When Jesse Bryan Marchant, who goes by the name JBM, was about to write the follow-up to his excellent debut album, Not Even in July, he left the confines of his Brooklyn home to live in the Catskills.
What the Canadian-born singer-songwriter emerged with, Stray Ashes, is a nuanced, emotional, heartrending LP of songs bathed in echoey guitar and his bittersweet vocals. Tracks like the opener “Ferry” and “Only Now,” which you can download here, have a depth to them that took a lot of work to perfect, since he recorded each song as a full take without editing it later.
His hard work comes through on Stray Ashes. And he’ll be doing a well-deserved victory lap of sorts this month at downtown Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall, where he’s playing a residency on Monday nights. In advance of the show, we caught up with him to find out how he made such a complex album.
Nonstop Sound: What was your biggest musical breakthrough while making the album?
JBM: "The biggest challenge of recording was to get the songs to feel live without multiple people playing at the same time. It was a challenge to get the feel of that right. I’d record the rhythm guitar or piano and then record the drums, and if they didn’t fit right together I’d have to replace one or the other until they did. That was rather tedious and it was somewhat of a breakthrough when that all started to line up, as I could then build the rest of the songs on those foundations."
NS: You live in Brooklyn but wrote and recorded some of Stray Ashes in a cabin in the Catskills. Before you finished it, you listened back to the instrumental tracks while walking around NYC. How did the change of environment change how you thought of the songs?
JBM: "It made me hear them as actual songs and not as pieces of musical parts that I had put together. There is something limiting at some point to be listening in a studio, where all the tracks are up and can be modified or mixed or deleted or messed with. It is a clean feeling of just putting on some headphones and walking around some and listening to the thing without any option to change it. It makes you hear the song for what it is and for me, that brings a lot clarity in terms of what then needs to be done or not done to it. I had gotten almost all of the recording of the music done at that point, so it was the right time, as there was a lot to listen to."
NS: One song that really stands out is “Only Now.” It’s so layered and dramatic. How did it come together?
JBM: "The dramatic feel of that song was actually the hardest thing to create. Since I recorded it one track at a time, I had to play the build of it with each instrument, imagining how aggressive it was going to sound when they would all play together. I knew that I wanted it to have that build and urgency and it took a while getting that to happen in the right way, stacking all the layers. In the end, it felt right. The transition between the loud and quiet sections was something that I spent a lot of time on. I wanted the song to feel like a train that does not stop to pick up its passengers, and where the wild ones get on it regardless."
NS: Where do you feel most inspired to create music when you’re in New York City?
JBM: "I can’t say that there is any one place. I like to find the places where I can sit still a while though, and there are plenty of those scattered all about. New York isn’t always as hectic as it appears."
NS: You’re doing a residency at Rockwood Music Hall. What do you like most about performing in New York?
JBM: "Performing in New York is surprisingly good for me. I find the crowds to be connective and attentive. I know many other performers who have experienced the opposite, a sort of jaded vibe, but I have not experienced that much. I have a lot of friends who live here and come out to the shows and that is my favorite thing about performing here. There is a warmth that you feel when people who love you are standing in the audience, and I feel that here."