KA: What brought you to Austin? Did anything jump out at you immediately about the music scene compared to New Orleans or Boston?
JK: I finished college in December 2021, and though the only thing I ever wanted to do when I graduated high school was leave Louisiana, sometime in those four years of college I became pretty set on the idea of moving back to the South. I had visited Austin a few times previously and felt completely thrilled about the idea that no matter what you are doing at any moment, someone is playing music somewhere near you. And most likely in the house next door. However, the one thing I had forgotten was just how damn hot it gets down here.
I saw that you recorded the album back in 2020. Has your relationship with these songs changed much over the last couple years?
This is something that immediately comes to mind when I write a song - what the lifetime of it will be like. When I wrote and recorded these songs, we were all obviously in the very beginning of what we now know to be one of the hardest leaps we’ve taken as a community. A lot of these songs were written to myself. At the time, I needed to create something that could actually be real in front of me. I needed to prove to myself that my life was actually happening. Now, when I play these songs, I don’t hear nor think of the uncertainty as much. I mostly feel the hope that I had to push onto myself in that year.
How did you get into finger style guitar? How do you think this technique has affected your songwriting?
My dad is a classical guitar teacher, and so naturally I was exposed to a way of playing the guitar that you didn’t really tend to hear on the radio so much. And having this experience always made me feel like it was something that was not usual. My parents never pushed me to play a certain type of music, or even music at all. But I definitely believe hearing notes played in a different way at such an early age primed me for what was going to be most meaningful to me later on.
What inspired you to explore different tunings? Do you have a favorite?
When I started to become serious about playing the guitar, I was 13 years old and had just discovered Joni Mitchell. Of course, one of her legacies is her multitude of alternate tunings. And since this discovery happened at such an early stage in my learning, alternate tunings became my normal. The sounds that I was creating in my head were best reached when I played in alternate tunings. Each new tuning is another fresh path.
What about your experience at Berklee College of Music led you to, as your bio puts it, “take on a more subdued and lyric-driven approach”? How else did your time in school there inform your relationship with music?
When studying songwriting at Berklee, so much of the emphasis is put on phrasing, timing, and rhyming, but not so much what the story is you’re trying to say. And if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t always feel totally challenged by a lot of those courses. And because I didn’t feel as connected to my courses, it allowed for more time to trial and error in my own way. My main concern was what I was saying and not so much how to say it. Not to think that the latter isn’t important either - but I had words that needed to come out. In my eyes, Berklee is all about who you meet while you are there and what you set out to achieve for yourself. No one is going to make you a rockstar just because you went to one of the most famous music schools in the world.
Tell us a little bit about the recording process/who you collaborated with on the record.
I recorded this album with my partner, Will Orchard in three different places: his Boston apartment living room, his mother’s house in Rhode Island, and a special apartment that I was living in at the time. The majority of the arrangements were also played by us. Pedal steel was done by Nick Larimore and drums and percussion were James Goodwin, both Nashville-based musicians that I met while at Berklee. Keys, bass and electric guitar were done by Will, with the exception of myself on bass for “Tropical Storm". Big bass times for me!
Do you have a favorite memory from writing or recording the album?
A favorite memory from recording this project is more-so a collection of similar memories. Will and I would wake up (at a decent time), make breakfast and get into recording from there. Stop for coffee and dinner breaks, finish the night off with a movie and go back to sleep again. If I remember correctly, so much of the album was recorded during weekends, as I was still in school at the time. But each day always felt like it bled right into the other.
What made this, your third record, the one you decided to self-title?
The reason I decided to self-title this record is because I felt like these words and this production finally felt like the way I had been trying to be understood these past few years. It sounds very corny and exaggerative, but when music is the only way you feel you can truly come out, it means a lot. I feel very proud of the work we did. The way this record sounds is the way that I feel inside.
How can people best support you? Any shows coming up that you’d like to plug?
Woah! Support! Bandcamp! Bandcamp is my most favorite platform, as it gives space for the artist to be directly appreciated. And I also love a good set of virtual liner notes. I am going on a west coast tour with Will in August, so there will definitely be more information and updates on that soon, somewhere on all of our internet lands. I am also printing my first ever set of t-shirts! So, life is feeling big right now.
Jess Kerber's new album, Jess Kerber, is out now.