While it’s not rare for me to sit and listen to an album from start to finish, it’s not often I get lost in the stories, sonnets and sonics of a record. Last week Jesse Stockton dropped his latest release, “Papoose,” an indie-folk-rock collection from the last 17 years. From its opening track “All Twisted Up,” which shakes (perhaps playfully kicks) you awake with a heavy acoustic guitar, to quiet reflection (“Caustic Dream”), to quick and plucky picks in “Stars and Candy Bars,” Stockton’s vocals wrap around songwriting often rooted in finding nature, love, peace … maybe even life on Mars.
Recorded at his friend and fellow musician Will Maxwell’s cabin on the shores of Squam Lake in New Hampshire, Stockton produced and mixed the album himself.
“It was an environment of total quiet,” Stockton describes. “A green forest covered in moss and for trees, a glacial lake that formed millions of years ago with ice-cold crystal clear water, an epic backdrop for the emotion going into this album. Once I had recorded the songs live from the living room of the cabin I listened to them over and over. I began to allow them to tell their own story. There was nothing for me to do, they have their own voice and are capable of giving me the instruction I needed to put it together … but I had to listen. It was all very smooth compared to my other albums. I finished tracking in three days and took two days to do edits and that was it. I poured my heart out into two mics overlooking Squam Lake with a wood stove for an audience.”
“Papoose” is available online for free with donations to the artist. In lieu of CDs. release parties or special livestreaming events, “Papoose” is simply “out there to help you keep going when things seem insurmountable.”
“I made this album for free because in my humble opinion what’s the point?” Stockton muses. “I accept donations instead of charging because that also lets me know I’m doing something right. If you feel like I touched your heart, moved your emotion, related to your life on a more human level then it makes me really feel a different way when someone lets you know that and what’s to help you keep doing that. To me, it’s far more powerful and keeps it honest. I’m not a salesman, I’m a singer and a songwriter.”
Stockton says he doesn’t envision any sort of live performances in 2020, save for small private gatherings here and there … maybe. And he’s fine with that. In fact, Stockton has kept busy with live-streaming on Facebook for months since the new age of social distancing began.
“I have actually had a very fantastic time with social distancing,” he offers. “One of the first things I started doing when I woke up one day and saw that I was out of work as a musician for the foreseeable future was to start live streaming—and if I’m going to be completely honest it has been so much more fun and rewarding than playing in front of a live crowd.”
Livestreaming actually feels more intimate to Stockton in many ways. It means more interaction with people as he reads their comments in real-time. Unrestricted by set times, he plays as long as he likes without pressure from wherever he pleases—even from the mountains of Colorado last week.
“And I don’t have to spend an hour setting up a bunch of heavy equipment,” he quips. “We are all there together no matter what space we may be occupying at the time. I can positively influence someone’s emotions, feelings, or even their day in such an intimate setting. I’m very grateful to get to do what I do.”
encore caught up with Jesse Stockton to learn more about these songs on “Papoose,” now available on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. Folks can Venmo the artist at @Jesse-Stockton or paypal.me/JesseStockton.
encore (e): How do you think the last six or so months have changed you as a person and as a musician?
Jesse Stockton (JS): The last six months have deepened my gratitude for the incredible amounts of abundance that surround me every single day. I see more and more of the gifts that I have been freely given, air to breath, water to drink, sunshine, darkness, warmth, shelter, a body that moves, feels, sees, smells, tastes … I mean, taste alone is something I could talk about being grateful for about an hour. I’m also so grateful to see people coming together and purposefully trying to impact others with a positive light. During these times, every single human being is faced with a doorway that is creating a lot of fear because when you step through this doorway you don’t know what’s going to happen. So for all this, my compassion for all people has also deepened further than I thought it could. We are all truly connected, we are all in this together, flying through space chasing a giant burning ball at 2,000 mph. My lesson here is love, give understanding before trying to be understood, listen.
e: Let’s focus on “Keep On Diggin’” for a moment, did you have yourself in mind for this or is it more metaphorical?
JS: All the songs are “metaphorical” in nature. I’m sure I can be found there somewhere within some time and space, but perhaps only as a side character for the most part. In “Keep on Diggin” that could be about me during a part of my life, but is so loosely written for the desire to be able to relate to anyone really. Someone hard-up on luck, but pushing through, and in need of a helping hand to make the next step. I know I have certainly been there. I would say the line, “it’s hard but I’m sticking to this ol’ guitar picking” is about the struggle to be a musician and follow a passion down a road no matter where it leads you is about me but also anyone who understands what that means. To know in your heart this is not a struggle of not making enough money or having the same socio-economic status as your peers. It’s a struggle with the voice inside that for most of us is there every day, saying you aren’t enough, you’ll never be enough, you’re not good enough, or the million other lies that little voice tells us. It is the struggle to keep pushing up the never-ending mountain.
e: Who is “Sad Sarah”?
JS: Who is sad Sarah … one of my most asked questions. In truth, it was a fictional character that is based around a guitar riff I had put together. I wanted a character people could relate to, with imagery they understood. I very much enjoyed the bouncy sort of rhythm, and I wanted to fill it up with a working person, a person like me, who understood the “mailroom misery” of day to day life working a job that felt like a road to nowhere instead of following the deeper passion, the little voice in your head that tells you that this isn’t your life, that you are made for greatness as I believe we all are. However, our character doesn’t make it, also much like I thought of myself in my more youthful days. The desire to escape, something I relate to on a very deep level.
e: “Social Isolation” has to be about the times we are living in…
JS: “Social Isolation” is definitely current. I cannot take credit as it was written by another dear friend Renee Westlake. She and her husband Bill, along with their entire amazing family have been so supportive of me for many years. After one of my livestreams she came to me with lyrics. I pulled out the best parts as is the tendency with writing much like how most of what I have written here will be cut, and then I arranged the song out of it. As soon as I saw the chorus I knew the voicing I wanted to use which then basically unfolded the rest of the song for me. It’s a straight country blues tune. Who knows what better than Hank Sr.? So that was the voicing for the chorus. Then I heard Jerry playing the guitar for it so that’s how I arrived at what we have here which is this beautiful little song.
e: Care to share more a personal fave off of this album—I know, I know, it’s like asking which kid is your favorite. If not a favorite then maybe a song that changed the most from the first concept to recording/mixing and how?
JS: If I had to pick a favorite it would be “Songs by the Mile.” I lived that life for a very long time going from town to town, bars and ballrooms, playing music, standing on display, with an ocean of turmoil just below the surface but doing my best to put on a smile. This song is also loosely based on experiences I’ve had, dressing rooms and standing sweating in soaking wet clothes after a show. It has my favorite line of the album: “Can’t live off the land, labor for the man / Put on those filthy boots for the men in suits, we toil and we fight till our deaths.”
I don’t lay any sort of claim to these lines because they for the most part come to me like being struck by lightning and if I didn’t write them down then I would be denying myself the direct connection to my own center. I love this line because I have lived this for a lot of my life. Swinging hammers, hauling brick is, climbing up on a roof in mid-July with 80-pound shingles on your shoulder. I know what it’s like to have boots so filthy they aren’t allowed inside. Through all this, I have gained my awareness of what life is like for most. This is also my song of encouragement to sing in the face of pain, to not give up, to find your gratitude in the small places it can sometimes hide.