April 30, 2010
Contributor Ezra Morris interviews Gentleman Jesse, an ATL-based rock band that is steadily gaining notoriety.
Gentleman Jesse and his Men is a garage/power pop band from Atlanta. Front man Jesse Smith sings and plays guitar. The group is rounded out by Dave Rahn (drums), Adrian Barrera (guitar), and Warren Bailey (bass). Smith is a current member of The Gaye Blades and used to play in The Carbonas, The Weight, and Some Soviet Station. He is also an avid record collector.
EM: So what’s your current obsession?
JS: The last trend was black metal, I was spending a lot of money on black metal from France.
EM: Scandinavian is too mainstream?
JS: Yeah, there was this group of guys called Les Legion Noires who thought the Norwegians were getting a little soft.
EM: Going soft?
JS: Right, I’m shifting out of that now, I’m trying to get into country. I’ve done rock n roll and soul but I still haven’t done country.
EM: Do you feel like country, being unexplored, is sort of looming over you? Like it’s something you have to do?
JS: Yeah, I did blues and that was rootsy enough for a period of my life but now I need to do some white people blues.
EM: Did the exploration of roots music influence you to move away from the open-ended indie rock you used to do towards more traditionally structured verse/chorus/verse three-minute songs?
JS: Structure makes writing a song easier. It’s like an equation, this plus this equals a song. It’s laziness really. And it helps you find if a song is missing something to make it a SONG. The digging, the record collection means that I have a bigger palette to work with when writing. I go “OK this song has this kind of part and this kind of part, what does it need?”
EM: Is that always an undercurrent when you’re writing a song? Because you do have such a large palette to draw from, is it a conscious thing to reference existing songs?
JS: If there are any straight rip-offs, they’re not conscious. Any borrowing I do is not on purpose. I’m trying not to rip people off. But there are stylistic things I am not afraid of borrowing.
EM: You’ve said before that if you could you’d just say “words, words, words” when you’re writing a song. So do lyrics not factor in at all for you?
JS: I’d rather have good lyrics than bad lyrics, but I don’t like writing them. It’s a struggle to write them. The way it works is a line will pop into my head and if I can put a melody to it I can usually remember the words. But the words do start it all. Like “I Don’t Want to Know Where You Been Tonight.” I heard it and said, “That should be a song. How should it go?” [Sings chorus] “Oh, that works.”
EM: So the second record is written but not recorded?
EM: How has the writing process been with the new members (Barrera and Bailey didn’t play on the first LP)?
JS: It’s been a lot more involved. A lot less of me doing things myself and a lot more working things out at practice. I hate to give them credit for anything because I want it all [laughs]. I’ll go, “This part needs a harmony and I don’t have the harmony written so we’ll work it out down in the basement, which is always a funny thing to do. That was always one of those things when you were younger it was always so embarrassing even though you’re in the position where that’s what you’re supposed to do. Fortunately, I’ve been put through the ringer in previous bands about singing, so now singing in front of people is not embarrassing at all. I can have a crowd in the studio and my voice will crack and that will happen–I’m not very good at this–so back it up, let’s do it again. So working out harmonies is actually fun.
EM: It doesn’t feel like a burden.
JS: Yeah, when you work on it and it actually comes out right it’s great. We have three part harmonies on this record and that’s been a goal of mine for a long time and it sounds good. So these guys are pulling their weight.
EM: Then is some of the pressure off of you?
JS: No, because at the end of the day I still have to bring a song to the table. The collaborative process is just the finishing touches. If it was a meal, they’d be the parsley on the side. No, no…
EM: The sauce on a steak?
JS: There you go.
EM: How do you take criticism in this band with you being the principle member?
JS: It depends on how the criticism is given. If it is someone who says “you’re not doing anything new, that’s not inventive,” then they’re an idiot, obviously I’m not doing anything new. If I were to be trying to do something new, innovation for the sake of innovation, then it would probably suck. That stuff pretty much never works.
EM: Well it has to work sometimes, or else we’d never have new sounding bands.
JS: Ok, it can be done and it is done but innovation for innovation’s sake is lame. When people strive to be something new they’re just fooling themselves.
EM: Do you feel a pull to put more of yourself into the songs? Like, is writing a song about finding a record digging in the crates just how you’d write a song about meeting a girl?
JS: It would definitely be more honest (laughs).
EM: So you’re about to start recording?
JS: Yeah, 19 songs. Then I’m going to record two covers by myself. Then there will be a 12 or 13 song record. I’m going to figure out what songs I need to make the album, I have a pretty good idea about those, and the rest will be singles that come out before the LP.
EM: Got any touring plans?
JS: Yes, we’ll do it. We need to go to the west coast so that is the priority. We’re going to be on tour all summer, do the east coast first. Then Europe, Japan, and Australia.
EM: Is there actual talk of that or are you just listing off places in the world?
JS: Yeah, Europe for sure. Japan is a little far-fetched but I want to go, we’d kill it, they love power pop. But we’re not a power pop band.
EM: You’re not a power pop band?
JS: No. We’re a rock n roll band (laughs).
EM: Can you split those hairs for me?
JS: We don’t wear ties. That’s a rule.
For more info, tour dates, and music from Gentleman Jesse and his Men, visit their Myspace.