Tobias Jesso Jr. Talks Breaking Big with 'Goon'
Published Mar 20, 2015In 2015, there's perhaps no solo artist more hyped than Tobias Jesso Jr.
Since his demos first appeared on YouTube, the Vancouver-bred singer-songwriter has slowly caused a stir in the blogosphere, with his debut LP, Goon (out now via Arts & Crafts in Canada and True Panther in the U.S.) frequently cited as one of the most anticipated albums of 2015, and the artist gaining fans and friends in high places (Adele and HAIM among them).
But as Jesso Jr. explains to Exclaim!, he wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for the help of one man: former Girls' member and producer Chet "JR" White.
"He really championed me from the very start and is the sole reason why I'm talking to you from this position," Jesso Jr. says by phone in L.A. "He showed people my music who were inside the industry, my record label; he was the one who played it to all the musicians who started tweeting about it or reached out to me. He set it up big time."
The two first began contact with one another in 2012. Jesso Jr., fresh from a four-year stint trying to make it as a musician in Hollywood, was back home in North Vancouver, working as a furniture mover by day and making music alone on a piano in his parents' house by night. Upon hearing that one of his favourite bands, Girls, were breaking up, he decided to hunt down the producer's contact info online (a feat he describes as being fairly simple) and found it on a blog. With nothing left to lose, the then 26-year-old Jesso Jr. decided to shoot him an email.
"I was in a weird place, just having moved home to Vancouver and stuff, and I said, 'Don't worry about it, man. It's going to be cool and you're a great producer,'" he says.
He attached a few of his demos, including future Goon cuts "Can We Still Be Friends" and "Just a Dream," his first-ever recorded attempt at playing piano and singing solo.
"I was just a fan of his and wanted him to hear it, you know? It was songs about loss and songs about where I was at during that specific time, and I felt for some reason maybe he might be there too," he remembers. "It turns out he was. He wrote back immediately."
The producer invited Jesso Jr. to fly out to San Francisco and begin work on a proper full-length, and after a few months of visa issues, he was able to cross the border and come back to California.
Recorded by White, as well as a host of others producers — including the Black Keys' Patrick Carney, HAIM collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid, and the New Pornographers' John Collins — Goon is one of the most fully formed debuts from a solo singer-songwriter in recent memory, what with its tales of heartbreak ("Can't Stop Thinking About You," "Without You" and "How Could You Babe"), disappointment ("Hollywood") and anxiety ("Leaving LA"), all told from the perspective of Jesso Jr.'s plaintive, plainspoken and anguished voice.
Part of Goon's strength comes from the stories surrounding the album: his mother was diagnosed with cancer (she's since recovered), he was hit by a car, and he ended a serious relationship, all before he even began playing the piano (the main instrument found on the album) in 2012. However, there's a downside to having such a good backstory.
"You have no idea how many songs I get sent to me now," he says with a laugh. "I have people sending me YouTube videos of them screaming… I try to write back and be like, 'Man, maybe some melody would be good.'"
That's pretty good advice from one of the most talked-about recording artists of the year.
Tobias Jesso Jr. has several tour dates coming up, including some here in Canada. You can see his complete schedule here.