When We Wander
A conversation with musician Jesse Terry
Welcome to the Quarantine Creatives newsletter, a companion to my podcast of the same name. Happy Memorial Day weekend to everybody!
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Step into the Light
Yesterday marked another step closer to the official end of the pandemic in Massachusetts. Masking and social distancing are no longer required in most places and things are starting to feel a bit more normal. I went out shopping, and it felt like stepping into a bright light after being in a dark theatre. At first, it was blinding and disorienting, but I am also quickly becoming comfortable with the idea that this past year may have been a strange blip.
There are things I will miss from this time. Perhaps the biggest thing will be the time I spent with my kids. It’s strange how parallel our lives were prior to this, but not always intersecting. We slept under the same roof every night, but during the day, we all had our own work and school obligations to run off to.
I have been teaching my daughter second grade this year and spending days with my five-year-old son too. We took a lovely hike this week that ended at a beautiful lake. There was nobody around as it was a weekday morning. As my kids looked out at the lake, I realized that experiences like this are precious and soon, we’ll go back to existing in the same space.
Or maybe we won’t. My wife reminded me that it’s up to all of us to make the effort to keep the spirit of the positive parts of this past year alive in our family as we begin to open up our circle and our world again. I think she’s right. It will take effort, but I feel so grateful that we all made it out of this pandemic without serious illness and with a renewed sense of togetherness that I hope will last.
On Thursday, I spoke with New England based musician Jesse Terry, whose seventh album “When We Wander” was released earlier this month. Here’s the music video for the title track:
This album was originally planned to be released in May, 2020, but the timing wasn’t right. I’ve been calling the album “road trip music” in a complementary sense, and I very much hear America and the open road when I listen to it. Jesse described to me his concerns about releasing music about travel during the pandemic:
“One of my fears was will these songs written about traveling with my family and exploring the world and adventuring, would they weather the pandemic and still have meaning? I really feel like they did because I feel like we wandered into so many places during this pandemic, just trying to figure out how to make a living and just get through and still be artists, while being safe. To accomplish that, I feel, was a lot more brave than anything I did before.”
Jesse and I talked a lot about “wandering” during this interview and the joy of being out on the road and meeting new people. One of the most influential times in Jesse’s life was a gig on a cruise ship in 2010 where he met his wife. He traveled throughout the South Pacific and described that experience:
“I think it’s so beautiful and so expanding to see the world and to see other cultures and to know that you and America are not the center of the universe. I love where I’m from, but going to the South Pacific, that was just so eye opening and such a revelation to be on all these islands, some very, very desolate islands with actual tribes that have lived there for thousands of years and have lived the same way for a long time. It was just really beautiful to see how different people live. I loved it.”
One of the big challenges for Jesse and his family was slowing down after more than a decade on the road. Not only was travel an important part of his identity, but it was also a big source of income:
“I love touring, but it’s crucial as a musical artist these days, whether you’re me or Taylor Swift, you have to tour to make money. No matter how many streams you have, you’re not going to have a good living that way. I normally play about 150 shows a year."
Jesse learned that he had a loyal fan base that was willing to interact with him even online, especially with concerts and festivals shut down. Jesse began to livestream his music online, and like many of my guests, began to scale up his operation as the pandemic continued:
“At first, it was very basic. iPhone, no microphone. Then we got an external microphone. Then I got a recording studio for home that I started live-streaming through and also making records with. I never would’ve done that otherwise. That’s been really amazing.”
Being off the road and slowing down gave Jesse a chance to grow in other ways. He told me about all of the ways he evolved as a person over this past year:
“Getting off the road after 10 years, I felt like my voice came back and reached new places that I didn’t think it could go. We started going to therapy, which we didn’t have time to do before. We started learning how to meditate. My wife and I stopped going to the Y of course and we started these really intense insanity workouts together while doing mantras. Our neighbors must think we’re crazy. It worked for us. It was a great way to do this together and be proactive in this time. Of course, it’s just a chapter and we need to get back to a more normal thing. It’s not going to last forever.”
“When We Wander” is also the first album that Jesse wrote since becoming a father. Much of the album explores the idea of parenthood, sometimes in explicit ways, and sometimes more subtly. Jesse explained how becoming a dad affected him:
“Being a father has changed everything. Lilly is just the greatest thing in my life by a million times. I know my wife would agree. It just can’t help but shape your writing. Once you have a kid, you’re going to mold them, whether you like it or not.”
Take a listen to the full interview too. We dig into Jesse’s musical roots and describe the recording process for the new album, which was all recorded live in a studio.
On Thursday, I will be talking with NBC News and MSNBC journalist and anchor Richard Lui. Richard was climbing the ladder at NBC in New York when his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at his home in San Francisco. Richard was able to take a reduced schedule to become a bicoastal caregiver for his dad. His new book Enough About Me describes his journey as a caregiver. We’ll also get in to being one of the few people inside 30 Rock during the pandemic, when headcount was reduced to just 5% of the usual workforce in person. I hope you’ll tune in!
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