“It happened to me for a dark and frightening couple of years,” writes Jesse Lafser, sharing a story of creative drought in a new piece she calls “Muses and Canyons.” “But I have come to trust the stillness – almost as much as I love the canyon winds. Because the longer the land lays fallow, the greater the harvest that follows.”
While 2012’s Land in Sight served as what the St. Louis-born singer calls her “first real release,” the album also marked a shift in artistic tides, transitioning away from a period of personal introspection, it helped Jesse steer her focus outward. “I definitely use songwriting as an escape, and often times an escape from myself. There is so much freedom in putting yourself in another’s shoes to explore new perspectives and vantage points. You get to be an actor in your own movie.”
This sort of empathetic positioning helps Jesse’s music communicate as “folk,” despite the tag serving only as a convenient stand-in to describe her blend of rock and roots music. Beyond her songs however, Jesse also gravitates toward the social-centricity rampant in the heyday of The People’s Music, championing causes the likes of “Poverty is Real” and the Human Rights Campaign. Particularly in the last year this message has started to reach more people, as Jesse’s music has received coverage and recognition from media outlets ranging from CMT to the BBC.
Adding to the singer’s warmth is the familiarity of her visual aesthetic, which leaves her looking the part of one of her genre’s patriarchs. Dawning loosely coiffed hair and denims at her recent Station Inn gig, her look reflects the casual beauty of a young Bob Dylan. (Others have commented on the resemblance, as well.) “Dylan has been a main influence of mine through the years,” she explains. “He is a leader and a pioneer in many ways – a few trademarks of a true artist.”
Inspiration is never predictable and for Jesse the road to her new album began behind the wheel as she ventured west, discovering a new landscape while reconciling her past with her future. “There is a certain space to them,” she says of her new songs. “A certain sound of the wild frontier.” Set to be released later this year, this as-yet-untitled album is set to capture the essence of exploration, “Those times out there when it was just me and the desert and the mountains and the road… it meant so much to me. It’s really a large part of the whole inspiration behind the new record.”
And as Jesse assembles her new collection of stories, once again looking both outward and in, she continues to seek a balance within her music that allows for reflection while encouraging her to remain grounded in the present. “[The] new material I’ve been working on feels truer to me than anything I’ve written in the past,” she says. “The songs on Land in Sight are a little less gritty than these new ones and so, in that way, it is at times difficult to play the older stuff – only because it feels slightly less representative of the current side of me.”
“Ebbs and flows,” continues “Muses and Canyons.” “Ebbs and flows.”
[This article was originally published by the Nashville Fringe Festival.]