“Please don’t judge me, I took the road that I know best . . . Please don’t be like all the rest.” This chorus line is a plea from Jesse Stockton & Dream Machine’s “All the Rest.” The track is off the Wilmington band’s latest album, “No Hope for Humanity,” just released today online.
Lead singer and songwriter Jesse Stockton says most songs on “No Hope For Humanity” started to come about while he was living on the south end of Wrightsville Beach between 2007 and 2013—save for the title track. “No Hope for Humanity” was written while living in a basement apartment in Boone, NC, and “drinking a fifth of whiskey every day after work.” From there Stockton moved to Wrightsville Beach and worked as a carpenter downtown refinishing houses and popular establishments like the Husk/Yo Sake bars.
“I wrote music in the evenings and spent a lot of my time at the bars watching Ron Etheridge, Travis Shallow, John Satterfield, Creekside, and No Dollar Shoes,” Stockton tells. “During this period the first song I wrote that I thought was worth recording was ‘Can You Hear.'”
“No Hope for Humanity” is full of songs like “Can You Hear” and “All I Can Be is Me,” which often go back and forth between being reminiscent of folk, Americana and rock a la James Taylor, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. Yet there are haunting tunes like “Hannibal Lechter” or unexpected, noninstrumental imagery with songs like “Frida Kahlo” that features a hospital heart rate monitor. “That sound is the segue into ‘Hannibal Lecter,'” Stockton adds, “and to me what sounds like someone sharpening a sword.”
“No Hope For Humanity” CDs will be available for purchase at the Palm Room show on Feb. 25 and online at www.dreammachinejessestockton.com. Folks can also download the album from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Mp3, XBox Live, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music. Check Jesse Stockton & Dream Machine’s Facebook page for more shows and updates. In the meantime, read encore’s Q&A with Stockton below…
encore (e): Tell our readers more about this collection of songs, how they came together and some influences along the way.
Jesse Stockton (JS): I had a friend that lived across the street from Palm Room who had a $70 microphone and a computer that could record. To me, it was like the world was opening up. He would record me for free if I, in turn, helped him with his songs. He is to this day a hip hop artist then called Stranger Day, now know as Rapper Shane. We did “Can you Hear” together and he thought it was a knockout. This gave me the fuel to continue writing. I then came out with “Social Remodification,” and Ben Privott of then Creekside came over and wrote the bass line on a keyboard.
I used those early recordings as my road map for this album. From that bottom floor room I moved into a house on Stone Street behind Tower 7. We drank day and night, stayed up till the sun came up, slept outside and bathed in the ocean living off candy bars and beer. While living here I got a phone call a dear friend and old roommate had tragically been killed, I sat down and wrote “All The Rest” on the spot sitting outside underneath the porch crying into my pen and paper. Subsequently, the majority of the songs I wrote while living there went on my last album “Thank You Very Kindly.” I then moved from Stone Street to the south end again. I was living with Jonah Citty (of ASG and now St. Judas) and he introduced me to Wilco, Jim James, and an entirely new to me catalog of Dylan. I used my time there to write as many songs as I could, several of which will be appearing on future albums. During this time my playing out was at a peak, sometimes I would have weeks with nine shows or more. We drank heavily and partied almost every night. I had a desk that faced the ocean and through two giant houses, I had a sliver of a view of the great big blue. It is here I would sit through many nights with PBR and whiskey as my partners, writing songs and poetry until the sun rose just to go swim for a bit and return to write more.
“Poor Misguided Fools” was written after I saw an evangelist preacher selling water at a ridiculous fee because he had blessed. I drunkenly called the number a dozen times cursing them for doing that to the poor, selling them false promises. “The Importance of Taxes” was written after first discovering Wilco, they had a major influence on me as a songwriter and that was the first song that came out of the impression they left me with. “Mechanically Separated Meat Parts” was written as my kind of “I’m over the going out, getting drunk, doing drugs, and finding a random hook up for the night only to kick this person out of my bed and try to find a new one the next day.” I know it sounds incredibly shallow and arrogant but that was my life at that time. It isn’t as fun as some may think. It’s filled with puke mornings, huge bar tabs, and an empty feeling with a desire for more substances to get rid of the loneliness.
Around that time I met my now ex-wife, we were together for three years and married only nine months. Just long enough to discover that she had been faking a pregnancy, cancer, and whole gambit of other lies that fooled not only me, but everyone around us. I found out three days after she said we lost our baby that she was never pregnant with our little girl, only to discover she was a week to two weeks pregnant with our now son. . . . After going through this major trauma done to me and my entire family I picked up what pieces I could salvage from this wreck and moved in with my brother. There I wrote “All I Can Be is Me” and “Frida Kahlo.”
e: I get a James Taylor and Neil Young vibe throughout, like in “All I Can Be is Me.” Is that a fair observation?
JS: I think that Neil Young and James Taylor are definite influences on my songwriting and sound. I grew up listening to James Taylor, his songwriting is very clever and the imagery he displays is almost effortless. He can capture feeling with such simplicity. Neil Young gets at me the same way, although I didn’t start listening to him till about 15 or 16 years old. I was instantly attracted to his guitar tone, chord usage, and sound of his voice. Interestingly high pitched, like the others that attract me, Jeff Buckley, Shannon Hoon, even Bill Monroe.
e: What is the beeping I hear in “Frida Kahlo”?
JS: The ending of “Frida Kahlo” is actually a hospital heart-rate monitor; it’s just some sounds to bring about imagery you might recognize and already have visuals and feelings associated. It is taking us out of this laying in bed sick song, really of being in a hospital and hearing people talking in the halls but never to you. That sound is the segue into “Hannibal Lecter” and to me what sounds like someone sharpening a sword.
e: What else did you experiment with instrumentally or otherwise? Please explain.
JS: This album has been a huge experiment with sounds. Like is said, I have never written with the intention of drums, or electric instruments before or recorded that way. Not only that, this album has synth parts and basically noise, which is supposed to give the listener images. I wasn’t trying to use words to tell them the image, I wanted their brain to fill in that gap, to use their own memories. To not just lead them to a place and say here is the place. I wanted them to go, yeah those sounds remind me thunder, or a spaceship, or being in a hospital room. In some cases that’s exactly what they are, and some, they are just instruments trying to mimic one of those sounds. I also used a lot of reversing instrument tracks. I got a three-second clip from the original “Star Trek” [in “Pony Boy”] because to me that is the iconic “I’m in a spaceship show” that was introduced to me and a huge generation of people who associate that bleep bleep … bleep bleep … bleep bleep. . . . I used a recording of some crickets and thunder rolling after we had been recording for hours and hours and a rain storm came forcing us to stop for a little while. We pulled the mics outside and caught an ocean of crickets after the storm and at the very tail-end you can faintly hear the rumble of the thunder in the distance.
I also made a huge leap for myself in writing music that had a computer-based beat behind it. I have never done this before but I love that music, like Radiohead’s album ok computer. It’s so beautiful, soothing, and edgy. I’ve only really ever worked with acoustic instruments and making music like this was like stepping into a new heaven not even realizing there were more heavens to music. I thought I was in the best one. Also in doing this I was introduced to works by Indian composers and really getting into the power of the beat. I had heard some, like from the soundtrack of “Darjeeling Limited,” a film by one of my absolute favorites: Wes Anderson. Then my bass player got into even more, and showed me lots of world beat music that I fell in love with and look forward to making more albums in that vein of music. It brought in an entirely new realm of what I thought was folk music. As I say that, I’m thinking of the next album and our plans for it to record it live in the living room around a fire and to get as folk music as we can.
e: Why make “No Hope for Humanity” the title track?
JS: The song “No Hope For Humanity” became the title track actually after the album was named. I had made a painting of an abstract face, and in very small print over the entire painting wrote no hope for humanity. I got this from a quote I read from Kurt Vonnegut where he exclaimed, “I have no hope for the human race.” That song was one of the first I wrote, nearly 12 years ago. It has gone through so many changes and sounds, being experimented with. We finally arrived at what we have now, ironically being very similar to the original. The more time went on the more stripped down it became, and the more myself and the rest of the band fell in love with it. . . . It was named “No Hope For Humanity” by the keyboard player Tyler Simmons. Tyler is featured on organ in several tracks doing an outstanding job. He came in last minute to add color to a song and wound up doing four. He did a piano track and named the file and it just stuck with it, never got changed, and became the title track. We all agreed it was the imagery of “waitin’ for the good to hit” and the cadence of the song that brought home the message and ended this masterpiece in style. There is great power in the quiet and stillness, and then the song comes full circle bringing in the drums and the vocals get louder. I wrote this song in a time of great confusion and pain in my life, I happy to be in the place I am now. I am incredibly grateful for those around me, the gifts they share, the love I have found in this town.
e: What was it like working on this record as a whole? How long did it take? Where was it produced? Any lessons learned in this process?
JS: Working on this record has been a process to say the least and around every corner was an adventure mixed in with a lesson. My engineer Ian Millard and I started this album at North Star Studios inside the screen gems lot. I brought in studio musicians, Brian Mason on drums and Jason Moore on bass. We did the entire thing for the most part in three days. I listened to what we had done for several years not having the money to put down to master/print/distribute/promote the album so it sat on the back burner. Life continued to happen, tragedies, victories. I had written more songs that needed to be recorded I thought I would just add them on. Then the loss of a friend, Ben Privott, sparked a thing in me. When he was gone I found the only thing I had left of him was the music he made and recorded and put out there into the universe. Something I had not paid a great deal of attention to because more often than not that is what happens with your fellow musicians. I remember recording a song, it was one of the greatest times of my life recording this song. I did it in my living room, in the dining room, the kitchen, and to add I went to some friends one being Ben. We recorded drums in his living room, two tracks he did, nailed it, then re-recorded it about 10 more times for good measure. Then put down the keyboard parts, same story with that, nailed it second time through, re-recorded 20 times to make sure it was perfect. I sat and thought about how much fun that was, how beautiful it was, how much I absolutely loved the song, it was my very own creation, I had done the recording all myself, not in some sterile environment surrounded by the world’s most expensive equipment but a rusty old microphone. I listened to what I had made in the studio. I listened to what we had made for fun. The more I heard the fun parts coming out when we were in the living room, the more I heard the sterile environment of the studio. I made up my mind to completely re-record the entire album. I started a pre-sale for the album on a web page, raised less than a grand, bought two microphones and recorded this entire album myself with a great deal of help from bandmates, loved ones, friends, and an engineer along the way. This album was being written in 2004, all the songs were finished by 2015, it had been recorded in a beach house, recorded in a studio, and finally a year ago begun re-recording in my home. This was entirely self-produced by the band Dream Machine and myself and engineer.
I wrote this album with a band in mind, not even having met them yet. It took me nearly three years to meet these dear friends I get to play and share music with. Meeting Jarrett Pelzel in a bar and him saying yeah I know how to play the bass and some persuasion stuff. Then actually hearing it, the tears that it brought to my eyes right away, it was so incredibly beautiful it’s hard to describe. Having my manager at the time bring his friend, Winston Mitchell, to a show. My body being literally covered in goosebumps from his first initial notes. We may have been playing together for about 30 seconds before I realized I wanted this in my life at all times. The same manager introduced me to another mutual friend of Winston’s, Sean McClain on drums. I said to Sean at our first rehearsal together, “We may as well play house fire because if you can’t play it there is no sense in going on.” And then he proceeded to nail it, before my very eyes, without breaking his expression.
Completely blown away. I am so thankful for the caliber of people I can call my bandmates from their playing to their personality. They are all incredible. I could never say enough good things about them. They have brilliant ideas when recording, songwriting, or even dealing with business because a lot of music is business. Especially when you are working with several people. I have learned so many lessons from the beginning of this record to now, and what blows my mind is that the life of this music is just now starting. This is its birth. The main lessons I have learned are to treat people well, be generous to yourself when it comes to love and caring and let the generosity flow over into others. I have learned that whatever you give something double will return to you. I have learned that music is an incredibly healing power, sometimes neglected, but will always remember you and take you in. It never forgets and always forgives your pain. I have learned to not be afraid to take your chance, that it’s not as much as you might think it is, more than likely you are talking yourself out of it, people will judge but they do that no matter what, so just be yourself. If you want to be a musician go get yourself a cheap ass microphone, go get some friends, write a terrible song, and have the most fun of your life playing it together and that’s what is going to come through on the other end. That is what will be translated.
e: Tell our readers more about the CD, album art and plans on distribution—where all can “No Hope For Humanity” be purchased?
JS: The album art was a painting I made in 2007. In the original, which you can’t see on the album, reads “Arbiet Macht Frei”—which is the backwards of what was written above the gates of Auschwitz “Frei Macht Arbeit” (translates “work sets you free.” In my translation, freedom will set you to work. I used a small image of Kurt Vonnegut in the eye of the face, which the face is an abstract of Vonnegut. I chose red to incite the feelings of intensity, of anger, but also love, and warmth. The title came from the simple fact that humans do awful things to one another, in the name of basically fear. I know however there are good people, doing good acts, and it is my hope that we can outbalance the evil surrounding us. That growth and harmony and love will win. At the same time if felt that there truly is no hope for humanity.