the spookiest way possible - so that people would think we did it all for them and that they might have done a lot of bad things in their lives…but it was alright, because it's very hard to live a perfect life - and that they would be forgiven.
But; we'd also be thinking about how to let these people know we were never coming back after this brief stint hanging out as ghosts and that they should really figure out how to love each other - because there will be no judgement other than the one you ascribe to yourself.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Slice by Pope
Longer Repose by Pretend
Ambulance Blues by Neil Young
By Your Side by Sade
Follow Young Jesus