The artist discusses his new solo project Hard Sky.
It makes sense that Jesse Jerome Jenkins V finds solace in isolation.
As a member of the celebrated Austin band Pure X, Jesse is well-versed in crafting hazy, pining noise pop. But on his debut solo album Hard Sky, Jesse trades the collaborative ethos of his band for a solitary, personal undertaking. It’s a record full of songs about loneliness, and creating it was a lonely process, too.
Hoping to grow as an artist, as well as “cope” with the “noise” of the outside world, Jesse decamped to his Corpus Christi studio to lay down tracks between 2014 and 2016. Rather than setting out with a high concept, Hard Sky is a collection of songs that see Jesse coming to terms with (and sometimes shrugging off) heavy concepts like impermanence and loss over a backdrop of Americana guitar licks and pillowy synths. On the surprisingly buoyant “De-pression,” Jesse ponders, “What happens when you lost the time that you had before?” It’s a question that Jesse never really answers, but he still leans in to the beauty of not knowing.
Jesse plays in Brooklyn at Alphaville on July 1 with Olden Yolk and Mira Cook.
AdHoc: Where did you grow up?
Jesse: I grew up in Northeast Texas in a little town called Emory, which is between Dallas and Texarkana. It’s a town of like 1,000 people—super small.
How do you think where you’re from and how you grew up affected your perspective as an artist?
That’s a good question and actually something I’ve been thinking of recently. I think I’m seeking isolation now because that’s how I coped with things growing up. I was in this tiny town and I really hated it and I wanted to get out of there so bad. Now, I kind of realize that it was a really good place for me to grow up as an artist because it forced me to create my own world and my own fun.
That theme of isolation is pervasive on your new album. Why do you think you find comfort in disconnecting and being alone?
I just think there’s so much noise going on right now. It’s really difficult to get away from it. I think music is my outlet to be able to drown out all of the noise, and also be able to cope with it.
Hard Sky is your debut solo album. Why was it important to make this a Jesse record and not integrate these songs into the Pure X repertoire?
Making a solo album is something I’ve wanted to do since forever. I’ve been writing and recording songs since I was 13, and I never really put them together into a proper album. It’s just always something I’ve wanted to do. It’s definitely more difficult to do it on your own than in a band, especially with Pure X, because there was so much collaboration going on. We would record almost everything live, so it had this kind of easy-breezy flow to it. That’s why it took such a long time to make this record: I was tracking most of it by myself. It was just a totally different process. But yeah, I think I’ve just wanted to have an album of my own for a long time.
Is there any degree of self-consciousness that comes with releasing a solo album as opposed to releasing music as part of a unit?
Yeah, I think so. [The label and I] talked about that in the beginning. We knew everyone was going to want to ask about Pure X and be like, “What is this? Why are you doing this? Is that over?” I don’t feel self-conscious about the record at all. I like it and I’m proud of it. But I think there is an element of, “How does this come across?” And I still don’t really know.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I try to employ any and all ways to capture inspiration. I don’t really have a set way that I sit down and write song, but I definitely have little methods for keeping my brain open to inspiration. I like to be outside a lot; I like to go swimming a lot. I carry around a little book at all times. I think the cool thing about songs and about music in general is that there are just no rules. Especially nowadays, it’s really easy to record. There are no rules for how you can “acquire” a song. That’s what I love about it—and being open to that concept is the thing that helps me the most.
Your label [Uniform Group] notes that Hard Sky touches upon American musical traditions. Can you elaborate on what that means?
When talking about it with [the label], it became apparent that it sounded very American to me, and that has a pretty heavy connotation at the moment. It ties in with the isolation thing, and it ties in with paranoia. Musically, it’s all coming out of my filter, which is very American: blues, jazz, R&B and country music, which I could never escape from. Country music is in my DNA. Sound-wise, my songwriting style is a blend of all that stuff, but thematically, it sounds like modern America to me, which is a paranoid, very isolated, difficult place.
Although there’s melancholy on the record, it’s not overtly minor-key sad. They’re sad songs that don’t sound specifically sad. Was there intention behind counterbalancing darker subject matter with a mellower, happier sound?
I think that’s just how they come out. I try not to do anything too overtly. I don’t want to beat people over the head with whatever I’m trying to do. So there’s an element of I’m trying to be a little more subversive than obvious. I don’t know if it’s part of the aesthetic I’m trying to create, but I think all of that juxtaposition comes out naturally. I’m trying to reflect the actual complexities of whatever I’m feeling.
Do you have any favorite songwriters?
I think Roger Troutman is one of my favorite songs because he’s so wild. That goes back to my “no rules” policy. I like people where it’s very obvious that they’re doing whatever they want and it’s coming out of their brain.
We’re living in an age where technology and social media arguably make it easier to share your music. At the same time, it leads to a lack of mystery that once was a major part of the fan’s experience. I’ve noticed you’re not super active on social media or promoting the record. What kind of balance do you try to strike between wanting people to hear your music and not overexposing yourself?
I’m glad that you noticed that, because it’s definitely something I’ve always had in mind. It’s really hard to be involved in social media for me. I don’t use Facebook. My label guys made a Facebook page for my music, but I don’t really use social media, and I don’t want to. But in the context of music, I think that the concept of an album is changing a lot.
The way that I grew up listening to albums and the way I like listening to albums is kind of going away because of streaming. The playlist is the big thing now and not the album. I mean, it’s cool, because I want as many people as possible to hear my music, and that’s what [streaming] is for—it’s for connecting with people. On the other hand, I do like to be able to present it to people in the way I’d like them to listen to it, which is an album. So it’s really hard to control that, but we’ve tried.
Do you have any plans to release more music as Jesse? And will Pure X be releasing any more music in the future?
I’m definitely going to keep making music on my own. I’m already kind of working on the next one. We’re going to keep doing Pure X records, too, when the time is right. I don’t know when that might be, but we’re always sharing ideas. We’ve done a couple of recording sessions recently at my studio down in Corpus Christi. So, yeah, that will happen, too. You’ve gotta go away to come back.