Posted On 18 Sep 2017
Meet singer-songwriter, Jesse Terry who released his newest album “Stargazer” last week on September 15th. Stargazer is Jesse’s fourth full-length album and his most ambitious to date; a lushly orchestrated collection of timely new songs centered around finding hope in a seemingly hopeless time, picking resilience over recrimination, and optimism over oblivion. The lead singles from the collection are “Dangerous Times” and “Woken The Wildflowers.”
Rooted in Jesse’s past, Stargazer is a byproduct of his own life experiences and finds the musician in his most vulnerable state yet, reflecting on a turbulent adolescence defined by substance abuse, runaway shelters and reform schools. WFUV stated “Jesse Terry is a gentle soul with a formidable songwriting talent. His new album Stargazer is a big step forward for him artistically.”
Thanks for your time! Where does this interview you today? Is there music playing in the background? What music do you like to listen to when you are relaxing or answering interview questions?
Thank you so much. I’m actually home today, a rare occurrence for me these days. We’re getting ready to head into NYC tomorrow for radio, rehearsal and a big full band concert at Joe’s Pub. I’m stoked!
It’s funny, my wife is watching “Love Actually” right now and “God Only Knows” from Pet Sounds just started playing on the movie. That’s one of my favorite songs ever – And if I’m not mistaken, I believe it’s one of McCartney’s favorite songs too, so I’m in good company. I like to listen to familiar music that I love when I’m relaxing, working or doing interviews – Albums like Beck’s “Morning Phase” or “Sea Change,” George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” The Jayhawks “Rainy Day Music,” Roy Orbison’s “Black and White Night,” The Beatles “Abbey Road,” Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” or Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” come to mind. I like to discover new music and listen to new stuff when I’m driving and can really focus and dig in. The other albums above are embedded into my DNA, so I can work and sing along to the tunes without getting distracted. They are literally the soundtrack of my life.
How does 2017 so far compare to last year? Did you approach this year differently then you did 2016?
My approach is the same every year.. I always remember to enjoy the journey and be grateful for every day that I can make my music for my living. I have big long term goals in my mind, but at the same time I focus on taking one day at a time, and doing the best I can every day. That leads to great things. I feel the same way about shows – The most important show in the world to me is the one that I’m playing that night. I focus on that show and visualize it being epic and magical.
I feel like I’ve been lucky, because every single year has built in my career and moved in a positive direction – It’s been a gradual build but I’m really happy about how far I’ve come in the last seven years as a full time touring artist. I’m excited for what’s to come and I feel like all of these years of touring and making records is preparing me for what’s coming next.
And of course, 2017 is a special year for me with the release of my new “Stargazer” album. I’m so proud of this music, these songs and this record.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician?
Ha.. No not really. My Dad was a full-time musician/artist/producer (and still is) and I tried to avoid it. I got heavy into fine art and I loved that creative outlet. But music and songwriting eventually got me and was a stronger form of expression for me – And it hasn’t let me go, not for a second.
I always like to ask artists how their hometown has been an influence on the kind of music they make. So how do you think your hometown has affected you?
I’m a New Englander and a Northeasterner and that’s had a huge impact on my music and my life. I grew up at my Grandparent’s house in Wilton, CT, a small picturesque New England town. They sold the house a few years back, but that place will always be my home. The property adjoined vast pastures, streams and beautiful woods (now an organic farm) where we used to roam and explore. It was a great place to grow up, being surrounded by all of that nature and beauty. That love for nature has certainly made me aware of climate change and our fragile planet – I want to do everything I can to protect our planet and be a part of that movement. I can’t think of a more important thing.
Being a New Englander, I think that certain moral perspectives and progressive views were in my blood from an early age. I’m grateful for that. I loved living in Nashville for seven years (2004-2011) and Music City will always be my second home. I visit often to write, perform, hang and record.. But there was a pull for the Northeast and home that eventually became too strong to ignore.
I’m so happy to be home. My wife, dog and I have been living in Stonington, CT (right up the road from Mystic, CT) for the last four years and we adore it here. It’s such a peaceful and rejuvenating place and also a perfect place to write songs. This adopted hometown has also shaped my writing. There is ocean, rivers, water and boats all around us. It’s a poetic location and landscape.
You recently released your newest and fourth full-length album called “Stargazer.” What was it like putting this collection together? What was the inspiration for these songs?
Yeah I’m so stoked about this new album! I really do think it’s my best work, my best recording and my best writing. Like all albums, it’s a labor of love, but it was truly love. My producer Josh Kaler helped me narrow down the songs – I think we had about 30 or 40 songs to choose from – We spent a lot of time in pre-production, talking about what would make these songs interesting, beautiful and unique. For the first time, I knew that I would have a brilliant string arranger on this album (Danny Mitchell) and a world-class string section. Having the strings on “Stargazer” really opened up lots of possibilities for arrangements and production. Hearing these strings on my songs, was probably the most powerful musical experience of my life. I think the strings are inherently emotional, maybe the most emotional and dynamic element you can add to a production. Making “Stargazer” was a ton of work, but it was also incredibly fun, life-changing and inspiring.
There were so many inspirations for these songs. All of the songs are deeply personal and honest, but I don’t think this album is quite as introspective as my previous albums. As we all know, there’s a lot of turbulence happening in the world right now. As a songwriter I feel compelled to write about the emotions that I’m experiencing. I do quite a bit of international touring and that inspired a few of the songs, including my song “Dear Amsterdam.” It’s great to spend time in other countries and to be able to see the world and America through another lense. My younger years were also a big inspiration for this album. I’ve started to share all of my “personal” struggles and pain with my audience, without being ashamed or afraid. After opening up and sharing that stuff, you realize that almost everyone has gone through something similar or can relate in some way. And maybe that’s one small way where we can find some unity in a very divided world. I still have hope for unity and peace and I’m encouraged by all of the people in the world that have taken a stand against hate, intolerance, bigotry and injustice.
The overall inspiration for the song “Stargazer” and the album “Stargazer” is being able to forge your own path and pick your own universe, regardless of your past. Now, that’s easier said than done and I’m still working on it, but I do believe that happiness is a choice.
How do you think this new album show how much you have grown and changed as a musician? How is it your most ambitious collection to date?
I think you can hear it in my voice and in my songs. I feel like I’m just expressing myself and creating, without editing myself during the creation of the music. I’ve let go. You can’t think too much or be too hard on yourself as you’re creating. I really loved making this album and enjoyed every second of the process.
I think it’s natural to grow, evolve and get better as an artist if you’re humble and open to it. I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows all over the world since my last full length album and I’m trying to get better every single night.
And yeah, I definitely feel like this is my most ambitious collection to date.. I’ve worked with amazing producers on all of my records, but I do feel like my “Stargazer” producer Josh Kaler pushed me a bit farther on this album and challenged me. And they were places I wanted to go. It was just the right time for me. I wouldn’t have made this record a couple of years ago. I love all kinds of records and approaches, but “Stargazer” takes me a bit out of my normal comfort zone of singer/songwriter/folk. It’s an electric guitar driven album and feels almost genre-less to me. It’s different for me and that inspires me and excites me.
“Dangerous Times” is first single released from this album. How did this song go from being an idea in your head to a full-fledged song?
I wrote “Dangerous Times” with my great friend Alex Wong, a brilliant artist, writer and producer. We originally wrote the song for an upcoming duo EP, but when I was choosing the songs for “Stargazer” I felt like “Dangerous Times” had to be on this album too. It’s such a timely song and expresses so much of what I’m feeling right now. It’s about holding on to one another and loving each other in the bleakest of times. We wrote this song (and our entire upcoming duo EP) from the viewpoint of villagers in Kivalina, Alaska, a place that will be consumed by rising sea levels by the year 2025. So that was the original meaning and impetus for the song. But like all songs, it’s based on raw emotions. The song can hold different meanings for different people. I think all songs can do that and probably should do that.
You have a packed fall tour scheduled. Where are you most looking forward to playing at? Have you performed in many of these venues before or are some of them new to you?
Yeah it is PACKED! I try not to look at the whole schedule at once, because that can be overwhelming. It’s just one month at a time and then one week at a time and then one night at a time. I tour with my amazing wife Jess and our pup Jackson, so the road isn’t a lonely place for me. I love home but I also really enjoy the open road and the adventure, especially with Jess and Jackson by my side. I like random hotels, waking up in random towns and barely making the continental breakfast at The Quality Inn. It can be a tiring journey but we have a lot of fun out there. If we have days off, we look for cool places to visit and try to get some beautiful hikes in too. If you’re going to travel for a living, you might as well enjoy the stops along the way.
I honestly look forward to all of these shows equally.. Every venue and performing situation has different highlights for me. At a house concert I can literally meet every person at the show. I love playing the larger shows in the the theaters and clubs, where the lights are in your eyes and you can hear the roar of a crowd. That’s a great high.
Quite a few of these venues are new to me and that’s always exciting too. I have a great team and booking agent and I know they’ll book me in cool rooms – After that, the magic comes from the audience and the energy there. A room is just that, a room. It’s the audience that matters.
Where do you think you are happiest- on stage performing, in the studio recording new music or elsewhere?
Wow, those are all different seasons of my career and I love them all. I haven’t written a song in a few months and I’m totally cool with that. I have so many new songs to play live, where they will evolve again and take on their own life. Right now, I’m happiest performing live and singing these new songs. I can’t wait until the pressed albums and merch arrive soon. It’s awesome to see the journey of a song that was written on my couch, to being recorded on an album with strings, to being pressed on CDs and Vinyl records. I love that I can create this music for my living.
I dig the recording studio too and I know that after a few months of touring this album I’ll be longing to write more songs and get ready for another record. That’s the cycle of everything and I’ll go batty if I don’t start writing and creating again soon.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Is there anyone that you would still love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration for you?
The Beatles, Harrison, McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, ELO, Travis, Joni Mitchell, Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Paul Simon, Coldplay, The Stones, The Jayhawks, Kathleen Edwards, The Band, Neil Young, CSNY, Roy Orbison, Oasis, Linda Ronstadt, Del Shannon, Jason Isbell, Beck, Fiona Apple, Dylan, James Taylor, Jackson Browne. Too many artists to list.
I’d love to make a record with Jeff Lynne. I love Electric Light Orchestra and I pretty much love everything that Jeff has produced: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Beatles Anthology songs, Brian Wilson, Tom Petty, The Traveling Wilburys. This is the first music I look for when I get into the car. I think he’s one of the most talented artists, musicians and producers of all time. Jeff had a huge influence on this album and my songwriting. Is there any way you all can get him this record?! Honestly, I’d love for him to hear it. My song “Won’t Let The Boy Die” was directly inspired by Jeff Lynne and the documentary about his life and music, “Mr. Blue Sky.”
As far as a dream collaboration and co-write I would still vote for Jeff Lynne. He seems really grounded and humble to me and I think his latest album “Alone In The Universe” is one of his best. That says a lot when you’re still pushing yourself, after accomplishing so much. I think we’d write something amazing together.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Hope, Unity, Truth, Justice, Healing. I know it’s a really tough time in the world. Music gives me a purpose and makes me feel like I’m doing something positive with my life – Because music truly does bring people together in peace, harmony and unity. I see it every night and that gives me hope. I’m just a tiny part of this huge tapestry of art and artists, whether it’s music or fine art or theater or opera. I say the more art the better. I think the budget for art and music in schools should be through the roof. It promotes unity, positivity and love. It brings people together from all kinds of different backgrounds. And it literally makes people smarter.
So I hope people hear that message of unity and love in my music. I hope they feel my honesty and feel empowered to heal their own scars. I hope they realize they don’t have to be ashamed of their past or their troubles. We’re all damaged goods and we need to take care of each other.
What advice would you give to a band just getting started? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Hmmmm.. Everybody has a different path. You can’t compare yourself too much to other artists and their careers. You can learn from other artists but we’re all going to have our own story and unique voyage.
My first advice would be to focus on the music and the passion. If someone truly needs music they will continue to fight for it and enjoy that roller-coaster journey. I’d also say to be kind and generous to everyone you meet, whether it’s the soundman, the bartender at the venue or your biggest musical hero. Remember the great saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Root for all of your fellow artists and genuinely wish them the best, even if they don’t play your favorite music – Or even if they don’t subscribe to the same philosophy. It’s hard enough in the music business, without fellow artists spreading bad vibes out there in our communities. I think we should lift each other up.
I started writing songs and playing guitar when I was almost nineteen, so I was a bit of a late bloomer. It would have been cool to start playing a bit earlier, but I have no regrets. I know my fine art background had a great impact on my songwriting. It’s all part of the same artistic and creative process. For the young folks just starting to play, you’ll know whether music is a need or a hobby. It’s the greatest job in the world for me and the most fulfilling, but it’s not for the faint of heart. And most of us artists have thin skin, a tricky combination indeed. We have to be vulnerable to create art and be authentic, while also developing a thick skin when necessary. Whether music is a job or a hobby, or some combination of the two, it’s truly all good! If music is in your bones, I think it’s something you have to explore and pursue. I’m so grateful that music got it’s hooks in me. It saved my life.