Jesse Terry’s seamless Stay Here With Me charts compelling journeys through life and love. He spoke with CMT Edge about his new collection, working with producer Neilson Hubbard and his songwriting process.
“You have to write what you know,” Terry says. “That’s why so many of my songs are about hitting the road. Since 2010, I’ve gotten married, and we’ve lived out of the car twice and toured the world. We’ve had this amazing adventure together.”
CMT Edge: Does the new album have a common lyrical theme?
Terry: Yeah, I’d say it’s about taking a leap of faith. I feel that way in a song like “Rattling Cage.” That’s about living in the New York area, which is where I’m from. My wife worked in midtown Manhattan, and after a couple of years, she was just ready to get out of there. There’s been a change, a transition in our lives — that perfect balance between touring and music and love and making that all work together in harmony.
Tell the story behind writing the title track.
“Stay Here With Me” is about that feeling that someone’s got your back in this world no matter what — that feeling that someone will rescue you and take you away if you need them to. There’s a great comfort in knowing that someone is there for you and that you can blaze your own trail together and that you can find your own path in this crazy life. I’ve felt this way many times in the last few years. I know that my wife rescued me, and I’m pretty sure that I rescued her, too.
So, personal experience is essential to your writing.
Yeah, it is. I’d like to write all kinds of songs in the future, but I look at records as snapshots, and most of my heroes have been confessional troubadours like Neil Young, Jackson Browne, James Taylor and even Ryan Adams. They’re songwriters who are very real about their lives and what’s going on. There’s not a whole lot of privacy or barrier in my music. I’m much more open in my music than talking on the phone. I like to bare everything in the music.
That’s a pretty typical writer thing, right?
Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. That’s where we express ourselves. A lot of these songs are very healing. “This Should Be Home” and “Deeper Wells” are songs that were difficult to write, but I had to write them because they are so personal and almost painful. Writing them was a very healing experience.
Describe working with Neilson.
The writing process with Neilson was just effortless. It was totally inspiring. We wrote two songs on our first writing day and still went home early. He’s such a great artist and musician, so he understands the recording process from the artist’s perspective. I think he does a fantastic job of capturing emotion while keeping the vibe very loose, fun and creative in the studio. We all love recording with him. I think the fact that Neilson and I co-wrote three of the songs on the album just increased our synergy and camaraderie.
Do you write best solo or as a co-writer?
I had a publishing deal on Music Row before I started touring. I co-wrote four or five days a week, and after a while, I got to almost hate it. I think I was burned out and I took a break from it for about three years. I started easing back into it with people I found inspiring. I’m such a fan of Neilson. It just worked.
Tell the story behind your co-write with him, “Awake at Last.”
We were talking about life, and he started playing that riff, and we were like, “That’s pretty cool. We should do something with that.” I think that only took a couple of hours to write. It just fell out. It felt like a dreamy song to us. I’ve never had a song like that before. I think it’s different than anything I’ve ever done.
How do these songs represent your evolution as a writer?
One thing I’ve discovered about people in my travels is that everyone is fighting some kind of battle in their lives, even if they look perfect on the exterior. I’ve toured all over the country and the world in the last few years, and I’m pretty sure about that statement. And I love that. I don’t love that folks are suffering, but I love that we all have some universal things in common, things that unify us and connect us. So I think about that as I’m writing my songs.
Also, I’ve started writing more about my childhood, which was pretty wild and turbulent. That’s been a healing force for me. I think touring extensively has helped me out a ton and has made me a better studio performer, as well. I don’t overthink things too much anymore. It’s the same with writing. I feel like I’ve worked on my craft enough where I can just dig deep and focus on emotion and truth. That’s what I’m concerned about. I’m not concerned with perfection anymore. I’m concerned with emotion and connecting with folks.