PRESS PHOTO (credit: Brice Baum)
“When I was younger, I bought into the idea that in order to be a great artist, you needed to constantly suffer. It’s total bullshit,” says Jesse Smith, the Dallas songwriter/producer better known as Jesse Etc. “Laying aside drinking/drugs and facing my anxiety disorder have helped my mind get into the most creative spot it has ever been in. I’m more focused now than I ever was loaded or depressed — both musically and lyrically.”
With this newfound focus, Jesse Etc was able to combine his love for sample-heavy artists like J Dilla, MF Doom, and the Avalanches with his love for pop production and structure to lay down a revelatory debut EP Lavender, which Near Mint Records released in September. The EP, drawing as much inspiration from slickly produced Top 40 hits as from crate-digging for obscure 45’s, received praise from the Dallas Observer as a “collection of shimmering electronic-pop tracks” and one of the city’s best releases of the month.
Lavender was the result of Jesse’s efforts after climbing out of a decade of anxiety, depression and drug use. On his early understanding of panic and anxiety, he told HiFi Noise:
I remember waking up in the middle of the night feeling terrified as a child, but not because I was having nightmares. I would wake up with this dark feeling inside my bones– as if something terrible happened or was going to happen because of me. It was heavy, but it didn’t happen too often and I could shake it off fairly quickly. This feeling followed me throughout my youth and eventually, at 17, I started having severe medical anxiety– always feeling like I may die at any moment because I had some disease.
After a decade of self-medicating with alcohol, drugs and sex, Jesse found himself ready to turn things around. “I was in a bad spot. I’d taken my drinking as far as it could go. I’d practically lived the last decade of my life drunk. I remember sitting in my apartment alone wondering what the point of any of this was: music; religion; money; life,” Jesse reflects. “My biggest accomplishment in 2014 was calling a therapist. I was broken by the time I finally started looking them up — it took everything I had to make that phone call — to choose to get better. It was a slow process,” Jesse remembers. “First, it was opening up to my therapist about the dark thoughts I was having. Then, it was laying the bottle to rest. Then, it was starting to connect with others in a way I hadn’t before, running, meditating, eating better.”
The creative expression of a rearranged and cleaned up life, Lavender was an exploration of Jesse Etc’s path to sobriety and the re-shuffled priorities he was finding on the other side. Jesse revealed this about his life leading up to writing Lavender: “I wouldn’t wish what I was going through during that time on anyone — but it shaped me into the man I am today,” Jesse says. “I still struggle with a lot of that stuff — anxiety, depression, dark thoughts, etc. — but it’s different now. I know you will come out clean if you push through the darkness, even when you don’t see a glimpse of light.”
The Best New Music in Dallas, September 2016: Gone are the days of The AB Theory, Jesse Smith’s former project. Now Smith is back under the Jesse Etc. moniker and his debut EP is a collection of shimmering electronic-pop tracks. At times, during the five-track EP it’s easy to hear some Ben Gibbard in Smith’s voice. Fans of The AB Theory will be happy to hear a retuned version of “Fatal Flaw Attractions.” – Mikel Galicia, Dallas Observer
With Ben Gibbard-like vocals, Jesse Smith sings over a music bed that’s a collection of his varied interests, from acoustic guitars and poppy synths to trip-hop-y electronic drum beats. There’s quiet moments, gritty moments and samples aplenty all mashed together under a Top 40 polish, making it sound like a cohesive idea rather than a guy who couldn’t decide what he wanted to be when he grew up. – Cory Graves, Central Track
Offering sounds from virtually all corners of the pop spectrum—indie, trip-hop, dance, dream, etc.—Lavender has a little something to appeal to any and all fans of the genre, and with a total running time shy of 19 minutes, that’s all the more impressive. – Brian Leak, Substream Magazine
Ride a Sensual Groove Through Waves of “Nostalgia”: The track is built on an incredible groove and subdued vocals that sound like Ben Gibbard trying his hand at Top 40. There’s a huge musical swell around the purposefully processed crooning of “I still feel like I’m the one fucking up / You only get older, you never grow up” that truly epitomizes the feelings of warmth that are oft associated with nostalgia. This is the lead single from an incredible EP called Lavender that will appeal to fans of both mainstream and bedroom pop — bringing aspects of each into the other in a way that is only rivaled by Bellows. – Joel Funk, 36 Vultures
retro-atmospheric – Cloudberry Mornings
Interview: Jesse Etc.: Jesse Etc. took some time to answer questions about his debut EP, working with Near Mint, and more. – HiFi Noise