Interviews

A Conversation with J.S. Terry

April 26th marked the release of and you loom over me like a mountain, Campobello-based artist J. S. Terry’s sophomore album.

Recorded over a period of two years, the album tracks what frontman Jonah Terry explains is his experience of being in his early twenties. Recording began in late 2017 with Terry and Daddy’s Beemer’s Wesley Heaton, and it soon progressed into a large project featuring 22 contributors.

And you loom over me like a mountain is easily one of my favorite albums released so far this year, so I was very excited for the chance to talk to Terry about the album, his inspirations, and the stories behind the making of the album. So excited, in fact, that what was planned to be a thirty-minute interview easily became a conversation that lasted two and a half hours and included a snack break for jellybeans. While the original interview stretched across 42 pages, we’ve collected the highlights in this cut version.

Emma: What does the J. S. stand for, can I ask?

Jonah: It stands for Jonah Scott Terry. My parents are very religious and before I was born, they were really worried about how I would come out. They prayed a whole lot, and they always tell me that a dove came and lived in the backyard. Jonah is Hebrew for “like a dove.” That’s my name. And then Scott is my Dad’s middle name. But yeah, J. S., that sounds like a poet’s name, or like Johann Sebastian J. S.

Emma: Speaking of writers, you said you dropped out to become a writer originally.

Jonah: Yeah, I did the dropping out thing because I was like a really bad student, I was not going to school very often. And, a lot of times, I would just sit and watch this one table of kids who were also not going to class, but they were playing Yu-Gi-Oh! I would watch them interact with one another and do homework while I should have been in class. It was real bad. But a teacher told me to drop out. She pulled me aside after I hadn’t been there for like a week because I was sick, and then I was like skipping class. So, the teacher pulled me aside and was like, “Hey, you should drop out,” and she was like “You’re an okay writer.”

I was like, “Oh, thanks.” And she said I should just do that. But then I was like, I heard the first part and not the second part. So I dropped out and started doing music a little bit more seriously.

Emma: You’ve done some serious music, too. To the people reading this, you have got to give a listen to and you loom over me like a mountain. I do have to say I loved it. It’s really good.

Jonah: I really appreciate that. It’s nice hearing that people like it. It was made over an aggressively long time, an upsettingly long time. There was a lot of time where it was me and Wesley Heaton in the basement at Pablo, just wondering if anything that we were making was even good and then spending so much time on it. Those were not great days. There was a lot of double-guessing everything that we were doing.

Emma: How long did it take to work on it? You released the first single, “the unmistakable sound of a heart beating in love,” last November.

Jonah: That’s the first song that we recorded for it, and we knew that was the direction that we were heading. We recorded that probably in late 2017; my first album came out in January of 2017. And then I started just writing a whole bunch of stuff, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it. Then it progressed to me recording a lot of it in my bedroom, and then I wanted a lot of moving parts and people on it. I had to align everyone, and it got to the point of me just asking people to record it on their own and send it to me, there’s a lot of cell phone recordings of people doing their own vocal takes, which was really cool. It’s been a long time. I was 19 when I started.

Emma: How old are you now?

Jonah: Wait, no, I was 20 when I started. I’m 22 now. But I was a young child when everything started. And I’m still young, also just a trainwreck.

Emma: Who all helped contribute to the album because you did most of the writing and composing, correct? Correct. Correct.

Jonah: I did a lot of production, and then Wesley handled a lot of the production on it. I did all of the writing and songwriting, but the way that I handled my parts and the way that I gave parts out and when I had people record stuff was more collaborative even though I wrote all the songs. I like to think of myself as not really the writer of parts but as more as someone who gives the contributing artists influence. Like Dan Fetterolf of Daddy’s Beemer: he’s the best violinist I know, but I don’t want to tell him what to play most of the time; I want him to do it. But, I also want direction. So I would be like, “Hey, you should play this really emotionally moving part.” I’m more like a director than a songwriter in that aspect. And then he does one take, and we layer it 10 times with 10 more takes because I don’t have an orchestra at my disposal, but I want these huge, grandiose sounds. There’s probably a thousand different audio takes on the album. Also, if you hear a huge choir sound, it’s probably me singing that part like 30 to 40 times and then doing like different sections of choirs. Maybe it was worth it, but Wesley, Wesley wanted to cry a lot during the whole thing. He’s also a big baby, and that’s on the record.

Emma: I think it’s really interesting that you used the word director as well because there’s definitely a strong movie vibe across the album, if that makes sense. It felt less like I was listening to a song and more like I was experiencing like a Whole Dang Thing.

Jonah: It’s meant to be that way. When I say I dropped out and wanted to be a writer, what I really wanted to do was I wanted to write films. I went to a vocational high school and got into the film class there. I could not care less about cameras or anything, but I did care about writing. I wanted to be a screenwriter and do those things. I love films that have this huge sense of wonder – and childish wonder at that. I love the soundtracks of , Where the Wild Things Are and Swiss Army Man. It’s not as childish, but it does have that like mystique and wonder of it, and you just have like all these worlds, like in Bridge to Terabithia. I’ve never seen that. I feel like that would be like a good example almost of what I’m trying to do except for that ending part. It’s just like that type of like wonder of being a kid. I feel like, particularly America and the way that we handle folklore, I think we’re so uninteresting. We lack so much imagination. I remember being a kid and hearing about Johnny Appleseed and I remember hearing about like Paul Bunyan and I remember all these stories, and then they get sucked out. Like by the second grade cause everyone’s like, “That’s fake.” I live in the mountains. It’s more populated now than it was when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I was running in the fields, crawling through flower beds, catching frogs, and just being on these adventures. There were snakes that would be about to kill me constantly. I remember being like that, and a a lot of people don’t have that. Right now, I’m reading a book called Lost Horizon by James Hill, and it’s first mention of Shangri-la. It’s from 1937 or 1933 and Shangri-la was never used before then. If you were from Tibet, you’d know that’s not real. But in 1933, no one realized that. Everyone was like, “That’s crazy. A monastery where time doesn’t continue.” It’s like, man, we just don’t have that anymore. I wanted to make something that was super adventurous and gave a feeling of wonder and interest and like a lot of characters, but it’s so corny if you use characters and dialogue. So I wanted to incorporate the characters in the music, so I tried to just do it in a way that wasn’t cringey, I guess. I would cringe at anything that was. I never wanted to like be more than I was. I tried to write things that I knew about and things that I like and I never tried to get over my head and make this like grandiose statement; I tried to keep it in my ballpark, you know, no home runs out here.

For me, it’s just about this grand sense of adventure. I really wanted to create, something that people could listen to and be like, “Wow. You know, I really feel like I’ve gone on an adventure.”

Emma: It also feels very local because you mentioned the blue ghost fireflies, which are native to western North Carolina.

Jonah: They live in the DuPont State Forest up in Transylvania County. I live on the border and actually work in North Carolina. In high school, I went to DuPont with my friend Madeline probably every day. They have so many trails. We were just hiking them all, and I’ve only seen one blue ghost firefly in my life because I always miss them, but I saw one one time and it was really incredible.

I tried to make it a very local album. I really wanted it to be a piece of me. I think like a lot of artists – especially around here in the south – they try to hide that they’re from the south I think that’s so wack. You could feel any type of way about people or what you’re doing, but it’s a beautiful place. There is a lot of beautiful culture, and it might not be your culture, but there is beautiful culture here.

Sometimes, I want to sing with a drawl. I want to have Banjo. I don’t want to make “southern” music, but I do want to make music that’s from where I’m from. I wouldn’t make a regional sound, you know? And I think it’s so lame that we pretend to be anything else. What makes me more upset is, down here, everyone tries to hide their voice and everyone wants to be in an emo band. You should make music that is inspired by things around you. I mean, some people are from suburbs, so I get it; you wanna make garage rock. That’s what you’re from. But I live in the middle of nowhere, and I know other people that are from places like this. I see them trying to make music like people that live in California. That’s a completely different experience. You’re just like, you’re ripping them off. It’s a thing that’s happening because you can so easily get independent music from the west coast. A long time ago, we’d just been cut off. We wouldn’t even know about musical trends over there until they hit the radio. I just wanted to make something that was interesting and southern. It’s not like yee-yee music, but it is from the south.

I play banjo. I don’t play an indie rock, Mumford and Sons banjo; I play bluegrass banjo. So you know, a more southern style. I play Scruggs-style banjo. Especially on “weak eyes” and “fireflies.” There’s some pretty intricate Banjo riffs in there.

I incorporate a lot of stuff like that in there. The blue ghost fireflies mean a lot to me. I’ve gone with a lot of friends to hunt those over the years. When I was writing this album, I had a lot of local locations in mind. I wanted it to be this like this adventure. I like a lot of adventure novels like Treasure Island and The Chronicles of Narnia.

I really wanted to set a map on top of where I live and then have the adventure exist there. I wanted to do something where I’m in Campobello but also not. It’s more like this really weird and different version of it.

Emma: You made the familiar unfamiliar.

Jonah: It’s how you flipped it on its head. When I was a kid, no one really lived here but us. My family was one of the first to build a house over here besides my neighbor. People have cut a lot of forest down to build houses since then, and there’s a lot of like millionaires that have retired here, but I remember being surrounded by forest. I really resonated with that as a kid. I wanted to strip it back and be like, “This is how I viewed it as a child,” but not in a weird, nostalgia way. Some people, they buy too much into nostalgia.

One of the worst things is having your writing critiqued or looked at by other people that it’s like one thing I hate. Art is such a subjective form. Writing is one of those arts and painting as well. I think that’s why I like music the most. If you don’t follow a lot of standards of writing, then a lot of people won’t like it. Just like if you talk to people about Cormac McCarthy and the way he writes without punctuation, they usually don’t like it. They think it’s hard to follow along with. No, it’s creative. It’s more of a story and less of like an actual a book that you’re reading. If you tell me straight-up to my face that you like William Faulkner? “A Rose for Emily” is an okay story. The way William Faulkner writes, it’s just like, I’m sure before someone had ever seen a movie, they would have really loved this amount of detail, but it’s way too much for me. I can picture like a radiator leak, and I don’t need William Faulkner to like explain to me what a radiator is part by part and then tell me that it’s leaking because of humidity and then explain to me what humidity is. I’m like, William Faulkner, I will fight you. Put that on record. I’ll fight William Faulkner. Don’t even get me started on Mark Twain.

A book that gets a lot of hate and actually rips is To Kill a Mockingbird. That book goes off. Harper Lee snapped. I found out that she and Truman Capote were like BFFs and that she actually helped a lot with In Cold Blood, a very sensationalized murder mystery novel which a lot of people today believe is the first true crime novel, but it’s not.

Fun fact of the day, I never did projects in English, and, any time they asked me to read the book, I just did not. I loved reading. It’s just me. Two months later, I’d use SparkNotes, but they wanted you to not say what happened, but to say how you feel about it. I was having to make these brash points of views while also collecting as little data as possible, and then I would say how I felt about it. It was the worst. I didn’t even read Lord of the Flies. You think someone’s lost? Wait until you’re three months into a four-month class on Lord of the Flies and you’ll be fighting for your life in there. I was loud-mouth kid, so they always wanted to call on me. I would just be rambling. I did read it in the process of writing this album, and that was a huge inspiration. What a book. Honestly, I just don’t think I would have appreciated it at all back then.

Emma: So you’ve drawn inspiration from your hometown and from Lord of the Flies. Are there any other pieces of media or anything in your life that you drew on when making this album?

Jonah: The Swiss Army Man soundtrack. Manchester Orchestra did the soundtrack. It’s one my favorite soundtracks and so is Where the Wild Things Are. Carter Burwell does the score on that, and Karen Oh from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs does a bunch of songs in there that really inspired me. Sigur Rós really inspired me. Their song “Gobbledigook.” they do a lot of songs that are in made-up languages. I did a lot of songs that were not in English and more phonetic. “Sa woo” at the end of “the moon is out in daylight” is the mischievous beings’ way of saying “we see.” They’re saying “We saw you,” and that’s how I felt like my family and my friends were during that time of my life.

Book-wise, I’ve kind of recently come to terms with the fact that I just love adventure novels. Another book that influenced this a lot was The Alchemist by Paul Qalo. He said he wrote it in two weeks, that it just came out of him. Sometimes people have one book in them. Joseph Heller, when he wrote Catch-22, someone asked him how it felt to have never written anything as good as Catch-22, and he just looked at him and asked, “Who has?” Beasts of the Southern Wild is a huge influence. I watched it about halfway through making this album, and it resonated so heavily.

I watch a lot of like Wes Anderson. I don’t know if that comes across any, but I love, I love Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers. They make very southern films but not like southern, you know? The Coen brothers in particular make a lot of films that resonate with me as like an artist from the south. I really appreciate when people can make a work of art that feels like it was made here.

My favorite bands are musical inspirations. Mutual Benefit is a huge one for this, Keaton Henson, this composer named Reuelsson. Johan Johansson is such a great, a great one. He actually passed away during the making of the album. Mount Erie, as well. Phil Elverum was a huge influence. Saintseneca.

I don’t look at music as the traditional verse, chorus, verse, chorus. It’s so boring. There are times that I do verse-chorus and I do more traditional songwriting, but I just really wanted to make something that wasn’t that. It doesn’t feel like you’re listening to a lot of songs; it feels like you’re listening to pieces of art/music or whatever. They have movements to them and sections and acts. That’s how I was thinking about it when I was writing it. I’m sure if you like gave it to a music scholar, they’d be like, yeah, that’s a song. But the way that I was looking at it with “unmistakable sound” or “weak eyes,” there’s no two sections that are the same really. They all evolve, and they change, and it’s more of a moving piece than it is a song.

A lot of this album – not like I was actually alone – but, creatively, I felt like no one could quite understand the vision. When I first started, it didn’t really quite make sense to people. I wanted it to be a story without words. I wanted there to be quiet parts, and I wanted there to be silent parts, and I wanted there to be parts of nature noises. I wanted it to feel more like a novel. I had to just like completely rewire my brain. I looked at songs as chapters. I didn’t write songs just to write; I wrote songs for specific moments. I didn’t have 12 songs and rearranged the order. I had 12 spots where I wanted things to be, so I had to write things and get into a specific mindset and write things that maybe I didn’t even want to write. I was having to write things like a director writes things. I have a binder full of notes. I probably wrote 80 pages of stuff, and I just imagine that I used about three of them. I wrote a lot for the album, and there’s only probably two songs that survived those original writings, “unmistakable sound” and “flowers on the hillside.” I wrote audible themes out. I explained the title and explained all the characters.

Emma: Would you like to explain to the characters are in the album or would you like to leave that unsaid?

Jonah: The album is set within this person, this girl that I knew and was momentarily super into. It’s this thing that I came to terms with that I do, that I build worlds within people and kind of make them my support system. I kind of live within them, and if they’re sad, then I’m sad, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy. Now that I’m 22, when I look back at what I was doing at 19, and I’m like, I really needed to support, and I was looking toward the wrong places.

The album is set within the human body. That’s the unmistakable sound of a heart beating, and love is a city within the heart. So, it’s me journeying through/in a body that’s kind of an extended metaphor. Like the ending track, “and you loom over me,” it says “like the water pours down your throat / creates a pool to which I’ll go / I will drown in your lungs.” It’s all just set within this person. There’s a prologue that’s an explanation of the album on my Bandcamp as well.

The unmistakable beings, which are the other characters, are this tribe of people which represent my friends and family. During this time in my life, I was really cutting off a lot of my people. I was just in a bad place, as a 19-year-old being a big dumb idiot would be.

The first half is also the sun being out, and track six is when the sun sets. It’s a celebration of life and being able to understand who we are as people.

“Walking through your meadow with eyes watching.” There’s no words in it besides Molly Druga reading this poem called “Bohémiens En Voyage” by Charles Beaudelaire, which is about this nomadic people that really represented what I wanted the mischievous beings to be.

“An interlude for the sunset” really splits the tone of the album. Night used to be a really bad time of day for me. I hated it. I hated going to bed. I hated how I was dreaming. I would have these like really upsetting dreams. The people in the dreams, I didn’t want them to be in them. I was trying to like forget them, and they were still there. It’s like the lyric “who do I forget who I do forget? How do you forget the words when the speaker has left?” These people weren’t in my life, but they were still haunting me. I got no clarity out of that situation ever.

It’s hard to write an album over the course of two and a half years. I like to look at the way that I progressed. I can have a hectic day where I have a bad drive-thru experience, and I just come back out of that a different person. Then imagine that over the course of two and a half years. I write something one day, and I go back to it and it’s just numb to me.

This album is not about anyone. I try to make that clear. It’s not about anyone; it’s about this time of my life. It’s about a lot of people that have a loomed over me romantically or platonically or as friends or family or just anyone you know, whether they mean to or not. I hate the way some emo bands talk about women. I think it is misogyny disguised as poetry. When I was 18 or 19, maybe I resonated with a lot of lyrics that now I look back at it and cringe.

I never really wrote any of those lyrics, but I never wanted that to be the case on the album. Maybe some left me in a bad way; that’s their right to do that. And, um, in particular the way that I’ve started living my life around 19, I realized if a girl left a situation that she wasn’t happy in with someone else and that girl is my friend, I’d be happy for her. If someone leaves in me in the same situation, I can’t all of a sudden be mad at them. I mean, I can be not be not super happy, but I can also not blame them and be so gross about it.

I just really wanted to write an album that was how I felt at like 22. I wasn’t trying to write an album for like how I would feel at 35. I wasn’t trying to be older than I am. I also see people who are 27 who write an album for 14-year-olds. I was trying to write an album for being 22, and that’s some shade. That’s some tea.

If a 14-year-old came up to me about any of my songs right now on this album and were like, “Yo, I resonated with that, like super heavy,” I’d be like, “How am I living where me and this 14-year-old have anything emotionally in common?” There’s nothing wrong with kids liking music that’s more emotionally up. I just wasn’t trying to make anything that wasn’t something for my age. I felt like my last album was mostly an album for me at 18. I go back and listen that, and I have a lot of like immature things, but I think they’re not really immature. But, if I look at it the way I wrote some stuff, I hate the way I wrote that. I really wanted to make an album that when I’m 25, I can look back on it and go “That sucks. I’m a big-time idiot for being 22. But now I’m an emotionally mature man.” And then, when I’m older, then the same thing again. That’s also, that’s also some shade. You can really twist my words there and really make the entire emo community hate me for calling them big babies.

‘m weird. Like, I am not an indie rock band. It’s called feral folk, but I really, I’m like aggressive indie folk music. It just doesn’t exist anymore. It’s literally me and Apricot Blush on an island by ourselves. I can’t find it. In the early 2000s, you had Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective and Edward Sharpe. I get to where I’m at now, and it’s hard to find people to play shows with. There’s so very few indie folk bands, and all of them are massive… I’m 22, I’m a youngin’ for sure. Even if I’m not supposed to feel this young. I feel young. I don’t feel like a child, but I am definitely not an adult.

Emma: You’ve got your whole life ahead of ya.

Jonah: Way Too much life ahead of me, but I feel old at times.

Emma: Is it okay if we kind of just go through the track list real quick?

Track By Track

Emma: In “mountains in the distance,” there’s a line that says “mountains look like teeth.” It sounded really familiar, like a quote from something, but nothing came up when I searched it.

Jonah: I wrote that! Okay. I just really wanted to set a solid tone for the album. I didn’t want to start it with music. I wanted to start it with like a narration, like world-building thing. That’s actually probably the last thing I recorded on the album. It’s gone through a lot of reiterations, like “unmistakable sound” was the intro for a long time. I’m excited ‘cause people are gonna listen to the album for the first time, and they’re gonna expect, probably music. But it really changes the way that you think. I hate the way people listen to music. They listen to music and expect like these fun, pumped-up songs. I really like forcing those people to listen to some sad stuff or stuff that makes them feel something. You couldn’t tell me another thing that would be a better reason to be alive than to feel things through art and music. That’s the only thing that I like to do.

Emma: “The unmistakable sound, a heart beating in love” – you released a music video for this one. It it looks like found footage, but is it found footage or did you or did you go out intentionally to film it for the music video?

Jonah: That’s all us. That’s how I live. I just live in the mountains, so it’s a pretty normal thing for me to just to go out into the world and go to these rivers and stuff, and I film a lot. It was in my head that this was going to be for a music video, but I just really wanted something to represent how I live around here, you know, like an absolute hooligan… Or feral, it’s very feral.

Emma: I got a very strong vibe of having like sun in your eyes, if that makes sense. Like when you’re looking at something, and you can’t quite see it because it’s too bright.

Jonah: Yeah, that’s definitely the feeling all the time. That’s how I wake up every morning. I don’t have blinds in my room because they all fell down. I don’t put them back up either. I like having sun in my eyes. It reminds me I’m alive. It really keeps you on your toes. Really makes you appreciate it.

Emma: We talked about before “who do I forget” from “flowers on the hillside.”

Jonah: “Flowers on the hillside” is probably one of the first songs I wrote for the album. It has the most conventional songwriting on the album for sure. It’s probably the beginning of the journey. “Unmistakable sound” has that reverse ending, and then it stops and it’s “flowers on the hillside.” I like to think of the reverse ending as being a gap in time.

There’s actually a place in mind for that song. There’s this this road in Saluda, North Carolina. I’ve been going there since I was like 16 when we were just a roaming the mountains. I first got my car, and I remember standing there. The sun was peeking through the trees, and I could just see the river rolling down below me. I remembered that when I was writing the song.

Emma: “Flowers on the Hillside” had some of the rawest lines I’ve heard, like, “do you love me? Is that a question I should avoid?”

Jonah: Yeah, that’s a heavy one. It’s a super anxious song. I find myself so anxious and afraid to talk about things that I don’t want to talk about, things that I know will emotionally devastate me. Not to get ahead of us, but like “weak eyes…” I’ve had a lot of run-ins with people who when I tell them, “I don’t like the way you treat me. You treat me like very cold,” will be like, “That’s the way I love.” And I’m like, “Oh, I hate that.” I’m Better than that. I’m not putting up with that. But at 19, I was like, “Oh, yeah, okay, I can see that. I could probably get that,” and people would just be treating me very badly, but I was giving them a lot of me. I would just feel like they would hate me. Like, “Do you hate me? / or am I just paranoid? / do you love me? / or is that question I should avoid?” You’re just afraid of the answer.

Avoid and paranoid. It’s a good rhyme, I hate simple rhymes. I hate their phonetic rhymes. Like if you like tried to rhyme love with dove in a song, I’m turning it off. I’m super into battle rap, and a big part of battle rap, people will write these crazy sounds, and it has like some of the most insane wordplay and phonetic rhyming and multisyllabic rhyming. I’m super into multisyllabic rhymes or bending words to sound certain ways. So that’s something that I tried to do on this album I tried to make my rhymes not too simple. So I really like that line.

I wrote it like two and a half years ago. And I like the way I write. I try to explain this people. I don’t know if I still feel this way, but I thought I was the funniest person I knew because I had my own sense of humor, and I feel that way about my writing sometimes. My baby brain, he was doing okay.

Emma: There’s also a line that goes “I want to count your teeth.”

Jonah: “You said to me / that I want to count your teeth.” That’s an actively, really personal lyric, and everyone has a real weird guttural reaction to it the first time they hear it, which I like. It’s hard to explain because it’s a personal thing, but it doesn’t have like meaning, you know? It’s something I said I was 19 and drunk.

Emma: Yeah. It is a very reactionary line. I don’t know how to explain how it makes me feel, but it makes me feel something,

Jonah: I added all the synths and the echoing bell parts in very last minute. Before that, I thought it was really boring, and I was like, “I’m just gonna make this a dreamy song.” So that’s why it sounds the way it does. But I think it sounds great. I think a lot of people will like it.

Jonah: I felt like I just wanted a good mix of everything. I wanted to particularly play things live. I read rooms when I’m playing live, and if I go into a room and we’re planning on playing a really loud set, and it’s super quiet and everyone’s dead, then I’ll play a soft set.

I just don’t want to extrude all the emotional effort of playing these super loud songs and the physical effort of really getting into them if everyone’s going to stand and nod their heads. So I will play the softer songs. That’s definitely one of the softer songs.

I only play with full band, but it has gotten to the point where it’s like crazy. It’s a 12-man band, and it’s hard to do. I’ve done a lot of shows where I’ve hardly gotten paid. It needs to have some emotional depth for me. I got to play with a Valley Maker, who was a big influence on me, and I barely got paid for that show, but it was great. If I get to play for a great crowd or a crowd that’s going to really listen to me and stick with me, I’ll play a free show any day of the week.

I think I’m just going to like wait ‘til the stars align and I find a show that I’m really excited for or a record label wants to pay me to go out on the road, I’ll do that. I hate booking. I like having money. So I would like to not have to be responsible to get 12 people together, because it’s a huge band. I don’t really want to strip it down because then I just feel like it doesn’t have the same punch. I think I’ll do a lot more solo stuff or like me and like a few of my friends if I need to, but if someone wanted the big guns back out, wanted the 12 piece, they’re going to have to come with some money, you know? That’s how I feel about it.

Jonah: “Sa woo;” “the moon is out in daylight.” One of my favorite lyrics on the album is “I’m a damaged soul / always on the mend.” I really like that lyric. It really fits the theme of this album of getting better from the things that loom over us. I really wanted to be one of the more stripped back songs on the album, and it is probably one of the most full songs. We just let everyone do whatever, and the J. S. Terry group and everyone got to put their hands on it. I think it sounds great. It’s super cinematic.

I love making instrumentals probably more than I like actively writing lyrics. Marissa Splendore, I took “walking through the meadow with eyes watching” to her, and she put a piano piece over it. We snuck into a Brooks recording studio in Clemson and recorded that. And right as she finished, a beginner guitar class came in and kicked us out.

We were able to get the recordings for that song, which is a great piano piece. I don’t know how to play that song on guitar. I don’t know if it’ll ever be played live. Um, I forgot how to play it. I forgot how to play a lot of the instrumentals I played because only a few made it through. I was just making throwaways, but that one made it through, and I don’t know how to play it. It used to be so empty at the end and I did about like 50 takes at the end of this rising chord progression. I just did like so many. I played it on every instrument I could get ahold of.

Emma: There are also whispers in this song. Are they saying anything in English or is it more of the phonetics?

Jonah: I think it says “out of the shadows comes the light.” “Out of the darkness is the ones we love.” One or the other. Maybe there’s both. But there is just jibberish. It’s the advice that was supposed to be in “guided through the forest by fireflies.” There are whispers and they are saying things that are beneficial to the story.

“An interlude for the sunset:” if you listen to this album, but if you added up the first five tracks, and then you subtract that from when the sun goes down, that is the song that was going on during sunset by the very tail end of sunset. It’s a song literally for the sunset.

“A theme for the mischievous beings” is basically at the end of interlude for the sunset. Like they come out and surround me, and they sing me this song. It has no lyrics in it. I think that’s one of my favorite songs of the album. It’s a song that I don’t know if we’ll ever play live because it’s so hard to play and do all this stuff on the guitar. I think it’s a great song to listen to right after sunset where it’s still a little light out, but it’s kind of dark, and I think it really sets the tone for the second half of this album.

Emma: It Reminded me a lot of the Fair Folk and the Fae. but they’ll take you away.

Jonah: For me, it’s like the mischievous beings are something that people have only heard about, and I find them. Yeah. It’s like, it’s like one of those things like you only hear about these stories, and then you’re thrown into them, and then they’re kind of like circling you.

One of the most influential things to me as a person – not really that influential, but I love it so much – is the shot from Lost where they first meet The Others. They’re in the middle of the woods, and they’re talking to who they think is that like really like ratty guy from the tale, but the white light, like just like 50 torches, just come and wrap around them. I really liked that scene. This scene is kind of like that.

Also Avatar, like the James Cameron… I just remember being in there, and in 3D, all those fluorescent flowers were coming down all around me. It’s one of the last that I really felt wonder and beauty, and I really wanted the night part to feel that way.

I wanted it to be kind of like a haka. I really like that a Samoan culture and Māori; they have hakas. I really love hakas. This is kind of like my version of that. I think it’s like really aggressive, but it’s also supposed to be really soft and kind and accepting at the same time.

Emma: Weak eyes // The migration of the blue ghost fireflies.

Jonah: I think it’s a great piece about, um, my experiences at night, listening to people, buying into a lot of people, their lies and stuff. It’s not like I’m a victim. At night, a lot of times, I feel like I want to buy into people’s lives. I want to feel loved; I want to feel accepted. I’m also visually impaired. I wear glasses. So you know, “weak eyes, disguise / your tongue, hidden lies / pale thighs, cold touch / I know it’s how you love.” That line is super sarcastic.

It doesn’t have a lot of lyrics in it, but I think it has like very powerful lyrics. They’re very simple. I really, I really resonate with them. And the ending part, uh, “I just want to be a little better than I was yesterday.” I didn’t have that written at all originally. That was thrown in way later because I found a Word document from this time in my life, and that’s all it said on it. So I put that in there, and it was a real powerful ending. That ending also changes everyone’s expectations of what the song should be.

“Guided through the forest by fireflies” has gone through three reincarnations. We’ve been playing this one since tour last year. This whole second half of the album is supposed to be in a more “free” band type situation. That’s one of my favorite songs that I wrote lyrically. There’s a lot of depth if you were to like look up things, like if you look to look at the star Altair. I studied all the stars to find the one that I wanted to use. It’s the brightest star in the constellation Aquila; it’s an eagle. “So I’ll follow / the star of altair / and maybe / it will bring me back to you.” “I know you know / I need you here tonight / you know I know / that you won’t stay for me.” It’s a good little turn on its head. It’s definitely about those nights where you are just not having a good one. Some people try to turn that into this really depressing place. But I hate that. I think it’s a really beautiful place where you’re feeling so much. You’re feeling like all of these emotions, and it’s really just overwhelming.

That’s a beautiful thing is to feel, whether it’s good or bad. There’s a lot of people that can’t feel. So, even if you’re having a bad time, then at least you’re able to have that because a lot of people there, they just can’t. They just can’t.

Emma: One of the things that I noticed over the course of the album, like it’s not a super happy album, but it feels very joyful at the same time, if that makes sense; joy and happiness are not the same thing.

Jonah: Yeah. People that try to turn everything to black and white, that try to make everything binary are the same type of people that try to make it seem like things like being sad can’t be a good thing. The range of emotions that we have as people that exist and are living, who are empathetic and kind people – it’s so deep, and you can feel so many ways, and you can feel sad when you don’t have anything to be sad about, and you can feel happy when you should be sad. You can feel so many different ways. I hate when I show someone a song that I think is so beautiful and they look at me and they go, “It’s kind of sad.” Because sad things can be beautiful. Sad things can be amazing. They can be awe-inspiring. Just because something sad doesn’t mean it has to be terrible. Like I don’t want somebody to be like, “This album is so sad.” This is an album full of emotions and growth and trial more than It is an album of “My life is a wreck right now.” I never wanted it to be about the downfall. I wanted it to be about the journey of getting better.

But one of the things that really inspired me on this album was To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. That’s probably my favorite concept album. I think it’s not a really finite album; it’s more conceptual, as in he’s going for something. I feel like that’s the direction that I wanted to head in with the concept.

Emma: “The night before // presli’s lullaby.”

Jonah: “The night before” was one of the earlier songs I wrote on the album, and I knew my aesthetic for a lot of the songs. A lot of them were upbeat songs. I wanted a lot of group chants. I wanted a lot of clapping and changing of instrumentation. Those lyrics mean a lot to me on that one.

Emma: This is very upbeat for a lullaby as well, and then it gets very ghostly in the middle of it.

Jonah: My friend Presli passed away. She was a big part of Pablo and then a big part of my life for a short amount of time. We were all at the hospital when that whole situation went down, and I really wanted to make something that was soft and kind because I thought she was soft and kind, and so I made “presli’s lullaby.” Jackson Wise does musical saw on it, and I played double bass on it. It’s a huge juxtaposition from “the night before,” and I like the way those two work together. I think it makes people uncomfortable when they listen to a pumped-up track, and then it immediately goes into this soft and somber thing. But that’s how my brain works. A lot of the time, I’m just like, I’m at a good place and then things get sad, and that’s the part of the looming, the looming of the title, it’s you loom over me like a mountain.

I use a lot of music just as background noise so I don’t have to cope with things. This was a way for me to deal with things. It’s just very raw emotion. It could totally catch someone off guard. I think that’s what art needs to do sometimes. Sometimes, I want to watch a movie without crying. But I really always just wanted to make art that that means a lot. It says a lot. I think that these two tracks combined, I think they say a lot about me and about how I felt during a different point in my life when Presli passed. There was a lot of emotion in it, I feel like, even if people don’t know the story.

“And you loom over me like a mountain” I made when everyone at Pablo was not in the house, and I lived there for like three days. Everyone was gone. I was basically house-sitting, and I was just posted up, recording this song, and I recorded it over the course of like three days. But this song means a lot to me. It’s kind of like the final piece of this album.

It’s a song where I feel like the former me has like, you know, really moves on. It’s really just an emotional journey, whether you look at it like a metaphor or whether you look at it literally. I was just sitting in this really weird place. Then, as a song, I think carries a lot of emotion, and it changes up pretty heavily style-wise. It gets this super serene sound, super droney sound. I think it’ll also be one of the songs that makes people feel emotions and feel things. The choir at the end, I did this thing where I put out on Twitter “If you want to be on my album, I’ll send you the song and you can record the choir part of it.” I got a bunch of submissions for choirs, and then I mixed them together. There are a bunch of people that are on there. I think it’s a really cool song. It’s a somber one for sure.

It’s also a really nice set up for the final track on the album, “we run loose amongst the trees, the sun rises. It’s supposed to be a circular thing. The album starts with the sunrise, and then the sun also rises again. It loops. There’s four drum beats at the end of it, and then it starts back again. My mom has said that this is her favorite track on the album. I think it’s a great track that I wrote with the intention of just being as feral as possible. “We run loose amongst the trees” is them bringing me back up and us just having a celebration of life.

It’s like a tribal ceremonial almost. A bunch of us running around and like beating drums and things like that. It’s a celebration of existing. I think that’s what this whole album is at the end of the day. It’s just a celebration of being alive and existing and really understanding who we are as people and that getting better is not linear. You’re getting better. It’s just a beautiful journey, and so it’s all a part of life as well. Another thing that we can do is get better.