INTERVIEW: Josh Jesty Talks New EP, Influences, Songwriting, and Cleveland Music Community
On Friday, April 25 at Mahall’s, Josh Jesty will release his latest ep I Love You Question Mark, with the help of his band The Universe Doesn’t Stand A Chance Against Joshua Jesty, along with openers Insurance Salesmen and Ottawa. We caught up with Josh to dig a little into what makes him tick.
Listen while you read:
Justin Markert: I Love You Question Mark. Tell us about it. What was the genesis of this EP?
Joshua Jesty: The last EP I released, Wasn’t The World Supposed To End? was a bit dark in that it was about things falling apart. It starts off powerful, but declines into this frank and honest song about how things didn’t work out in a relationship.
While some of the songs are out of that context I really felt like Wasn’t the World Supposed to End? was about things deteriorating. This new EP I Love You Question Mark is written more from a cautionary but hopeful stand point, and covers experiences I was having where I was meeting these incredible people and not really knowing whether we had any kind of connection at all, but appreciating the awkwardness and wonder of actually meeting/crossing paths in the first place.
JM: You’ve got a lot of stuff out there. What number release is this?
JJ: I think this is my second EP. I’ve got about four full lengths solo wise, and two full lengths with my other project These Violent Young Lovers and a handful of other records released with different bands, namely This is Exploding and Love Scream. There are a handful of other random projects that I view more as mix tapes where I’m just trying different things, collaborative records, what can I write in a month experiments, what kind of songs can I write that are only a minute long, 5-8 songs cut with lottery league bands…. So who knows… my best guess is two.
JM: You’re definitely one of the more prolific songwriters in town, while there are some prominent bands in Cleveland that haven’t had a new album in years. Is the rate at which you release music intentional, is there are formula to it, or is it one of those things where you’ve just gotta get this stuff out there?
JJ: It’s a sick disease for me. Scratch that, it’s a necessary component of my life. I get physically sick if I don’t write or record anything for lengthy periods of time.
There’s some very selfish about it. I’ll be the first to admit it. Some people find escapism in dancing or drugs or what have you. I find not only escapism, but a pure connection, something divine in creating music. When you’re in a special place and you know what you’re writing is honest and pure and it’s just flowing. That’s when I get the most high in life. So I’m always chasing that. And as I improve more and more, I’ve got to write better songs to get that same kind of high; so I’m just pushing myself to get that kind of high and hoping, as a side effect, others will enjoy it.
Of course, since I still hold onto the pipe dream of succeeding and making a living as a musician, I also feel like we’re in a climate where there’s a need for a steady presence from a band. Gone are the days when you can release a record and sit on it for four years. There’s a need from a marketing stand point I feel, to keep releasing material. It just works out that that particular need as well as my desire to write and record seem to have aligned in this day in age.
JJ: I got my super fine guitarist Mike Miles to play a guitar solo on the track “Bad Note.” But otherwise, I handled all the performing duties save for a few other guest spots. I love my band The Universe Doesn’t Stand A Chance Against Joshua Jesty. They’re the best band in town and I lucked out into working with them. I’ve lucked out a lot with the musicians I’ve worked with… for all the other things that go wrong in my silly life, I’m always surrounded by great musicians and people who help me musically.
The issue with getting the other guys on the record is that I work at a break neck pace. They all understand. When a song hits, you feel an immediacy about it, you don’t want the feel to slip away, you don’t want the mood to slip away. You want to capture it in the moment. I took the time to learn all the instruments so when a song hits I can capture it in the moment and place.
I’ve suggested we write more as a band since my mates are so talented, but the consensus has usually fallen to, “You do you’re thing Jesty and we’ll help translate it live”.
JM: Any guests on the recording? Who and why?
JJ: I got my friend Nathan Bocchicchio to play violin on the opening track and… I forgot to credit him for that. It’s mixed in such a way that’s it more of an effect than anything else and I forgot he was on their until it was too late and the record was being pressed…. I’m a jerk.
Tara and Andrea, the sublimely talented orchestral section of Seafair came to my studio and laid down violin and cello for the closing track, “Hovering.” I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard around bowed instruments. They were amazing to work with. Andrea had these boots on that squeaked every time she moved her feet and it would be very clear in the microphones and ruin the takes. I started calling her “squeaky boots” and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. We played through two songs live together in a short amount of time and they enhanced the songs so much. I’m so grateful they came by. Since then, I’ve tried to invite other folks over to record…. sometimes I get so lost in the instant gratification of recording something by myself that I forget how much extra character and craft and heart can be added by working with great musicians. I hope we get to record again soon, Andrea and Tara were and are amazing to work with.
JM: Your ‘public persona’ is often associated with comedy and light heartedness, but the truth is- you’ve written some truly heart breaking songs. When you write, do you have a direction in mind? “Like, alright, gonna write a song. There’s going to be tears, but are they going to be tears of laughter or misery?” What’s your process.
JJ: The thing I think of when I think about songs is the tag line I came up for myself- “songs about death disguised as love songs.” It’s smart ass sure, but it’s very true.
I had a dream shortly after my father passed away where he came to me and said I could ask him anything. I asked him three questions but I can only remember two of them at this point. The first one I can remember was, “Is there still sex in the afterlife?” His response was, “The idea of it still exists.”
The second question was, “What is important here (Earth)?” and he laughed for a little while and then just answered, “Nothing,” with the biggest smile on his face.
What was the point of telling you all that? First off, it’s a good story. Secondly, it’s definitely a big influence on how I view songs.
I write from a very autobiographical place. I’m not afraid to speak what’s in my heart, because I learned in that moment that “nothing” is important so you shouldn’t fear what you’re saying. You should view it as therapy, you should view your truth as valid, but not be so scared of it’s weight that you just keep it inside.
So if I’m hurting, I’ll write a song about hurting; if I’m longing, I write a song about that. If I’m horny, I’ll write a song about clowns just to confuse anyone whose listening, because remember what I said before…. I’m a jerk.
Perhaps a more concise and therefore better answer is- I just follow what’s in my heart and I’m honest and fearless about it. Sometimes all my heart says is, “Write a stupid post about a movie you didn’t like on Facebook,” and sometimes it says, “Pour yourself into this moment and how sad/elated/hopeful/fearful you are. You won’t connect with anyone if you can’t connect with who you are.”
JM: Tell us some of your musical influences and why.
JJ: My earliest influences were Sting and The Police, The Talking Heads, and John Lennon. When I was a little kid I LOVED Van Halen (and even Van Hagar). But I can remember clearly being knocked to the ground the first time I heard “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows. After years of almost non stop Van Halen, it was amazing to hear a song that could convey so much just with it’s words. I was getting to used to those David Lee Roth hoots. There’s just not much meaning in them. They’re just awesome.
I’m also deeply into the producer Mutt Lange. Almost anything he touches I find myself enjoying, and he’s done a few things that would make me lose the few cool points I have if I listed all his projects. But he built a sound and an aesthetic to his recordings that sold millions of records. As much as that has to do with marketing and what not, I firmly believe that Mutt knew and still knows how to take great songs and insert that extra hook or that little extra sauce that just makes them irresistible and worth hearing over and over again. It’s the pop junky in me.
JM: What are some current bands you’re really into?
JJ: I hop around a lot these days. I just discovered Spotify and now I cook to it almost every night. I’m also in a mix CD war with this sweet gal, and she’s totally winning by making mix after mix and turning me onto all this great music new and old. It’s sad but I can’t answer your question very well because I keep finding new stuff one minute and then spinning around the next minute and hearing something else that blows my mind; then I listen to old ’90s R&B like SWV mixed with Tom Waits and Eels and Dismemberment Plan and Mike Patton and King Missile and John Coltrane- and whatever else comes my way. This has been a great time to find new and catch up on old music, but it also feels at times like someone is holding up an ocean and making you drink it all at once.
JM: Who locally really impresses you these days?
>JJ: When I was in This Is Exploding back in the early aughts, I was convinced based on all the touring and all the other bands I was hearing on Myspace all over the country at the time, that no one had a better, more consistent and original scene than Cleveland. We had Machine Go Boom, Houseguest, Kiddo, Coffinberry, This Moment In Black History, Roue, The Unknown, JJ Magazine…. I’m a jerk cause I can’t even remember all the great bands that were out there… I just know Cleveland had a ton of good bands.
When This Is Exploding fell apart and I eventually got back to going out to shows I just didn’t see too much that I was all that excited by, and that really could’ve just been my mood at the time… remember, I’m a jerk.
But it seems to me like there’s been an incredible amount of great bands that have just been springing up left and right. So many of these bands are just people from the previous bands I mentioned who keep getting better and better, and then there’s new blood too. There’s also people like Rob Duskey who promote the stuff they like through Sweet Truth Records, or James over at Cleveland Music City, and of course you kind folks at Cellar Door who are really stepping up to the plate and saying, “This town is amazing, Earn it people!”
But yeah, I feel awful cause I can’t keep up with and get out to all the shows I want to see between my work schedule and my own shows/recording schedule. If I make a list of new bands I like there are going to be a dozen more I leave off unintentionally… but here it goes:
Seafair – Chayla has the best singing voice in this town hands down. Raymond Flannagan and the Authorities – I’ve never heard a better guitarist. Okay… actually, I’d like to see GS Harper and Ray go toe to toe… but in a pillow fight cause I’m a jerk. Filmstrip, Albatross Now, Obnox, Herzog, Shale Satan, Nowhere Nowhere Nowhere, Likenessess, Brian Straw, Brent Kirby, Nights, Mike Uva, there was a band called Prisoners that I thought killed it, Tease Box, Craig Ramsey, and I’m fortunate enough to have the Insurance Salesman and Ottawa playing my CD release show and love both those bands.
JM: Any surprises we can expect this Friday?
I’m trying to arrange a few things, but I fear we won’t have the live shark filing taxes, nor the unicorn that shoots lasers while Noah as played by Russell Crowe yells, “What God would do this?”
There are some things I wanted to happen, but time is going by too quick… so we’ll see if I can pull anything off.
The sad news is this is the last show my friend JD is playing with us. He’s been an amazing friend and stand out musician. Bass wasn’t his first love, but he took my bass lines and ran with them and held the low end down for the last two years I’ve been playing live. I’m pretty devastated about him leaving actually, but I know it’s the right thing for him now, and I hope that one day we can take the stage again together, or at least go out for breakfast burritos.
What is no surprise is that I’ve got three bands playing on one bill that I’m really into and a new EP I’m really proud of. I know I know… a cod piece that shoots out fireworks wouldn’t hurt how amazing the night is going to be, but sans fire crotch, I’d say this is going to be an incredible night.