Introducing Jesse Daniel Smith

Anthony Cammalleri, Staff Writer

It had been around a year since the first time I heard the opening line of A World We Never Asked to Join by Jesse Daniel Smith. Around 2:00 AM on a Thursday night, I took a break from the assignment that was keeping me up, and gazed out a window which I had left open, hoping that the sounds of cars would keep me awake.

Unfortunately, one shot of this obscure, raw, dark, bluesy masterpiece was the equivalent of just one chip out of the bag, or just one cigarette from the pack; in other words, it was impossible, and I was hooked.

Looking back, I am not entirely sure what attracted me to that song so much. Was it the gloomy shadows of nostalgia hooked around the lyrics? The simple style mixed with such a thought-evoking chorus line? More than anything, I suppose it was the uncertainty of the song’s meaning which led me to my final step. Unlike the words of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, where you might find interpretations ubiquitously through old interviews or album sheets on the internet, it ached and twisted my mind to touch the fact that as I was listening, and relistening, and listening again, I was one of only a thousand people to ever hear the track.

It was the first day of this year, 2016, after four seasons of savagely stalking this song, that I finally decided what I had to do: find Jesse Daniel Smith and ask him in person.

Getting ahold of him was done almost laughably in the most stereotypical millennial fashion: a 12:35 AM Facebook message asking if we could get in touch, to which he responded at 12:37, requesting a facetime interview. About two weeks later, I was given the chance to speak with Smith over Skype.

Smith first mentioned his dormant indie folk duo Bride and Groom, comprising himself and his ex-girlfriend/cellist Kaitlyn Raitz, producing a more poppy style than the less-known folk works of his.

“We lived together, we played together, we wrote and recorded records in this studio. She was an American girl from New York. She really wanted to move back there and all my family’s here, so it was one of these things where, very civilly, we split it up […] there’s no plan on playing together or anything going forwards,” he said.

After mentioning his past with the Bride and Groom, Smith spoke about his solo album Jesse Daniel Smith is Playing Other People’s Music, in which his music became less diluted with pop, and instead focused on acoustic fingerpicking. 

“After Kaitlyn and I split up, I had a lot of free time all of a sudden, so I just started playing other people’s music because I wasn’t really sure what to do. I just put together all these tunes, some of them got a bit of play on Soundcloud and Youtube, and Spotify, so I put them together as one dense thing, and I threw it online as a record,” he said.

“Pack your bags, we’re leaving town/ There’s only so much hanging around/ You’re using words I don’t recognize/ They’re burning softly in my eyes/ Water flowing, waterfall/ From a man that I don’t know at all/ Two different wounds on a flipping coin/ In a world we never asked to join””

— Smith

Through conversation, many topics came up, including his newly-emphasized unique style as an indie folk musician, and how he was aiming for a hybrid between traditional and modern forms of acoustic music.

“What I’m trying to do, is have a very contemporary take on a folk tradition. Strong acoustic guitarwork, but I’m trying to keep it with pop sensibilities,” said Smith.

Finally, the question on the tip of my tongue rolled off, and I could not help but inquire about A World We Never Asked to Join. Jesse was surprised at the unearthing of a song so deeply buried underground.

“That’s a deep-cut tune that not a lot of people have heard, I kinda just threw that out there. It’s about being born into a life you weren’t asked to join, and then having to deal with the repercussions of that; having to deal with life as a whole, and how intense it can be,” Smith said.

He then went on to discuss his inspiration on writing such a dark tune, and how it was inspired by the long-lasting heartache of divorce.

“When I wrote it, I was feeling pretty down about the world, and about what’s going on […] it’s kind of like a diary entry. The song is about being as child of divorce. My parents got divorced while I was in grade six, and when your parents separate, you are forced to choose one side or the other, and your parents are only human, so whether they mean to or not, they might put pressure on you, or they might hit you with things like ‘does your dad have a girlfriend?’ or basically what’s going on on the other side,” he said.

“It was like ‘two sides of a flipping coin’ you have to choose one and then deal with the consequences of that. Like I said, it’s kind of messed up because for the most part, two people get together, and then they have kids, who don’t ask to be born, and then they put you in a weird place. Even though my parents split up fifteen years ago, I was just thinking of that,” said Smith.

Trying to lighten things up, we finished off discussing his newest solo album Pretty Breakup Songs, featuring a collaboration of acoustic melodies of love and heartbreak.

“I’m excited for it. I haven’t released anything in awhile, so I’m excited, I can’t wait for people to hear it,” said Smith.