Interview: J.S. Terry

Interview: J.S. Terry

By Carly Mihovich

photo by Carly Mihovich

Back in September, I had the privilege of reviewing “the unmistakable sound of a heart beating in love,” a single off of J.S. Terry’s newest album, “and you loom over me like a mountain” for WUSC. Now, the album looms over us as it will be released on all streaming platforms April 26th, 2019. I had the opportunity to interview Jonah Terry, the artist and South Carolina native behind the album, on what inspires his music, his experience in the local music scene and his refusal to let anything hold him back. You can check it out below!

“And you loom over me like a mountain” depicts such a vividly emotional journey through music. I’ve absolutely loved listening to it and I’m honored you’ve given me this sneak peek. What inspired this newest album?

The thing that inspired me the most was this incredibly dark time in my life a few years ago. It wasn’t really a singular thing that ruined me, but a culmination of a lot of issues that I really didn’t take care of finally fell apart all at once. I really crumbled hard; I found that I couldn’t really function and that even if I was having a good day, these emotions would always be looming over me to tear me down to square one when I least expected it. I just felt so hopeless. This was happening around the time I released “rose” and things, still, were falling apart pretty heavily, but I finally had a super stable support system in the people with Pablo. Emotionally, I felt so primitive – everything I was doing was for the sake of love. I want my music to reflect that primal feeling of purpose and wonder, to need to grow and explore and to love.

Your last album, “rose,” was released in 2017. That was two years ago, and I think we all know how much people can change in that amount of time. How have you changed as a person and artist since that album’s release and how has is that reflected in “and you loom over me like a mountain”?

As a person, I’ve been learning a lot about myself and really trying to improve in almost all aspects of my life. I was in such a dark place in 2017, even though I thought I was in this really solid place at the time. I’ve learned to lean into my friends and family more and try to rely less on romantic love to fill my self-worth. I’ve also been trying to make myself happier without outside help. I’ve started drinking more water. Just a lot of things to really bring everything together. I got a haircut too. As a musician, I really learned to be unapologetically me in what I want to do and the way that I do it. I wanted to make something huge, like way larger than me and who I am, and I wanted it to have so many moving parts. I really look back on “rose” and see what I was doing there and see what i’m doing here and i’m really in awe of my progress. I started caring a lot less about theory when it comes to traditional songwriting and started looking at songs more like chapters in a novel. I wanted them to tell a story much more than just be good songs. The writing on this project is so much more personal to me than on “rose.” I’m just so happy with how it all turned out.

You’ve self-described your music as being “feral folk.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

I never really understood how I felt for such a long time when it comes to my music and me as a person. When I think back as a kid, I lived in such a remote place – Campobello was a lot more empty back then – and I remember exploring so much of my yard. I remember catching frogs and going on these adventures in the flowers and trying to avoid snakes and black widows. I just remember all these things and when I saw the definition of feral growing up it really stuck with me. I really hated how people were moving in and cutting down all the trees around me, forests were replaced by empty fields. It really upset me and whenever I get away from all of it and return to the woods I just get so feral. I’ve just always felt so wild and never really found anything to fit along with that. I remember the first time I heard Man Man’s “Six Demon Bag,” the Swiss Army Man soundtrack, and the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack. I really felt that same wonder of being in the wild again and knew that’s what I needed to be making, so i that’s kind of the concept behind the self-made genre.

A decent chunk of the album includes pure instrumentals and something I would describe as spoken-word poetry. What was it like playing around with the dynamics between singing, speaking, and silence as a storyteller?

I was looking at the album more so in the vein of a film or book. There’s whole scenes without dialogue, whole passages without it too. I was using my voice more so in a manner of being a character in the story and sometimes I didn’t need to talk. Sometimes the music just needed to play and the listener should fill in the images based on the title of the song.

I remember following your journey on Twitter as you were creating this album. If I remember correctly, you were touring with your other band, Apricot Blush, and simultaneously working on this album. What was that process like, as you were around your friends and fans who expected one form of art out of you while also trying to work through your own art?

It was definitely such a weird time because the album was probably 10% finished this time last year when we were touring, like I had some songs written and J.S. Terry was doing that tour with Apricot and we were playing 4 songs off the new album at that point. But I had only bare-bone recordings of those at the time. It was weird, I really wanted to be home recording but I also knew I was having a lot of new experiences during that time, going to New York city for the first time and stuff. It was all a fever dream and I was really just out if my element and dissociating hard the whole time. I had some life-changing experiences at the Adrian Piper exhibit at the MoMA and in the Atlantic Ocean on the last night of tour. It was nice to be around my friends at this time and it really helped me flesh out the characters of the mischievous beings throughout the album. I love them a lot.

Any artist knows that there are obstacles you have to overcome throughout the creative process to get an end result you’re happy with. I know “and you loom over me like a mountain” took a lot of rethinking and reworking to get to where it is now, and I would argue it was well worth the wait. How much of your original thought was scrapped through this experience? What changes did you find needed to be made to get to something you wanted to release?

So basically, I sat down during the summer of 2017 with a binder full of notebook paper and just started writing a story. I wrote the outline for this album and knew exactly what kind of songs I wanted where and how I wanted it to sound and exist. I was writing so much and recording so much music. There were times where the album was going to have 18 songs on it but I was like this just can’t be the case. I was cutting any song I didn’t think was good enough and combining shorter songs. The only songs that I originally had planned for the album that didn’t change drastically were “hillside” and “unmistakable sounds.” Everything else is definitely inspired by something I had written but didn’t feel like it was solid enough so I rewrote it. I did so much re-recording, scrapping, we made a lot of hard decisions – Wesley and me – on what we needed to do and how we needed to do it. We had to record stuff that sucked so bad to do the first time over again and it would drain us so bad but it worked out in the long run. There was a time in late December 2018 where we legit thought this album was done and we had it mixed and ready to send to master, when I came to terms and realized that it wasn’t done and I wasn’t happy with it. Wesley was really nice about it but I knew he wanted to die because we had to redo a good bit, but it was a good decision.

You’re an active part of the Pablo Generation, a collective of artists based out of Clemson, South Carolina, which has lead to you playing in multiple bands with your friends. What has your experience been like in such a electrifying local music scene surrounded by so many other talented artists?

It’s definitely a lot of fun and super inspiring. I’ve grown a whole lot with everyone and i’m at such a different place than I was when we first started the collective. The thing that i’ve most gotten out of being surrounded by such talented people is that it usually brings the best in you out. When you see people committing to their craft, performing, writing, singing, playing at such a high level, it really makes you step up your game. It makes you raise the bar and strive to get better. It’s more out of pure inspiration than competitiveness with us though which i’m always thankful for.

If you could have everyone who listens to “and you loom over me like a mountain” get one thing out of it, what would that be?

To live your life to the fullest and to never be afraid of the things that loom over them. Love as hard as you can. Don’t be afraid to live your life because of the consequences. I would never take back any of the times I loved too hard and got hurt bad for it, because without it I would not have lived so fully. When I was 10 years old, I watched a virus ravage my mom’s spinal cord and it paralyzed her from the neck down and she has stayed that way for twelve years. We are not given tomorrow and we’re hardly given today and if we are too afraid to live than there is no point. It is so incredibly upsetting that things like mental health, poverty or people in our life stop us from doing things that we love to do. I saw my mom get paralyzed right before my eyes, I lost my grandpa and good friend in a month span during the recording of this album. I will continue to live for them; as freely as I possibly can. Please go hiking in the rain, call out sick from your job and go to the river, sleep in your car with someone you love, go to the Bigfoot museum with your best friends, buy a tiny home with a big stupid loan that you wont pay off anytime soon, do anything that you want to do. I don’t let things loom over me anymore, I can see the mountains clearly. I’ll howl at the moon.

You can stream “and you loom over me like a mountain” by J.S. Terry on April 26th, 2019 anywhere you find your music.