Singer-songwriter Jesse Terry delivers a personal, honest, and lushly orchestrated album with his fourth full-length, Stargazer, which was released on September 15th. Infused with the warmth of a beautifully arranged string quartet, “Stargazer” brings a sense of hope that Terry carries within himself. A few days ahead of the album's release, Terry took the time to chat about the project, songwriting, and more.
Even though you released an EP in 2015, your last full-length came out in 2013. How did things pull together for Stargazer?
Technically it’s been four years, but with the EP released in 2015, it doesn’t feel like that long ago. During those years, I was touring all over the world [Terry frequently plays in the UK, Europe, and New Zealand] and needed time to write, prepare, and plan for this record. Time flew by, and here we are.
Stargazer has a few different touches than your previous records.
Yeah, there’s a bit that’s different. There was a lot more pre-production, a lot more arranging, and a lot more thought about what we could do to make it interesting and exciting. For example, I had the idea to use strings on the album because it was something my favorite artists and inspirations, like The Beatles, Roy Orbison, and ELO, did. We brought in a string arranger [Danny Mitchell] and an amazing string section to play on the album which, for me, was a dream come true.
Why did you choose to title the album Stargazer, which is also the first track on the record?
I had been playing the song out for about a year, and it was one of those songs that just had an impact on people. I felt the strings, which to me bring so much emotion to any song, added a cosmic, dreamy, and magical element to the record. It just seemed like the perfect title. Additionally, Sarah Darling put "Stargazer" on her album, which was incredibly humbling and exciting, and the positive response to the song there put extra validation on the fact that the song should be the title.
There are two songs, "Stay Low" and "Won't Let The Boy Die," that are my current favorites. Could you choose one and relay the story behind it?
“Stay Low” is a song about running away from a reform school/residential facility when I was about thirteen years old. I had a turbulent childhood and always had an issue with authority in my life, so I was sent away to this school. Unfortunately it was a truly abusive, lonely, and scary place. I felt like I needed to escape. It didn't seem like a choice to me. It felt like survival and I felt like I needed to stand up to that abuse. So when I was on breakfast duty one morning, I started a grease fire in the kitchen to create a diversion, and as the flames rose up the wall all of the staff members rushed into the kitchen. I went running out the back door towards the juniper tree where I was supposed to meet my girlfriend. She didn’t make it out, so I was out there in the wilderness for about four hours before I left the woods and went onto the main road - where they found me and brought me back. I hope someday I can do something for young adults and children in rough situations. The current system we have doesn't provide many safe and nurturing options for kids in trouble. And most of the kids that wind up in these awful places are good kids with good hearts. They just weren't dealt the best hand.
The thing about life is that you have the ability to choose happiness and positivity or you can go down a negative road and choose drugs, crime, or something else - and music helped me take that positive route. These experiences not only turned me into a songwriter, but they also taught me to empathize with others, which I’m so grateful for.
As I grow as a songwriter, I think I’ve become much more comfortable writing songs like “Stay Low” that would have made me feel vulnerable a few years back. I used to feel that maybe I shared too much, but it feels positive and healing to open up and tell these stories. I feel comfortable and honest, and I love it. You can’t be too hard on yourself or let fear and self-doubt into your work, you have to be open and let go, and I feel like on this record I completely let go. I can’t wait to write more and continue to dig deep.
There’s one more track I wanted to ask about, “Dear Amsterdam.” It really closes things out on an emotional note, which I love.
I've been able to tour over in Europe a few times now and I've been so taken by the people over there and the European way of life. Of course, there are so many different cultures and places throughout Europe and I've really enjoyed everywhere I've visited so far, but Amsterdam, and The Netherlands in general, has been one of my favorite places to tour. I was so taken by the Dutch people, their spirit, their love and respect for the arts, and their peaceful country. I would walk the streets there at night and feel like I could stay forever - it's a place I love deeply.
One of my last tours in Europe ended with a night off in Amsterdam and I remember thinking of that title, standing on a bridge, while all of the lights in the city reflected in the endless canals below. It was so stunning and memorable. I almost felt unworthy there! So that's where the song comes from. It's a love song to Amsterdam, like you would write to a lover that you know is a bit out of your league. That's how it felt to me that night. I can't wait to return and hold on a little while longer.
"Dear Amsterdam" is the last song we tracked on Stargazer and the last notes that we recorded on the album were the strings playing this beautiful arrangement, which almost brings me to tears. I remember sitting in the live room with my wife as the string players were recording that final song. I knew it was a moment I'd always remember and treasure. The song felt like the perfect closer for this album.
You recently played AmericanaFest. What are your tour plans for the remainder of the year?
I’m headed to the UK in late September and have some other really exciting stuff coming up that I cannot announce yet, but the plan is to keep on working this record because I really believe in it. It’s an amazing feeling to work hard and then start to see rewards come back. It’s incredibly fulfilling.
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