JBM | 07.20.2010

Jesse Merchant talks about the recording studio, his musical friendships, the pure chance of landing a National tour, and what to hopefully expect down the line.

 Off Broadway, St. Louis

Jesse Merchant performs under the name JBM and has recently opened for St. Vincent, The Tallest Man on Earth, Rogue Wave, and Sondre Lerche. Merchant’s debut album, Not Even in July, comes out July 27. He talks about the recording studio, his musical friendships, the pure chance of landing a National tour, and what to hopefully expect down the line. We conduct the interview in the front common room of Off-Broadway while Nathaniel Raitliff, the band he opens for this round, do their sound check.

Recently, Neko Case recorded her newest album [Middle Cyclone] inside of a barn. Now we have your debut album, which was recorded inside a church. Is there a sort of aesthetic value in these unique locations? Or was your decision to record in a church mainly for the acoustics of the building?

For me it was coincidental that the engineer I wanted to work with had just bought a church. He had had a studio in the city, and he was moving out of the city. So he bought the church and turned it into a proper studio. He had the big room on top as the live room and he built the control room in the basement. But there are a lot of thing you can do with it sound-wise. And just being there is really pleasant.

You’re debut album is entitled, Not Even in July, yet a week from today is the album’s release party, which is July…

Yeah, that was just coincidental, they actually had scheduled it for earlier and then it just ended up getting pushed back. I don’t know what that implies; it seems like a bad omen.

 So Sondre Lerche is performing at your release party with you?

Yeah, he’s opening for me (laughs), which is totally strange. I’ve toured with him twice, opening for him, so he’s become a friend of mine over that…and so he was up for the idea of doing it, which is nice for me. If I played my own show there probably wouldn’t be that many people there. It’s good to have help.

 So you guys hit it off immediately?

Yeah, both tours that we did we were both performing solo, and we did, you know, two National tours in a minivan, so you kind of…you know. We had known each other a little bit before that living in Brooklyn, and we had a few friends in common. He’s a super nice guy, so he’s not hard to get to know.

You’ve played with other bands such as St. Vincent, Rogue Wave…

St. Vincent I opened for just once in NYC; I never toured with her, I’d like to. It’s great music. Rogue Wave I went on a National tour with. They actually had another opener and I filled in because they were stuck in a snowstorm. I was actually on tour with Sondre but I had that day off and I was right near by...and then they just brought me along for the rest of it. So it’s a totally weird thing. How’d that happen?

Forces of Nature.

Yeah! And they were on a big bus and had a bunch of extra room. So it was pretty simple for me to just hop on. Finish one tour and hop on to the next.

Now about a couple of your songs: Both “Going Back Home” and “In a Different Time” seem to emit a sense of loss and loneliness, and then they burst into, both musically and lyrically, what feels to me like hope and understanding while the songs still dangle their toes in sadness. Am I sort of following this right?

Yeah…A lot of the songs start with an idea, and then I get into writing about it and it becomes about more than just that one idea. Several ideas will come into play. I guess… the person I had in mind while I was writing was going through a bad time and I was hoping for the better, you know? So it’s not something deliberate, I don’t know really how that happens.

Could you name one person or band whose career you admire enough to hope to follow the same path in your musical endeavors?

Oh man…

Well, what do you want to do?

There are major extremes of it. If I had a band I could have a really big touring crew, I could do crazy-amazing light shows...that’d be exciting. That’s not necessarily what I have in mind, though. I’d like to be able to just play nice theaters where you have really nice sound and a relatively tight group of people, but still enough people so you can make a living doing it. On the smaller end of it is M. Ward, whom I’ve seen play solo in a lot of theaters and he puts on a beautiful show and it’s still quite simple. Sometimes he plays in a band so it’s a bit more elaborate.

Would you be interested in having a number of different projects like him?

It’s hard to say how involved you can get in projects until you have the time to do them. I’m definitely interested in doing different things. I played with a few other people over the last few months- different styles- it helps you expand a little bit and keeps things new musically because you can get a bit tired of playing your own thing; your own style. I can see myself getting involved, maybe not in so many things. I don’t have such a broad attention span. But I also love huge bands like Radiohead. The amazing lightshows and the amazing things they do. So anywhere between (laughs)…

 M. Ward and Radiohead!

 Yeah. | Alex Schreiber

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