Montréal’s Jesse Mac Cormack is a bit of a mystery. His engaging eyes and sweet, easy smile are contrasted by his long, thoughtful silences that craft short, careful responses. His sparse details seem to guard him against exposure yet he never passes on a question. Perhaps Mac Cormack wants his music to speak louder than he does. If that’s the case, we’ll gladly turn it up. His latest EP is one of our favourite releases of the year.
After the Glow is alive with suffering and stimulation. “Repeat” is a furious freight train of chugging rhythm that explodes with the crashing of cymbals and Mac Cormack’s guttural wails. The title track’s unresolved acoustic strums feel like relentless stabs of pain. “Death Row” rips your heart out, then drops you into moments of silence to stare at it. This use of space – the absence of sound or sudden change in tempo or instrumentation – is Mac Cormack’s signature on each song creating an album that pulses with emotion and stands up to repetitive listening.
The record’s power lies in its raw, emotionally-charged vocals and rhythmic control – two characteristics that bind each track into a cohesive collection of songs. Written, recorded, produced and performed almost entirely by Mac Cormack in his home studio, After the Glow is the mark of a brilliant multi-disciplinary musician and his artistic vision.
Jesse Mac Cormack sat down with Stories Behind The Songs and talked about his artistic approach and the feeling of creating something out of nothing.
Jesse: Yeah… I probably told the truth. [laughs] The EP was put together during that summer in Montréal.
J: I think it’s smarter when you start off to warm up your public. If you just record a 13 song record and nobody knows you, you’re just throwing a bunch of stuff in the garbage. You’ve got to have the widest net possible.
That’s interesting because when I was interviewing KROY, who’s also from Montréal, she said that she had released an EP [Birthday] before she released her LP [Scavenger] intentionally so that she could feel out her audience and test the waters with a smaller record. I think that’s interesting that you both had the same approach.
J: She’s copying me. [laughs]
J: Uhhh… [pause] Uhh…… Let’s give it a try.
Okay. First, I’d like to talk about your latest single, “Addict”. The song is about porn addiction which you’ve stated is something that you have experienced yourself. How did that addiction affect your artistry?
J: Well, I wrote two songs about that matter – “Addict” and one that is not released yet – and… well, it made me more miserable. You know, like, “Aggghh!!” Heart scattered.
J: Uhh… No. No. When I come out of it. Not when I’m in the ditch. When I’m in the ditch, I’m wondering, “Oh, I could use this to make a song” but I’m too concerned by what’s happening to write it then.
J: [pause] It’s uh… either “Story Board” or “Death Row”.
I wanted to ask you about “Death Row”. After first getting to know your music with “After the Glow”, “Never Enough” and “Repeat”, I was surprised by the sound of “Death Row”. It’s so much softer than the other singles but as it unfolds, you can definitely hear how it belongs on the EP and how cohesive the record is.
J: Well… It’s a song about my mom and how I’ve experienced depression with her. I lived with her while she was living through a tough moment and uh, [long pause] Yeah. It’s very clear and simple. The lyrics are there telling a story.
And musically? Because it’s so personal, how did you craft the music for it? How did you approach that?
J: [pause] Ooooh, good question. That’s like… ah… wait… travel through time… [pause] Well, there’s more space in it than the others. But still, I find that they all have breaks. Only “Repeat” and “Never Enough” are constantly pushing. But yeah, this one has more space. A lot of the songs I wrote between Music For The Soul and After The Glow were really based on me playing solo and I was really playing with the silences and the breaks live. Just breathing and stopping and starting again.
I really love the sense of movement in the percussion on “Never Enough” and “Repeat”. I know that you played almost all of the instrumentation on the record – what was the process like of laying these tracks down?
J: It’s weird because I was saying this week to someone that it’s funny how you start off saying, “I’m going to make a record or an EP or a song” and there’s nothing. There’s nothing. There’s just a room with no mood, no ambience and then you record and it’s still so dry, so raw, you know, there’s nothing to it. Then you add all of the sounds, the layers, the effects, and you end up creating this thing.
J: At first, yeah. I was young and taking drugs and listening to The Doors. I was being him, in a way. I was playing and singing the blues.
J: Well, it’s coming from different places. I feel like if you see me live, you’ll understand the blues side of it because I play guitar and if you listen to “Death Row” you’ll be like, “Oh, this is really folky” and then if you listen to “Repeat” you’ll be like [makes drumming sounds]. So yeah, I’m still looking. There’s so much stuff I want to do.
J: Techno. Reggae. Dub.
J: Well, it helps to pay my rent, first. It helps me to try stuff that I wouldn’t try with my own songs. I get little tricks along the road.
I also wanted to talk about your collaborations with the visual artist Frédérique Bérubé. She’s directed each of the five music videos for After The Glow as well as the video for “Too Far Into” from your previous EP Crush. You’ve worked together so many times. How did you meet?
J: Ahhh… She made pictures of a band I had a long time ago, like five or six years ago. From then, we tried working together but it didn’t work out and finally for the “Too Far Into” video we got together.
J: [leans back and smiles] Yeah, uh… Well, we’re living together now so… a lot of things [smiles widely]. She is so instinctive. All of the videos we made were not planned. Every time we made a video we would have ideas but we didn’t have a structured scenario. For the next record we’re going to make a movie.
J: No, a full-length. It’s maybe about halfway done now.
J: I’ll be there.
Jesse Mac Cormack has been featured in the SBTS Playlist Series. Listen to Jesse Mac Cormack on SBTS STANDOUTS – The February Collection, SBTS STANDOUTS – The May Collection, SBTS STANDOUTS – The September Collection, Sandbanks Music Festival | SBTS DJ Set and SBTS Favourites.
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Twitter: @JesseMacCormack Instagram: @jessmaccormack