Best of What's Next: JBM
In the world of singer/songwriters, melancholy is always in season—so JBM's debut album, Not Even In July, can be forgiven for finding sadness in those oft-celebrated days of summer. JBM is Jesse Marchant (his initials double as his stage name), a singer-songwriter who grew up in the Adirondacks and Montreal, but who retreated to his childhood home in the mountains to work on the album (out April 13) after living in, and growing weary of, Los Angeles. The result is a distillation of his life there, the warm climes inspiring rich, pensive tracks that are not without undercurrents of joy—or, at least, hope. Marchant, a guitarist since age 7, crafts songs that are lyrically bittersweet but sonically optimistic, with piano and string accompaniments swelling alongside the ubiquitous acoustic six-string. Tracks like the exquisite "July on the Sound," about a friend's death, and the sweeping "Going Back Home" have enough summer imagery to evoke the album's title month, even if their sentiments are more suited to autumn's chilly approach. Paste recently talked with the Marchant, currently on tour with Rogue Wave, about living in LA, staying optimistic and going home.
Paste: The songs on Not Even In July have a real sense of place, and you worked on the album at your family home upstate, then recorded it in a 19th-century church in Hudson, N.Y. If you had to ascribe a "home" to the album, what would it be?
Jesse Marchant: That's a good question. I guess the place I draw from is more closely related to the house in the woods, but a lot of the life of it was happening on the west coast. The feeling of it comes from [LA], but the soul of it comes from the mountains.
Paste: What is the feeling that a guy from the Adirondacks gets living in LA?
Marchant: (Laughs) I don't know, disoriented at first. Angry. It's kind of a similar feeling, really—outside of LA there's a lot of similar landscapes, hiking, lakes. When you get out there, it feels similar.
Paste: You holed yourself up in your family's cabin to write this album. Do you feel like that's something you won't do again, or is that the way you're most comfortable writing?
Marchant: I actually wrote most of it living in LA. Then decided I was leaving—decided, then left the next week—and drove cross-country with my brother. I knew I'd record with [engineer Henry Hirsch] at the church, but I didn't have a concrete date. I had a bunch of home recordings and demos that I knew I wanted to put on [the album], and some that I hadn't recorded at all. I knew I wanted to have the time alone to digest it all, and work on arrangements. I knew I didn't want to be anywhere else, like try to pick up and leave LA and get a place in New York. I knew [the cabin] was where I wanted to go. It's kind of always been my home, in the non-literal sense, because my family has had it since I was a kid. It's always the place to go when I've made a radical decision to change my life. I'm grateful for that.
Paste: Why did you leave LA?
Marchant: A lot of things I was doing there came to an end. A girlfriend break up, a person I was working with died. So when it came time to, it was really, "This phase of my life has ended and it's time to leave it."
Paste: So the songs on the album are all that straightforwardly autobiographical?
Marchant: Yes. I don't really ever day dream those sort of intimate scenarios. It usually feels more right to write things close to me, not in the abstract sense.
Paste: Are there any that are more abstract?
Marchant: "Friends for Fireworks" is probably kind of abstract. It started with an image and went to this dream-like thing. It was an experience that was abstract in and of itself.
Paste: Do you think New York City is affecting your music now in a way that living in LA did?
Marchant: Yeah, I think so. Maybe not so much the place affects you, but the way you're living in the place. I was very rarely spending time with other people in LA—I would go take day trips or weekend trips, and it was always very solitary. My life recently has been so different—I've been around people all the time. Being exposed to other musicians, going to a lot of shows in New York. That somehow influences you, when you're opening your mind to that much stimulus.
Paste: When it comes time to write the next album, do you think you'll go somewhere else to write it?
Marchant: Yeah, I do. It's not my thing to write about stuff in the moment—I don't really know how to do it. It always comes from a place of distilling. I can have more clarity, I don't really know what or why that is. I never feel compelled when I'm in the middle of an experience to start writing about it—sometimes I don't even play music in those phases. It's when I have a lot of time alone again—I'll just start playing music again, and all this stuff comes out. It's sort of a freaky thing to rely on, though, because you don't know when that time is gonna come again. That's the challenging thing.
Paste: Right. The classic writer advice is to be disciplined, but then it feels anathema to the whole process.
Marchant: Yeah. You kinda have to set up your life in a way where it can work that way. There's pressure to keep touring and to do all that and you know you need to do that, in order to have enough people to receive the next album. So you want to honor that. But you also want to have another record, so you need new songs to play. It's just a decision to withdraw from everything for a while.
Paste: Do you like touring?
Marchant: I do, I like it a lot. I like the camaraderie of the actual touring. Playing shows is always a mixed bag—sometimes it feels so inspiring, or sometime it just feels like shit. But if you're having a bad night, not connecting, you just drive away—you're leaving it behind. There's always the hope tomorrow will be better. I'm pretty optimistic—I don't let it get me down when it's not good.
Paste: That optimism seems to translate in your songs, even when they're sad. Is that a balance you're aware of trying to strike when you write and compose a track?
Marchant: I'm glad that you're saying that—not a lot of people get that, and I do feel it's true. It's not deliberate. I think it's just reflective of who I am. I don't write or make arrangements from a place of logic. It's not cerebral—it's the opposite of that. If a song came out dark, I know I wouldn't try to balance it in the song. I'd hope it just balanced on the album.
Paste: Right. So what's coming up for you?
Marchant: More touring, promoting the album. Creatively, I'd like to put together a band. If I'm in one place for long enough, I'd like to put together other people! I've been playing solo for a while now. So I'm looking forward to it.