With the release of Jesse Terry’s lush fourth LP Stargazer, we took the opportunity to chat with the musically adventurous singer-songwriter for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. During our interview, Terry talks about his sonic inspirations, the lyrical theme of hope that is woven throughout the album, what it’s like to shoot a music video in an English castle, and much more!
NoiseTrade: As someone who has followed your career over your last three albums, I’ve noticed that your upcoming album Stargazer is unquestionably your most adventurous sounding one yet. Where did you draw sonic inspiration from for your newest batch of songs and how do you see your album-by-album evolution as a songwriter and record-maker?
Jesse Terry: I absolutely agree, Stargazer is definitely the most ambitious album of my career and the one that feels the most exciting, creative and inspiring to me. I think the same sonic inspirations were always there for me: The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, Travis, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, and Ryan Adams. Everything felt wide open to me with Stargazer and that was a real empowering feeling. I didn’t think about genres or critics or even my past work as we were writing and recording. I just set out to make exactly the kind of record I wanted to hear.
I view these albums as snapshots in time. I’m really proud of the albums I’ve made in the past and so grateful for the amazing producers, writers, and players I’ve been able to work with. A great producer can definitely push you and bring some beautiful stuff to the surface. And that’s been the case for me from the very start – working with Eric Masse, Ethan Mentzer, and Adam Popick on my debut album, Neilson Hubbard on my next two projects, Glenn Barratt on my latest EP and now with Josh Kaler on Stargazer. It was fantastic working with Josh on this album. He’s a creative, talented and passionate music maker.
I feel like Stargazer is a turning point for me personally. I’ve never been so proud of anything. This has given me so much confidence to be completely unfettered in my creative process. Whatever I do next, I know that I will dive in head first and be fearless about it. This feels like an exciting new chapter for me. There’s so much more to learn and explore, both musically and lyrically. I think the craft of songwriting is important to study and I’ve done plenty of that. After you’ve worked on your craft, it’s very freeing to forget about that stuff and just get back to the divine aspect of creating. That’s where the real magic is, in the seeds that come to you when your heart is wide open.
NT: Lyrically, hope seems to be a strong theme running throughout the songs on Stargazer. What are you thoughts on the presence and/or absence of hope in our lives (both individually and communally), especially in today’s social and political climate?
Terry: I feel that with this album. It’s a realistic album, while still trying to be optimistic and hopeful. And that’s really a reflection of how I feel personally. I mean, without hope, what do you have really? There’s so many discouraging and heartbreaking things going on in our world right now, starting with the destruction of our own planet. And that’s not a political issue for me, that’s a factual scientific issue. You have to have hope that real change will occur soon and that our environment will be become a top priority. I have to stay hopeful for a real revolution in that realm.
Music gives me hope and gives me a purpose, because I feel like going out there and making this music has a positive impact on the world. It brings different kinds of people together in peace and unity. That’s a beautiful thing. And I’m obviously just one tiny piece of that vast tapestry. All kinds of artists are making a peaceful and positive impact on this world.
I’m also encouraged by our communities standing up and fighting back against injustice, racism, intolerance and hatred. And again, these are not political issues for me, these are purely moral issues in my opinion.
NT: Another Stargazer track, “Woken the Wildflowers” was recently featured on the Americanafest 2017 mixtape on our site. What can you tell us about that song and about your feelings playing Americanafest this year?
Terry: What amazing company to be in on that AmericanaFest Mixtape and what amazing company to be in being able to perform at AmericanaFest 2017. It’s a true honor. I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows since I started touring full time in 2010 and it feels good to enjoy that journey and to get better at your job every night. I’m so freaking proud and grateful to be a full-time singer/songwriter/touring artist and to be paying the rent and putting food on our table playing music.
“Woken The Wildflowers” was written in New Zealand while I was watching the 2017 Women’s March. My wife is a kiwi and I was spending about five weeks visiting my family down in New Zealand. It was difficult to watch the inauguration from such a beautiful, peaceful land. I think it was difficult for my kiwi family to send us back home after watching the news on the television.
So the Women’s March was encouraging and inspiring for us. The “wildflowers” in my song refer to the everyday people that gathered that day to stand up for what’s right. A lot of the people that I saw marching were folks I didn’t expect to see. These were not radicals, activists or wildly political people. They were people from all walks of life – all ages, professions, religions and skin colors. Their photos were absolutely flooding my newsfeed. That gave me hope and inspired the song. The Stargazer album examines some of these issues a bit more than my previous albums because this is a unique time in our history. And again, it’s really not about politics for me. I hate politics. These are all just basic moral issues to me, plain and simple. And it was encouraging to see that a lot of the folks in America and throughout the world felt the same way.
NT: You recently shot a gorgeous music video for “Stargazer” at Bamburgh Castle in Northeast England. What made you choose that specific location and what was the overall experience like for you?
Terry: That was an epic day in Northumberland, England. A top five day in my life for sure. I met the fellow who runs Bamburgh Castle on my first UK tour in 2013 at a small show in Northumberland. He’s a real lovely guy. He’s a huge music fan and has a son that’s a musician as well. When I told him about the song “Stargazer” he just wanted to help. I was very lucky. Bamburgh Castle is an absolute fairy-tale location overlooking the North Sea. It’s one of the most stunning castles in the world and it still feels surreal to me that we were able to film there. And it just happened to be the perfect location for the “Stargazer” video. The song is all about escaping your own emotional prisons and creating your own universe. Bamburgh is literally an ancient fortress! I loved the metaphor of that and how it all felt connected to the lyric for me. It’s also a song about fighting for dreams, believing in dreams and holding onto dreams, so the fairy-tale vibe of the location also felt perfect to me.
We spent three hours filming in the castle, but the whole experience feels like a blur to me now. It all went so fast. It was extra cool to work with Cain Scrimgeour on the video, a brilliant cinematographer from the Northeast. It was really cool to have my great mate and UK guitarist Alan Fish co-direct the video. I even had my UK Tour Manager Viv Fish on wardrobe! So it was a real comfortable feeling, shooting my first music video with my UK family by my side. It’s going to be hard to beat that location for future videos.
One thing I do remember about the experience: There’s a great sound system in the vast King’s Hall at Bamburgh Castle and for the first scene I remember hearing my music echoing through this gorgeous, ancient space. I recall hearing those beautiful strings on “Stargazer” and feeling so happy that I found a way to make this dream album. Really, my friends, fans, family and musical family made this dream album come true. We had over 500 Pledgers pre-order the album, so I could afford to record the music, hire the string players and make this video at Bamburgh Castle! Lots to be grateful for.
NT: Finally, keeping with the music video topic, did you have any favorite music videos growing up and are there any more recent music videos from the last few years that you’ve really enjoyed?
Terry: I’m a child of the eighties and nineties, so I still remember the glory days of music videos, when we talked about them at school and then raced home to catch them on MTV. For me, it’s hard to imagine better music videos than “Thriller,” “November Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Freedom.” So many great ones. I miss those days when the videos were more like short films and short stories. But there are definitely some beautiful videos being created today and also some really creative ones. I’m probably a little late to the party here, but some of my friends showed me a bunch of the OK Go music videos recently and I thought they were unbelievable and hilarious. I especially loved “This Too Shall Pass” and “Here It Goes Again.”
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t understanding that sometimes the clothes do not make the man, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack