I must confess to feeling a bit disappointed upon finding out that super-talented storyteller Jesse Flamand -- a part of ALGB's fourth Beautiful Songwriting volume -- had left behind her wonderfully flowing solo work to form a duo. With the benefit of hindsight, however: I really needn't have been. It may be early days in the musical story of Jesse and partner, Jeremy Rompala -- thoughtdream (known as 'Jesse and Jeremy' when this interview took place) -- but already there is a sense of something special about the pair's work: a stylish aura, a dimly lit, sometimes mystical quality suggestive of a lingering, almost imperceptible incongruity lurking nearby; their songs aren't the very heart of a Stephen King novel, but maybe they're a brief but utterly transfixing snapshot of people living their own lives on the fringes of key events in that same world.
Or maybe they're nothing like that at all. Regardless, there is undoubtedly something incredibly intriguing here, and with a bunch of songs set to be released over the course of the coming months, people will soon have the opportunity to try and pin down exactly what that is for themselves. In the meantime, Jesse and Jeremy sat down to tell ALGB a little about who they are as artists and people, providing an insight into the nature and development of their contrasting creative qualities, their favoured writing ambience, and how much they would like to be defined by their work.
... I think we both agreed that, when we write songs together, they’re just more complete songs than when we write separately...
Jeremy: I started guitar when I was really young, and throughout high-school I played in a band. We parted ways, I moved to New York City, and that’s around the time I started singing and playing folkier stuff. I met Jesse, and we decided we’d start singing together. The band I was in was more of a pop-rock type thing, and it wasn’t so much my style. I didn’t sing in it, so it was good when I was just playing guitar, and for a while I enjoyed doing it. I got into Bob Dylan around the time we were splitting, and I realised I preferred folk music. That’s about the time I began writing more, and it seems like it all unfolded at the same time: I changed my style of music, I left the band, I moved to New York City. It’s just a big turning point in my life.
Jesse: My dad is very into music, and he wanted me to play guitar, so I had some guitar lessons when I was little. But I didn’t really keep going with that, and I got more into writing lyrics: I like writing poems. I found open tunings and started putting the poems to them, put out an EP on my own, and then obviously the second half of the story coincides with him (Jeremy).
Jesse: We saw each other playing solo at open mics in the city a lot, and we got to be friends. We sang some cover songs together and realised that we sounded nice, then started thinking about trying to write songs together.
Jeremy: We actually failed at writing songs together at first. We tried a few times, and it just wouldn’t work out. Then, it happened.
Jesse: We do it all together, for the most part. We’ve been trying to make it happen, because you can’t always wait for the inspiration to come, but a lot of times we just feel in a certain mood about something we’ve experienced and try to sit down and get it out. He’ll be noodling around on guitar with a melody, and then I’ll figure some words out for the concept of it.
Jeremy: The trickiest part, I think, is — because we sing at the same time for the most part — finding two parts that suit our ranges. Sometimes, if her part’s too high or something, maybe I’ll just sing what she was singing an octave lower, and then she’ll take what I was singing. So maybe we have to switch the melodies around. It’s a puzzle figuring out what fits best.
Jesse: It hasn’t been. I think we’re trying to figure out new ways to explore being an individual in a writing partnership, which is tricky, but we’ve never had any issues.
Jeremy: It can be more frustrating, because you do have to give up some stuff. It’s a compromise, but I think we both agreed that, when we write songs together, they’re just more complete songs than when we write separately, so it’s worth it.
Jesse: Most of the time it connects very quickly. Occasionally, there is something that one of us will think is corny, and then we fight about it. [laughs]
Jeremy: Well, apparently I have a hard time taking criticism sometimes. [laughs]
Jesse: Yeah. [laughs] But no, for the most part it’s very easy, because we have balancing strengths, so it’s not like we’re trying to fight over something that we’re good at — we kind of fit each other.
Jeremy: That’s the reason why we work so well: because we both have different strong suits.
Jesse: He is king of harmonies. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of work. I didn’t even think of harmonies, really, before singing with him. He can come up with them really quickly. It’s easy to come up with some harmonies, but he comes up with really complex ones.
Jeremy: To simplify: she’s more lyrical, I’m more harmonic, I guess. That’s just naturally how we are. We both enjoy the opposites, but those are our strengths.
Jeremy: I’ve always been drawn to melodies, I think, and I enjoy classical piano and stuff like that. I don’t know the technical stuff, I don’t read much music; a lot of it’s even an accident. I’ll just fish for notes that sound cool next to each other and, sometimes, it’s just all guessing. I’ll work something out that I think sounds cool and original enough.
Jesse: I personally know that my proficiency in it has grown a lot.
Jeremy: I guess she wasn’t exposed to as many harmonies.
Jesse: I didn’t put in my Beatles time like he did. [laughs]
Jesse: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved rhyming. I’ve found little poems and songs I wrote from when I was very small. My mom always had hundreds of books around and the literary gene definitely got passed along to me. I turned a room in my house into a little makeshift library from books I’ve collected at antiquarian sales over the years. Sitting in that room devouring the minds of different authors sparked my love of words. It became less about the stories and turned more into an obsession with sentences: sentences that feel like an ice storm in your stomach when you read them. They are my favourite discoveries. I love dissecting my favourite songwriter’s, poet’s and author’s words to figure out why the ones that overcome you, do. Everyone has questions about existence. What’s incredible is when an artist, in one verse, paragraph or single sentence, can connect to that question deep within us and give an answer, even if we don’t know what it is. Ideas are electric. Words contain within them millions of experiences, connotations and sensations. I’ll spend my whole life appreciating those who use them well and try to uncover a small part of their mysteries myself.
Jesse: Bob Dylan is rightfully the king of getting words out of his mouth in an enunciated, cool, crazy way, but I’ve been reading Faust, and that’s the most elegant wording I’ve ever read, I think. That’s what I’ve been trying to get into. Obviously, that’s the most ridiculous example of high literature, but he (Johann Wolfgang Goethe) is amazing. I read more non-fiction, actually. Songwriters: Laura Marling; she paints cool pictures with her songs.
Jeremy: In a band: The Beatles. They’re my dad’s favourite band, so he played them for me since I was really young, and I’ve always taken inspiration from them. Lately I’ve been listening to The Moody Blues, a bit. They’re a sixties band, and I find it interesting how they incorporate pop and classical and rock. The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson is just a genius, and I loved how, on Pet Sounds especially, he composed a whole album by himself — all the instrumentation — and I just find it so fascinating how his brain heard all these separate parts and could put them together. I think that’s what composers strive to do.
Jeremy: Peaceful environments.
Jesse: Yeah, an environment is really important to me. I can’t feel like I’m giving my brain the best space if the room is hectic or messy. I’m a very visual person; I like colours to be cohesive and I feel like, if stuff’s off, then my brain’s process is going to be off. I don’t know if that’s good or not, because I’ll stop and say, “I can’t do this right now”, even though I probably could. But yeah, it’s important. We like candles — we have candles lit right now. Mood’s important to writing, definitely.
Jesse: I think more with sounds than visuals. He can handle constant noise. He wakes up in the morning and wants to put piano concertos on, and I’m kinda like, “I can’t handle this right now.”
Jeremy: She needs more quiet than I do. We both like to be in a field, even though that doesn’t happen very often. We enjoy that mood.
Jesse: We share peacefulness as a part of the creative process.
Jesse: I’m very much a believer in creative flows throughout the year and allowing there to be a period of time where you just digest stimulus: to give you stuff to think about. And that can be a really terrible period; you can feel kind of depressed that you’re not producing songs or art. But then, after that period of time, everything starts coming out, and it’s absolutely the best feeling ever.
Jeremy: Yeah, I can agree with that.
Jeremy: We appreciate it. Really appreciate it.
Jesse: We really want to turn it into more of a band feel, and we don’t just want to be a male-female duo. Because we both have very strong musical backgrounds to bring to it. I think Fleetwood Mac is kind of a close comparison to what we will try and emulate in terms of a group.
Jeremy: They’re a little too commercial and that, but…
Jesse: Yeah, but I think moving forward it’ll be less focused on singing together. We’re not trying to be a standard male-female duo; it’s more like a standard writing partnership, I’d say.
Jeremy: On the recording, that’s the first time we played with a band; before, it was just us two.
Jesse: That’s awesome. It’s all the candlelight rooms we’ve been writing in. [laughs] A lot of people ask, at the end of a couple songs, if we have any happy songs to play. Which, we really don’t. Even though I would consider them happy, I feel like we do have kind of a dark, weird aura around the whole of it.
Jeremy: I guess we’re drawn to the mysterious: weird sounds, weird words.
Jeremy: I have an issue with wanting to just keep starting a bunch of different songs and then never finishing them. My mind wanders too much; I get bored with one thing, and I just want to move to the next.
Jesse: I think the message or idea that something stemmed from in a song is one of the most important elements — even more than the chords or the music. If I don’t feel like it’s coming across then I can get frustrated. We’re both creative constantly, and we leave a lot of things behind if they’re not working.
Jeremy: And it takes energy to get something. We might have the creative drive, but if we don’t physically have the energy to make it and put it all together… It takes a lot out of you to finish a song. You need a lot of self-discipline to keep getting songs out.
Jesse: Just not thinking it’s good. You get frustrated and then you stop, when you should really keep going through it.
Jeremy: Another thing is: my voice isn’t developed so much. I still have a lot of work to do on it, so sometimes it’s hard to sing all the things that we would like to sing together, and I need to work on that.
Jeremy: That’s the number one thing I’ve been working on: just getting it stronger.
Jesse & Jeremy: [laugh]
Jesse: I mean, we’re in this to be good, so we have to keep each other on task. [laughs] Yeah, I’m sorry. That wasn’t very nice. [laughs]
Jesse: I like thinking of songs as their own little world, and you get to kind of repackage your life, and what you believe, in the tiny little world of a song. I’m fascinated with that idea, and just want as many tiny little worlds as I can create in my brain to exist in the world. And to see how other people’s tiny little worlds take in my tiny little worlds. The mix of it all. And meeting people. There are just so many amazing people creating stuff, and being able to talk to people about it is really the best part, I think.
Jeremy: I think for me it’s really a selfish reason: I just feel the best when I’m creating and working towards getting better at writing songs. It’s just where I feel most at home.
Jesse: I think we both struggle with the 21st century; I don’t know if we necessarily belong in it. We are a little averse to social media; we aren’t really the type that wants to express ourselves all day long through pictures and tweets and stuff. The farther along we get with this, the more we’re realising that you kinda have to do that. So, the more we’re creating, the more fearful we’re getting about diving into that.
Jeremy: And to have a successful group, it really is a business you’re opening up. We’re not so much business people…
Jesse: I feel like I’m okay at it.
Jeremy: Okay, you’re okay at it, but I’m terrible. You could live your life and just create all the time…
Jesse: But that’s not the only thing you have to do.
Jeremy: It doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to end up hearing you, and that’s a realisation I’ve come to. It sucks…
Jeremy: That’s exactly how it is.
Jesse: [laughs] The reason why it works for us to write together is because we have very opposite qualities. So we’re never fighting over things… I mean, unless we are. [laughs] We’re figuring it out.
Jesse: I am kind of a control freak about stuff, and it would be hard for me to let somebody else handle our image.
Jeremy: You need to be careful, because there are a lot of people out there who are trying to take advantage of you and get all the money they can out of you.
Jesse: We have a couple of friends who pay monthly to get their music submitted to places that will write reviews. We’ll read their reviews and it’s like, “Why would you care if someone wrote that about you?” It seems that they just fill in the artist name and then change the adjectives.
Jeremy: And with labels: I’ve had a couple of friends sign to indie labels, and the contracts are ridiculous. Both of them were dropped, and they had no say; it’s just like, “Okay, we’re done with you. This isn’t going how we want it to go, so, whatever.”
Jesse: The music industry: I don’t think anyone knows what’s happening right now. The artists, the record labels; everybody that’s involved with it is just trying to navigate the new way that everything’s happening. It’s scary. I think our entire families are like, “Why are you doing this?” [laughs]
Jeremy: Earlier, Jesse said that I can’t go to sleep before I make one Facebook status. [laughs] “You need to post every day.”
Jesse: Just blanket?
Jeremy: … We like blankets.
Jesse: [laughs] No, but you mean, like, anything?
Jesse & Jeremy: [laugh]
Jesse: Never mind; that’s my answer…
Jeremy: Well, we live in the city, but we’re fascinated by simple things: like…
Jesse: Okay, this is your answer.
Jeremy: Having a farm one day.
Jesse: [laughs] This is not my answer.
Jeremy: Well, we’ve talked about this.
Jesse: But that’s what we’re most fascinated by?
Jeremy: Oh, okay. I don’t know what we’re most fascinated by.
Jesse: I would say I’m most fascinated by human nature. I love envisioning that there aren’t that many types of people in the world and how, in every culture, different people that we know: you can break them up into groups and where they would fit in history; who they would be. I like to think about that. I like the human mind, and I think every person should be able to do what works best for their brain. I’m really fascinated by how most people are limited in not being able to do it. I stopped going to regular school when I was fourteen, and I feel like it’s made me who I am. A lot of people never get to really figure themselves out. I’m fascinated by that.
Jeremy: … Um, I’ll take another stab at it.
Jeremy: Well, I think the universe is so fascinating…
Jesse: [laughs / snorts derisively]
Jesse & Jeremy: [laugh]
Jesse: He’s taking astronomy and physics in college, so he’s not lying. [laughs]
Jeremy: I think religion is on the right path to understanding the universe, but I don’t think humans could understand what God is.
Jesse: We’re both interested in the earth, and life…
Jeremy: What it’s all about. I guess everyone’s drawn to that.
Jesse: And also: blankets… *reaches to side, picks up blanket*
Jesse: [laughs] *reaches again, picks up another*
Jesse: Become an individual. That’s what the songs are. It’s us, as individuals, just giving that essence into music. Definitely, if I could ever give a message to someone, it would be to do things for yourself.
Jeremy: Music can have purposes other than just entertainment, and I think the best musicians offer more than entertainment. That’s a nice place to strive for. We’d rather not just entertain.
Jesse: Yeah. I mean, we’re not very entertaining anyway, so… [laughs]
Jeremy: A different path in life, I think. We enjoy different things.
Jesse: I think that some artists get really lost in the idea that it’s somehow a better person to be than someone who isn’t artistically inclined, and I just think it comes down to how your brain works. I’m very happy that mine likes doing that.
Jeremy: It feels, sometimes, that we’re not even living in this world. We kinda just go into our own little world and create and do our own thing. It feels good.
Jesse: A lot of people don’t really think it’s a job, even though it can be, so that’s definitely something that you have to figure out: how to make people believe that you’re doing something with your life. Which, you are, but it seems like you’re not.
Jeremy: It’s weird. Sometimes we’ll hang out and do our normal thing for months at a time, and then we’ll see someone else who we haven’t seen in a while, and it’s like, “Oh, this is how the world works.”
Jesse: I can’t remember who said it — I always know quotes, and then I just don’t remember who said them — but someone said, “To be an artist, you shouldn’t seek to judge, you should seek to understand.” So, I think, analysing people is a weird thing. You do it for art, and then you realise: Wow! It’s kinda hard to like people. [laughs] So that’s something that I think about.
Jesse: I don’t know how to explain that. That sounds very Augustinian, doesn’t it? Never mind; I redact that. I like everyone. [laughs]
Jeremy: I’d say… ninety-eight-percent. [laughs] I think it reflects who we are as people, and that’s who we are in our truest form. It’s easy to act different in front of people just to fit in and be friendly, but I think, when we create music, we’re not trying to fit in or impress: we don’t have that mind. We kinda just create what we like to create, and I think it really reflects who we are.
Jesse: I think that, if someone listened to the songs and formed an opinion, I wouldn’t want it to misrepresent us, but I also like the freedom that you can have in exploring a different voice. If you take on a character in a song — if they’re evil, or way better than you are — I like exploring different ways of being. So, I think whatever you do around being a musician has to speak more, maybe, than your songs can for you. But, when it comes down to it, we wrote them, so… they’re us. [laughs]
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