Singer/songwriters are often imagined to be folk-style troubadours writing and performing songs with a rootsy feel. So it's refreshing to hear one not following that path.
Joshua Jesty writes songs that hearken back to the new wave of the late 70s. The songs and his performance of them, be it just him and his guitar or with a rocking band, hold up exceedingly well in a live setting. His multi-octave voice plays wonderfully with inventive guitar work.
I had the chance to talk with Jesty this week. Here's how it went.
Radio Hannibal: So where were you born and raised?
Joshua Jesty: I was born in a doctors house somewhere in the middle of nowhere Ohio, raised primarily in lakewood and then Olmsted Falls through my wonder years.
RH: Well that's an interesting way to start off life. Olmsted Falls schooling as well right?
JJ: 8th through 12th.
RH: When did the music bug hit?
JJ: I'd say 6th grade. I had a dream I was on a stage playing guitar to an unknown crowd with an unknown group of people. I'm pretty sure that was 6th grade. And when I woke up I kind of new from then on. Not a doubt about it.
RH: Wow, that's a good and scary feeling.
JJ: It was a good feeling. I was in 6th grade so it was nice to feel something other then acne or hormones. Purpose is nice.
RH: What was the first music you bought or were given?
JJ: It's hard to say. Oh wait, the first music was the Monkees. I watched that show non stop as a kid. My parents told me time in "Monkee time".
RH: Interesting. And what time period was that?
JJ: When I was 4 or 5. The show was being revitalized in the early 80s, so early 80s 82, 83.
RH: Funny, as that was mine and many others of my age first purchases, but that was when they originally hit. When did you begin playing an instrument? Was it the guitar?
JJ: My mom had me take piano lessons at six years old until I was 12 and I couldn't stand it. I think it was the teaching method but I couldn't stand it. I did get a book of beatles songs that I loved but otherwise couldn't stand it. So at age 12 when my mom asked if I wanted to keep going or stop. I said Stop! And then I had that dream about playing guitar. My parents didn't really trust it since I was such a flake with piano, but it was like I knew that was my instrument and I took to it fairly quickly.
RH: When did you begin writing songs?
JJ: When I was young I wrote a lot of lyrics based on other peoples melodies. I think the first song I wrote was called "I Need You" and it sounds like a generic Beatles tune. The lyrics went " you know I need you, you know I need you, you know I need you, need your love" verse 2 "you know I want you, you know I want you.... " I think you get the idea. But actually constructing songs that felt like they were of my own voice, around 9th grade. I had a "band" called Nugget and we wrote and horribly recorded about 70 songs in 10 months. They were about "gumby" and getting lost in porto pottys, and spitting off the tops of buildings. Things we could relate to.
RH: Ha. Elvis Costello said that My Aim Is True, his debut, was just a reworking of Talking Heads first album. And speaking of new wave, your songs remind me of that time period. They sound similar to what those singer/songwriters were doing back then. Who are your influences?
JJ: In high school while the grunge wave was happening I was listening mostly to the Talking Heads and The Police, some Tori Amos, Def Lepard, Crash Test Dummies. Nothing that was cool by my generations standards, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I actually listened to "Every Breath You Take" on repeat every night for about 6 months before I went to sleep. Of course as a kid I listened to The Beatles a ton too, And my parents listened to Q104 (top 40 pop station back in the day) for years. I was beaten mercilessly with pop music all my life.
RH: You're lucky all your songs don't come out sounding like a take on "Every Breath". Your lyrics these days mostly evolve around being heart broken or yearning for that girl. Do you find it easier to dig into a song like that?
JJ: I think I hide a lot of the idea of loss behind the context of girls and women. It's true. I have a record called "Girl". But if I was calling it what it actually was, it would be called "Josh Is Coping With The Fact That His Dad Is Dead, His Band Broke Up, And He's Trying To Figure Out Life And Not Feeling Like He's Doing Such A Good Job At It" but that was far too long. So "Girl" it was.
RH: So the band broke up? You're bandless?
JJ: I was in This Is Exploding for five years and some change. Keep in mind, "Girl" is about 2 years old at this point.
RH: So how's the Kickstarter campaign going?
JJ: It's going great. All wrapped up and now that the funding is there I'm doing my best to get the mastering and the packaging all taken care of so I can fulfill my incentives to the donors in a timely fashion.
RH: I've seen you perform your songs both in a rock band and acoustically. They work so great in both settings.
JJ: Thank you for saying so. I often feel that if the song can't carry itself sans a full production, it's not worthwhile. But at the same time, if you can't have fun with it production wise, then poo poo on it. For lack of better phrasing.
RH: You really do a nice job of making your music accessible on the net.
JJ: What's the point in withholding really? Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of stuff that I have no reason to release cause it's just awful, just garbage but if I make something that I'm proud of why wouldn't I put it out and let everyone have access to it?
RH: I kind of like the model of just putting out songs. Once you have a really good one, push it. Then do it again. That is if another good song comes along, ha.
JJ: Oh yeah, trust me, I'm constantly writing because I fear the atrophy of my songwriting muscles otherwise I did stop putting out as much music as I once was cause I didn't want to over-saturate the fan base that I do have. I love drowning in music, but I suppose there's no reason to make others suffer the same fate (cause you're right, I've put out enough already).
RH: I suspect you have a decent following outside of Cleveland, no? I mean of that fan base.
JJ: I would love to assume that, but I have no way of knowing. I'll be going back out on tour in October and it's been about 2 and a half years since I've toured extensively, so we'll see who is still listening. The reason why I keep making music isn't really for other people. Of course, at the core of what I'm doing I hope that other people hear it and make it part of the soundtrack of their lives but I make music because it's what drives me, its what connects me with the divine if you will.
RH: What do you do 9 to 5?
JJ: Wait tables, plan my escape.
RH: Where at?
JJ: I'll be mysterious and say file not found.
RH: An enigma.
JJ: Wrapped in bacon. It's something I do well. I've been waiting tables for a long time, but it's not what I want to be identified with.
RH: What's the best thing in Cleveland ( be it animal, mineral or vegetable)?
JJ: My smoking hot girlfriend is the best thing in Cleveland. As far as a general statement though, I do love the mixed bag of personalities in and around this city. And while I think a lot of Clevelanders have been trained to put up this rough "you're not welcome" front, once you get to know people here they're generally wonderful.
RH: Well, that'll get you some points. Where do you and this girlfriend like to go for a night out. Somewhere where someone has to wait on you?
JJ: The lady and I don't get out much. When we do, we go dancing or sing karaoke. We tried putt-putting but really Cleveland has lost its heart when it comes to putt-putt.
RH: I think it's still the rage in Myrtle Beach.
JJ: I'll have to check it out, but the thought of hearing Jimmy Buffett covers is too much to take.
RH: What do you think of the Cleveland music scene?
JJ: I don't know what happened to it. There I was, feeling like I was in the middle of something great from 2002-2008 or so and then it felt like every band I loved broke up or went on hiatus (including my own band). I guess it's my fault partially cause I just walked away from it, but I'll be the first to admit I haven't been active in the Cleveland music scene in some years. And there's not a lot of bands I've heard that excite me these days... maybe cause I'm just becoming that picky bastard I never wanted to be, but most likely cause I'm just not looking hard enough.
RH: Yes, well, it's hard for a musician to see beyond his own music sometimes. Plus if they've got a busy schedule there's little opportunity to catch other acts.
JJ: It's true. There's some bands I want to see. I love anything Nick Tolar does (Expecting Rain, Herzog). I've been trying to go see Founding Fathers for a year and a half now. And I did like the EP by The Nights as well as The Afternoon Naps. But there's just so much out there and so little of it crosses my radar between my day job, the music I make, and the responsibilities I have.
RH: In regard to what happened to your experience, I think that...well, a six year period is enough for many musicians to give it a go. Then you either hit a wall or you're truly insane and will just never stop playing.
JJ: I will never stop playing, believe you me, and I take my craft in a way that is most likely too serious. In some ways I think I'll always feel like I'm outside of any scene because I'm not making an effort to fit in. I just follow that little crazy voice in my head and make song after song, but I will say after that six year period of hundreds of shows, local, regional, etc., etc. and six years of listening to 1,000s of mp3s from every genre possible I have gotten a bit burned out. I only get into four or five records a year tops these days. I hope that changes back a constant hurricane of new music again, but when I think about it it doesn't sound that appealing either.
RH: So what's your goal?
JJ: Silly as it sounds, my only goal is to develop a fan base who really likes what I do and find my little space to fill. If I can pay the bills playing my heart out and making as much music as I want to make in whatever fashion I want to make it I'll be a happy camper.
Here's a song: