J.W. TELLER'S eponymous new album lived several lives before its final form. The Missoula, Montana-based singer and songwriter recorded the album in his own home after some difficulty achieving the results he wanted in various studio settings. The results are intimate, organic, and daringly emotional, and they’re the portrait of a man reflective of his 20s upon entering his 30s.
Teller - who moved to Missoula from Asheville, N.C., after growing up in Jackson, Mississippi - is currently touring behind his beautiful new record, and is set for a show at The Jinx on Jan. 26. Ahead of the gig, we spoke to Teller about his musical beginnings and what it was like making music right at home.
I hear a lot of Townes Van Zandt in your music. Is that accurate?
Teller: Townes is the reason I got into music!
Tell me more about that.
Teller: I was big into sports in high school, and went to high school in Canton, Mississippi. It was one of those small southern towns totally centered around sports. I guess it was my senior year, I was browsing the Internet and stumbled upon that guy. I didn’t know much about music - I loved writing, but I just wasn’t brought up in that. I discovered him, and that just took over
I was fascinated by the guy, and started learning about him. That brings on Guy Clark, and then Steve Earle comes hand-in-hand with those guys. I really just dug into it. I really loved the southern gothic writing he had, and how you can’t have light without dark. He was in the dark for sure, and it was just so poetic and beautiful. It kind of just took a hold of me there.
Was that always the kind of stuff you were listening to, even when you weren’t really pursuing music?
Teller: Growing up, my mom and dad were really into Fleetwood Mac and Simon & Garfunkel. Which I still love very much to this day. I think I grew up around a lot of that 70s folk stuff, and it’s always one of those things where it brings back a nostalgia feeling. Music was definitely not the driving force in our house, but that was the kind of stuff they’d listen to when they had music on.
What are you interested in writing about, and what’s your process like?
Teller: The process varies so much, honestly. Most of the songs I complete are not things that I just sit down and do. I try to be diligent and work during the day when I’m at home, but a lot of it will just hit me a a certain moment. When it hits you have to capitalize on it. It really just kind of hits when it wants to, and you have to take advantage of it. Most of the time it comes at its own pace.
I’m turning 30 on this one. I feel like I’ve waited so long to put out a record, and it wasn’t intentional. I’ve tried to track this record three different times, and I was just never happy with it. I hadn’t paid much money before, and I paid a lot of money and did it again and then scratched it all. This last time, we did it in my house and I was just really comfortable. I felt like it was the way it needed to be delivered.
This collection of songs was mostly written about experiences in my 20s. Dealing with growing pains that anybody in their 20s goes through. I’m no expert on this or on anything in life, but I feel like your 20s are the biggest decade of learning you’re going to have. Where you settle into who you’re going to be. That can fluctuate very much from year to year. It’s great to have these songs done and start entering my 30s and feel, honestly, a sigh of relief that it’s done.
Was the process of doing it in your house, did you feel like it was a daunting thing? Or was it exciting to kind of go into the great unknown of doing your own setup in your house?
Teller: Honestly, it was the easiest experience I’ve ever had. I’ve always been scared to death of the studio, and I wouldn’t have done this particular record any other way. I did the guitar and vocals live and we did it all in two nights. I did the basics live and then we pulled people in and had them add to it.
It can be very uncomfortable when you’re not in a place where you can really let go and be creative. There’s something to be said for doing it in the place where you feel most comfortable.
Teller: I can’t say that I’ll do that for the next one. But for this record, I wanted to have the most enjoyable, raw recordings that you can have with a little bit of flaws in it. These recordings are by no means perfect. For this collection of songs it needed to be done a certain way.
It’s funny how life works sometimes - one day I met somebody who said, “We’re recording these songs. We’re doing it at your house, and if you don’t like it you can scratch them. But this is what we’re doing.” And it turned out great.