5 writers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by the MWA writers. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: Chicago singer-songwriter, Jesse W. Johnson.
From his time as the frontman for Jet W. Lee to his growing solo discography, Jesse W. Johnson has proven himself to be a prolific writer and talented performer. Just last month, Jesse released his newest solo effort – a five track digital EP titled Primal Scream. Also available on vinyl as a two-track 7″, Primal Scream utilizes the talents of Jet W. Lee’s Paul Doerr as well as Yoo Soo Kim and Zach Benkowski of Hemmingbirds. We had the chance to talk to Jesse about the new record for this week’s FIVE x FIVE.
The 7” version of Primal Scream looks awesome. How did you decide to release just two of the album’s tracks as a single rather than committing all five tracks to wax?
Thanks! My friend Angela G. Pestano did the artwork and she’s amazing!
I’d been really wanting to do a 7″ single and “Primal Scream” & “Expecting to Fall” seemed like the perfect songs to do it with. They’re pretty different but work really well on opposing sides of the vinyl. I really like the idea of having a more rocking side and a quieter side to a record. It keeps things interesting and is just fun to do too. I actually didn’t think of including more songs until we got the band together and things were working out so well. Then we had the other 3 songs and doing the digital EP along with the 7″ seemed like a really cool idea, having the two songs on the 7″ bookend the EP. It also allowed me to keep costs down a little bit but still put out a physical product for shows.
Is there any difference in the approach that you take to writing solo material to writing for a band?
Not really. I just try to let inspiration strike whenever it does and do my best to get out of the way and let it happen. If I try to write a certain type of song deliberately, it usually just falls flat. Sometimes I’ll end up with a slower song, sometimes not, it really depends on my mood and god knows what else. I can usually tell early on how the song will sound, but sometimes it morphs completely into something different when other people get involved. It’s always fun when that happens.
Primal Scream features some great performances from Paul Doerr and Hemmingbirds’ Yoo Soo Kim and Zach Benkowski. How much of the writing and recording was collaborative versus playing parts that you had written?
Hell yah! I love these guys. They’re such great friends, fantastic musicians, and super intuitive players. They wrote their parts after hearing the songs a few times and I would give suggestions if needed. That’s it. It was really natural and easy to do, which is great because I couldn’t describe a specific drum beat if it killed me. We recorded at Yoo Soo’s studio with him engineering everything. Drums and main guitar were done together, then bass, and everything else on top of that. After we laid down the main tracks, Yoo Soo and I finished everything up. We ended up having more viola on the record than planned, but it just sounded so great and really filled out songs like “Why Aren’t We in L.A.?” and “Springfield Supportive Living”.
In your opinion, how does Primal Scream compare or differ from your previous solo efforts, Cannon Rows and Home to Roast?
I think that Primal Scream is a more perfect blend of my influences, chewed up then and spit back out as something unique. There’s a pretty wide range of style in just the 5 songs, and I love that. It feels like an experience to me, something with a thread that ties it all together too. I love the other albums, and this one feels like a natural progression. They were all recorded at least partially live, and that’s my favorite way to do things. I feel like if I just sing or play guitar I totally suck compared to when I’m doing them both together. It just feels natural doing it that way and why make it harder on myself? Overall this EP has got me really excited to keep exploring and doing new things!
What are you plans now that Primal Scream has been released? Is there a tour in works? Have you given any thought to what’s next for you musically?
There is definitely a tour in the works. I’m going to be going out solo in the spring, and then hopefully with a band in the summer. It takes awhile to get these things booked and rolling but I’m getting started now and am really excited for it.
I’ve actually got almost a full album’s worth of new material ready to go, so we’re talking about rehearsing and getting back in the studio soon. Everyone’s onboard and it feels really good to keep the momentum up. The next release will be a full-length and I’ll also press it to vinyl. I think it’ll sound like an extension of Primal Scream, but with some darker and weirder stuff in there too.
You can stream Primal Scream in full on Bandcamp or Soundcloud and if you’re into vinyl make sure to pick up a copy of the 7″ for just $10. If you’re in the Champaign area, Jesse will be playing Mike N Molly’s tomorrow 11/14 with The Acme Principle. Details here.