Jesse Terry, The Drawing Room Chesham

Last night saw the first date of American country singer-songwriter Jesse Terry's UK tour. Playing a myriad of dates throughout October, Jesse's tour kicked off at The Drawing Room in Chesham. Having not been to the venue before I was unsure about what to expect (all reviews giving the impression it's not a typical gig venue!) however I was pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere is very friendly, the owner and his staff running a very comfortable venue that is, quite literally, his house. It meant that the audience were sat round large tables that encouraged conversation and the artists themselves were inches away from you (if you were sat in the main room)

British folk artist Sharon Lewis shared the bill with Jesse, she started her set at around 8:15pm. She certainly seemed popular around the venue but was not an artist I personally found myself drawn to. Her wispy vocals leant themselves to the particular tracks performed however the tracks themselves did not showcase her vocal ability as well as they could have.

Jesse Terry began his acoustic set at around 9:15pm. He had been interacting very easily with the audience before the show and this continued throughout his set, he seemed to be genuinely very happy to be there. Songs such as Noise, Let The Blue Skies Go To Your Head and The Runner formed part of his set and were all very well received, leading to the vast majority of the audience buying Jesse's three albums and newest EP after his set had finished.

Regular readers will have seen my review of Jesse's newest EP The Calm & The Storm here and they will know I am a huge fan of the track Noise so it was great to be able to hear it live last night. Jesse gave a really heartfelt vocal, performing really strongly and allowing the listener to just drift through the track on the strength of the lyrics, guitar playing and vocals.

I also really liked Let The Blue Skies Go To Your Head, a song about believing in the good things in life. Previously featured on television show Hart Of Dixie, the studio version of the track has different production to Jesse and his guitar that the listeners heard last night but both versions of the track are very strong and the stripped back arrangement really seemed to resonate with the audience.

At the end of the evening Jesse and Sharon joined together to perform an impromptu version of Will Ye Go Lassie Go, their voices blending very nicely together with the instrumental accompaniment coming from Jesse's guitar. The end of the performance was greeted with rousing applause, proving how the audience had embraced the two artists.

I had previously asked Jesse to play his impressive cover of the Don McLean track Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) which he unfortunately didn't as part of his set however, after getting chance to chat with him afterwards, he immediately apologised when reminded and we were treated to his version with him sat on one of the chairs, his acoustic guitar unplugged and with only a few of us left in the venue. It was a really lovely moment and you could hear a pin drop. I was also really impressed to see the owner of the venue immediately come up and turn off the background music that had been playing and turned round after the song to see him and all the staff stood listening. It was a brilliant way to hear such a lovely version of the song.

Jesse Terry is definitely not for fans of gritty, rockier country music but he clearly knows where his strength lies and delivered a really strong set that showcased his vocals very well, often sounding better than the studio recordings of the tracks! Most of the set contained (relatively) slower tracks but that didn't take away from the overall set. Jesse seemed very comfortable and not at all intimidated by the intimate setting, leaving the audience feeling very comfortable also.

I was able to catch up with Jesse after his set and ask him some questions....

What first drew you to country music?
I think the authenticity and the honesty of the lyrics. The real true country music that I grew up on, that I loved, the Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, that stuff is so beautiful to me and still is. It's just heartbreaking and beautiful and pure and some of the best lyrics in the world ever so it drew me to that because I love lyrics. That's a big thing for me, the storytelling.
Who would you describe as your influences?
I'm really influenced by the classic singer-songwriters, a lot of them from the Laurel Canyon scene, Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor. Later on I'm super super influenced by, in my generation, Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell are two of the very best out there writing songs and they'll be legends forever. Their music is timeless, it's just as good as the songs that Jackson Browne was writing and Paul Simon was writing, all of the country greats as well. It's like when they made that record "The Common Thread" the songs of the Eagles, the Eagles were a country rock band. I feel like all of that music, that folk-rock-Americana whatever you'd like to call it, it was all so connected.
When did you get your first guitar?
I was almost nineteen actually. I tried to avoid music, I painted. My parents are musicians and I didn't want to go down the same road but I had an injury and my mum came over with her old Yamaha and she lent it to me and I started writing, I was just fully consumed by it. I left my apartment and moved back in with my Grandma, that was wonderful, I learned how to play guitar and I started writing songs and just feeling that expression. I didn't feel that with art. I loved it and I felt expression but the expression from writing a good song and getting that out was so powerful, it still is! [laughs] 
What's your favourite song you've written?
I don't know, they're all little babies! [laughs] I think "Noise" is a favourite of many of my friends and fans and I think it's one of my favourites too. It was written with a wonderful fellow named Michael Logen, who is a brilliant singer-songwriter, but I feel like that song was a gift. I feel like Michael was playing this melody and this chord change, he was just fooling around on the guitar and I was just like 'what is that, what are you doing?'. So we recorded that and I added to it a little bit and then we wrote some lyrics and then I went home and wrote more but that song's been a really gift to me. I think it's really hard to write a perfect song and I'm not saying that's a perfect song but it's probably the closest thing I've got to a perfect song. It's one of those songs where I'm like 'dang, I'm not sure if I'll write another one that good for a while!' [laughs] 
This isn't your first tour in England, what keeps drawing you back?
I love the people, I love the history here, the humour of people and the beauty of the country. Also the audiences, you heard it tonight, we're in a very intimate space and they roar after you play a song and open up your heart, it's beautiful. 
Do you find there's a difference between UK audiences and US audiences?
I don't know, I feel like people are people. There are definitely differences between playing to an audience in say The Netherlands or an audience in New Zealand or America. I think US and UK are pretty similar. We're pretty similar countries [laughs] we're good buds, you have a different accent and different jokes [laughs]
Which song do you wish you'd written?
Definitely "Thunder Road" by Bruce Spingsteen which I think is certainly one of the greatest rock and roll lyrics of all time and one of the greatest melodies. That can be covered in any genre, I like songs like that. I love the way even Ryan Adams is able to strip down a Taylor Swift song and play it on his acoustic, it's amazing. I like Taylor but I'm a huge fan of Ryan Adams and to hear those songs like that shows what a great song-writer she is. That's what a great song should be able to do, transcend. There's so many lyrics I wish I'd written. "These Days" by Jackson Browne, there's so many, there's too many! Of course The Beatles, there's just too much material to cover. I'll stick with "Thunder Road", that was my first instinct. 
If you could be part of any tour, past or present, what would you pick?
That's another good one! I like your questions. I think opening or being on a tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their heyday, in the seventies, would have been amazing. It just would have been incredible to see all them together, such a turbulent band. I'm a huge fan of all of them, especially Neil Young, but to hear them work and to see how they work and to be a part of that, that would be a dream. There's still some of these people around, I still have hope that I'll get to open for Jackson Browne and tour with him. Ryan Adams as well, you always have to believe, these things happen sometimes. I never would have thought that I would play Bonnaroo this year! Or the Philadelphia Folk Festival. I heard Lyle Lovett play on Saturday night at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and I'd just played a few hours earlier, which of course was on a different stage, I'm up-and-coming, I'm glad to just be in that company, it was quite a moment to be there and feel like it's real, like it can happen. It feels more tangible, it feels possible. 
How did Bonnaroo come about?
Well my manager knows the folks that booked that! [laughs] I'm pretty sure, I haven't asked him, but I'm pretty sure one of the guys who books Bonnaroo came to one of my shows in New York City and of course my manager Ben didn't tell me, probably because he didn't want me to be nervous! [laughs] Which I would have been! Who wouldn't be nervous? So he didn't tell me and then I think a week or two later he said 'yeah he was there that night and he really liked that song "End Of The World"' that I played tonight. That meant a lot to me. So it happened, it worked out. What an honour, that was another big moment, playing that festival and then watching Billy Joel close it out. That was a lot more people! That was 85,000.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
This feels so cliché to say...I'm trying to say it in a different way...I had a really great friend who was a big fan, she's still a great friend, Grammy winning singer-songwriter and she listened to some of my earlier songs that I had written in Nashville and she just loved them. She was hooking me up with all these different people to write with, all these people that I worshipped, heroes of mine. I came to her one day with a new session and she said Jesse this sucks, you're trying to sound like someone else, you're trying to write like someone else, you have to completely let go and open up and speak your truth. My truth doesn't necessarily have to mean that it happens to me but it has to resonate with me, it has to feel real and emotional. So I guess that's a long way of saying to write your truth but I feel like everybody says that with song-writing! [laughs] But it's so true, not just truth but really like dig deep, not be afraid to share. Everyone's gone through some really tough things in this life, I haven't met many people who've been immune to that. I think if you're open with your audience and not ashamed of some wild things you went through and you're able to write about that, I think that is a wonderful thing. For you and your audience. 
What was the hardest song to write?
Probably those songs where you're opening up the most! [laughs] Then playing them for the first time live, maybe even explaining to an audience what the song is about and just being fearless about that, just being completely honest and unashamed. Not ashamed in a way like you did something wrong, just I'm up there singing to strangers about things that people wouldn't tell anyone in the world! It's a different thing, you're completely open and vulnerable and I think you have to feel comfortable being in that place. I think that's what makes the great ones great, the people that are really able to do that. 
 Do you find it easier to write songs from personal experience?
Yes, they're easier to write because it's really just like writing an autobiography. That's what a lot of my songs tend to be, I try to break out of that a little bit and find more stories that resonate with me. Like my song "Marina" is about a beautiful girl who passed away but wrote this beautiful blog before she passed and her blog became the impetus and the inspiration for that song. I love it when that happens. It's wonderful to write about characters you meet on the road, such as a Mr Ian Lightfoot from Whitley Bay [Jesse's tour manager] 
You've been over to the UK quite a bit now, can we expect you to continue that?
Absolutely, the plan is to come back at least once a year, I don't see that ever changing. I adore it here, I adore the fans and the audiences and the venues and of course just the adventure, learning about the history. Last time we were here we got to tour castles, Ian gave me a great tour of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland and Lindisfarne. So the next step for me would be to get some proper distribution over here, maybe a label. If not I'll continue to just do it in a very independent way which is also wonderful. There's so many wonderful festivals here, I'm actually playing my first UK folk festival on this tour, Hartlepool Folk Festival, which is really exciting and hopefully in the future we can come back twice a year. Come for festival season, come for a tour. My wife loves it here, she's a Kiwi so she feels very at home, her mum's from Manchester so she's almost British! [laughs] It's become a really special place to me and I couldn't imagine not having that part of my life, that part of my career. 

Thank you to Jesse for his time and for a great show! You can find details of the remaining dates on his UK tour (and subsequent US dates) on his website here. I would definitely recommend catching a show if you like your country polished, soft and heartfelt. Nicely done Jesse!