Experimental, electronic, indie.
All of these can be used to describe not only Basic Printer’s sound, but the sound of a broader coalition of local musicians defying the city’s country expectations and striving to create something original.
Jesse Gillenwalters, or to those who know him through Nashville’s bolstering underground scene, Basic Printer, is one of several local artists informing the new Nashville sound.
Despite the city’s deep connection to country music, artists such as Gillenwalters are pushing the boundaries of pop music and finding local community while doing so.
We got the chance to visit Jesse in his home studio to talk dreams, experiences, and the most meaningful way to market your music in 2020. We also recorded a podcast of the interview for your listening pleasure! The audio can be heard HERE via The Printer Pod.
Music Mecca: Where did you grow up, and what got you into playing music?
Basic Printer: I grew up in Binghamton, New York. And I got into playing music because I was at my cousin’s house one day and she had a guitar. And all of a sudden, I was just like, “oh, I want that.” I didn’t realize that I felt that way. You know, it just hit me like, wow, I really want a guitar all of a sudden. So I bought it that day for $50. And that was purely the “why.” It was divine intervention kind of. But it was like bolstered by the fact I’ve always been like a tinkerer and kind of an indoor kid. And that just became another project of, “ok what if there were more aspects to this.” Like getting past practicing Rush covers on guitar- which is fun!
MM: Can you walk me through your songwriting process? Is there a specific place that inspires you?
BP: It’s pretty crazy if it doesn’t happen here, in this room.
MM: And just to clarify, we’re in your room.
BP: Yes. This is my studio/bedroom, which is a thing that is definitely common nowadays. But with my writing process, usually it’s kind of inextricably linked to this room because I’m writing many layers. The song is being born of many layers at once. I don’t typically write a chord progression and then realize like, “oh within here’s this melody, or this bass line that I’m extracting. Usually, I’m coming up with some pretty isolated, small, weird little blips of something. And then in connecting it with other things, you know, iteratively. Then retrospectively you look back and think, I guess this is technically a sort of weird jazz progression, if I were to take all this and play it on an acoustic guitar.
But sometimes I’ll get real stir crazy and I’ll force myself to sit on the porch and play guitar. I used to always think that the riffs that came out of that were not good, but we ended up using a ton of them on this new record coming up. So those are really the two places. I’m not one of those people who’s like walking down the street and like a melody comes in my head. It totally comes from instruments for me.
MM: So you’d say your process is rooted more in exploration?
BP: Yeah, it’s not as much conception or brainstorming. It’s mechanical discovery.
MM: What kind of projects have you been working on recently?
BP: It’s mostly been this new record. We did Good Weird in 2018 and then pretty much what happened was like, months after that, I got real upset over this girl, like one does. And there’s a whole big story behind that. I mean, it’s not that simple, but it made me want to make a record that was way more polished and serious. And so it was like pretty much right on the heels of after getting that released. I was talking to my drummer friend Aaron who’s also you know, he just does all sorts of things. And I was like, “alright, I want this next project to be like this”, and I knew he could help. And so we’ve been meticulously chipping away at it for the last year and a half.
MM: How far along is it?
BP: It’s pretty close. There’s 14 tracks. 50 minutes.
MM: So a serious LP?
BP: Totally. The songs are like, again- this links to my process we were talking about. It’s ambiguous when a song is written for me, because it could be like two layers or it could be some super obscure synth part away from being written because I really rely on these layers. It’s not like I wrote them all on guitar and was like, “I have this album written and now I’m going to produce it”. So it feels kind of like we have, again, 14 recordings that are very done. But it’s hard to say when they are actually done. But now we’re at this point where we’re like these are definitively written, and now we’re going to finish them.
MM: And I imagine it’s tough when you’re surrounded by so many constant sources of inspiration. (In Jesse’s room right now there are drum machines and synthesizers covering every wall).
BP: (laughing) I guess that’s a good point, and I think I’ve fallen victim to that. And it probably explains why a lot of my music is pretty maximalist because I guess I just know if I haven’t used something in this room. So I should probably try because it might be what I need.
MM: Something unique I’ve noticed about Basic Printer is the way you market your music. I guess the thing that catches my eye is that it feels like you present more of an artistic way to pitch an event to someone as opposed to putting up the same screenshot of the poster on Facebook every day leading up to the show. I just wanted to pick your brain about the motivation behind your approach.
BP: It’s like, I take this really seriously. And I know I take it really seriously. And I want to build on what I’m doing. And part of that is making sure that my shows go well. And then it kind of all cascades, you know, down from that. It’s like, Okay, well, how do I make them go? Well, I need to make sure that I am drawing at all these shows because I don’t book super often. And then when I you know, then it’s like, okay, I need to make sure I draw well at this individualistic moment because then I’ll build a relationship there, and then I don’t have to play in places that are, harder to you know- have lower quality? Whatever that may mean or spots that may not be right for me, it’s like you kind of have to play Spring Water [Supper Club] a couple times, you know? And there’s nothing you know, against it. But a Basic Printer show is not best suited there.
I kind of have this hard-line businessman vibe about music sometimes. The meeting grounds of these two vibes are like these videos to be like, “okay, yeah I’m gonna over-invest in this show so that people think it’s a huge deal”. But it’s not going to be like, “who is this guy and why’s he doing all that?” I hope it’d be entertaining and quirky and humorous, almost as a gift to someone’s feed. If nothing else, it’s like, oh that was funny or that was nice.
MM: It catches my eye because I think, if he’s willing to think so hard about just this, then I can only imagine what his music sounds like. It gets you excited.
BP: Yeah, I guess that’s really good to hear. I think it’s funny you bring up posters, because I know there’s like, that ordinance. Do you know about this? Where you can’t locally put up posters? Local government says you can’t put posters on telephone poles. People were kind of in an outrage but I’m always like, it’s 2020. A high budget announcement video is the new poster. I can’t think of a time I’ve been walking down the street, looked at a poster, read a bunch of names I didn’t know, and marked it on my calendar and spent $15 to go.
With videos though, people can actually comment on it and you can message them and they can message you and it gets shared around. You can monetize it and track it that way too. To me it’s just obviously where it’s going.
MM: What is your ideal show?
BP: If I could have everything I ever wanted, it would be a sold out show at the High Watt. All ages, which they don’t normally do, but in this case they could. All ages and it would be an album release show for me. Or I mean, replace that with any kind of significant event. It’s not just like a hey, we’re playing a show, but like say it’s an album release: doors at seven, show’s at eight. And it’s three bands and the first one is like a smaller opener. Yeah, it’s like a 30 minute set, maybe a duo. Maybe it’s solo.
And then I love when when there’s like a headliner show like this where the opener’s kind of like the sum of them equals the headliner. So something like aggressively electronic like Peppermint Boys and like a Future Crib or something where it’s like more organic but you can see that there’s like these two kinds of extreme emotion but on different palettes, and I feel like Basic Printer is very much a marriage of a weaving in and out of both of those things.
So yeah like a 30 minutes opener of Bobby Peppermint or equivalent artists, not that anyone equates to you.
MM: You’re too sweet.
BP: So then like Future Crib for 40 minutes and then me for an hour. So like 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour.
MM: If you could have coffee with any artist dead or alive, who would it be?
BP: That’s tricky man. I mean the first thing that popped in my head was David Longstreth. But then I’m realizing I’d probably like to talk with Tom Fec, from Tobacco or Black Moth Super Rainbow because he’s so much more reclusive and hard to understand. I think it’d be interesting to chat with him. So I’m torn because David Longstreth and I would probably get to talking quicker but with Tom Fec it’d be like uncovering this thing I never understood but it might be harder to get anything out of him.
MM: Would you be drinking coffee or beer with them?
BP: Thom Yorke doesn’t drink, so probably coffee with both of them.
MM: What has you experience been like garnering a following and trying to set yourself apart in the pre-existing Nashville?
BP: What I’ve learned from my experience of doing it here it that I’ve come to know like Peppermint Boys and Flesh Eater and So Very and Lavagulls, like I feel like there’s this clear guard of electronic experimentalists right now in Nashville. Ya know Eve Maret, Banana Tapes, Meth Dad, Soft Bodies. I could go on and on. It seems like culturally everyone puts them in as like the “DRKMTTR” bands and the house show bands and I had no concept of that moving here. I was like great how do I get to Mercy Lounge? And I’ve always been operating off of that track. Like how do I do this at Exit/In, which we ended up doing it as Exit/In and Mercy Lounge. It’s been interesting trying to bring this, I guess it’s not all that weird, but this left of center music and having people honor it.
I think where I’m getting at is a fearlessness and not having an “othered” mentality. Anyone could play DRKMTTR just as easily as they could play Marathon. I feel like people put themselves in boxes for cultural or social reason. I think it’s not regulating yourself to where you belong is setting yourself apart.
MM: Do you have any sort of timeline on the release of the album, and do you think you’ll do a tour?
BP: Yes to both. The timeline is uncertain but it’s looking like it’ll come out in Nashville in July. My plan is to do a release show in July where it’s available on CD or tapes. And maybe download codes/private links to people that want to gain access through that show. Then I’ll do a different kind of digital release, not a streaming release but to my internet audience kind of thing like a month or two after that, and when that’s said and done it’ll be out everywhere on streaming. So there will be ways to hear it I think by July if you’re inquisitive and following along, but not widely available until September or October.
I’m going to try and engender a culture around the record. I’m going to say let’s care about this however we can and then when it’s totally exhausted, I’m going to be like alright whoever didn’t want to give that much attention to it can listen to it now.
MM: Now this may be like asking you to choose a favorite child, but based off the songs from this upcoming album, or even songs from previous releases, which are you most excited to have written, and which are you most excited for the fans to hear?
BP: Damn dude. My favorite song off this next record- it’s hard to tell, but I keep feeling my heart go towards this one song. It’s called “Ozymandian” and the song form is a little weird, it’s like A B A and the B section has no percussion but the A sections are super percussive. It’s super hard to explain, but for me that moment in the record- because this record has a really dense concept. It’s super artsy-fartsy but basically that point in the record is when it’s like the first 90 degree turn in the narrative happens and that B section is like this really special moment where there’s this crazy realization and it’s really starkly like, oh, this just got really serious. And just everything about that section is so something I didn’t think I was capable of doing and it’s really neat.
What I’m most excited for fans to hear is probably not that one. It’s this other song called “Mickey Mouse (James Dean),” and I want them to hear that because I think it’s a good display of this record’s themes but like clearly coming from what has preceded this record. It kind of still has the palatable elements of the past. But it really has this new robustness.
MM: Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
BP: I would love to be living off of my music by then. I would like to be able to do at least one, you know, medium-sized tour every year that helps me and doesn’t hurt me. Basically, I’d like the music and the fan base to be big enough to where it provides for me. Because right now I’m providing for it a lot more, which is fun and fine and totally part of it and it’s really working. But yeah. I’d like to have a nice, very middle class life that music might be able to provide. Maybe lower-middle class. Actually, definitely.