Swoon, Deep, & Real: Darren Jessee’s ‘Remover’ Is a Tender, Quiet Tempest

Remover - Darren Jessee
Darren Jessee dives into his haunting sophomore album ‘Remover,’ an achingly bittersweet and intimately stirring outpouring of reflective singer/songwriter gold.
Stream: ‘Remover’ – Darren Jessee




I hope it helps misfits and sad people everywhere feel less alone. I see them and they are often drowned out by the loudest people in the room.

Stirringly tender and gorgeously cinematic, Darren Jessee’s sophomore album is a quiet tempest in sound and sentiment alike.

A soft soundtrack to inner reckoning, Remover embraces reflection and explores emotion through a visceral sonic environment full of life, vulnerability, and raw humanity. Unassuming and humble, it’s a welcome breath of life that fills every room and touches every heart – especially the lonesome ones.

Remover - Darren Jessee

Remover – Darren Jessee

It’s Echo Street all the way
Past la vaquita by the freeway
Feeling like it’s a mistake
You and I can’t change things
I used to think we were ok
Now you talk the cruelest
You make it your own way
And you leave me to
Carry the dead weight
Just a couple kids from the red clay
We used to have fun
That’s what we’d say
I didn’t mean to push you so far
You and I can’t change things
I used to think we were ok
– “Dead Weight,” Darren Jessee

Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering Darren Jessee’s haunting sophomore album Remover (out October 16 via Bar/None Records), an achingly bittersweet and intimately stirring outpouring of reflective singer/songwriter gold. The followup to 2018’s debut album The Jane, Room 217Remover finds Jessee expanding himself through sound and story alike – unveiling layer after layer of vulnerable thoughts and feelings through a breathtaking soundscape of graceful acoustic and orchestral warmth.

Hailing from North Carolina, Darren Jessee has over 25 years’ experience in making and sharing music with the world: In addition to being a founding member of the band Ben Folds Five, Jessee has released his own music under the moniker Hotel Lights since 2004. He is a former full-time member of Durham band Hiss Golden Messenger, he played drums in support of Sharon Van Etten’s 2014 record Are We There, and he contributed to The War on Drugs’ Grammy Award-winning 2017 album A Deeper Understanding – to name a few of the many notches in his belt.

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

As a singer/songwriter, Jessee has proved himself an expert in capturing the beauty, bliss, and grandeur of quiet moments.

In premiering his 2018 single “Letting You Go” (his most streamed solo song to date), Atwood Magazine praised the artist for capturing “intimacy incarnate” on his debut album: “Little separates listener from artist in these songs as Darren Jessee bares his soul, surrendering his emotions in an utterly beautiful display of musical vulnerability.”

If The Jane, Room 217 were described as “breathtaking” (and it was), then Remover is breath-giving: It’s as moving as its predecessor, with a little more light shining into the room. “I wanted to pick up the energy and I really focused on getting my best vocal performances,” Jessee relates.

For me, it all starts with creating something deep and beautiful as an artist. I don’t follow trends in popular music or value commercialism over craft. I try to make songwriter albums I would want to listen to.

This is an album for folks who love to dwell in their feelings; who actively embrace reflection and introspection; and who enjoy delving beyond “the hits,” as it were. Remover is an existential and emotional experience. It’s a mature musical upheaval manifest in tender little overhauls of the self.

“I make album experiences, not singles,” Jessee asserts. “Remover is an album that when you get deep into the second half you’ll think to yourself, damn these guys really thought about this.”

Distant lights
The snow bashed streets
Ticket for the turnpike
Slap of the wiper blades
My fortune’s my reflection
In Lake Pontchartrain
I’m getting back to it now
Headed south to find out
Frost on the windshield
Aftermath mix tape
Dead highway flowers
Slowly changing lanes
Blackberry pie
Don’t it taste great
And I’m getting back to it now
I’m headed south to find out
Under spanish moss
My love awaits
– “Getting Back to It Now,” Darren Jessee

Catchy songs like “Cape Elizabeth,” “Never Gonna Get It,” and “Letdown” are sure to find easy favor with all, whereas deeper cuts like “Never Next Time,” “Along the Outskirts,” and the affectionate closer “Getting Back to it Now” coax us into a world of wonder that is all our own. The brilliance of Jessee’s songwriting – not to mention his execution – is that no matter how intimate and personal his music is, each song feels like it was written for and about us.

Stream Remover exclusively on Atwood Magazine ahead of its release October 16th, and reconnect with Darren Jessee in our in-depth interview below.

I hope it is a companion for music fans who love swooning songwriter albums. I hope it heals me a little, too.

Stream: “Never Gonna Get It” – Darren Jessee

 



A CONVERSATION WITH DARREN JESSEE

Remover - Darren Jessee

Atwood Magazine Hey Darren! Let's start our conversation with The Jane, Room 217; how did your experience with that album impact you?

Darren Jessee: Hi Mitch! I hope you’ve been doing ok through the pandemic. Thank you for working with me again and helping promote my new album. When The Jane, Room 217 was releasedI felt so proud. I loved seeing how it affected people who listened. In Oct 2018, I set out for way west Marfa, TX to begin writing a new album and hiking and spending time around expansive views. I drove my friend Josh’s old Ford truck around desolate west TX highways reflecting on everything and listening to new song mixes and my heart felt full. I spent the next year writing and recording and playing a handful of intimate solo shows.

Where does The Jane, Room 217 end and Remover begin? That is to say, how are these records different for you?

Jessee: It’s a natural continuation in my mind, but with Remover I was ready to expand the sound of my songs. When I returned to Durham, NC, I began recording new songs with my long time friend and collaborator Alan Weatherhead (Hotel Lights, Sparklehorse, A Camp). What is most different for me is the sound of the new album is more rewarding and richer, which was the natural progression.

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Does Remover build upon your last release, or is it a total new undertaking in your eyes?

Jessee: It builds on the Jane Rm and all my previous songwriting – which has a thread that runs from Hotel Lights all the way back to “Magic” and “Brick” by Ben Folds Five.  The Jane Rm songs are intimate and I tried to leave the recording to reflect that, and it’s how I thought those songs felt deepest. By Remover, I wanted to pick up the energy and I really focused on getting my best vocal performances.

You open with this heartaching acoustic pop/rock ballad, “Dead Weight.” Why begin the album in this way?

Jessee: It just felt like the best sequence that way. I make album experiences, not singles. Remover is an album that when you get deep into the second half you’ll think to yourself, damn these guys really thought about this.

The atmospheric, haunting “Cape Elizabeth” follows – this is the album’s lead single, released earlier this year. I really love how cinematic this song is, with its string backing and somber vocals. Why make this the lead single?

Jessee: Thank you. It has a slow build all the way to the end, and that felt like a nice way to introduce a new album. And it’s a good sounding recording and cinematic as you point out. Trey Pollard of Spacebomb Group added strings. You may remember his work from The Jane, Room 217.

Strings and orchestration actually play a huge role throughout this album. I think they make this record the experience it is – taking it all to the next level, in my opinion. They elevate each moment tastefully. How did you go about arranging these parts and how do you feel they impact the overall album?

Jessee: With strings and woodwinds, we pick the songs that will work best with a string section and choose the specific moments we want coverage. But to me it is the interplay of Alan’s subtle textured production, mixed in with Trey’s arrangements – performed live with string players, and the mood of my songs, lyrics, guitar and voice, all working together that creates something special. It felt natural to put it all together. We had established a rhythm working on the last album.

For me, Remover seems to be a very melancholic record; there’s lots of introspection, reflection, and kind of emotional wandering. How do you feel this record captures your artistry in this moment, and what most excites you about these songs?

Jessee: I feel like what you describe in your question could be said about most of my albums. And the albums I listen to and love most. I don’t generally relate to people who don’t read or have a rich introspective curiosity. It captures my artistry at this moment because it is an honest look at what was on my mind and my songs grow out of that. What most excites me about these songs is what a satisfying album they are together, and sharing them with my fans.

Can you describe this new album in three words?

Jessee: Swoon. Deep. Real.

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Every album title has significance. What does Remover mean to you, and how does this title relate to the music within?

Jessee: You’d be surprised how difficult it is to name some albums! This one was relatively easy for me. For me Remover is the process of working to clean something up emotionally, and break loose of it. Writing and recording set it free. It is also a fun riff on Revolver and speaks to the times I removed myself from other bands to pursue my desire to create something beautiful and lasting that stands as a testament to my life in music.

I really love the new single “Never Gonna Get It.” This feels like a spark of light; how did this track come about?

Jessee: Thanks! It was written around the idea of chords slowly building tension and never resolving. Underpinned by a small crooked rhythmic drum part. Those musical ideas working along with the lyrics and vocal melody, crystalize that feeling. Like the great Rumi quote – “The wound is the place the light enters you.”  I think a lot of my songs strive for this.

I’m never gonna get it
Scared me what I need
But you’re free now babe
Driving away from me now
Sunglasses on
Windows down alone
This is goodbye
It scared me
What I need
I’m never gonna get it

Do you have any personal favorite songs on this album? What are your proudest moments that we haven’t touched upon yet?

Jessee: I’m really proud of the album. I like “Free Rein,” “I Don’t Believe in You,” “Dead Weight,” and “I’m Your Baby.” Remover is built to be an album experience and my favorite moments change when I listen that way. I can get really excited about the smallest details too, like there’s some nice hi hat work on those two bars of “Along the Outskirts” or listen to the way I sang that word. I’m really into the finest details mixed with a vulnerability that is true to life.

What about lyrics? As someone who self-identifies as a singer/songwriter, do you have any favorite lines from this record?

“Fog drifts below the mountain range, dogs barking tethered on a chain, when you’re alone out in the freezing rain..” “when you need a hand, they look the other way, … free rein”  – Free Rein

“We slept with the window open, we could see the boats coming in, we watched the fireworks go out, wake up it’s time to leave” – Never Next Time

“In the cove where the bells sound, theres a few fishermen, last days of summer amen, take it with you and let’s get it” – Cape Elizabeth

“You won’t believe where I am, you should see it out here some day” –  I Don’t Believe in You

“I know it sucks when you first find out, mornings are colder in our town” – Letdown

“Sparrow in your mouth, you’re all I think about now” – I’m Your Baby

“It’s just space, and falling slowly into it … it’s just space, you were someone I could hold onto”  – Dead Weight

“Choking on the dust of what you want to say, sweeping out the days, torn away” – Free Rein

“Minds lost in the haze, machines thrashing for days, progress is always fleeting, my pathetic heart keeps beating” – Along the Outskirts

“It scared me, what I need, and I’m never gonna get it” – Never Gonna Get It

“Frost on the windshield, Aftermath mix tape, dead highway flowers, slowly changing lanes, blackberry pie, don’t it taste great” – Getting Back to It Now

“I haven’t laughed so hard in years, I dive, I swim, I float” – Never Next Time

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Darren Jessee © Dustin Condren

Thinking about what we began talking about with The Jane, Room 217, what will you take away from this second album experience? How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist?

Jessee: I feel like I was just hitting my stride when the pandemic changed everything. The album release and touring plans I had been working for were suddenly grounded. It will be something I remember most about this time. I can only hope my music resonates with fans over time and more people continue to support me.

It’s difficult to feel personal growth during the confusion of the pandemic and riots and lockdown and misinformation. As an artist I have grown by continuing to challenge myself to be vulnerable and sing lyrics that matter and create music with lots of heart.

As an artist I have grown by continuing to challenge myself to be vulnerable and sing lyrics that matter and create music with lots of heart.

Lastly, what do you hope others take away from listening to this album?

Jessee: I hope it helps misfits and sad people everywhere feel less alone. I see them and they are often drowned out by the loudest people in the room. I hope it is a companion for music fans who love swooning songwriter albums. I hope it heals me a little too.

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Stream: ‘Remover’ – Darren Jessee



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Mitch Mosk

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com