Young Jesus Interview

Posted: by Mitch

Interview with John Rossiter

You’re the driving force behind a thriving indie rock/post punk band in an era where these types of bands seem to be taking over the independent music scene. How long have you been writing in the style of music Young Jesus performs? 

Oh boy. Seven or eight years? Been at it a long time relatively speaking. There are a lot of joys to having a band for that long, seeing (or imposing) a kind of narrative curve on it. I’m very proud of all the iterations. Heartbroken over some of it, embarrassed over some of it. It’s begun to look like life more than a band to me. I’m no longer interested in making it dramatic, just interested in it as a reflection of life, as a way to stay interested in the process of living -and I apologize if that’s dark, I’m currently making my way through a bit of sadness. So, making strange/experimental music is super exciting. It makes for those eyes-wide-open insatiable great days. Where everything is just astounding. Also, I’d say I’m hardly the driving force. I definitely care an awful lot and do write the melodies/general structures of tunes -perhaps I impose that narrative curve- I suppose I may be the emotional core. But a lot of Young Jesus’ post-punk, noise, and free jazz sensibilities come from our drummer Kern Haug, keyboard player Eric Shevrin, and bassist Marcel Borbon. And a lot of the joy of making music, staying present, and pushing musical boundaries comes from them, just as past iterations thrived on the input of Shawn Nystrand, Cody Kellogg, Peter Martin, Joe Levand, and Garrison Benson. People I love a whole lot and would be very lost without. I wish I could convey that all the time, but I’m sensitive/moody/anxious and can be a real asshole. That’s where some of the embarrassment comes from. 

Did you grow up listening to a certain genre/ artists that gave way to what you’re writing now?

Probably. I think Wilco has subconsciously crafted my approach to records, same as The Beatles (these are both very early), then the Chicago/Midwest emo scene a la Cap’n Jazz, Cursive, and Piglet. But I think it’s been the way I listen to music really. I just get really excited when people show me new stuff that they’re passionate about. As far as music, and hopefully with people too, I try to be as non-judgmental as possible, try to understand the zone of thought that allows someone to dig or hate something. And with people I love, that’s usually pretty easy. Which is great! I wanna listen to everything! But I also get swept away, lose myself a little. Leads to some real deal heartbreak. And now that I’m writing that, I think a lot of Young Jesus’ recent stuff is about that. A loss of self, for better and for worse. Being unmoored can be a beautiful feeling, but for an anxious person like myself, on bad days it’s very scary. 

You’re originally from Chicago but now hail from Los Angeles, was the relocation made to pursue a life as a musician? School? Something else?

I needed a change. I was stuck in a rut in Chicago, drinking too much, not really making music I was proud of. I never thought I’d move to Los Angeles. I was very much a Chicagoan (or suburbs kid who says he is from Chicago) saying that LA is bullshit and fake and all that. 

Anyway… I moved. For no real reason and I thusly lost my mind a little. All alone in this massive weird ass city. But that’s what led to [the writing of the record] Grow/Decompose. I was unmoored and scared and excited. A lot of heavy self-doubt. 

As it turns out, Los Angeles is an extremely interesting city, full of strange zones and surprises. It is difficult and I don’t think very much fun to visit. But to live as an artist if you come at it humbly? Very rad. 

Could you compare the Chicago music scene to the LA scene? Noticeable differences in things like DIY culture and playing in a steady band?

Chicago felt a little too drunk for me I suppose. But I probably wasn’t hanging in the right scene. And I wasn’t very active or open-minded either. Thought I knew it all but I KNEW NOTHING. Los Angeles leveled me in a lot of ways, so I was able to approach it modestly, do a lot more listening as opposed to the writing off I did in Chicago. I love the scene here, lots of bands/artists like Slow Rose and Windy and Media Jeweler and Fell Runner and Steady Lean and Kera & the Lesbians and The Lentils and Goon and West America and Fragile Gang and Jake Rosenzweig I find constantly interesting. 

Young Jesus somewhat recently went through a line up change, what all has been switched out and how has that impacted your ability to produce new material/record/play out and tour?

It’s definitely added a lot of excitement. For me, change often leads to pretty generative phases. So we’re in that now- a lot of material, a lot of chemistry, and a lot of interest in what we’re doing. We’ve toured more this year than ever before which is great. But now it’s time to record a new album and relax a little bit. 

As far as specifics, Shawn Nystrand, Garrison Benson, Peter Martin, and Cody Kellogg are no longer in the band. Now we have Eric Shevrin (keys), Kern Haug (drums), and Marcel Borbon (bass). I didn’t handle that transition very sensitively. I tend to dread letting people down so much that I really fuck up those situations and put those relationships in danger. I definitely regret that, but I’m learning I hope. Learning to rebuild those bridges and value those people in my life more.

You recently put out an amazing 2-track EP, Void as Lob, which was pressed to tape by Funeral Sounds. How did the writing, recording, and distribution of this differ from your earlier release, Grow/ Decompose, and the singles that were put out before that? 

We just ended up with the opportunity to record at this studio with Stefan Richter. We had 2-3 days to just try stuff out, so we recorded live and got some really good stuff that we’re super proud of. Lots of fresh emotion there and we were still pretty new to playing together. I tried to be really honest with myself lyrically, confront some things I shy away from. I think (hope) that kind of stuff is audible. Most Young Jesus releases are recorded at MAX SPEED because if not I’ll just dwell on it until I think it’s really shitty and then we’ll end up not releasing it. Plus I think you can drain the emotion out of it if you exhaust the recording. Super glad Funeral Sounds was down with it and interested in putting it out. I respect what they do and how they do it. I think Void as Lob showcases the current lineup and where we’re headed as a band. We got a new record in the works that I’m so excited for, so I’m glad people have been interested in the Lob.

The lyrical writing style you’ve developed over the years, which undoubtedly contains your personal mannerisms and an advanced sort of wordiness, often has undertones of religion, consistently mentions a brother of yours (Steve), and Grow/Decompose has an underlying concept dealing with oranges. Could you talk a little bit about where these themes come from?

Well, I can have some pretty cyclical, obsessive thoughts- things that either throw me into some sort of abyss or lift me up. Certain images stay with me and then all of the sudden I’m deep into some project (like watercoloring a 50 page zine/book) and three months have passed. I get really psyched and don’t even realize it. I just think this is life. Go to work, watercolor for four hours with some David Attenborough-narrated nature documentary on in the background, go to band practice, sleep. I wrote the fuck out of Grow/Decompose, a whole year of just looping and looping, calling my old bandmates crying and being like, “I can’t do this, I’m gonna lose it! This is a bad record and I’m being too mean about the religion I grew up in! It makes me feel weird to write this sometimes I’m too consumed by it!” Which is funny now kind of, but the other day I got home from tour and just broke down when my roommates left. Completely unexpected, total collapse. I used to have a pretty good handle on my emotions when I wasn’t writing as much but now I think I’ve set up this mode of operation that is becoming a little taxing on me. Or maybe it’s just that with touring you have to put on a good face and you can’t break down if you’re trying to get from place to place and convince people you know what you’re doing. And I was raised to be pretty stoic so all I do now is try to be ‘tough’ which feels passe and then have these moments of heavy, heavy weakness. I keep hoping I’m progressing but I think I’m looping a little. And that’s okay. I feel good about a lot of things too. There’s a tune on the next record about this. Stay tuned. I hope it’s okay that I treat interviews like therapy now. But I treat music like therapy so might as well be an open book about it all. 

Having just finished a 6-week tour with your friends in Pope (Community Records) and Alaska (Soft Speak Records), you played a ton of new material and hit cities you’ve never played in, or haven’t been in a while. What are your plans for the band now that the tour has commenced? Do you have any sort of short term or long term plans/ goals?’

Tour was a real blast, always is. And a trial. But what a privilege to play these weirdo tunes for people everywhere. Shows are where it’s at for me. But, as I said before, very taxing too. So we need to chill out a little bit, take stock of what we’ve done for the past year, keep ourselves and our relationships healthy. I think if you overwork a band, you run the risk of estranging the members and then it gets stale, rote, frustrating, and/ or uninspiring. We are recording a new record this month though, but I like recording because I get to sleep in my own bed and make food for myself. Also, I’m really excited to work with Greg Hartunian  (LVL UP, Wild Wing, No Parents) who has done some things I really like and respect. It seems like a good match and it feels like a special moment in the band. Whether other people feel that way on this record is a whole ‘nother issue but it is special for us so that’s all we can do. Try and cultivate that.

Then hopefully move to some quiet place? Meditate more? Be at peace with myself, that’s the plan. I’m pretty angry these days, was laid low by a recent love and feel like I didn’t stick to myself enough, got swept up trying to compromise and be excited for/about the other. Because it was exciting! I was in love and believed in it to my core. So like I said before, loss of self. Need to find my zone now, self-belief. To trust in the love of my friends/family. It’ll take time but I catch glimpses of it. Getting there. Ready to not be angry.