Originally from San Diego, California, Jesse went to middle school and high school in Dallas/Fort Worth and eventually moved back to San Diego to go to college. “But then I wanted to come back to Texas,” Jesse shared, “so I chose San Marcos to finish up my undergrad and that’s where I met a lot of people I make music with today. I’ve been living in this area off and on since 2002.”
In school at Texas State, Jesse completed a minor in music with a degree in anthropology that combined music ritual with other interests. “Since I was self-taught, I had to go backwards and learn music from an academic point of view,” shared Jesse. “I learned theory, jazz combos, and got the basics behind me.” It was at Texas State where he met Michael McLeod in music literature class. “ We used to play foosball after class during our two-hour break. Now we play music professionally together in the Deer along with Grace Park who I met during college as well.” It was a good time to be in music school, as the Grupo Fantasma horn section and a few musicians from Blue October were in school there at the same time.
Jesse’s main project is The Deer. “Writers always have a hard time trying to explain our genre,” Jesse laughs. “We call ourselves Transcendental Texas and Psychotropic Surfwestern.” Jesse and Grace split most of the writing, but their songs are a collaborative effort. Grace Park is the front woman with lead vocals and plays keyboard and guitar. Michael McLeod plays lead guitar, Noah Jeffries plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar, Alan Eckert plays drums, keyboard and vocals and Jesse plays upright bass and vocals.
Jesse also plays with the indiegrass band Milk Drive. “I don’t have creative input in that band,” he said, “but they taught me how to play on a professional level.” Noah Jeffries plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar and sings and Jesse plays upright bass and does vocals as well. Brian Bekan (their lead singer) got gobbled up by Robert Earl Keen and Dennis Ludiker, the mandolin player, started playing with Asleep at the Wheel. “Dennis comes from four generations of fiddle players,” Jesse said. “He won the Texas State fiddle champion 4-5 times and his sister Kimber has won the national champion. Their Dad Tony has won the national championship several times in the late 70s and late 80s. Milk Drive was full time, but now it’s whenever we can get together since everyone has other projects,” Jesse explained.
Jesse draws from several influences including The Beatles, Animal Collective, Gillian Welch, Roger Sellers, and Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass movement. “I went down the bluegrass rabbit hole for a long time and have incorporated a lot of those sounds in our music,” said Jesse. He plays an Eastman rosewood bass that he has had for twelve years. “It’s definitely been through the ringer,” he said. “TSA in New Orleans dropped it on it’s side one time, and I’ve broken the neck off a couple times. I also have a 1970 D35 Martin. My step dad was the original owner and then he gave it to me. I love that guitar. If there was a fire at my house I would grab the guitar and leave the bass.”
Winter to Pry is a sad song Jesse wrote on the morning he found out one of his good friends passed away. It’s The Deer’s most listened to song on Spotify. “It’s about the human psyche and the depression that followed that morning,” Jesse said. “A lot of people can identify with those sad feelings. You have to have lived the experience to come up with words.”
Tips for songwriters: Find your own voice. “I heard somebody say to learn twenty of your favorite songs: memorize them all, then forget them all. I think that’s an interesting technique. T.S. Elliott said that good poets steal and immature poets imitate. A mature poet will take something that’s already been done and make it different and better. An immature poet will replicate. There are only 12 notes. You’re bound to sound like something that’s already been done before but you can definitely stand out. Hunter S Thompson’s grandma told him to find something that’s never been done and be the best at it. That’s good advice too.”
Favorite Meal in Austin: “My go to is Veracruz because I hang out at Radio so much. I like the Clay Pit too.”
Come hear Jesse’s bluegrass and original tunes at the next Side Project Sundays!