Darkbird: 5/27/18 3:30p-5:30p at Kitty Cohen's

Can music be both dark and bright? I ask lead vocalist Kelly Barnes as we are setting up her photo shoot in the bathroom of one of my favorite bars. Darkbird’s deliciously dark music makes you face the cobwebs of your mind with both sarcasm and energy, but where did that name come from? “We were going back and forth with so many names,” she says, hitching herself up on the bathroom sink. “Some were funny, some were stupid, and for a minute we were calling the band “Shut up Kelly” – we also liked ‘This Party Sucks.” Their music is admittedly more serious than those names were conveying, so they didn’t stick. Then one day on a drive to San Antonio, Kelly saw an enormous group of black birds. “A huge flock flew over me on 35,” she says, “so I sent a message to Brian – Darkbird – that was it.”

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Synth/guitar player Brian Cole takes a sip of his beer and Letitia asks him to tilt his frame towards her as she shoots them through the bathroom mirror. Through conversation during the photo shoot, we learn that while Kelly grew up in Las Vegas, her family is from Texas, and she spent summers here. She moved to Austin from Los Angeles about six years ago. Brian’s roots were Midwestern before making his way to Austin via Queens. While Austin is a well-known melting pot where good musicians come together to pursue their passions and to create, I grew curious about how these two dark birds met.

“We met through craigslist,” Kelly said, with a nod from Brian. “We were both looking for a new project. When you’ve gassed all your friends, that’s (craigslist) where you go. It’s 90% shit. It’s the worst. It’s funny when you weave through everyone’s responses. I was avoiding words that said ‘funky’ or ‘lets jam and see what happens’ – Brian had links to his music, and I liked what he was doing, so I reached out to him.” Kelly sent Brian some links to her previous Los Angeles based band Ragsy. Soon thereafter, they decided to form their band.

If you’re an artist, it just chooses you,” says Kelly. “Who wants to be an artist? Unless you’re parents are already doing it… If you’re an artist – you just have to do it.” Brian adds: “If you do it (your art) you suffer, but if you don’t, you suffer too.”

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If you’ve listened to Darkbird before, you might be in for a surprise with their newest sound. The thoughtful lyrics are coupled with a brighter shade of black. The artists remind me that their music will constantly be changing, as they seek different sources of expression and creativity within their craft. The band members pull inspiration from the Pixies, Liz Phair, Fleetwood Mac, early Smashing Pumpkins, and Dr. Dog. Their song Marching Ballad is perhaps the most striking song they’ve written. “We’ve written it 3 times,” says Kelly. “It’s the first song that Brian and I worked together to try things out in his studio. He played a song he arranged and I sang over it. We are just now releasing it – it’s moving, definitive of the band.”

I had a few more questions for Brian and Kelly before it was time to wrap the shoot and head back to Kitty Cohen’s for a venue meeting.

What is your song-writing process like?

Kelly: Brian and I get together, work out a skeleton of a song, and try to get a verse and a chorus with guitars and vocal melody. Then we introduce it to the band and go from there. It’s fast.

Brian:  If it’s not just happening and working in the first 5-10 minutes, then we scrap it. If we don’t agree immediately, we move on.

Do you have advice for other musicians who are just starting out?

Kelly: Keep writing – the first stuff you do is not always the best stuff you’re going to do. Don’t try to talk your other band mates into your idea.  Never accept mediocrity – if you don’t love the song, throw it away. A new idea will come. Don’t beat a dead horse. There is no room for mediocrity in the arts  - we see plenty of it – if you want integrity. … in fact, that’s good advice for life in general..

Brian: I wish I had good advice for myself.

Come to the DarkBird show at Kitty Cohen’s and see the full band!

Kelly Barnes: vocals
Brian Cole: synth & guitar
Chris Spencer: bass
Damien Howard: guitar
Ethan Yeager: drums

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-------POSTPONED due to RAIN------- Alan Eckert Trio: 5/20/18: 330p-530p at Kitty Cohen's

Alan Eckert’s dreams of playing music professionally started early, growing up in a family of musicians. “I started playing drums when I was ten years old and it took off really fast,” the musician shares. “It was naturally my instrument and right away it was something I knew I would want to do forever.” Alan played in marching and jazz band all through high school, plus rock bands with his friends. He played piano more as a teenager, when he began writing as well.

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“My parents and my sister are musicians, so it’s a family thing,” Alan shares. His father is a saxophone professor and the Director of Jazz studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, while his mother was a singer. “So it was cool to get the spark to play jazz from my Dad and also to realize eventually that I had a good enough voice to sing and write songs. That definitely comes from my mom’s side of the gene pool,” Alan shares. His sister Elizabeth Eckert-Ross is also musically inclined. Based out of New York, she recently shot a music video for The Deer, one of Alan’s bands.

Originally from Stephens City, Virginia, Alan made his way to Austin after attending the University of North Texas’s jazz program on scholarship in Denton. “Everyone kept telling me I should move down here,” Alan shares.  He joined a band called Dimitri’s Ascent which paved the way for his move to Austin. “I had drum and piano students, took a leap of faith, and immersed myself in the Austin music scene. I played with Jack Wilson, Rebecca Loebe, and I had a lot of friends that gave me gigs.”

The Alan Eckert Trio is comprised of Colin Shook on piano, Daniel Durham on bass, and Alan Eckert on drums. The trio is mainly instrumental jazz, “but we make it funky, and something you can dance to, while also being intricate,” Alan explains. “The cool thing about the trio is that we take the beat from a modern hip hop tune and put it to a jazz standard, so we play the melody of the jazz standard to the rhythm of something modern." Get a feel for the Alan Eckert Trio here.

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Alan says a lot of his influences come from “a weird combination of some of the latest hip hop and some of the latest indie rock, and indie pop. One day I’ll listen to Hamilton Leithauser, then Kendrick Lamar, but I also spend a lot of time transcribing and listening to Tribe called Quest, and all the jazz standards: Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, and Horace Silver.”

One of the most frequent compliments Alan receives is about his smile and how much fun he is having when he’s on drums. I asked if he had any advice for other musicians starting out and what could keep them smiling. “Absolutely,” he says. “First: Never stop practicing. But also, one of the most important things you can do is to go hang out and see as much music as possible in whatever city you’re in. The most important thing is to make friends and learn from everyone else around you. Eventually you will see you have a lot to offer those friends as well. Its’ a cyclical thing – you can’t just sit in your practice room and become proficient at your instrument. You have to go out and challenge yourself socially, you have to branch out and start gigging. In order to survive as a musician you have to meet people, be a social creature, constantly play with new people, and constantly put your name out there.”

In Alan’s immediate future, The Deer have a big show coming up at Mohawk June 23rd. with Kalu and Electric Joint, and Batty Jr. (link to fb event). “The Deer have been playing like crazy, and in the midst of that touring, we finished our 4th album that will be out in the next year,” Alan shares. He also recently recorded an album with Jay Stiles (who plays with A-Town Getdown and Patrice Pike). 

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Pocket Sounds: 5/13/18: 3:30p-5:30p at Kitty Cohen’s

Letitia is pulling lighting equipment around the bar with her chai-royale as I’m setting up my laptop and realizing I haven’t eaten yet. We’re setting up for another round of Side Project Sunday interviews. Mike St. Clair walks in with his brown nylon pants, vintage shirt and trademark glasses. The three of us loosely huddle around a table to connect about his upcoming show and recent big wins. I ask: “I think the main question everyone wants to know – is – who is Pocket Sounds?”

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Like many great bands, Pocket Sounds has had an evolution of artists involved. They describe the music as ethereal and imaginative cinematic soundscapes that are engaging, funky, and rocky with that warm Wilco-esque tone. The performers who played together as Pocket Sounds last year, have taken a new form, and the new Pocket Sounds has emerged with a recent record release at Mohawk with their album You are Not Alone. The record name comes from one of the tracks, which St. Clair says is about depression. “I don’t think it’s a sad song, though,” Mike says. “It just gives different perspectives on the topic.”

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This inspires discussion about music, and art, and how everything created is up for listener-interpretation, and how your own interpretation can change within the song-writing process. Letitia’s favorite track on the new record is Fickle Breeze, which the Austin Music Minute has aired on KUTX. Mine is 7 + 0, which I thought was about relationships. “It’s about sports,” Mike corrects me, we laugh, “but it can be about whatever you want it to be." 7 + 0 was featured in a film called High and Outside…”which is rad,” says St. Clair, “because it premiered first at Raindance in London, and then at the Austin Film Fest for the U.S. Premier. They used a little bit of the instrumental part of Chase too.” 7 + 0 isn’t the only song hopeful for film-play. St. Clair’s song Safety Dance will also be featured in a film that is currently under production.

The tracks on You Are Not Alone include: 7 + 0, Fickle Breeze, The Chase, Julian, and You Are Not Alone. “We don’t have the full line up from the record release this Sunday, because a couple of people are on tour (Marcus Maurice and Mark Henne). But this Sunday the line up includes: Jeff Olson on drums/vibraphones, Ethan Kennedy on guitar, Paul Deemer on synthesizer and trombone, and Mike St. Clair on bass, vocals, and keys,” says Mike.

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Each of the artists playing with Pocket Sounds this Sunday has a rich history within the music industry. Jeff recently toured with Balmorhea, and Austin-local a six-piece minimalist instrumental ensemble formed by Rob Lowe and Michael Muller in 2006. He’s played with Batty Jr, and Food Group, and he’s also played with St. Clair before in White Denim. Ethan plays regularly with Suzanna Choffel and was formerly involved with Kinky Machine. Paul played with St. Clair in Polyphonic Spree, subs with Grupo Fantasma, and played in Progger.

Here is an excerpt from a previous interview with St. Clair that gives his musical background:

Mike St. Clair grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina playing music.  Starting with the violin when he was five years old, he took lessons for six years or so. After he grew frustrated feeling a little in over his head on violin in the all-city orchestra, he switched to trombone in the middle school band ultimately adding guitar to his musical repertoire. Mike attended music school, playing the trombone and bass in Greensboro, North Carolina where he received a music education degree. “I went on to study jazz at the University of North Texas in Denton and graduated with a Master’s degree,” Mike shared. 

He went on the road for the first time with the Glen Miller Orchestra. “It was a really good experience,” … “It was a bunch of musicians traveling around in a greyhound bus,” he recalled. “The band was a merge of all the jazz I had been studying with big band sounds and pop songs.” This was around 2005. Once he returned from touring with the Glen Miller Orchestra he was invited to play trombone with Polyphonic Spree. “That was my first European tour,” Mike said. “We had two buses, and a lot of the musicians had their families with them. There were at least two dozen people making music with us on that tour.” They had a full choir, percussion and drums, horns, and strings. Mike is not a full time band member but still plays Polyphonic Spree shows from time to time. “I fill in on trumpet or trombone.”  The band’s most notable song is Light and Day. “I’m on three of their records, but I’m not on that recording,” he clarified. Two other notable bands Mike has toured and recorded with include: Okkervil River and currently White Denim. St. Clair moved to Austin with a jam band called Nelo. After Nelo ran it’s course, he played with Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express.”

After the show this Sunday at Kitty Cohen’s you can catch Pocket Sounds opening for Polyphonic Spree June 3rd at Baracuda, and find Mike on the East coast this summer. He’s hoping to take Pocket Sounds on the road late July as well, and we're hoping to follow them around on a road trip.

Savage Poor 5/7 3-5p

Brothers Jeff and Ben Brown grew up in a little town across the river from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Jeff started playing punk originally and has been writing songs since he was 13 or 14.  “As soon as my friends older brother started introducing us to the music we liked, I instantly became obsessed with it,” says Jeff Brown. “"I didn't think I could be a musician at first because the popular rock music when I was young was very technical.  Eventually though I discovered the Ramones and that changed all that, because I realized that a great song was more powerful than pure technical ability.  So early on I started writing, even before I could play very well. In The Savage Poor I write a lot of the material, but even in Shinyribs, when I'm just coming up with a bass part, I think of it as writing and try to compliment the song."  

“Ben actually learned to play guitar a lot later than I did,” Jeff remembers.  “The only time we’ve ever lived apart was my first year of college – and while I was away from home somehow he got really good,” Jeff laughs. “He just showed up one day and could play and sing great. We started playing together a little bit during college and eventually moved back home to Pennsylvania to form a band with our friends (the No Show Ponies).” They kept the band name when they first moved to Austin.  Jeff says there was a revolvoing cast of characters in the band, but there was always he and his brother Ben.

The Savage Poor is a band name Ben came up with for their newest band incarnation. “We felt it was a strong name,” Jeff said. “Given that we are struggling musicians and the current political situation we thought it would be provocative.” Their genre is rock at heart. “Everything we play is informed by the passion of rock and roll but stylistically we are all over the map – we throw in reggae and soul grooves with punk songs,” Jeff said. The musicians that have influenced him the most are: Morirssey, Paul Westerberg, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen. Their debut album is coming out in June and is called 'The Grown Ups".  Check it out:  https://www.gofundme.com/savagepooralbum

Having played with Shinyribs (Jeff has also been on recorded tracks with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Tim Easton, among others), Jeff brings a lot of musical talent to the band, but he is not the only one.  Each person performing with The Savage Poor has played with a variety of talent including Bo Diddley and Jesse Malin.  The Savage Poor is currently comprised of Jeff Brown on guitar and vocals, Ben Brown on guitar and vocals, Alex Moralez on drums, and Roger Wuthrich on bass.  Joining them on Sunday, as at all recent gigs, is their producer Christine Smith on keyboards, who recently relocated to Austin.  Jeff says, "Smith is as close to a band member as one can be, outside of officially joining the band.  We spent months locked in the studio with her and the band all developed a great respect for her musical abilities.  It only made sense to collaborate live as much as possible. The five of us are all really good friends and it really shows in what we're bringing to the stage right now." 

I asked Jeff to tell me about one of their songs:
“Our first single, "Alone and Cry", is a classic wall of sound pop song. It's probably the most classic sounding song on the record that begins our journey, before we head off to weirder territories. It's got an army of acoustic guitars, piano, xylophone, and tympani on it, amongst other things.  We wanted to keep the listener off balance, leave them unsure of what will be around the next corner. Before this song there is a 30 second intro of distorted howling. Then this song comes in, which is gentle and beautiful.  Despite the gorgeous melody and lush arrangement we wanted the lyrics to set the tone for the record.  This song begins, "The body decays, the mind gets perverted, one day you wake up afraid, that you'll become conservative."  We wanted the record to be fun, but to also deal head on with these troubling times in our country. Gallows humor is a tool to do both.” Jeff says the Savage Poor plays subversive rock and roll. “We are trying to get ideas into music that challenge political aspects and cultural points of interest.”  

Favorite place to eat in Austin: Taco deli – the al pastor tacos

Tips for new bands out there:
“Don’t worry about making mistakes. The only difference between pro and amateur is that the mistakes don’t bother the pro, but when you’re new and make mistakes its like your world is ending.  You can't be afraid of mistakes or you'll never get anywhere new and exciting.

Zula Montez 4/23 3p-5p

“I’m originally from Little RockArkansas,” singer/guitarist Peter Shults shared with me, “that’s where Zula was from.”  When he started playing guitar at age ten, he never imagined he’d be playing in a band named for his great-grandmother. “Back then I was just making abstract noise on the guitar,” he said. “It was a couple of years before I really knew how to play it.” Beyond Little Rock, Peter grew up in Saint Louis and San Antonio. He played cello in the middle school orchestra and learned “real music” from there, also confessing that he dressed up as a rock star in 2nd and 3rd grade complete with do-rags. Eventually, Peter came to Austin for college at the University of Texas and has been there since 2005.

 

 “I met Josh (Halpern) through Chase of Marmalakes,” Peter shared. “And I met Chase at a songwriting competition the Kerrville folk festival put on.” Shults also plays in a band called Hello Wheels. “I started writing songs that didn’t quite have a place in that project but they were still songs that were fun to play.  So Josh and I went off on our own and started fleshing them out. We spent a year gigging around town changing our band name every show and came up with some pretty awful names. Zula Montez is what stuck.”

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A love for playing music runs deep in Peter’s family. His great-grandfather Bentley Bynum Wood – Zula’s husband – was a fiddle player. “He went deaf towards the end of his life, but he could still play,” Peter said.  “We all called him Pal. “ Would Zula be proud of the music? I asked Peter. “I don’t know,” he said, with a curious air, “most of the stories I know about her make her sound like an old codger with a little piss and vinegar – but maybe? I hope? I’ve always really like her name and hope to improve on our legacy.”

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Singer/guitarist Peter Shults of Hellow Wheels and drummer Josh Halpern of Marmalakes and Shearwater join us at Side Project Sundays with their band Zula Montez this Sunday.  Taft Mashburn will join them on synth.

 

 

What’s your favorite place to eat in Austin? “Kome (sushi/Japanese pub) – get the fried oysters, miso soup, or the cream cheese candied jalapeno, avocado, eel and salmon/shrimp – the whole roll itself is deep fried. Their sauces are so good. There’s an eel sauce that is sweeter and tangier, and there’s an orange sauce that is creamy habanero. “

 

Do you have any tips for new bands starting out? “It’s hard out there.  Since I’ve been playing music in Austin, I’ve gone through a number of approaches for how to be successful and have good shows. The longer I’ve done it the more I’ve come back to my instinct – with Austin there’s a temptation, there’s a lot of cool stuff and a lot of great bands – it can be tempting to try to adopt some part of their model – but finding the thing that works for you, making the community, the brand, or the aesthetic and focusing on the thing that is really inspiring to you.”

 

 

Tell us about your songwriting process:

“This project(Zula Montez) has been a lot of fun because it’s been a step in a different direction for me in the songwriting process. The songs we are playing now are more experimental. Hello Wheels there are three different singers in the band, and a lot of harmony, democracy and co-writing. With Zula, this was an experiment in trying to do something less diplomatic and having the freedom to follow your whims. We’ve been jamming, recording, throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks. I’ve gotten to collaborate with a lot of musicians I’ve known for a long time. It’s an enlightening way to approach songwriting and music. It has given me freedom to obsess about the little details you notice when you’re a creative person. For the beholder of the art it may not even be apparent to him, but I (can geek out) on this down beat of the bass, for example, and grasp onto those things when they move me, and really make them serve the song.

 

 

Tell us about one of your favorite songs:

“One of our first songs we got a recording of is called Lean On. It’s all about how basically through life music has always been there. I had the melody for the song years before in my head. I remember showing it to other people and collaborators and not getting a lot of positive feedback. Finally I had a buddy who was leaving town. We wanted to have some fun recording together before he left. We didn’t have an agenda and that idea popped back into my head. We played it through the first take and came up with a lick I hadn’t thought about. An evening later it was a song. I showed it to some of those same people I showed before and they liked it so much better. Lean On is a song that helped us find the process and find the sound. “

 

I asked him to tell us a little more about Josh too:

“Josh is amazing – he’s very fluid. My collaboration with him as friends and musicians – I never feel like we reach a dead end. If an idea isn’t working, he’s good at helping find that different feel and inject life into things. That’s the most fun thing about working with him – you never know where it’s going to take you. Often times for the better part of a year we’ve been working on a full length record and several songs as they have come to their final version are vastly different than when they started. I loved the guitar part but when we added an ingredient I go cold on the first inspiration and all of a sudden the song is 180 degrees from where you started. It’s like following different candy trails.”

3/5/17 - Jesse Ebaugh (of the Heartless Bastards) and the Tender Things /with Beth Chrisman and Evan Voyles/

Jesse Ebaugh started playing piano at age eleven where he grew up in Colorado. “I was allowed to quit when I joined a punk rock band when I turned thirteen,” he said, with his rescue dog Scout listening as intently to his story as anyone in the room. “My hippie parents were drag-a-long parents so I went to every party they ever went to. Listening to all the adults playing music is what made me want to play music. The adults pulling out the guitars and playing grateful dead songs was the most vital feature of any social activity or party.

After having graduated high school in Pennsylvania and dropping out of art school in New York, Jesse says he drifted to Kentucky out of circumstance.  “When I lived in Kentucky,” he shared, “aside from being in punk bands I played bluegrass six or seven days a week. I supported myself as a bluegrass musician for two years.”

Playing bluegrass for so long, Jesse says his biggest influence is American Folk Song Form in all of it’s permutations: Appalachian mountain tunes, murder ballads, piedmont and delta blues, early country music, etc. “American pop music grew out of those traditions. I can hear those song forms in the songs on the radio,” Jesse said. “I really admire Dan Penn, Gordon Lightfoot and Gene Clark as writers. I admire Aaron Blount and his writing with his band Knife in the Water quite a bit.

“From punk to bluegrass – it’s all folk music – it’s just people playing music about who they are and where they are. Whether it’s zit-faced 14-year-olds playing songs in their parents' basements or anyone else, they are singing songs about their lives. Bluegrass music is about people singing about their lives. Music is a function of the community you want to be involved with.”

Jesse met Erika (Wennerstrom) and all the Heartless Bastards there in Kentucky and eventually made his way to Austin with them. After putting out five albums, the Heartless Bastards are taking a little hiatus so each of the musicians can focus on individual projects. “Ragged From the Road,” is one of Jesse’s newest tracks, which you can hear at KUT’s song of the week.

Jesse plays bass in punk bands and upright bass in bluegrass bands. One of his recent collaborations, The Austin Roots Collective, came together in 2017 exclusively to showcase the different talents of each of the musicians involved. “We formed it in order to attend the Folk Alliance,” he said, “and took different turns being the band leader. If you came to listen, you didn’t necessarily know whose songs you would be hearing.” The Folk Alliance, he shared, is like SXSW for folkies. “Talent buyers go to see who has a new record, who they want to book on their festival this year.

The Austin Roots Collective is comprised of:

  • Beth Chrisman (fiddle)
  • Silas Lowe (mandolin and guitar)
  • Sophia Johnson (guitar)
  • Jesse Ebaugh (upright bass) 

Jesse Ebaugh and the Tender Things is Jesse’s latest record he has been working on. “For me, I’ve always been a side man,” he said,” Scout now in his lap listening even more intently than before as Letitia shoots their profile. “I started writing songs this time last year. I’ve been home recording this record little by little with fancy players on the record. Elijah Ford has been playing bass, David Colvin has been playing drums and David Pulkingham on guitar. Of Pulkingham, Jesse said David has played with Alejandro Esocvedo, Patty Griffin, Robert Plant and more. Jesse plays acoustic on the record and he says it comes out as soon as it gets done.

The full band will be performing at C-boys heart and soul Tuesday-Saturday during SXSW from 4p-6p. No wristband needed, just an honest free show. “Come drink beer,” Jesse says with a welcoming grin. This version of Jesse Ebaugh and the Tender Things includes David Colvin (drums), Brad Meinerding (electric/vocals), Chris Cosintino (bass/vocals) and of course Jesse.

“In addition to Tender things, I’ve been working on Erika Winnestrom’s latest record too. There will be more Heartless Bastards stuff in the future,” Jesse said, “it was a decade of relentless touring and we agreed to take a break and circle the wagons. Erika is working hard on getting her stuff out. Patrick Hallihan from My Morning Jacket plays drums on her project.”

What is your song writing process? “I’ve always been an arranger, but never the primary thinker-upper. My technical ability as a songwriter is pretty advanced, but my primary inspiration is still naïve.

“My first step in writing a song is so abstract. It can be any number of things. Sometimes you hear a sound in your imagination and you want to get that sound out. Sometimes there’s an emotion you want to communicate and it starts there. Sometimes you hear a snippet of someone’s conversation and it sticks in your head and you think – that’s a hook.

“I’ve only been writing lyrics for a year and I have notebooks of trash that I hope no one ever sees. I don’t know if I should burn them or what,” Jesse laughed. He recommends “Writing Better Lyrics” as a resource for anyone interested in songwriting. “How much songwriting you do is dependent on the daily ritual of notebooking and journaling, and how much creative thought falls through you. You also have to be ok with throwing your garbage away. The ideas that stick around are the ones you work with.

“Instruments aren’t important in songwriting, it’s just about ideas,” he said. “I love how songwriters metabolize their life through their writing."

Favorite thing to eat in Austin – Quality Seafood: “I get something different every time. The food is great, but what I like about it the most is that it's not part of the “new” Austin food scene. I spent a lot of time working in food service, so I have a strong opinion about what restaurant experiences should be – and it’s more than just food. Quality Seafood is also one of the biggest cross sections of all the population in Austin: you see whatever Austin has to offer diversity wise every time you go.