Figuring Out the Music

Musician Jesse Blake Rundle is the type of artist who has made every effort to create intricate folk rock. On his newest release, Next Town’s Trees, he moves forward according to his press release “with songs that reach deep into his emotional core. I wrote these songs during a time of immense change,” Rundle says. “I was finally leaving the church, uncovering my sexuality, starting my first relationship with a man, finding joy in sobriety and settling into my life as a musician.”

There are electronic elements to this record and he says, “I got into electric guitars, analog synths, drum machines and horn arrangements on this album. There are lots of layers, flowing textures and percussion driving the songs forward.”

In this interview Rundle talks about the creative process and the effort it took to make this new record.

Jupiter Index: Your recent CD, Next Town’s Trees, blends artful arrangements and lyrics. How important was it to feature the stirring and personal songs on your release?
Jesse Blake Rundle: I’m obsessed with texture in music and figuring out how to take the emotions and stories in the lyrics and bring them to life with each instrument. The song Hand in Hand on this album is a good example. It’s a love song about feeling peaceful and secure in love and the song tries to mimic that feeling with a slowly moving beat and floating ambient sounds to sound dreamy. I want to bring the listener into that space.

JI: Talk about how the track “Next Town’s Trees” came about?
JBR: This song started with a repetitive open D chord on guitar and a bunch of attempts at finding a melody on top of it. Gradually the words started to come to life while I was singing. Then I turned to my free-write method where I fill a few pages with images, thoughts, snippets of stories, poetry stanzas, and more, and just let it all flow freely from me. As I wrote, it became clear that this song was about moving on from the barriers I’ve found in my life, most specifically related to the evangelical church. I cleaned up those free-write notes over a few weeks and then I had a song. The guitar part didn’t feel weighty enough for the lyrics, so I searched for a big sound until I found a line on my Moog Matriarch that was crunchy, rich and grating in just the right way.

JI: Another cut that was moving was “Fools and Ghosts,” what did you draw on for the writing of this song?
JBR: When I was a sophomore at St. John’s College, I was learning Ancient Greek and translating Homer’s Odyssey into English. That book is full of images of the sea and they got stuck deep in my mind from doing that translation. A year later I was in Annapolis and doing a lot of sailing and thinking of Odysseus. One day, a friend and I got stuck out in the Chesapeake Bay when the wind died down. It was kinda terrifying trying to paddle back across the bay before sunset. That experience became a metaphor for the feeling of being lost and overwhelmed – to the point where I almost wished the sea would just swallow me up.

JI: What was the recording process like for you in the studio?
JBR: I tracked the whole album with Nate Agenbroad at Mixed Metaphor Studios. We always start with a guitar part that defines the structure. After we lay down the guitar, we explore all the different sounds of the studio until something starts to take shape and fit the mood of the lyrics. Then I go deep on my own adding layers and exploring vocal production, harmonies, and percussion. Each song takes several studio days and lots of editing and mixing in between. Some of the more intimate songs I track on my own because I know I can only get the takes I want when I’m isolated and allowed to sit in the mood for hours while the song takes shape.

JI: Can you share your hopes in music for the coming year?
JBR: I started playing with a band in summer 2022 and it’s been such a fun time playing with these great musicians. I’ve come to love the live music experience and want to make that a big part of my musical life over the next year. My first album was made in isolation, but I really enjoy the process and the outcome when I get to work with great collaborators and friends. So we’re planning on touring in spring and summer 2023.

JI: What advice would you like to impart to aspiring musicians?
JBR: Do the things that make you happy. Music is such a joy, but the business of making and releasing music can be soul sucking if you’re not careful. I’ve had to look closely at my own motivations and ambitions and make sure that my version of success is going to make me happy. I’m focused on making beautiful things that I’m proud of. And I do that in a way that creates community and friendships.

JI: Would you like to add anything else about your music or your tour for our readers?
JBR: I hope you find something in these songs! I know they’ve meant a lot to me as I’ve written. They’ve pulled me through some hard times and reminded me of sweet and joyful times too. I can’t wait for the world to hear the album and have their own experience with the songs.

by G.M. Burns