Tobias Jesso Jr.
Among the guests milling around the living room of this airy Hackney apartment, you’d be forgiven for not instantly noticing which among them is the much-hyped Vancouverite who, on the strength of two wavering home recordings on YouTube, will shortly fly to play his first full show at the closing night of the Pitchfork Paris Music Festival.
There’s a buzz of well-earned anticipation, but Tobias Jesso Jr. is just excited to be there. He has welcomed all of his new guests into the apartment with a handshake – trying his best to remember their names – and will see them each out with a hug.
It’s hard to imagine any other setting for Jesso’s piano ballads, plainspoken and heartfelt as they are. They’re songs that deserve to be kept close, and even when he’s in the room, his voice wavers and cracks like an old and well-loved record.
His closest stylistic comparisons recall a wave of 70s balladeers (Lennon, Harry Nilsson, even a younger Elton John), but they’re simple songs, and ask nothing but to be appreciated. On the first listen, his new songs hit straight home, and the now-familiar True Love and Just A Dream delivered new layers and disarmingly relatable lyrics that might not have been noticed the first time around.
The words are simple, and like any honest songwriter (Vic Chestnutt, Daniel Johnson) he instinctively draws universality from his own deeply felt experiences.
This is a pivotal moment for Jesso. A few years ago, he was a part of Canadian indie rockers The Sessions, who achieved moderate success before being flown to Hollywood to form the backing group for the ill-fated pop rocker Melissa Cavatti.
The resulting events are chronicled in his most heartfelt of the evening, Hollywood, which he introduces as a song about “not making it”. Its refrain concludes as “I think I’ll die in Hollywood”, and a series of prolonged minor chords, which he lets ring into the silent room.
It’s Girls’ former bassist and producer Chet “JR” White that, after hearing True Love, flew Tobias Jesso Jr. to start recording in San Francisco. From here on, he’s in safe hands – White, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, The New Pornographers’ John Collins and Ariel Rechtshaid will collectively produce his debut album, Goon which is due for release in Spring next year.
Looking forward, it’s not certain what’ll become of Tobias Jesso Jr. It’s hard to imagine what his future looks like under True Panther and Matador, and at the moment it doesn’t feel right to guess. Right now, he’s a new discovery, and one that deserves to be heard.