With 2015 seeing the resurgence of jazz in rap music, and funk in pop music, the big question was what style was to return next. Thanks to acts like Father John Misty and now, Tobias Jesso Jr., the weary piano ballad story teller makes its debut once again. Amid heartbreak and disillusionment, Tobias sits at the piano and sings with honesty and innocence, seeming wise beyond his years, with a McCartney-like propensity towards melody and a Randy Newman/Billy Joel style of chord progression and balladeer vocal tendencies.
Working for a moving company, Tobias wrote his first single, “Just A Dream,” before sending a demo to former Girls’ bassist JR White. Seeing potential, White, along with production from Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, John Collins of the New Pornographers, and Danielle Haim on the drums, helped Jesso Jr. release his debut record Goon, which hit the shelves with massive and sudden critical acclaim. After his band The Sessions, in which he played bass, broke up in 2012, Tobias found himself stranded in Los Angeles. Leaving everything, he moved back to his hometown in Vancouver, feeling defeated and heartbroken.
“In L.A., I was doing it for success,” he says, “I wanted to be in the studio writing songs for pop artists. But that time in L.A. was also like a wake-up call that that’s not going to happen. Everything came down to a point where I was like, ‘I’m not that guy! I’m the guy that makes those guys coffee, and that’s that.’ And my record is about exactly that: Los Angeles and failing and a breakup. I felt so guilty. I was in this small room upstairs like, ‘This is all I deserve! And I don’t even deserve this!’ I had that real conversation with my mom where I was like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to be. I don’t know what I want. The cards aren’t falling where I thought, so I’m confused.’ Then I wrote ‘Just a Dream’, and from there it was a real shift. It was not even close to any of the other music I had written before. I hadn’t really dove into any slow ballads, and it was my first time on piano.”
Shortly after, Tobias found himself writing the songs he always wanted to. Not for “success,” like he strove for in L.A., but for him this time. A therapeutic and honest work from a young heartbroken man with nothing to lose. So, as a last ditch “purge,” as he calls it, he emails his demo to JR White, fresh off of Girls’ breakup, and White responded simply with, “Call this number.” After calling, White asked for more songs. Once Tobias’ visa went through, White offered to have him come down to San Francisco and write the songs for the record as he slept on his couch. Following meeting Patrick Carney & John Collins, Tobias began working on his record.
The result is Goon, a beautiful and heartbreaking yet simultaneously heartwarming debut, that makes simplicity seem so dense and powerful. “I think it’s easier to get into something if someone is just playing you the bare bones,” Tobias says, “I’m not the best singer, obviously I’m not the best piano player or the best songwriter, but I’m doing my best on all of ’em. Once you have all those things in place, then I think everything falls the way it should.”