Jesse Terry finally gets to release 'When We Wander'
After he finished his latest album, "When We Wander," in late fall of 2019, Stonington singer-songwriter Jesse Terry had a few months before the official release date. He could reflect a bit on what he'd accomplished and spend time with his wife — also named Jess — and their infant daughter Lily Grace. Then, as per the plan, they'd all hop in the van and, in family-affair fashion, tour steadily behind the record in far-reaching fashion. Terry is, after all, a well-established presence in both the U.S. and European roots/folk scenes.
The his-and-her Terrys have toured that way since they met on a South Pacific cruise ship in 2010; it's a family business and the couple saw no reason not to bring Lily Grace along rather than have Terry go out solo. With that in mind, and with the CD scheduled for release in early 2020, a long tour was booked and ... the pandemic hit.
"When We Wander" officially — finally — came out Friday and, frankly, Terry's never had 17 months to contemplate the work and inspiration that goes into a just-completed album. It provided a different perspective, particularly given the fact that, along with everyone else, the Terry family was in lockdown and completely uncertain about the world.
"The album is very much a reflection on family and becoming a father and the joys that go with that," Terry says by phone from Stonington last week. "But it's also about my past and things I've had to overcome in my personal life. I can't appreciate the good things without acknowledging my shortcomings and the lessons I hope I've learned."
The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Neilson Hubbard (Mary Gauthier, Glen Phillips). Terry realized a longtime goal: to track the songs live with a set band of musicians/friends.
"I wanted to try and capture the emotion and energy of live performance in the way Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton record," Terry says. "Sometimes it's not absolutely perfect, but you make up for those flaws with the spirit of the live performance."
The light and the dark
Many of the album's songs are affirmations of life's delicate promise and rewards, and "When We Wander" is a tender, lovely and thoughtful collection. Terry writes songs with carefully crafted chordal architecture and yearning vocal melodies that provide optimum support for graceful and thoughtful lyrics. Terry's words can capture love and gratitude, just as they're sympathetic but unsparing when contemplating darker scenarios.
The gentle "If I Were the Moon" is a direct vow of love and protection for his daughter through a variety of lunar metaphors. "Ghost Stories" is a confessional ballad wherein Terry describes, as he says, "changing yourself so you don't inflict your issues on the innocent."
The title track, "Just Out of Your Sight" and "Strangers in Our Town" seem to be addressed to Jess at the brink of parenthood — both are cherished vows to his wife but also thank-you notes for her strength, love and wisdom.
But Terry also realized during the long break, he says, that while the original thematic connection of the songs stayed consistent in terms of familial reflection, it's also true that the pre-pandemic turmoil searing the nation became part of the work.
"The last five years were difficult and that they happened as I was becoming a father for the first time definitely surfaced in some of the songs," Terry says.
If he doesn't overtly address specific issues in any globally recognizable way — Terry doesn't club listeners over the head with proselytization — he certainly writes about somber topics whether it's societal/political or his examining own perceived flaws.
"Hymn of a Summer Night," "In Spite of You," "Innocent Ones" and "Little Fires" all explore such things. "My thoughts were, 'Let's get some of the dark stuff out of the way," he explains. "I've had to learn a few lessons. I think I sometimes come across as a happy, carefree, not-a-care-in-the-world guy. But the human condition has almost everyone going through something rough and that certainly applies to me."
Growing up in Wilton, Conn. on the New Canaan line, Terry's youth was significantly marked by being sent to reform school at 13 — an experience he describes as "horrible, the least nurturing environment that's ever been. But after I got out of there, I will say the experience will motivate me for life to be a good husband and father and to have a good career and work hard. I think, finally, after 30 years, I have some clarity. It's great to be able to write songs about that. It's a healing process to sing songs and have people realize I have all these old scars ... And who know? Maybe other people can connect, and if so, that's the coolest ..."
With a lot of help from their friends
With "When We Wander" on the shelf for over a year, and no touring income, the two Jesses took happy solace in the "silver lining" opportunity to spend time with each other and Lily. But they also had to make a living, and that's when they found out what a loyal fanbase Terry has.
Like many musicians and performers, Terry experimented with virtual and streaming concerts and a variety of fundraising campaigns in which donors are rewarded in a variety of ways, from early access to new material to merchandise bundles of CDs/downloads/T-shirts to guitar string jewelry.
Then, when Terry's wife visited a Stonington business called The Vegan Potter and befriended owner/artist Lyndsay Dean, a new idea emerged. Terry reached out to Lyndsay with the concept for a new, fan-based funding campaign. As Dean is also married to local musician Matthew Meiklem (Rooster, Sugar), the idea resonated with her. Terry sent her some of his songs and Dean designed some glazed coffee/tea mugs that became part of some of his merchandise bundles.
In addition, Dean and Terry now promote each other's work in a symbiotic fashion, using web sites and social media and, in Dean's case, her physical store. It's a collaborative effort they both hope will catch on between other local artists of various disciplines.
"Lyndsay squeezed me into her schedule and made these gorgeous mugs. I drink out of one every morning," Terry laughs. "What's great is they don't even have my name on it. She just took the theme of 'When We Wander' and the mugs beautifully reflect the music. It's another silver lining because, with the normal schedule, I'd never had time to reach out to Lyndsay and build a new friendship and meet another local artist. I can't say enough about her or her work. And I think this is a model that can help a lot of local artists."
By email, Dean says, "I really appreciated Jesse's creative approach to encouraging backers to support the album launch and I was honored to be included ... Jesse sent me his music and lyrics and after listening, my husband Matthew actually helped me brainstorm a bunch of design ideas to propose. I wanted the mug colors to nod to the album, as well ... It's been a lot of fun promoting Jesse's music to my own audience via social media with visuals of the mugs in process and our collaboration. He's been a pleasure to work with and I'm really proud to have been a part of the campaign. I love what I do, but when I can collaborate with another artist and share what they do through the vehicle of my work, it's the icing on the cake."
Looking ahead, Terry is starting to reschedule dates for the summer and beyond. He also has two more albums scheduled for release this year, a double-set of cover tunes and also a holiday album. His next performance is a Livestream show May 27 as part of Pawcatuck's May Day Concert Series.
With all this happening — and with his new appreciation for the path that led to "When We Wander" — Terry is feeling optimism.
"Ours is a bit of an instant-gratification society, but I think what we do in the Americana genre will never go away. It's a solid, mid-level fan base that seems to pass from generation to generations with genuine appreciation for the music and the artists. They're loyal and they don't go away. When I visualize where I want to be, it's never headlining a 40,000 stadium." He laughs. "Now, I wouldn't complain (selling out) someplace like the Beacon Theater. But whatever success we have, we're grateful for it."
If you wish to 'Wander'
Who: Stonington singer-songwriter Jesse Taylor
What: New CD called "When We Wander"
Where: www.jesseterrymusic.com and all streaming sites
How much: $15 signed CD, $25 signed vinyl plus shipping
In performance: Terry performs free via Livestream at 7 p.m. May 27 as part of Pawcatuck's May Days Concert Series, registration required
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