If you listen to one song today, make it Belly of the Beast. And then ponder this: It almost didn’t happen, save for a chance encounter between the artist and a very smart stranger.
1. Belly of the Beast was the song of the summer at Quadio’s HQ. What’s it about?
I took a gap year between high school and college and went to Israel and Europe, and one day in Berlin, I just got this feeling that so many of my relationships were falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it. I sculpted it to be more of a heartbreak song, about a relationship ending with one person, but really, it was about the connections with my friends.
2.When you were writing Belly of the Beast, did you realize you had something?
I did! I got the idea when I was in the shower and I was in there for like 45 minutes just singing the chorus over and over again, and my roommate was yelling, “Shut the fuck up!” When I got out of the shower, he was like, “That was so annoying.” But I didn’t want to lose the idea.
3. What were you doing while you traveled?
In Israel, I was studying texts – I’m Jewish, so my parents wanted me to spend some time there. I studied a lot of the politics of Israel too. I was trying to get the whole perspective.
When I was away, I’d find open mics or jam sessions. My favorite place was this underground jazz club, and I’d come with my guitar. There could be 20 people on stage or just two, and everyone would jam. It was awesome.
The whole year was a real time of discovery for me and made me really want to do music.
4. That was in doubt?
So, for a long time my whole life was geared in a totally different direction. I love nature and being out in the middle of nowhere and I wanted to study science. The plan was I’d go to college and major in Biology. And then one night, my senior year of high school, I had a performance at school that I really, really loved. It was different from every other performance before then.
Because I got on stage and I was like, “It doesn’t really matter how well I perform, it just matters that I enjoy it.” That’s such a simple concept, but all of my performances until then, the super shy kid inside me would come back and be like, “It has to be a perfect performance or people will hate it.” And I wasn’t perfect ever, so I would always beat myself up after. I mean, I was rigid while I was performing and sad afterward.
But that night, I just had fun. Maybe because it was senior year, and I thought, “These are my friends, we’re all in this together.” It was the first and only time in any of my performances where I got off stage and played in the crowd. It felt like a moment.
6. And afterward, you had a eureka?
Not exactly. The thing is, I had a great uncle who’s the only real musician in my entire extended family, and my parents would always bring him up. He couldn’t support himself, he lost all connections with his kids and family because he put music first, and basically it was just a sad tale in my family of someone who tried to pursue music and it didn’t work out.
So even though I had been doing music since I was four or five, starting in middle school, I was like, “Woah, I really love this, but it’s just not going to be my life.”
7. Then that happy performance happened?
OK, there’s a weird part of the story. It’s actually almost out a of a movie. After that performance, I was walking to my car, and there’s this old dude who’s standing by my car, and he’s like, “Is this your car?” And I said, “Yeah.” And from there, I ended up talking to this guy for like two-and-a-half hours on this bench next to my car. He was like a classic old dude with a white beard and a cane – he looked like a wizard. It was so weird. He told me his life story --about how he was a chemist, and about all the wars he’d served in. And I told him about college, and at one point, he said, “Just make sure what you’re going to school for is what you actually want to be doing.” And then he walked away, and I got in my car with my guitar still in my hand, and I was like, “Wait a second. What just happened?” I knew at that moment that music was what I was going to do. It’s a crazy story. I don’t really tell people about it – it’s too weird.
8. Did you drive home and tell your parents?
My parents literally don’t know about this guy. I just told them I didn’t want to go school for science. I told them I didn’t want to be far away from the city, and NYU had great music.
9. They’re on board now?
Yeah, even though my conception of a life in music is evolving. Every year, it becomes more and more specific. Freshman year I realized that the whole performance thing wasn’t so much for me. I love making my own music that’s personal to me and singing for my friends and family to listen to, but what I really, really want to do, and what I love most about music, is the collaboration. I love to work with other producers, other artists, other singers, and just create music as a group. I feel like when you get all of these perspectives involved, you can create something that really connects with a lot of people. I want to be a songwriter. I want to help people write their best songs and I want to write songs for other people.
10. What’s your favorite lyric that you’ve written?
That’s so hard. But I guess it’s this song I wrote that doesn’t have a melody yet. It’s called Orbuculum; that’s the kind of orb that you look into to see your future. It’s about seeing the world through other people’s eyes.
Check out Jesse Bluu on Quadio!