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The Return of Atlanta Power Pop Mainstay Gentleman Jesse

After ten long years away from the studio, Jesse Smith, aka Gentleman Jesse, returned with his third album Lose Everything through Beach Impediment Records in the fall of 2021. In a rare interview, Smith spoke to us about how he completed the long awaited album, how the pandemic supplied the momentum, and how he exposed a darker shade to his music.

After playing in countless DIY bands like greasy Southern punkers Carbonas and top-notch power poppers Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Jesse Smith emerged out of Atlanta's underground rock scene, which spawned the buzzed-about likes of Deerhunter and Black Lips in the early aughts. As Smith's busy schedule within the restaurant industry slowed down during the pandemic, he felt it was time to finally finish the album he's been working on for close to a decade. Where his earlier albums stuck to the power pop playbook, his latest, Lose Everything, is a document of loss, marking a dramatic distinction and exposing a darker shade to his music. especially since he plays everything on it. With an added air of chiming melancholy and maturity, Smith's latest effort is a ramshackle guitar pop album that draws mostly from '80s Kiwi jangle and classic indie acts like The Go-Betweens, The Bats, and R.E.M.

Back in May, Smith also hooked up with Third Man Records for the the three-track companion EP, Compass, which features "Compass" off the new album, an original called "Protecting Nothing," and a cover of "True," originally by Atlanta Punk unknowns The Fans. While the new album exposes some dusk, it's an album that's as challenging as it is rewarding. In a rare interview, Smith spoke to us through Zoom to discuss how he completed his long-awaited third album, what inspired it, and how the pandemic supplied the momentum.

Paperface Zine: What have you been up to since releasing your third album Lose Everything?

Jesse Smith: It's kind of been a whirlwind. While I've played a few shows recently with The Carbonas and my backing band, I also work in the restaurant industry. After the release of Leaving Atlanta, I opened my first restaurant with a group of friends called Kimball House in Georgia. About five years later, we opened a second restaurant in Atlanta, but with just the strains of the pandemic, we had to shut it down. Back in September of last year, we planted oysters in the Gulf side of Florida. They have become increasingly higher maintenance the older they get. During the spring, we did our first harvest. That's pretty interesting. I have been going down to Florida a lot to farm oysters.

PZ: That’s so cool! I had no clue you were in the restaurant business, but looks like you've been in it for a while now! This new album is quite a distinction from the previous two that were more rooted in power pop. This new one is sorta like your Third/Sister Lovers.

JS: You know a lot of the ideas here were right on the heels of Leaving Atlanta, which is funny because everyone thought the new album was sort of different, but I've been workshopping this stuff really the past decade. I found myself after the restaurant opened, my work week was up to 80 hours a week and I did not have a lot of time or mental energy to devote to writing. So a lot of stuff stayed on the shelf. But when I had a little more free time and got in a groove, I found myself finishing songs and working on new stuff. I decided I wasn’t going to do what I did last time, which was record 21 songs at once and then narrow it down to 13 and put out singles and do all of that. I decided to write and record 10 songs and that would be the record. Nine of them I had finished before the pandemic hit and the other track was written during the pandemic. I found myself able to finish all these ideas I had been holding on too for a decade.

PZ: Lose Everything reminds me a bit of the distorted jingle jangles of Alex Chilton, Fables of Reconstruction-era R.E.M., and classic '80s Dunedin/Flying Nun bands.

JS: I have always liked that stuff. Even on my first record there's this song on the B-side called "Wrong Time" that no one really pays attention to that is definitely influenced by all of those sounds. Across this new one, I just found myself listening to slightly more intelligent music. My relationship with being a Southerner changed a little bit too since my earlier records. There is sort of weird stuff that happens down here that a lot of Americans don't pay attention to and a lot of Southerners don't get credit for. We are kind of associated with all the bad stuff, but if you think about it the South is a hotbed for a lot of American culture that people love. Whether or not it's food or music. My attitude has changed a lot from "Sorry we are Southern" to "Yeah we are Southern and we do real shit down here and you guys just hear about it on the TV." [laughing].

PZ: Yeah the South has always been producing some great rock 'n' roll particularly Atlanta, who spawned some of the best like The Razor Boys and Black Lips. Who are some newer Atlanta DIY punk bands that people should know about?

JS: There was a band that was practicing two doors down from me that are kind of picking up a lot of steam. Their name is Upchuck and they toured with Amyl and the Sniffers earlier in the year. I remember during the pandemic, I'd be sitting on my porch reading and I would hear this pretty cool punk music coming from down the street. So I would go stand outside of their house like a creep and listen in. And then they share the house with another band called The Sporrs. Upchuck is a little more hardcore and The Sporrs sound like if Pavement was a punk band. We played a festival that had a lot of Atlanta bands that's mainly more like hardcore stuff and there is a lot of that going on. Whether or not it's straight edge or power pop, there's something for everybody and a lot of it has crossed over. That seems to be what a lot of the kids are into. GG King plays all the time still and the Predator has been around for a long time. Both of them released great records last year.

PZ: What were the sessions like for Lose Everything?

JS: The process of making it was something I needed to get off my plate. I wanted to finish something and so the timing couldn't have been worse. We had intentions to record at Milton Chapman's (Barrerracudas) property. Ryan Bell (GG King, Cops, Predator, Bukkake Boys, Hyena) recorded it. Before the pandemic we planned on Ryan bringing all of his equipment to Milton’s house and having the full band play on the record. The band had learned three out of the ten songs and then the pandemic hit and I decided to just go ahead and finish it myself since I had already demoed everything on like GarageBand. Meanwhile, I was still working in restaurants during it all as an essential worker so I was in a mask nine hours a day. There was a lot of compromise made while making it just because my voice wasn’t at its best because I had to wear a mask so much. I am proud of it because of that, and I have never been one to shy away from charm and being a perfect musician. My favorite records are flawed so I had no problem presenting the album in that manner, especially given the circumstances. Ryan Bell, who recorded the new album, had just had a kid so it was like: put the baby to bed and then we would record from 8:00 to 3:00 a.m. so it was like burning the candles at both ends — dealing with regular life and recording this record. And then on top of that Ryan was recording for the band Mother’s Milk [formerly known as Uniform], which is why in the liner notes of my new album it says "an accidental companion piece to Render Void and Gate." [laughing]

PZ: Did the songs on Lose Everything alter over the years prior to their release? The closing title track totally sounds like something that would be on Leaving Atlanta.

JS: The track "God Is Blind" might be a surprise to some because it was the first song I started working on after Leaving Atlanta and took a lot of tinkering to get it where it is now. One that had a change in direction was "One Million Sorrows" and the only song that was written during the pandemic was "The Line." The idea for the record came from two houses on my street that burned down in a very quick succession that belonged to people that lived on my street for a very long time. Nobody died, but just driving by this empty lot that used to be someone's entire life and that really struck a chord with me and that's how I came up with the idea of the title track. It is also one of the songs I had in my back pocket for a while.

PZ: What was the feeling like to finally get this album off your chest?

JS: Oh man, It was satisfying to finally have something come out. It's funny because I am not actively touring and we are not seeking out press and the press cycle is kind of weird anyways [laughing]. It kind of felt like we put it out and it was like hopefully some people listen to it. For the most part it's gotten a good response. But I also think that people's attention spans are so short because there are so many hard comments coming out about it, maybe it wasn't as punchy as people wanted like on those earlier records.

PZ: It's weird to me that people are so surprised by the change because a long time has passed and you're a different person now. The reaction to this album reminded me a bit of how people reacted after Paul Collins went solo. After those few hooky, hard-edged power pop records with The Beat, he ventured off into the land of country rock and was honestly doing the same thing, but with a more chiming-guitar ring to it.

JS: I think it is inevitable I am a different person than I was in 2008 and 2012 [laughing]. After Leaving Atlanta, I got sort of sick of that genre anyway. While a lot of people think '70s and '80s power pop was a huge influence, I was actually mostly inspired by the '60s pop stuff. I remember doing an interview once and my old guitarist Adrian Barrera was so embarrassed I mentioned The Beatles as an influence [laughing]. I don't think I was actively trying, but that was the progression and you know I don't want to compare myself to someone as great as Big Star because I know that is not the case. As I've gotten older though, I love Big Star's third album the best. I was talking to someone one night and they asked me, "If you had to choose between The Velvet Underground or John Cale's solo records, which would you choose?" and I chose "John Cale." You get to the point in your life where it's like that has more depth about it.

Lose Everything is out now through Beach Impediment Records.


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