One of the reasons video games have become the huge industry that they are is because they provide people with a diverse mix of quality work in different mediums, be it visual arts, programming or storytelling. Music is another form of expression that thrives in the gaming industry, especially among independent titles. The Cat Lady’s OST, an incredible mix of dark and depressing themes, was one of the most pleasant surprises of the last few years. It was through this game that I discovered Warmer, a one man project by Jesse Gunn, and the excellent music this band has produced over the years. A musician who is not afraid to try experiment, a person of strong beliefs and love for his work, Jesse was one of the people I felt that I had to invite on our blog. It’s an honor to have him here.
Neko-chi (N): Introduce yourself to us.
Jesse Gunn (J.G.): Hello, my name is Jesse Gunn, most of you probably know me as “Warmer” which is the name I use when I make music.
(N): Talk to us about your creative process -how do you come up with a new song or album, what is the procedure you follow to complete it and how much does it usually take until you are satisfied with the final results?
(J.G.): I tend to write a lot of different styles of music. Without a theme keeping me on a leash of sorts I don’t know how I’d ever be able to write something cohesive. When it comes to an album’s theme I usually end up looking at the time since I released the last album and try to find the aspects of my life or the world around me that are influencing my thoughts and feelings the most. There is typically a “eureka!” moment where I have an intense feeling of “THIS” is the direction I want to go. The theme stands out against the background and I realize that’s what I need to do. Once I find it I know.
There really isn’t an intentional searching that happens. When I’m trying to actually come up with the songs for the album I spend hours just thinking. I have a philosopher’s nature about how I dissect things. I spend a lot of time to myself in my own head. Most people don’t like to be alone with their thoughts because it brings up a lot of things they’d rather ignore. The things that we’d rather ignore or pretend don’t affect us are the things I WANT to write about. I write about the thoughts that keep you up at night. I find some of the most useful time to me in the creative process is just laying on the couch staring at the ceiling and letting my head go. Maybe walking to the lake I live on and just staring at the shore across from me and seeing what creeps into my head. Sometimes I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep and a few lines pop into my head and I get the feeling that a chorus just came to me. MAKE IT HAPPEN! Go down stairs and get in the studio. You strike when the iron’s hot. There is no way to force it. Knowing what helps it along is useful, but there are no guarantees.
As far as a process I don’t force anything. When inspiration hits me I grasp it. I take it and use it. Those times don’t happen everyday, week, or month for that matter. I have been writing music since I was a young kid so I have come to recognize that feeling of being “in the zone” and I don’t ignore it. If that means I have to miss work one day I call in “sick” (sick with inspiration), I don’t cut that time short. It’s one of those rare things that if not taken advantage of it’s gone.
Once I have the skeleton of a song I flesh it out, instrument by instrument, piece by piece, line by line. Usually I start with a few chords on guitar or piano and they just feel good. They make me feel something emotional and I’ll keep playing them until a vocal melody comes to me. The words are usually a stream of conscience at first. I don’t try to guide it much until I have some structure to work from. Once it’s apparent this is going to be worth completing that’s when I start the editing of the overall feeling and scope and see if it fits into the theme. If it does great. If not, well I don’t make it work. I’ve found the music that comes natural to me tends to be my best work. The music I’ve written that is a chore tends to feel really uninspired. It feels very contrived and I can’t emotionally connect with it like I need to in order to feel it’s worth finishing.
I’ll get a basic rough sketch done and then put it on cd or an mp3 player and just listen to what I’m working on every chance I get. I’ll find myself humming along one listen and it’s the next part and I go to the studio and see if that works. There have been songs I’ve written in 8 hours, start to finish (“Goliath” on 1. to become, in some respects, different;) and songs that I wrote at the same time as Goliath and I’m still working on… That’s 9 years ago! 🙂 I really hope I can finally finish it. It fits so well with the theme of the current album that it NEEDS to be on there and I just haven’t committed to making it final.
(J.G.): This definitely relates to the previous question.
On the difficulties side; I don’t have anyone to please but myself so my time line to complete something is a very vague concept. Not having another set of ears to listen to what I’m doing or where I’m going with something can, at times, feel like a disadvantage.
The rewarding side; the freedom of not having other band members expectations to meet is a very freeing feeling. Nothing I choose to do is wrong when I’m the only judge in the studio. I can experiment all day and decide to scrap the results because I’m ultimately the one that calls the shots. I also learn much more because I’m required to in order to get to where I want to go. If I don’t do it, if I don’t figure it out, no one else will. I have learned to play 9 instruments. Half of those were simply because I had a part I wanted on an instrument I didn’t know how to play so I taught myself just to be able to play that part for the song.
(N): I was wondering whether you release all of the music you have produced for an album or if there is material left unused. If the latter is the case, what do you do with the unpublished work?
(J.G.): There is certainly a lot of material that doesn’t make it on the album. The other day I went through the music I haven’t released for Rocket #009 and The Tragic Evolution of Desire and I’ve got 15-20 songs that just didn’t “fit” into what I was going for. Most of them are finished so far as to say I’m done tracking them, but I didn’t feel they met the requirements I set out for myself in order to keep the scope of the album cohesive.
What do I do with them? Unfortunately not much! I have played with the idea of releasing a b-sides collection at some point.