Melbourne-based musician Jess Cornelius generously answered some questions about what’s next for Teeth & Tongue (the upcoming album, GRIDS, will be released in early April 2014, and new single “Newborn” comes out later this month):
After The Show: I really like the complex rhythms and lo-fi guitars on older songs like “Vaseline on the Lens” and “Unfamiliar Skirts.” How does GRIDS sound compared to your past work?
Jess Cornelius: Thanks! There are definitely some similarities, but with this album I was experimenting a lot more with layered vocals and harmonies, and using the voice a lot more for rhythm and texture. We’ve also used synths a bit more, and retained the not-so-subtle ‘fake’ drum machine sounds rather than opting for ‘live’ sounds. I also found myself choosing this really harsh, digitally-processed fuzz guitar sound for a couple of the tracks, which I hadn’t felt comfortable with before, but it’s used sparingly!
What is “Good Man” about?
It’s kind of about making poor decisions! And the difficulty of trusting your own instincts when there are so many distractive influences. I didn’t set out to write the album this way, but it seems like a lot of the songs on it follow this theme of being happy with what you’ve got, knowing when to accept things, or when to change things, and when you’re just asking way too much. I guess it’s about finding satisfaction, and not always searching for something better.
How does that song fit into the rest of GRIDS, sonically?
Sonically it’s not quite as integrated in the album as a whole. There are certainly other tracks on the record that use a similar percussive vocal layering, but there are a lot more guitars on the rest of it I think. “Good Man” was one of the most simple songs in terms of arrangement, and I wrote it for a solo US tour because I was quite restricted in what I could perform on my own. Sometimes restrictions really are the best.
That’s cool that you also work as a copywriter & editor, but (ideally) someone of your musical caliber should have the freedom to focus on music full-time. How do you balance the two? Are you more encouraged or discouraged by the music industry today?
I just think the world is different. It used to bother me that some of the great (and relatively successful) musicians around me weren’t able to make a living from music, but I’ve increasingly found it sort of liberating. I really enjoy the work I do and I only do it part time so I’m lucky.
It means that when I make decisions about music—whether it’s creative decisions about the music itself, or management or touring decisions —I don’t have to make choices based on what might be popular or commercially viable. It becomes more about doing what you love rather than turning it all into a business enterprise. Of course, it still is a business in a way, and there’s still lots of boring decisions to make, but I’m not writing songs that I think will end up on a soft drink ad just so I can pay the rent. I’ve also found it really valuable to have interests and occupations other than music to act as a bit of a counter balance. Putting yourself out there all the time, in a fairly fickle industry, can be hard on the psyche.
Travelling to the US (and then touring from state to state) is a big investment…do you have plans to play in LA or NYC in 2014?
It is a big investment and the first time I did it solo because of that. It was quite hard the second time (for CMJ) with the whole band, but it was fun, and we got some financial help from the arts funding bodies here too. I would love to come back and play in New York, LA, San Francisco and even Austin again, but we’ll have to wait and see! It’s always a good time.
Keep an eye on TeethandTongue.com + (fyi) “Family Home” will be the last song on GRIDS.