Modern Fix

JESSE SYKES – interview by tom maxwell


Fuck classifications, they’re tired and confusing. Let’s just say that this band is something that must be heard before any conclusions are drawn. For points of reference, the original label who released this album was Burn Burn Burn and recently the epic label Barsuk has picked Jesse and company up to help with the releasing. It seems those geniuses over at Barsuk have seen what I saw in this act. So put down your telecaster and read about what is sure to be the next big thing. After much trial and tribulation through trying to contact the band in Europe, I bring you Jesse Sykes.

Tom: How much of this band is based on your relationship with former guitarist of Whiskeytown, Phil Wandscher?
Jesse Sykes: I’ve always written songs on my own but Phil is such an intrinsic part of this band. Firstly the fact that we are in a girlfriendboyfriend relationship gives the whole thing this really cool level of trust and intimacy. You don’t have to walk on creative eggshells with the person you are sleeping with! Plus living with someone makes it feel like its not a project or band but it is your life. I really don’t know if I could do it any other way. Lends itself to a lot of spontaneity.

It sounds to me like you two tend to play off each other as if in a lover’s quarrel. I definitely like to think of his guitar as a character…
I don’t know if I think it sounds like we are quarreling, I more so think of it as making love. Sounds silly but there is a real interweaving going on that feels so effortless and natural to me…I’ve never had that before.

After the initial “I’m so in love” phase of this band, how difficult was it for you to continue to be creative and challenging lyrically and musically?
That stuff is always challenging. Firstly this whole thing started out as just me and Phil. Then a couple of years later Ann Marie got on board. It wasn’t until we made the record that it became a real band. So really it’s been such a strange slow process in becoming what it has become that there never was a phase of falling out of love. If anything I think we are all just now figuring each other out. Touring will definitely do that for you. Touring is the one thing that has changed the creative process in the sense that you are running around so much that I worry maybe it will be hard to find the time to write. I’m a real homebody so this shit is a real challenge for me.

Are you more comfortable performing this type of music in a small quaint bar in Nashville or in a larger venue such as an El Rey Theatre or the Glasshouse?
I like it all. We’ve played both large and small venues and to me it’s just the vibe of the show that matters. I do like the intimacy of smaller rooms but the other night for example, we played a show here in France for like 400 people and it was a really big stage, but it felt so good-like Phil and I were just clicking. We could’ve been in our own living room.

What types of bands do you find yourselves touring with considering you are an indie band with an edge?
Here in Europe we’ve been headlining most of the shows. We opened a couple of shows for Neal Casel and John Wesley Harding. We’ve played shows with so many bands ranging from Steve Earle to Giant Sand. When we’ve toured in the US, we’ve played with the Long Winters and done some shows with this great band called Winfred E Eye out of California. We are the kind of band that can get away with playing with just about anyone cuz we aren’t really that definable…

What does the audience and atmosphere generally consist of at one of your shows?
As of late it’s hard to say. I think its really all kinds. We are going to be playing some all ages shows that I’m really excited about. It bothers me that in Seattle kids can’t go to shows. One thing that’s changed is people have become very gracious and have stopped talking which is nice…cuz when you are playing music like ours it can be a real bummer when people are loud. In Europe especially people really get into it and listen. It’s nice.

Yeah, it’s funny that I’ve never even tried a country show considering I live in Bakersfield, California (shit town USA). Home of Buck Owens!

I love that guy. You should feel proud.

What exactly were you referring to in the song “Don’t Let Me Go?”
I was waiting for Phil to come home one night. It was like 4 in the morning and I was so pissed off that instead of hitting him over the head with a whisky bottle I wrote a song. I think the jist of the song is saying that even though sometimes someone can cause you grief it is sometimes easier to blame yourself for your response to what they may be putting you through. In essence it is just a love song …and love can make you feel crazy. You will allow for major dysfunction at times when you are in the throws of it.

It seems like the whole album is set up in the chronological order of married but faltering, to broken up, to the eventual resolve and subsequent new and better relationship. Would this be accurate?
I think to me it is all about resolve and forgiveness. Of course there is a lot of reflecting going on but the actual space that the songs exist in is really mostly through the experience of falling in love with Phil and our adventures in doing so. Not all the songs but the general vibe of the record is just to me how it felt at that moment. Dark and beautiful…scary and light.

What types of things will you be doing to prepare for your next album?
Mostly just honing in on the songs-seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m trying not to think on it too much. We tend to be the kind of folks who feel it best not to practice much and when it comes to recording, I feel its better not to go in the studio with the band knowing the material all that well. Of course some of the songs we’ve been playing for awhile know but as far as the really new ones, I want to keep it fresh.

Any closing thoughts?
Yeah? I hope this all makes sense. I’m on a computer at a club in France right now. We just got finished playing a show so my brain is a bit hazy! Also, I apologize it has taken me so long to get back to you. It has been really hard to find the time. Thank you so much and I would definitely check my spelling cuz these Euro computers are all wicky wack! The keys are in different positions and it’s driving me crazy! You take care.