Interview with Jesse Smith: Climbing The Mountain
Music takes its toll on a person.
From the moment a musician decides to pick up the guitar, write lyrics, and put themselves out for the world to see, we expose our innermost thoughts and emotions. It’s the greatest feeling in the world and can be absolutely draining as well.
Countless hours of practice, writing and the drive to make your music into something meaningful can often pay off in even the smallest dividends or it could launch you into a revolution.
For Jesse Smith, now of Jesse Smith & the Holy Ghost, being a part of one of the biggest metal bands — ZAO — a group that helped shape the landscape of metal and hardcore and influence aspiring musicians across the globe, is something he can look back on and be proud of for the rest of his life.
Jesse was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule of playing shows and working on his new album to talk to me about his journey and what’s next for him.
MJ: Tell me what it was like to be a part of something as big as ZAO, a band that helped usher in a new genre of metal?
JS: Looking back at it now, I am just really proud of it. So much has happened in the past 20 years of ZAO and so many people have been involved that it is just a really great feeling to be able to look back and have been involved in something so important. When you’re in it at the time you don’t often get time to reflect on just how great it is. Now I get to see bands that are successful and still out there doing it that ZAO had a part of and its great to see ZAO now. Their new stuff, I’m excited for them. It feels good that people can still connect with it.
You ended up leaving ZAO in 2004, and it took you a while to get back into music again. What triggered the rebirth of Jesse Smith?
For a while, I needed to work on pulling myself out of some holes. I just experienced life and dropped that “guy from a band” identity. I was involved in a few bands here and there, such as The Underwater, but then I just kind of stopped from about 2006 until 2013. I eventually started writing music again and working with some great musicians. Things started flowing, and we started to cut some material. Being an artist you have to come back to it. I thought I was done playing forever but you just can’t stay away from it. I really took a long time off. I worked on myself and worked on my life now that I have two kids.
Where does the eclectic sound come from in your band, Jesse Smith and The Holy Ghost?
When we first started doing this, it was a pretty mellow sound. I was pulling influence from Pink Floyd, Ryan Adams, and some Led Zeppelin. I was exploring, trying to find a sound. When you duck out of a certain style like hardcore and return to writing music it will eventually work its way back into your sound. So our sound has eventually gotten heavier. I’ve been listening to bands like Nothing But Thieves and Mastodon. I pull influence from anything that I can resonate with, and we’ve really tried to make this band as much of its own thing as possible. I don’t know if it was a conscious thing to progressively get heavier, but that is what it has shaped into.
One of the songs that stands out for me is, “Blood On Your Halo,” tell me a little about the message in that song.
That is actually one of the earlier songs we wrote. In trying to figure out what tracks to put on the first album, we had about 20-25 tracks, and we were just trying to piece it all together. We went for a 90s pop sound with Blood On Your Halo, and I am talking a little bit about myself in that song. It is a bit of self-reflection, the lyrics are about a relationship, but the relationship I have with myself.
Are you working on a new album?
Yes! The material is the story of the last year and a half. We have a great group of songs, and we are working with some amazing people, being free to do what we want in the studio. It’s so great to be at that point. The album is in pre-production right now, and we are hoping to cut the album before spring. We are going to put together some tour runs for next summer and look forward to playing the new material!
For an old hardcore kid like myself, talking to Jesse was a very humbling experience.
I remember playing The Champ, rec centers, fire halls and friends’ garages in hopes of one day touring the country and sharing the stage with bands like ZAO. But, life happens, doesn’t it? We give up a little bit of the dream day after day, life takes over and the bills start to pile up. It was inspiring to hear Jesse’s passion in what he does and how he, thankfully for all of us, returned to his art.