Jesse Christiansen Talks 3 EP Series, Musical Past, & Living With Purpose

Meredith Schneider

Jesse Christiansen

Jesse Christiansen is the kind of soulful singer that you’d want to invite to entertain you–sans instruments–at a bonfire on a warm summer night. He’s got the instrumental talent (and the beard) to match, so he’s also a date night crooning machine. What we love most about him? His personality. The man puts an immense amount of thought and care into everything he creates, an inspiring and fun trait.

Find out more about Jesse–and how he lives with purpose–below!

Tell us about yourself.

Well first and foremost, I am a well oiled pun machine; and I require myself to say them whether they’re good or bad. I am definitely an extrovert, but when I get my introvert on, I introvert hard. And I LOVE blueberry muffins! The huge ones with the big sugary things on top… But I’ve been depriving myself of the goodness because I’m in the middle of a Whole 30..

So you’re originally from Manchester, MD. How do you think that has aided in shaping who you are and how you live your life?

Well there isn’t a whole lot to do in Manchester. I’ve lived in the same house my whole life and growing up, my best friend lived a few miles away. There are a lot of trees, hills and farm land around, so you kind of have to make your own fun. So everything is pretty “comfortable” and I lived in that bubble of some ignorance to other cultures for quite a while.

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve been able to travel quite a bit playing music for a few bands. I’ve been in more than half of the United States and parts of Europe; I had an opportunity to visit a massive refugee camp in Calais, France for a couple days. So I guess where I’ve been shaped is where I’ve stepped outside my small town bubble and experienced new food, new people, new ways of living. Not just in a more extreme setting like a refugee camp, though that is undeniably eye opening, but in my own country. The west coast is SO different from the east coast in countless ways. Detroit…well it’s just Detroit, but there are some incredible things about it. I am always amazed whenever I travel at how many people there are in the world and they are ALL different. Everyone! It’s amazing… So get up and go somewhere! Experience new things! Expand your brain!

When did you realize music was your calling? Have you always been musically talented? What did it take to get here?

Well my sister and I definitely got some artsy genes from my grandparents. She is a photographer and a natural artist and I got more of the music side with a bit of the surrounding artsy things. I would dabble on the piano and figure things out by ear and I did the classic ‘drum on pots and pans’ as a kid. I knew every beat and fill to The Eagles Greatest Hits. RIP Glenn Frey. But I began teaching myself to play the guitar when I was about 16. From there I played wherever I could, in coffee shops, the boardwalk at the beach, and did the weekly bar gigs and whatnot, but that wore on me; I couldn’t play “Wonderwall” and “Sweet Home Alabama” anymore! There was never a lightbulb moment, but I knew music was going to be a part of my life, I just didn’t know how exactly.

Over the past 7 years or so, I’ve been in a few bands and I was able to travel and shared in some experiences that I never thought would happen. I’ve learned about the music industry, different cultures, good and bad ways to handle relationships, but most importantly about myself. That’s where my own writing began. For so long I didn’t think I could write a song, at least not lyrics. My first few attempts were absolutely terrible. They were about a girl, they were overly emotional, dramatic and didn’t flow blah blah blah. It was bad. But regardless of how bad the songs were, it became my journal, the way I could express what i REALLY felt. So I kept writing and growing and writing and growing and with that came better songs. Playing for other artists faded out for the most part and my writing became my passion, where I found the most fulfilment within the realm of music. Eventually I wrote enough songs to put a project together and here I am. So this whole ‘Jesse Christiansen’ thing kinda snuck up on me.

The front page of your site indicates that you have had quite a background in music. Tell us about that!

Looking back on the last 7 or 8 years, it’s been pretty nuts. I’ve consistently been playing the acoustic guitar for about 10 years, but there have been other musical outlets throughout those years. The first band I was in, I started playing drums, then switched to the bass when we added a real drummer. I typically describe that band as four dudes just throwing up all of our musical creativity whether it made sense or not, which was perfect as a first band. Around that same time, I started playing for a band called Sorensen. A quirky, piano driven, poppy band who I still love playing for. Jeremy Sorensen is one of the most brilliant and talented musicians I’ve had the opportunity to play beside; definitely a relationship I am grateful to have.

Next I played bass, then drums for a band called This The Rescue. In the few years I was a member, we put together an EP titled ‘Between Hurricane and Harbor’, which released through Relevant Magazine in October of 2013. Drew Shirley, the guitarist from Switchfoot, produced it, so we all jumped in a plane and flew out to San Diego for a week and had a crazy fun time recording the EP and exploring. I’m still proud of this. Check it out: This The Rescue – Between Hurricane and Harbor

I then got an opportunity to play bass and drums for Brian Campbell, a worship leader from Akron, Ohio. I did 3 6-week US tours, 2 2-week US tours, and a 2 week tour in Europe. I recorded drums on Brian’s EP, ‘The One Worth It All’, and we were the house worship band for all three Creation Festivals in 2014. That was really a crazy year of new experiences, cultures, and new friends.

After that I toured with my friend Aaron Long for a year in the US and toured in the UK for a few weeks. While we were in the UK, we took a trip to a refugee camp for a couple days in Calais, France with a group called Burn 24/7; talk about having an eye opening experience. We spent two days creating relationships over some of the best coffee I’ve ever had in a home that was made from sticks and tarps; and they served ME. It was pretty unreal and extremely humbling, to say the very least.

I learned countless things through those years about relationships, different cultures, world issues, and I discovered my passion for coffee. What I learned the most about was myself; I’ve struggled my whole life with broken parts of who I am negatively ruling my life and affecting those around me and doing some heavy damage in the hearts of some. That is where I turned to my own songwriting. When I started writing music, I would try to force a “good” song rather than letting honesty flow. Once I did that, I learned that most of my best songs are rooted in what I struggle with or the feeling that is getting most of my heart’s attention at the time. The last 5 years, I’ve done some heavy self analyzation and in turn, some heavy songwriting. That basically brings me to where I am today, writing my honest feelings in hopes a listener can relate and begin movement to improve themselves.

Any fun anecdotes from touring or recording you’d like to share with us?

I have a friend whose nickname is Tuna and one day I was telling him how the recording process was going. He jokingly said that I should sneak something funny into the song that people wouldn’t pick up on. So on the first track of my EP, Behind These Eyes, at 2:14 I whisper “Tuna”. It makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Touring has given me a great appreciation for quality coffee. That passion was birthed in a place called Courage Coffee in Detroit, which is unfortunately no longer with us. A good coffee shop is almost always a requirement whenever I travel. And I do my homework before I go; I have a system using the Google machine for how I find the best coffee possible. It can be extensive, but it usually is promising.  I love experiencing new vibes in different shops and house recipes and new people that have a similar passion. And I usually grab a bag of beans wherever I go.

We see your list of quite remarkable artists that have influenced you over the years. Which artists/circumstances/people serve as the greatest inspiration for your music?

Well I grew up listening to classic rock, so I feel like I had a pretty solid foundation as far as what music should sound like. The 60’s and 70’s were full of new sounds, thought provoking lyrics, and revolutionary ideas, all of which influenced what music is today.

One of my all time favorite albums is Jason Mraz’s, Live at Java Joe’s. It’s from his very early days of his career when you would play at a coffee shop in San Diego with his friend Toca. And it’s just two voices, one acoustic guitar, and percussion. That’s it. Part of why I love it so much is that you can listen to that whole album and not get bored. Jason understood that he was limited as to how many tools he had to entertain with, so how he played his guitar and how he filled the rest of the space with his voice was very intentional. It irks me when people say they don’t like Jason Mraz because of his radio hits. He is one of the more talented artists of our day, but I think his talent is best displayed in his live shows and his songs that would probably never get radio play. So give him a chance; don’t formulate an opinion out of ignorance please.

Jon Foreman, of Switchfoot, is definitely another influence; his solo projects specifically resonate with me. Years ago when he released his Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter EP’s, that really grabbed my attention. I love that the content and sound of each EP really does fall into place under the season umbrella of its title. I think that is what sparked my love for concept or themed projects. But also, Jon is one of the most genuine people I think I’ve ever met.  There is very little that he writes about it doesn’t have significant meaning and I admire that. He doesn’t let one word or no to go to waste.

And then there’s Dave Matthews; love him or hate him, he is an exceptional musician. I happen to fall in the “ love him” category.  He is someone that has always kept his own flavor in tact and I really respect that.

As far as circumstances that have influenced to my music, there is definitely one that sticks out to me. In February of 2008, my girlfriend at the time passed away in a car accident; it was life-changing to say the very least and shaped so much of who I am today.  A couple months after she passed, I put on a little show for her family and our close friends in the backyard of a friend’s house. The songs consisted of some of her favorites as well as songs that reminded me of her. As you can imagine, it was a cry fest… Haha. But that was the first time I had really sung in front of people and I am not sure if I would be anywhere close to where I am today in music if that hadn’t happened.  I wrote a song called Saudade (the love that remains) in the fall of 2014; it is a tribute to how that relationship and event has shaped who I am and how I look at life every day I wake up.

If you want to listen to it, it’s one of my LoveBird Demo’s. You can find it here

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When SheFinds.com dubbed “The Way You Love To Love Me” as one of the top 3 “First Dance Songs That Aren’t Lame,” what was your reaction? 

I tend to be fairly mellow when things like that happen, so naturally I was like, “oh that cool”. Then I looked at the playlist and saw the other names on the playlist that I was above… Barry White, Queen, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Rascal Flatts… Crazy.  It was very humbling. Those kinds of lists are put together by regular people, but the fact that they put my song 3rd on that list blew my mind. So naturally I got all giddy and whatnot…

The idea behind your 3 EPs is actually quite magnificent. What inspired you to run with the theme of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”? Perhaps more importantly, when can we expect the second installment? 

I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it! I’ve been intrigued by themed projects and concept albums for a while. I was a huge Coheed and Cambria fan for quite a while. They have a whole comic series revolving around their music. It’s brilliant. Then there is Jon Foreman with his Seasons EPs and most recent project, The Wonderlands. I found a common thread of struggle and hope for redemption in my songs, so I thought I’d try to group them. I went through a bunch of ideas and eventually landed on ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’.

The songs that make up “Behind These Eyes” (see no evil) relate in some way to happiness. Happiness in love, keeping a slipping grip onto what is perceived as happiness, wishing happiness for others, or realizing you should be happy because your situation isn’t so bad. The second EP (hear no evil) takes a look at the uphill battle of improving character and pushing through seemingly unbearable circumstances, keeping your eyes and ears from anything that may pull you from freedom and joy. And the third EP (speak no evil) is a look through the infinitely broader scope of hindsight, recognizing those who have stuck with you, speaking life into your circumstance and knowing the painful growth was well worth the fight.

I write and create with the belief that music is a part of my deepest expression, art, passion, and voice when I don’t have one. I truly believe it is healing for me and sometimes for those listening. We all go through life and experience things that shape us as people. My heart tends to be in a cycle of contentment, complacency, pursuit for joy, misplacing priorities, realization of truth, then perseverance to return to that truth. My music typically comes from somewhere in the middle of that cycle, between the ‘pursuit for joy’ and ‘realization of truth’. The songs I’ve written in this process are constant reminders of where I’ve been and what to keep my eyes glued to, though I still struggle.

As far as releases go, I’m shooting for fall of 2016 for the second EP! The the third, I’m hoping to release in the spring of 2017. It’s been a slower recording process this time around, but I am SO excited to share these songs with the world! In my opinion, the songs get better with each EP, so brace yourself… Haha

Tell us about the musicians you work with, both in the studio and when you play shows. What’s the dynamic like?

Most of the time I will work with a couple close friends in the studio. Jeremy Sorensen and I we’re the only ones that worked on ‘Behind These Eyes’.  He and I get along really well and he is very good at translating what is in my head into what would best suit the song.  He is without a doubt one of the most talented piano players I’ve ever met and had the privilege of playing for. He just released an instrumental project that you should probably check out because it’s amazing. 

I am fortunate to have the number of very talented musicians at my disposal if they are free to play with me. My main partner in crime is Jono, he is a long-time friend who plays percussion and usually squeezes out a solid kazoo performance whenever he plays with me. My good friend Tori and I are a duo called J&T Time separate from my music, but I ask her to sing and play violin a bunch. She and I will throw a cover or two up on our YouTube channel (J&T Time) every once in awhile. I started writing music with my friend Brad years and he plays bass for me and Jeremy Sorensen plays piano for me when he can. Jeremy and Sara Norris have been with me from the very beginning of me picking up a guitar and they still grace me with their abilities when they get time away from teaching music full time. A handful of other long-time friends who are incredibly talented play for me when I have some big shows.

As far as dynamic goes, it’s usually very comfortable and fun. I’ve been playing with these musicians for a long time and I am super confident in their abilities, so I try my best to chill out and enjoy the moment as much as I can. I love that I get to play music with some of my best friends; that’s also why you’re getting links to their music too. I don’t think I can give them enough thanks, so this is a roundabout way of doing that.

“Alright Now” is pretty jazzy, and a little Mraz-y. LOVE IT. Is there anything you’d like to tell us about that song?

I’ll take that as a compliment, being that I’m a pretty big Mraz fan. Haha. Yes, “Alright Now” is a simple song with a simple message. Stop. Breathe. Choose to be happy. So many times we can get caught up in our day to day petty first world problems. I am the first to admit that I do this on a regular basis. I have to consciously make an effort to pull my scope back and look at my life as a whole and sometimes I’ll say out loud the good things and then choose to change my perspective or force myself to DO something that makes me happy. We can get so fixated on a present situation especially when we are not content. Sometimes we keep ourselves caged in by holding on to grudges or not resolving conflict. Maybe a quick and brutally honest conversation is needed. I have a reminder in my phone that goes off every day at 8 am that says, “You have a CHOICE.” Sometimes it’s really as simple as that, choosing to be happy and make the best out of your current situation.

I love explaining my songs and in my blog, I’ve been individually unpacking each song on the EP, giving depth into the deeper meanings and some personal stories that go along with them. If you are interested in hearing what the other songs are about, you can sign up on the homepage of my website! Blog sign up!

Fun fact: I wrote this one with Miss Karlie Pickett 🙂

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What’s up next for you?

What’s next… Well I’ve got some house shows coming up, I’ll be playing at Creation Festival over the summer, drinking Honest Coffee, and I’m planning a tour up into Michigan in late September. I should have some live tracks out soon with some videos! Through all of that, I’m writing, reading, recording, dating Karlie, and playing for a bunch of weddings, which is one of my favorite things on the planet. I can’t tell you how excited I am to share my new music with the world. I really think you’re gonna love it!

Anything else you’d like to add? Go wild!

Well I’m not sure if there’s too much more to say…
Love people well.
Drink good coffee.
Listen to good music.
Live with purpose.

Keep up with Jesse here. Check out the rest of our interview with him exclusively at MOSHERY.com

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