Deconstructing and reimagining familiar themes, both lyrically and in composition, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Gimbel proves that convention is only a restriction when it is left unexamined. Sometimes a whisper, sometimes a hammer — but never out of place, Jesse blends narrative and musical elements into a tonic of rhythm and melody which reveal their truths to each listener in a personal way.
Tell us about your musical background and how you got to where you are today. I started playing guitar when I was about fourteen years old. As soon as I knew a few chords I wrote my first song. A few months later I saved my pennies and bought a little 4-track recorder, so songwriting and recording were married together early for me. My middle school music teacher allowed me to play some songs for our class, which was equal parts harrowing and thrilling for me. She later brought me to open mics at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr. I met Amos Lee and many other talented folks at open mics there in the years following. I just dreamt about being there the other night, I miss that place dearly. Since then I’ve continued writing and recording, while building up an arsenal of recording equipment and starting to record, and eventually produce other artists in my project studio in Upper Darby.
You play a number of different instruments (and you’re self-taught!). What do you play, which is your favorite, and how do you find time to practice them all? I typically write on guitar, I’ve played drums on more projects than guitar, but I’ll play any instrument I need for a song! On records I’ve played guitar, bass, drums, piano, synthesizers, banjo, dulcimer, violin, recorder, and a handful of others. Drums always really draw me in and I love playing them, but guitar is the main instrument I always come back to for being expressive. It’s certainly a challenge finding time to keep practiced on a number of instruments, and I’m definitely more practiced on some instruments while others I tend to use for simple but decidedly different tonalities in recordings.
You are extremely involved in Philadelphia’s music scene. As a musician AND engineer in Philadelphia, do you find yourself thriving off of the back and forth or does it get exhausting at times? Being this involved in the music scene can certainly be exhausting, but I’ve also started to really become comfortable with a whirlwind of things happening simultaneously. It’s rare I have totally free time, but I also can’t remember the last time I was bored. The more things I’m involved with the more I see parallels between them and one starts to inform the others. It makes it easy to keep a fresh perspective by stepping away from one thing to do another, which puts me in a better head space when I come back.
Do you have any plans for the summer in terms of recording, shows, etc? We just got back from a short tour up to New England and New York, and have a number of shows and festivals lined up that we’re excited about. In between making a new record, we’ll be heading to southeastern Pennsylvania for the Shodown Flowdown festival, and later this year will be playing both West Philly and South Wayne’s Porchfest festivals, which we’ve had a blast being involved with the past couple years. Artists of all different types play on the porches of generous people across the neighborhood, and it makes for a really fantastic day of music and community.
Learn more about Jesse Gimbel here!