Welcome to Creator Chats - a conversation among two groups, bands or people in the music industry. Today we welcome Jesse Amesmith of Green Dreams + Meredith Graves.
Meredith Graves: Let's start here: What's the biggest difference between Here At Castle Makeout and the new Green Dreams-- sonically, ideologically, member-wise?
Jesse Amesmith: There's a lot less yelling & a lot more singing on this record! I stopped caring that I was writing any certain "kind" of music, and just wrote stuff that was interesting to me, whether it was personal or political or topical. In the past I've asked myself "is this punk enough?" Which is exhausting & boring, and go figure, I got tired of being bored. That's a sign of growth, so even though the band has shifted sonically it still feels in line with our values & intent to share honestly & from the heart, instead of getting stuck in the head. We decided the songs we were writing needed more space on this recording (we outgrew our power trio" status, haha) so we played musical chairs & Trevor went from drums to bass, Ana Emily Monaco went from bass to synth/second guitar & our friend Karsten Brooks stepped in to play drums.
The choice to add a member and shift from a 3 piece to a 4 piece band was scary, but it opened up new possibilities for us as a band. I don't have to play every note now! It's liberating & completely cracked guitar playing open for me again. I totally leveled-up, and I think we all did. T has a very specific style of drumming, at first we were worried about changing such a recognizable part of our sound, but Karsten is incredibly talented & has been an excellent addition to the Family Band. We've done a lot of "group therapy" for this recording. Lots of talking. Lots of processing. Lots of hugs & crying. I think it paid off!
Shared ideals, goals, and visions have always been at the core of Green Dreams, sonically and socially. To err on the sonic side, it seems almost like you're time-traveling backwards. Total Babes had strong 1990s guitar-punk vibes, there was a strong proto-hardcore bent to early Green Dreams, and now you're sort of comfortably nestled somewhere between psychedelica and Sabbath... even the record cover looks a bit Electric Wizard! What were the big sonic influences on this record?
I like songs that feel like you’ve heard them before, even though you know you haven’t. Ween is one of my all time favorite bands, all their shit sounds different, but still like them. I don’t want to put out albums that are trying to recapture the magic of the previous ones, I want to write & produce music that conjures its own magic.
In the past I’ve looked to other 3 piece bands for inspiration; Screaming Females, Shellac, Sleater Kinney. I was obsessed with capturing a certain type of sound because I viewed us a certain type of band. Now that’s cracked open, and I feel so much freer to follow my ear. I’ll hear a song on the radio or pick a classic favorite & try to write inspired by it without deriving to literally. I listened to a ton of Turnstile, The Soft Moon & H.E.R. during this recording.
There’s a Tears for Fears inspired track on GBTTH, a song that was originally titled “Weezer” because I more or less rearranged 3 Weezer songs & made a new one, and also one inspired by Shoppers! I said to myself, “what would Meredith circa 2011 write for this song?”
Oh man. Well, I was going to point out that in all your art, whether it's Green Dreams or CD-ROM or your collage work, you tend to create homage or focus on what we'd definitely call staunch characters-- I'll have to take the L and include myself in that group! That "you've heard this before, but how" feeling, to me as your friend of many years, comes from your incredible ability to see things from pretty much anybody's perspective, as well as your love of playing over-the-top characters-- visually, sonically and otherwise.
Who were the archetypes guiding your hand when it comes to GBTTH as a complete package? Like how Ma Anand Sheela felt like a patron saint of the new CD ROM album (I was going to say 'correct me if I'm wrong' but frankly, tough titties).
Haha I love that you picked up on the heavy Ma Anand Sheela influence on The New Program! It’s always so interesting to discover what people pick up from my art or music; working with archetypes has been such an integral part of it all, even if it’s not as explicit (or more explicit) than I intended. Go Back To The Horse was inspired by different types of tragic misunderstandings that we inherit culturally, personally or intuitively. “Diane” was inspired by Diane Linkletter, daughter of 1960s radio personality Art Linkletter, who jumped out of a 6th story window and died by suicide when she was 20 years old. She’s the subject of an early John Waters film, “The Diane Linkletter Story”, that he made the day after she died. Her dad blamed her death on LSD & became a huge public figure in the early war on drugs, but the toxicology report debunked that. She was a Scorpio, like me.
There are three key themes I pick up in both your answer, and your total body of work across disciplines: mind expansion, the esoteric-occult, and women. If feminism was tacitly accepted in certain circles when we were kids, it’s an international, almost universally identifiable brand now-- which I feel like has resulted in any art or writing about women being pigeonholed as implicitly feminist. It’s also hard to unpack that in reverse-- is all work about women inherently feminist on some level? Where do esoteric practices fit into your overall vision for justice, creative or social?
I know we got branded as a “femme fronted/feminist punk band” very early on, and while yes, we are definitely those things by definition of me being predominantly femme, & us all being feminists... but a lot of what got written as “feminist music” in Green Dreams was actually a reaction to how we were treated when we were branded as a “feminist band”? Does that make sense?
Of course it does-- that’s what “Dig” was about (you know it pains me beyond measure to reference my own bands in this but in this case, it’s flat out true). That said, there’s also something to the idea that once you let your art out into the world, it absolves you of people’s response to it.
When creative work about women depicts them as whole people, and not just from a single perspective it almost breaks the binary of how feminism has been branded or marketed, that you either are or you aren’t. The esoteric practices in my life (yoga, tarot, occult studies) illuminate the idea that it’s all yes when you’re working towards liberation. Do no harm, but take no shit. I had to unlearn reacting to people’s reactions to my art, and that’s a practice, too.
One thing high on my list among the endless things I love about touring with you was listening to the counsel you’d give kids who came to our shows because they’d followed your yoga and healing work on the internet. For younger folks-- or anyone, really!-- who want to start interpolating healing arts into their creative practices, where would you suggest they begin?
Start with 5 minutes a day. Just sit quietly with yourself. At the end of the day, the year, your life... that’s who you’re with, so my biggest piece of advice would be to learn how to be with yourself. Also advice I would give that I’m really just saying out loud to another human for myself is REST MORE. This world is so fast, it moves so quickly & we will always have more to do. Rest. Take time to not be a capitalist cog, especially if you’re a creative person! Daydream! Doodle! Watch a small animal for a while. I also think it’s important to find teachers & community to explore healing arts & practices because even though we travel this world alone we don’t need to be alone while we do it. If you have access to cool people doing cool stuff, either in person or online, take advantage of it. Soak up everything you can like a sponge, it all comes full circle eventually.
It’s easy, when you’re a member of many communities and have your fingers in a lot of pies, to sort of not notice until it’s too late when any one project starts to take over and assume a dominant position in the center of your life-- punk can really be like that, in my experience, to the exclusion of everything else. Calling a yoga instructor ‘balanced’ feels like a bad joke, but you do more than just about anyone I know, successfully and joyfully.
How do you maintain your drive, let alone your schedule?
Lists. Lots and lots and lots of lists. Google calendar too! I tell myself that if I do 3 things a day (that includes getting dressed & eating food) that I’ve done enough. The lists never shrink but my expectations of how many boxes I need to check off on any one day does. I try to remind myself that balance is a verb, not a noun. It’s not something you can pick up and bring with you, but a constant state of flux that requires more calibration than seems necessary, at times. Sometimes I need more socialization to balance out my workload. Sometimes I need to hole up in my apartment & make a creative mess. It all depends on where I am, not where I was or where I want to be. One of the big things that helps me is remembering that my worth is more than my output or productivity, and art, music or other creative endeavors should be a joyful expression of your aliveness, not an obligation or burden. Punk got that way for me for a while, it felt like something I had to do, or had to prove... so I took a break. When I came back I was greeted by my own joy at noise, bodies, sweat & passion that brought me up in punk in the first place.