Interview: J.S. Terry Talks New Music and Upcoming Release

“I want my music to represent the moments in my life where I swam in rivers way too cold, and on mountain tops with people I loved way too much, running through the woods on hikes, howling at the moon with the coyotes, and kissing under the stars.”

There’s always a successful “I found a diamond in the rough” sensation when you find or hear about talented local artists from smaller towns within your proximity, and J.S. Terry is certainly one of those diamonds. His unique interpretation of indie folk includes phenomenal, naturally mellow lead vocals that leaves listeners captivated, and involves various musical talents from his friends. His bio on Spotify, “Creating music for people to live to,” is oddly a perfect description in that he has created such a light, peaceful sound; the music he creates is something that listeners can connect with through anything.

I’m completely intrigued by your sound, a lovely indie-folk with unique natural vocals that pair well with the acoustics and light percussion and a variety of texture with instrumentals. What got you into music and what brought you to this naturally light indie-folk?

Honestly, the first song I ever remember being in love with was Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, it came out when I was in the fifth or sixth grade and I remember buying it and just listening to it over again. I fell in love with the strings and that sound, it really developed my taste for aesthetic within sound. I ended up joining my middle school orchestra because of that song and I was classically trained at double bass. I had a progressive music teacher who influenced me and introduced me to a lot of contemporary composers. I was also teaching myself acoustic guitar and banjo throughout high school. The bands/projects that really got me into my current style were Mother Falcon, Bon Iver and Mutual Benefit. They made music on a different level in my opinion, it resonated to me as almost otherworldly, or more so that they built their own world in which their art and sound dwelled within. I’m somewhat of a maximalist when it comes to myself as an artist and I found that I loved music that conveyed that, or at least had this grand, larger than life feeling.

JS Terry playing bass with Wallpaper at Space Hall in Columbia, SC.

You’re accompanied by various friends throughout your music – is it just a casual, unplanned jam session that went big or did you plan all your music with specific sounds and friends’ talents in mind?

The entirety of my debut album, Rose, was recorded in my bedroom and all the songs and the basis of them were written and recorded by me through overdubbing. It’s still the way I do it. I write the songs and record all my parts and take them to everyone individually to record their parts, I usually let everyone write their own part because they know what they’re doing and they’re all so creative and they come up with these incredible ideas that I could never think of. My mindset is always thinking in one direction and it’s nice to have people around me to suggest doing this with a song.

I have so many sounds I want that I know I need my friends to help get the final product, especially on the new music. They are so talented and know what I want and can do these incredible things with their select instruments. It’s really a blessing to be a part of a group that is so gifted. 

Your earliest published work was about November 2016 and you’ve been able to release a lot of work since, all with poetic lyrics and beautiful acoustics paired with it. How do you go about writing your lyrics and music?

I dropped out my freshman year, back in 2016, to pursue being a writer. I mostly wanted to write these surreal southern gothic short stories and poems, but that never took off so, I was just holed in my bedroom and was making these cinematic instrumentals under the name Wolfgang Sampson and my poetry kind of merged into that naturally and I began writing poems to fit with the music. The way I write songs and music is a very literary process, I look at albums the same way people look at novels. When you finish reading a novel, there needs to be a theme or an idea, you want to be able to definitively say that this is what this book is about, even if the result is more abstract. When you read a chapter, you want it to contribute to the understanding of the idea or the story you’re trying to tell. So when I write a song, I make sure it’s like a chapter in a book and that it fills in and helps the listener understand what I’m trying to say by the end of the album. From there I write an instrumental and then write lyrics that fit over top of that.

You incorporated a lot of film recordings in your music, like in your songs Fleur, Dress, and Bloom. Did you have any inspiration with that?

 Yes! I really adore trip hop, ambient pieces and field recordings. I really LOVE vocal samples. I love talking, screaming, sounds of people playing, breathing, whispering etc. It makes it feel so much more intimate. Most of all though, I love taking something that exist, like a line in a movie, stripping it of context and using it make my own meaning, manipulating it to mean something completely different from what these artists originally intended it to. I try to use clips from older films because I love how dramatic their diction is, it’s such a contradiction to how plain I try to write and how bare my voice is. I think it’s a nice juxtaposition of everything.

You’ve released a new single, which is a sort of sneak peek to what’s coming next! Though your sound is definitely present, you have new sounds and styles incorporated – have you transitioned your sound completely or are you just broadening your style?

The new single is an indication of what I’m trying to do with the new music but there are songs on here that would fit on Rose and my earlier works. I believe style is the most valuable thing that an artist has and to strip yourself of your sound is lazy and a disrespect to yourself. I dream of growing my sound for the rest of my life, building it up or stripping it back, however I feel as I get older, but the goal is for it to always sound like me. I think I subconsciously tried to make myself sound older on Rose, I gave the impression that I had all these answers and had stuff figured out. I was a kid, and in the grand scheme of life I’m still very much in my youth and I want my songs to represent how I feel in this very moment. The goal is for my songs to have mood swings, to be confusing, to evoke chaos. I’m 21 and I’ve learned a lot growing up, [but] I really do have a lot to learn and lot of living left to do. So now, I want my songs to scream, shout and bang on drums. I want my music to represent the moments in my life where I swam in rivers way too cold, and on mountain tops with people I loved way too much, running through the woods on hikes, howling at the moon with the coyotes, and kissing under the stars.

When can listeners look forward to hearing new music?

We’re working very hard on getting everything mixed right now, I would say there are about 1,000 various audio takes on this album that bring to life all these songs. I really want this album out by the end of the year so hopefully we can keep that promise. Oh, and there might be a second single before the album is released!