Regardless of life’s punches, Jesse Sykes stays committed to the music
For Jesse Sykes, a Sunday morning in Seattle is a walk in the park—more like the woods, actually. Once she returns home though, reality sets in for the 44-year-old vocalist/guitarist, and she’s faced with the question that has plagued her for the last three years: “How can you understand life, if you haven’t addressed death?”
The question stems from both the blissful and detrimental events that have come to define her Seattle-based band, Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, during the extended recording period of their fourth LP, Marble Son, which began in September 2009. “We took our time because we didn’t even know if there would be an outcome,” says Sykes.
Not only were she and guitarist Phil Wandscher coping with the end of their 10-year relationship, but Sykes became happily engaged to her fiancé Mike, bassist Bill Herzog had a baby (27-year-old Trevor Hadley is currently substituting on bass, as a result), and Wandscher’s father died of cancer—see the band’s sorrowful, lyric-less track, entitled “Weight of Cancer.”
Sykes describes the period as, “a really intense time, with lots of anxiety in terms of my internal world.” She adds, “I was caught in a strange place because I didn’t know for sure if Phil and I would survive it, yet I was in bliss because I was so in love. It took me until I was 40 to find the love of my life, and I’m so f*cking grateful—ultimately, I love the idea of being reverent to the notion of how much you love someone.”
Through the good times and bad, Sykes has been able to consistently rely on music for strength, since she received her first electric guitar as a teenager. “Music always got under my skin—always moved by it,” says Sykes, recalling the days when no other girl her age was interested in instruments. In fact, “music is the one vehicle in which I seem to best be able to wrangle my internal world and create some semblance of grace and beauty out of the chaos,” she says.
Marble Son—an 11-track psychedelic rock album loaded with heavy guitar and Sykes’ haunting and captivating voice—was finally self-released on Aug. 2, under their label, Station Grey. The band’s tribulations seep from the shadowy sky on the cover of the album to its lyrical themes. “I feel like the cover sort of mimics the darkness of ‘Hushed by Devotion’—the first and longest track—and it fits into the cyclone of clouds because of how there’s always that darkness underneath everything,” she says.
The album’s somewhat sinister intensity can also be attributed to Sykes’ recent collaboration with several experimental groups, including fellow Seattle-based band Sunn O))) and Japanese rockers Boris, the latter of which, Sykes confesses, “has a huge body of work and are my idols when it comes to artistry.”
In fact, “[Boris] and Swedish singer/songwriter, Nicolai Dunger, are who I’m obsessed with, and are always in my pile of what I need to have on me at all times,” says Sykes. Friend Marissa Nadler, whom Sykes categorizes as both “Mazzy Star-ish and a really good songwriter,” is also on her most recently played list.
This month, the band joins other friends, Canadian indie-rock quartet The Sadies, on a small west coast tour, stopping by The Crepe Place Wednesday. For Sykes, concerts are “less like performing and more like I’m testifying.” She elaborates, “It feels like a non-denominational church for me—to elevate people on an emotional level. I feel grateful when I’m up there, and people are reverent and really listening.”
Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter play at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $13/adv, $15/door. Call 429-6994.