When live music got shut down last year, many bands pushed back the release of their records, hoping that touring would soon return and allow them to support their new albums on the road.
But some stuck with their original release dates, including former Santa Cruz musician Jesse Daniel. Putting out Rollin’ On in March of 2020 was certainly a risky move, but in an unexpected twist, keeping that date actually helped the record get a bunch of attention it might have not gotten amid the clutter of a normal year. It was covered in Rolling Stone, among other outlets, and Daniel watched his online fanbase grow noticeably.
“I feel like we had a captive audience,” Daniel says. “That helped us to reach people that might otherwise be distracted by the flow of other music coming out. A lot of people have said it gave them escape from everything that was going on. I’m glad that it could be that for some people.”
But when Daniel got the sense that live music was going to be starting up again this year, he wanted an even newer album to promote, so he used the downtime in 2020 to write and record Beyond These Walls, his third record, which was released on July 30.
“Even though the streaming was great, we felt a little bit robbed. All the touring musicians that had canceled dates and pushed releases I’m sure felt the same way,” Daniel says. “We wanted to follow it up pretty quick. And that was a big motivation to hit the ground running when things opened back up.”
Back in 2020, no shows meant he couldn’t gauge an audience’s reaction to his new songs. Now that he’s gigging again, he’s found his growing fanbase has had plenty of time to soak up Rollin’ On, and are singing along with every song from it. He’ll return to his old haunts here on Sept. 2 at Felton Music Hall to celebrate the release of both albums.
Rollin’ On was very much inspired by the Bakersfield country sound popularized by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and Daniel enlisted producer Tommy Detamore to help bring this aesthetic out. For Beyond These Walls, he worked with Detamore again, but wanted to broaden the album’s sound. It is a very stylistically diverse country record.
“Our goal going into Beyond These Walls, especially making it with Tommy, is to not make the same record twice,” Daniel says. “I love the Bakersfield sound, but I also love all kinds of music. That’s why you hear songs more on the singer-songwriter spectrum. We have some stuff in Spanish. There are slow ballads and more up-tempo bangers.”
“El Trabajador” has overt Tejano influences, which wasn’t a big stretch for Daniel; he grew up around the music and always loved it. Not only did his stepdad play it, but Daniel also recalls going to the flea market every week in Santa Cruz and watching Mexican cowboys sing these traditional songs at the karaoke there.
“As I got older and got into country music, I realized how similar that music is to American country music. If you listen to the lyrics, they’re singing about the same things. Heartbreak, loss, love,” Daniel says. “It’s life music.”
Like his previous records, the lyrics are quite personal, but, because of everything that happened last year during his downtime, he wrote “Living in the Great Divide,” which touches on how polarized the world has become.
“I definitely was affected by having this ample amount of time to write and reflect in that headspace, and then also being constantly bombarded by everything that was happening in the news,” Daniel says. “Everybody was really scared last year. Nothing had ever happened like this in my lifetime. So I think all of those things kind of contributed to the writing and the feel of this record. We’re all people. When you strip away politics, or beliefs, or parts of the country, we all just want the same thing, which is to be loved—to be taken care of.”
Jesse Daniel performs at 8pm on Thursday, Sept 2 at Felton Music Hall, 6275 Highway 9, Felton, $22-25. 831-704-7113.