After stepping down as Sleeping With Sirens’ rhythm guitar player, Jesse Lawson has embarked on a new musical journey. I, Henry Maneuver, had the pleasure of, earlier this year (my idiot publisher took forever to post this piece), Skyping with Lawson from his Oregon studio, located within a warehouse that also houses a bar, a pretty sick setup if you ask me, even though you didn’t. We just met. Everything Henry says is in bold, so pay attention.
Your EP Chapter II has lot of earthy rock feel to it with pizzicato strings and vintage vocal filters, considerably different from post-hardcore. From what influence are you drawing that sound? What inspired it?
Lawson: Well, for me, it’s just pretty much the music I like, you know? I actually don’t listen to too much post-hardcore or hardcore in general. Some of it’s always fun to listen now and then, but a lot of what I listen to is like very Ryan Adams, City and Colour, more laid-back music. I think when I started music I was always doing the screaming thing and all that stuff, and as I got older, I got into the more laid-back stuff, I guess, and so that’s why that influence comes out. When I write stuff, it just comes out more laid-back. I don’t really write breakdowns anymore. They’re probably still in there somewhere, though. [laughs]
So, obviously it’s been a huge life change that you’re a father now. Has that had any particular impact on how you see life or music in general?
Lawson: Completely. It’s a trip, man. Once you have a kid, it kind of becomes less about you and more about this human you need to make sure is okay. It’s definitely a growing up experience, and it totally does change how you see life and interact with people. I don’t know. It’s just this weird, new thing that you take over. Like being a dad… before when I was in Sleeping With Sirens, I could party all the time, and now when you’re a dad, my wife and I still have date nights and get wild or whatever, but, you also have this huge responsibility. And, it changes for the better. I couldn’t be happier.
Check out the song “The Road Is Broken” here.
I really look up to you, and it’s wild to me seeing how much you’ve accomplished at such a young age. I could have sworn you were at least a couple years older than me.
Lawson: [laughs] Thanks, man! Well, a lot of people think I’m older than I am. I think it’s ’cause I started touring when I was really young, and when you’re on the road, you have to fend for yourself, you know? Like… mom and dad aren’t there to hold your hand. It probably helped me mature more. I’m a still a goofball, but that’s just one of those things where you grow up.
You self-produced one of your recent singles “Tall Trees & Long Drives.” There seems to be a lot of story going on for only 3 minutes of song. What is the significance of this song to you personally?
Lawson: Um… well. So yeah, I did self-produce it. I have a little warehouse that I share with a friend of mine, and we have a little bar, a stage, and my studio. And, I had some down time, and I wanted to write some songs. So, I was just kind of messing with a few riffs or whatever, and I thought, “What better story to tell than how I started?” Being from the Northwest, there are a lot of trees. Living in Oregon to get anywhere it’s always a long drive. I was actually driving back from Portland, and just had this idea of tall trees and long drives and finally wrote it down.
I had this thought that I actually want people to know how it all went down, what’s it like to be in a small town with nothing going on, and how I knew that I needed to excel and get out there. So, yeah, I took the whole story and consolidated it to 3 minutes. I think it tells the story. It goes from me being in high school, instantly moving out across country, playing shows and touring, and how at first you don’t make money. You’re living off of 5 dollars a day, if you’re lucky. And then, eventually if you keep working at it, you’ll get to the point where you want to be. And, so it talks to where I got to that point, and now I’m a dad, and how I hope that my daughter will experience the same thing. She’ll do her dreams. So that’s why I crammed it all in there.
While listening to the song, I could real feel that sense of a long trip, especially since you use long notes during the chorus, putting you in the moment. Speaking of songwriting, how do you approach songs nowadays as a solo artist in comparison to when you were in a band?
Lawson: I’ve always kind of approached it the same way. In Sleeping With Sirens when Kellin and I would write, I’ve always started with an acoustic. It’s what I’ve always done. It feels right to me. And, I just work well that way. I’d start with the acoustic. Kellin would put a melody to it. Sometimes, he’d have a melody, I’d grab the acoustic and write to that, and then we’d do the lyrics once we had the structure. I kind of do the same thing now when I write by myself. A lot of times I’ll pick up the guitar, strum on something and really vibe it out. Put up a structure of an idea together, get some melodies in my head, and then after that, I’ll write the lyrics, I guess, which I know some people do it differently. Some people will have the lyrics and put the music to it, have words then melody and then music. But for me, I’ve always just grabbed the acoustic and let something flow, and when it clicks, and I feel that “this is right,” I go from there.
Of all the things involved in songwriting, what do you think a song revolves around?
Lawson: I definitely think that lyrics are a huge part because if you can’t connect with the lyrics, a song can be really great and have not so good of lyrics, and it kind of makes the song… not so good of a song, in my opinion. But, I do also think that there are certain, I’m sure you know ’cause you’re a musician, correct? You know when you hit that one chord or something, and there’s just that one chord that you hear in a song and you feel THAT. And, you got to have that aspect to bring the listener in. Another thing that I’ve kind of realized over the last couple of years is… I’ve really been getting into the art of songwriting, not just writing a song. There’s plenty of people who can be like “I can write a bridge, a chorus and verse or whatever,” which any musician can do, maybe, but I’ve really gotten into the art of how a song should flow in order to sound right, right that makes sense. I could be crazy.
I totally get it. Songwriting is like writing a movie. It has its peaks and valleys, and if there’s no pinnacle, it feels like you haven’t achieved anything over the course of the song.
Lawson: Exactly, and that’s why it’s called, “the art of songwriting,” because it is. It’s an art.
Would you say writing music as a solo artist is easier or does it have its own difficulties in comparison to writing with a band? Obviously with a band there are a lot more opinions. How do you look at it?
Lawson: Yeah, that’s a good question. It is hard with having a lot of people in one room and writing a song because there will be this person saying something, and then this person saying, “No, no. It’s not.” So, it can be hard. I have musicians come in and track drums or bass, little stuff like that, but the things is.
No programmed drums?
Lawson: [laughs] Nah. No programmed drums. All real. And, so yeah, that does make it challenging now because I’ve taken on this responsibility of writing the songs, writing the lyrics and melodies, talking with the players of the band, talking about how certain parts sound, blah blah blah, and all of that. Like, we just got done tracking our full length album up in Seattle, and I produced that as well, so it’s doing all this stuff. A ton of work, but it’s completely rewarding, you know, ’cause how I hear it in my head is how it comes out.
Check out the song “Tall Trees & Long Drives” here.
You worked with Mike Herrera (MxPx) at his studio, right? Why did you decide to go with him?
Lawson: So, Mike Herrera has been a good friend for a while, and that’s where we did the EP as well. And, I love the studio. It’s about 8 hours away from where I live, so it’s close.
Oh, yeah. REAL “close.” [laughs]
Lawson: [laughs] Well, yeah, I guess. I just love the vibe there. I love being out with him. He’s a great dude. And, they do everything in that studio. Everything’s real. It’s all real sounds, which I love. I love that. I love listening to a record and hearing the drums tones. It’s not a clearly sampled tone. And, it’s very comfortable. If you go to a studio and you’re not comfortable, you can tell. You can tell when you listen to the record that the artist wasn’t comfortable, so for me, that’s a huge thing. And, like I said, he’s always super-supportive. We have a couple of cool little music projects we do together.
Is that something that will find itself to a recorded form?
Lawson: Maybe. You never know. [laughs] It’s a surprise. [laughs]
Here’s a random question: there’s a lady singing on the song “Machine Heart.” Who is that?
Lawson: Her name is Harlee Case, and she’s actually on the whole record. And she grew up in the same town as me. I always loved her voice, and I was throwing around the idea of essentially making this an actual band. Then, I kinda decided, “You know… I kinda wanna keep this how I started it.” She’s so talented and great on the record, but she’s super-busy running her own clothing line and store, and she doesn’t have the time to do it. So, it was fun but didn’t quite work out.
Who is in the live band? How did you meet these duders?
Lawson: We have a set drummer. His name is Nick Welsh, and he also lives here. And, we have a set bass player, Adam Wood. Right now we’re just doing small festivals here and there. Like, we have South By So What coming up and just a couple of spot gigs. Once I start doing full run tours again, then I’ll have a set live band, which could change here and there, but that’s somewhat down the road. We’re still focusing on getting the right music out right now. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. [laughs]
New album: What are we in for? How does it compare to the EP?
Lawson: It’s different, man. I guess the only thing I can say is if you took that first EP and took the two singles and put them together, that’s kind of what it is. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll record. Straight up. No scene. No gimmicks, none of that. It’s straight up just rock ‘n’ roll. There are some down tunes, some dancier tunes, some rock tunes. I’m stoked for it. Regardless of what you listen to, there is going to be something for everyone.
What is DeliRadio and how did your new show “Barkeeper” coming to be?
Lawson: DeliRadio is awesome. It’s basically a music community website where no matter where you are, you can set your region, and it will tell you what bands are coming through, you can listen to the bands, so if you don’t know a band, you can listen to their music, maybe become a fan and then go to the show and love it. They offer a couple of really cool different things. And, they have a talk show series, and Mike has a show as well called “Don’t Miss This.” He was saying, “I really think you should try it. It’s a lot of fun. You interview friends, you interview whoever for 20 minutes.”
I had never done anything like that before, so I was like, “Hey… let’s give it a shot.” We’re 6 episodes in now. It’s really cool. We bring different artists in, hair dressers, chefs, or anything kinda interesting, and we just kind of bullshit with them. You know, we just have drinks and talk. It turns out to be really cool ’cause you get these really crazy stories. Like, when we were interviewing a chef, there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know about the cooking world. It’s kind of awesome. You realize, “Wow, this is rad.” We do it every Thursday. And, it’s just a good time.
Check out the ‘Chapter II’ preview here.
So, this is really important question because I think it says a lot about you and what you consider important in life. Who is your favorite superhero?
Lawson: I’m gonna say Batman.
Really? And, why’s that?
Lawson: ‘Cause he wears all black, all the time.
Cause he wears… all… black….
I feel like that could potentially be an extremely deep phrase, but I don’t know why.
Lawson: Exactly. [laughs]
Here’s another goofy question. What did you have a dream about last night?
Lawson: What did I dream about? I don’t think I dreamed last night. Sometimes I dream and sometimes I don’t. But, last night I took melatonin. You know what that is? Helps you sleep, so I guess when you’re in a deep sleep, you don’t dream or something. [laughs]
That… was a really lame answer, but I guess we’ll go with that.