Young Jesus Interview: “We heard they got Screech so we had to check it out”

young jesus interview

It’s been a long three years since L.A. based DIY indie quintet Young Jesus released their debut album Home. Thankfully they return on May 13th with the pretty damn sweet follow-up, Grow / Decompose via Hellhole Supermarket. The album consists of low key anthems, if that is even possible. There’s no bluster and posing, but there is high emotion and an abundance of earnestness, but also a surplus of modesty. Overblown recently caught up with singer/gutarist with the group, John Rossiter, for a chat about Mass Effect, gardening, and the pleasures of being a DIY band.

Overblown: Your debut album Home was released in January 2012. What have you guys been up to since?

John: Highlights include: getting highlights, playing in a fun but somewhat insincere pop band, recording a few songs for a Young Jesus album that will never be released, playing Mass Effect, moving, realizing we needed to keep playing as a band, then writing/recording a Young Jesus album that will be released on May 13.

O: Was your approach to writing and recording an album different this time around?

J: Very different. We didn’t intend it as we did with Home. It just kinda had to happen.

I, personally, am a pretty anxious and sensitive person and I moved to Los Angeles alone in late 2013. Grow / Decompose is the product of one of those heavy moments of confusion and depression that came from that. Sorting things out. Essentially, I thought I knew a lot, I realized I knew nothing. Classic angst.

So, I wrote the skeletons, then sent them along to the rest of the band. They edited and added their own stuff and made the record whole. Those demos I sent were pretty incomprehensible and pretty dark. That’s the joy of Young Jesus for me right now, this emotional/mental darkness juxtaposed with some musical exuberance. I wanted to just drone out, real sad/slow, but I’m really excited with how it turned out, with those tensions. My friends (bandmates) pulled me out in a lot of ways. I hope that comes through.

O: Your new album is called Grow / Decompose. What are the origins of this title?

J: Well, my mom does a lot of gardening and bird watching, and it’s made a major impression on my life and view of the world. As a kid, I was terrified of dying to the point where I couldn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t until I was 18 and decided I wanted to be buried in the ground, no casket, so that I could join the dirt that I sort of found peace with death. Also, I think the words sound nice.

O: You recorded the new album in your practice space and in Garrison Benson’s (lead guitarist with Young Jesus) house. You also take care of your own bookings, press, and band management. This is definitely a DIY approach in the vein of Husker Du or Fugazi. Is that an ethos which has influenced your approach to music?

J: Our ethos came from Garrison’s twin brother, Harrison Benson. Fugazi and Husker Du definitely had an impact too. We run our own little tape label called Hellhole Supermarket, and try to have a hand in everything that goes on. It makes for more fulfilling relationships. And when you have a say in everything, and create a community from it, it feels very real rather than dirty. It’s super exciting and freeing to make a different tape for every show, to send people personal notes. When I bought baseball cards as a kid I thought ‘hey I could make my own and draw the players and make up stats.’ That’s how it feels, it’s great. Also, DIY is different for everyone, and I think it allows for more nuance/subtlety in expression which is something we need more of.

Young Jesus Dirt
Young Jesus’ cover for ‘Grow / Decompose’

O: Your new album artwork features a man, wearing a dress, smoking a cigarette while looking quite forlorn. What inspired it?

J: It’s something I always wanted to do. We did a little shoot with our friend/photographer Margie Pratt and it felt very comfortable, very special. A certain weight was lifted.

O: Two songs on the new album directly deal with family, namely, ‘Brothers’ and ‘Father Son’. As your previous album was called Home and included a song called ‘Family and Friends’ it seems that family, home, and belonging are important themes to your music. Why do you think that is?

J: Our family and friends become anchors in life. You keep wanting to drift out, but they create a kind of centre. I feel like I came close to losing that centre, pushing people further and further away. But ultimately they end up holding us/the album together. We’re nothing without their support.

O: In your bio on Facebook you state that your band interests are, “beans, carrot, house trash, small dog name Tim”. What’s that about?

J: We got trash and we got Tim, big deal who cares.

O: ‘Dirt’ was the first song I heard by you guys, and I described it as “The Smashing Pumpkins meets The Replacements”. Now I’ve heard the rest of your album, I realise you guys don’t really sound like that at all usually! What or who inspires you to write?

J: Those are definitely inspirations, but also Brand New, Built to Spill, Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady. And we were listening to a lot of Swearin’, Pope, Pile, Fat History Month, Bedhead.

Also Harrison Benson has been and continues to be a shining light.

O: You guys are from Chicago, but you’re now based in Los Angeles. Why did you make that move?

J: We heard they got the beach and they got Screech so we had to check it out.

O: Are there any bands from Chicago that you would recommend our readers check out?

J: You gotta kick it off with the band Chicago. Also, Wavepool, Loppa Albon (both on Hellhole Supermarket so we’re biased), Shiloh, Yoko and the Oh No’s, The Boxers, Krill (maybe they’re more East Coast but we like em a lot), Geronimo (but they’re gonna be done soon), Oozing Wound, the Hausu Mountain stuff (little label run by cool people putting out great things), Evasive Backflip is a band I’ve always been really interested in making crazy cool tunes.

Grow / Decompose is out on May 13th via Hellhole Supermarket.

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