Heirlooms of August / Interview
once a PAINTER / always an HEIRLOOM.
instead of running away from the hallowed ground that was Red House Painters, JERRY VESSEL has chosen to run towards something better of his own. on his own time & in his own mind. namely, his own turf. wherein we find the sometimes blue guitar player & chief vox impresario & poet-laureate-in-waiting keeping it both real AND busy with his love of baseball, a nephew, and some women named Annabelle, Unique, Julie, and Cleopatra all biding for his time. oh, and a belle from the bluegrass state named (speaking of ‘unique’) Jen2Draw…..let’s not forget her. and lest i forget, his band—-HEIRLOOMS OF AUGUST—-has just released the soundtrack to this, my summer of discontent, ‘Down at the 5-Star.’ and i mean that in the very best possible way. Jerry was kind enough to let me into his world, if only in passing. here’s how……
mutt_R - hhmmmmm, baseball by the bay, eh? ok, say hey….Willie McCovey or Catfish Hunter?
Jerry – You’ve given me a first baseman and a pitcher so a comparison might be difficult. Both of these men are Hall of Famers and had great careers. If I had to choose though it would be Willie McCovey. He is the bigger legend to me.
mutt_R - in ”swings like ted williams & throws like clemente” you’ve described the perfect baseball player. how big a fan are you of our national pastime?
Jerry – I love the game. I love the pace of the game. I do understand though how some people might find it too slow. I love the atmosphere at the ballpark , whether it be a professional sports arena or a Little League diamond. I am always trying to become more knowledgeable about the game. Recently I have been reading about some of the old parks that are still around and my mom just loaned me a copy of her Willie Mays biography that I am looking forward to starting!!
mutt_R - and speaking of perfection, what was it like being in the room when “song for a blue guitar” was recorded?
Jerry – I wasn’t on that recording. I have just looked over the credits for that album. No one is credited directly, but Davey Faragher played bass and Michael Urbano played drums.
mutt_R - have you heard PERILS FROM THE SEA by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle? (read realted interview here)
Jerry – Yes I have! Mark is always very thoughtful in sending me advanced copies of many of the releases on Caldo Verde. This album stunned me very profoundly! I tend to prefer listening to music alone; so that I can take it in without the dynamic of my space being changed by another’s presence. The album’s last song ‘Somehow The Wonder of Life Prevails’ is easily my favorite. The lyric “he left his parents’ house at 1:00 a.m. and wrapped his car around a tree” destroys me every time.
mutt_R - on my watch, nothing beats a killer duet….who are you doing them with on 5-Star?
Jerry – Frances Everett! She lives in Texas and came out to California to join us in the studio in July of 2012. She also sang on the first Heirlooms of August record. She records as Lemonflower and has an album of her own songs, which I love! She also has quite a presence on YouTube as coffeescup . She sings dozens of covers; the first one that really struck me was her version of Radiohead’s ‘All I Need.’
mutt_R - and speaking of duets, your great band’s great name—-HEIRLOOMS of AUGUST—-conjures up Peter Wolf & Neko Case crooning “the green fields of summer.” or brings to mind Malcolm McDowell as “Alex” in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE miming “as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer” to a fully suspicious london bobby. maybe with a pinch of ennui thrown in for good measure. am i warm? or out of my mind?
Jerry – It is much more simple than that. I had heirloom tomatoes growing at a time when I needed a band name. I love home-grown produce, especially tomatoes! I appreciate gardens and their keepers. I suppose the band name is a gesture of regard to the realm of gardens and the fruits of those labors.
mutt_R - with this album, you’ve become one of my favorite “poets.” who is yours?
Jerry – Thank you so much! I tend to find poetry in songs, journals and fiction. I really love Edward Abbey. I was really happy that I could mention him on this record. About three years ago I had a ‘drinking incident’ in which I cracked a few ribs and had to visit the hospital. I ended up taking a copy of Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ along for the waiting room. At some point I had to just put it away though; the laughter and tears that his words were causing was too much for my ribs. I recently read the Tom Robbins book ‘Jitterbug Perfume.’ I couldn’t put it down. Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt are great poets in my opinion. I love the simplicity of their music and their use of simple language.
mutt_R - who is “Julie?” who is “Annabelle?” have they ever met? whom do you fancy most?
Jerry – Julie is a woman whose real name is June. Annabelle is a young woman whose real name is Hannah. I have no idea if they have ever met. Julie works at a little place where I used to stop for coffee or tea, very early in the morning. Hannah used to walk around near were I reside. I only ever talked with her once, but she ended up bringing some ideas to me. The song ‘Down at the 5-Star’ came along one Sunday morning, quite intact. I was happy to find them each there. Your question about Julie and Annabelle made me realize that the lyrics might suggest I was waking up with Julie. I never even considered that. Perhaps the words also might suggest that I was involved in some way with ‘Annabelle.’ I did see her score at the 5-Star one time though.
mutt_R - your (dear) unique reminds me of somebody else’s (dear) prudence. it seems like a moment in time that might last forever. other than your heart & soul, what went into that beautiful song?
Jerry – Unique is a young woman whose real name is Unique. She used to come around my place years ago. We had an arrangement of sorts. It was quite easy to write about her. She brought many songs my way; ‘Cello Suite no 3′ and ‘Out Among My Flowers’ to name two others that were inspired by her. Charlie Rose’s bass playing really changed the dynamic on this song; it’s one of my favorite parts of the album.
mutt_R - are there plans to tour? if so, what’s the traveling squad shape up like? (and do please come east, btw……)
Jerry – No plans to tour any time soon. I’d like to make another album first.
mutt_R - for me, Bruce Kaphan shaped a signature san francisco sound with american music club. tell me, please, about working with him.
Jerry – Bruce Kaphan; there are so many good things to say about him I’m not certain where to begin. I think I will mention his pedal steel playing first; the beautiful stuff he played on the 5-Star album specifically. Bruce plays the steel with a great elegance. His playing is always, always, always so very thoughtful. I love his note selections and the placement of them. I really appreciate that he is attentive to what the lyric is trying to convey; and that he is so capable of adorning the words with his steel. In my opinion, Bruce Kaphan is balanced; he does many things well! He has always been very gracious and kind toward me and my family. My times in the studio with him have been by far my most cherished of studio time. It seems we have developed a very good working relationship; both personally and in the studio. I can’t imagine ever making an album of my songs without Bruce being involved in one way or another.
mutt_R - a band you’d pay to see up close & personal? how ’bout in a giant stadium arena?
Jerry – I’ve been meaning to see The Felice Brothers at some point. Ryan Adams too!
There’s a fellow called Julian Summerhill that I’d pay to see; I don’t know if he plays out though. I wish I had seen Skynyrd when Steve Gaines joined the band. It kills me to think that Townes Van Zandt used to play shows in San Francisco when I lived there and was not yet aware of him to the degree that made me want to see him.
mutt_R - from where i sit—-far away on an island in the atlantic ocean—-san francisco is giving birth to lots of great noise right now. true or false?
Jerry – I would imagine so; but I haven’t resided there in years. The last San Francisco band I went to see was Deerhoof. They’ve been around for awhile and I’m happy I finally got around to seeing them. I have found that looking at photos is oftentimes a valuable way for me to move into a reflective mode. That, coupled with a steady stream of red wine takes me to a ‘place.’ I love it when music acts as a time-travel transport. When a song takes me to a specific time and place…..It’s magic! Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ album takes me back to San Francisco; takes me back to a girl and a time and to a little room above The Hotel Utah.
mutt_R - i can’t help but think of THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath while listening to 5-Star. her “Esther” seems to be everywhere on it….or is that just me?
Jerry – I have never read The Bell Jar; I’ll have to check it out. Ever heard the Ryan Adams song ‘Sylvia Plath?” Very beautiful! Some of the songs are loosely based on things I’ve observed (‘Down at the 5-Star’.) Some of the songs are very literal and hopefully accurate descriptions of noteworthy days that struck me (‘Cleopatra Eyeliner’, ‘All the Rainfall’.) ‘Jerusalem Ridge’ is mostly fictional, but inspired by a most stunning young woman from Kentucky, Jen2Draw.
mutt_R - it’s been an honor “speaking” with you, Jerry. thank you so much, both for your time AND for sharing your undeniable talents with listeners such as me……
Jerry – I am quite pleased that your questions did not delve into the past too much.
I will always readily acknowledged the impact that Mark Kozelek’s music has had on me. I did audition for the band because I found him to have something interesting going on. But sometimes I wish I’d never been a part of it. I appreciate your taking time to ask a few questions! Happy you like the record and thanks for all the kind words! Let me know if you’d still like to talk on the phone.
and talk we did. i called, he picked up. he was deep into a SF Giants sunday matinee game he had on in the background & half-way into the aforementioned Willie Mays bio; he sipped beers languidly to the cadence of the pitch count: “here’s the 3-2 pitch….swing & a foul ball into the seats.” (i don’t much care for baseball these days. too slow.….but i digress!!) baseball: one man’s miasma (mine) is another man’s serendipity (his.) and one man’s new album (his) is another man’s new aural pleasure (mine.) didn’t the Giants win the World Series last year, i asked aloud? they did indeed, he said. but rather than brag, he chose to talk about the history of baseball as a yardstick by which this country’s strides in civil liberties were measured, and how the game itself helped to level the playing field that was 20th Century Americana. what a thoughtful, caring soul Jerry Vessel is. (tho the Skynard bit, i did NOT see that one comin’!) he also happens to play some mean Americana himself. i haven’t met the man. but feel like i have, or at least would like to. and would genuinely like him if i did. i don’t buy the ‘damaged folk art’ angle some of the press has used surrounding this release. if this is damaged, i wanna be destroyed. it’s a pandora’s box full of gothic spider webs crawling with Harry Crews skeletons and grainy Nick Drake cynosures. somewhere a lonely dulcimer keeps time & listening to ’5-Star’ i tend to do likewise. hearing it is a midsummer night’s joyride, bumps and all: sweetly soporific lulls are vanquished by a certain Dionysian undercurrent, time & time again.…….at the end of the day, jerry vessel seems more impressed that i’d had my picture taken with THE Roberto Clemente as a wee sprog than i was by him being in Red House Painters. life is way more than music, innit? but music’s a big part of mine, yeah? love is a circle, and ’5-Star’ completes an arc within me. as much as i love this album, something tells me the guy who made it is even cooler. time will tell, no? hey jerry….what else you got? Order the record here…