Monday, December 26, 2016


Hotel Lights - Hotel Lights (March 7, 2006)
Hotel Lights - Firecracker People (August 19, 2008)
Hotel Lights - Girl Graffiti (August 16, 2011)
Hotel Lights - Get Your Hand In My Hand (March 4, 2016)

Darren Jessee is Hotel Lights, a project he's pursued for over a decade when not preoccupied by his duties as the drummer of Ben Folds Five. A North Carolina native who now lives in Brooklyn, Jessee has teamed with  musician/producer Alan Weatherhead and an impressive list of session musicians to create four sterling albums renowned for their elegance, understated hooks, and refined arrangements.  Get Your Hand In My Hand, released in March, 2016, "continues Jessee’s tradition of writing subdued, melancholy guitar pop," wrote   Kevin Matthews of hailed the album as  "perfectly constructed pop-rock tunes drawn from the classic 60's/70's songbook, a fitting tribute to halcyon days, where sophisticated pop ruled the airwaves and the charts."

What he achieves on the album is a wonderfully crafted record with captivating songwriting and delivery," raved the Canadian website The "It’s witty, dramatic, intimate, and emotional, at times it’s sad, but there is a warmth to it provided by Jessee’s voice and the alluring quality of the instrumentation on this record."

Q: There was a five year gap between Get Your Hand and its predecessor, and of course there was a Ben Folds Five reunion and world tour in there. Is Hotel Lights something you can put aside for a period of time, or are you always writing and demo'ing? Can you write on the road or do you need a period of quiet study? Does the fact that the album came together over a protracted period of time explain how the songs seem to segue through a number of different styles and genres?
Darren Jessee: Yes. There was a Ben Folds Five reunion album and tour, and after that I traveled the world as part of Sharon Van Etten's band. I'm currently touring with Hiss Golden Messenger. I don't write a lot while I'm on the road beyond gathering a few ideas here and there. It takes a routine for me most of the time. But when I'm home, I am often writing. I have new songs written for what will be the first Darren Jessee album.

Q: The tone of Get Your Hand In My Hand is also quite a bit different than the album before it, less joke and much more pensive and introspective. Was that a result of personal changes in your life (there are some great break up songs on this album) or is just the way your muse spoke to you?

Darren: If you listen to the tone of the first two Hotel lights albums, they could also be considered as you described, more introspective and pensive. The album you're referring to --Girl Graffiti, was a conscience decision on our third album to keep it looser and try different moods. I've gone back to my emotional landscape roots on the new album, and it's my favorite Hotel Lights album experience.

Q: I noticed in most of the reviews of Get Your Hand that many critics didn't seem to recognize "Lens Flare" as a bossa nova. How do you feel about the state of criticism today. the way your work is received, and the prevalence of DIY blogs over the magazines and newspapers of a generation ago?

Darren: I'm grateful for anyone who wants to write about my albums. There are so many hyperbolic statements in music criticism today, you really must listen for yourself to know what anything is. The idea that a music critic knows a bossa beat or even how to play chords on the piano is asking a lot. Almost every review of Hotel Lights starts by by citing that I was in Ben Folds Five and co-wrote Brick. The artfulness of Hotel Lights is often overshadowed by the discussion of defining me and then comparing it all to my past.

Q: A lot of rock music starts with a hook or a catchy, repeating chorus; you eschew those tools. When you start writing a song, what's foremost in your mind? Are you writing to a listener, or to yourself?

Darren: I'm writing for myself and trusting my intuition about it. But I do like to imagine how one of my friends will feel when they hear a new idea. That comes later when I'm mixing. I aspire to go with the flow of being creative when I'm writing. The hooks are subtle, yet they grow on you in the best way.

Q: There is a lot of the new album that reminds me of Big Star or Game Theory, bands that never had "hits" but which endure because to certain fans, those bands are the most important thing in their life. You said that you aren't that active in social media, but I'm wondering if you manage to maintain a sense of community with your fans?

Darren: I feel like Big Star endures because of the quality of those albums. When I'm on tour as a freelance drummer, I meet fans every day who don't know about my records. Which is also a problem Big Star ran into. I'm hesitant to compare us beyond that. I feel better when I'm limiting my time on social media. A little mystery completes a person. I was once pretty famous for a musician from NC, on MTV every hour. I didn't completely enjoy that part of it. I don't feel myself leaning into the idea of cultivating an image or seeking constant affirmation. I simply love being an artist and making meaningful music. I like keeping my mind in that space. 

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