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On the road with Jesse Sykes
May 5, 2007
Livewire's Martha Berner recently linked up with Seattle-based singer/songwriter Jesse Sykes in Chicago during her tour to discuss the ups and downs of touring in support of her recently released Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul album with her backing band The Sweet Hereafter.
Photos: Sarah AlairLivewire: So how has the road been?
Jesse: Well, get this. I got a staph infection. I mean, who gets that? I've never had anything like that. First our transmission went, and that sucked. It could have been worse though; we could have been in the middle of nowhere. Luckily we were in Ashland, Oregon, which turned out to be a good place if you're gonna break down. We met this guy and he was a fucking saint. He took our trailer back to his farm. What happened was it took about three days for him to fix it so we had to get to our next two shows. We had to rent two different cars, 'cause they didn't have vans in this town. It was a fucking nightmare financially, but yet it was one of those situations where everything worked out. So we were actually lucky. It broke down in the best scenario, like going right out of the motel. And the night before it broke down I felt this pain and I touched, you know that area right outside of your armpit, and I felt a lump and just went, "Oh shit." But it hurt so I thought it couldn't be cancer; it may be a lymph node. Long story short, within 24 hours the little lump thing had nothing to do with what was happening. This whole world started, like, building up. It was basically like if someone beat the shit out of you with a baseball bat or something. I couldn't move my arm and I was in such severe pain I almost canceled the tour. 'Cause, when we got to Seattle I had to go to the emergency room and they had to lance it. And then it got even worse. I'm on antibiotics now and just today it started going down. But other than that it's been a really good tour..
Livewire: Will it be a big year for touring?
Jesse: Well, it's really just beginning because the record just came out. We did a lot of touring on the last record, but I think this year, I mean already... it's a bit overwhelming, frankly. It's gonna be pretty much a year of hardcore touring. I just kind of made a decision that with this record I was just gonna go for it, you know, and not be afraid of... 'cause I'm a real homebody in many ways. But, I don't know, it's like now or never, that's kind of how I feel. And the opportunities, if they present themselves, I feel like I have to take them. Touring is hard though if you don't have the machinery. I'm always telling younger bands that I know "you gotta get outta town, you gotta get outta town, you ain't shit unless you get out." And then at the same time, it can also destroy the band. Morale can just go, whatever level you're at; their level, our level, or when you're still booking your own gigs and not getting any kind of real guarantees. I just think it's a fine line. I don't know what the answer is but I think ultimately, one has to try..
Livewire: Have you always toured as a band?
Jesse: No. Back in the day, the first couple times we went to Europe it was just as a duo. Up until pretty recently there were times...it just really depended on who it was we played with. This new record needs a band. It's really a band ensemble record; the songs need the velocity of a band..
Livewire: What are you touring in right now?
Jesse: A van and a trailer, which is probably being stolen right now. I drive the guys crazy 'cause I'm so militant-man. Unless I can see that thing from the bed that I'm sleeping in...I don't let it out of my sight. We stay mostly in hotels. When we have really good friends we stay with them but I'm done with the days of like completely slumming it. I have got to get a decent night's sleep. But then again, some nights you can get a motel that's like a total fleabag place. Probably the reason I have a staff infection is we stayed in this place in Texas that was so gross. It looked so cute on the outside and I was like "alright I'll take the room" and then I went in and it was just like...everyone was so mad. They were like "Good call Jesse. You don't get to call them anymore.".
Livewire: It's a tough business, you're busting your ass and it seems like only people who are actually in it can understand. It's also a pretty male dominated scene. Do you get excited about meeting other women in the industry and having a chance to talk shop?
Jesse: I remember a few times when I would have house guests for a day here or a day there and I would just think, "You must think I'm the most self involved fucking asshole." But if you're around someone when they're really in the throes of getting ready to go on tour, or finishing up a record, it's like... I love people and I love my friends, but I'm one of those people that like... you can crush me if you come over at the wrong moment unannounced. I become like a crazy old man. I don't brush my hair and I don't brush my teeth, I wear men's pants with slippers. The only thing I'm lacking is the pipe. When I'm in that mode I'm just in this different world and it's hard for some people to understand. And then the woman thing...when it comes to the artistry, I don't really think there's a difference. I just think good is good. But I fully think there's a huge dialogue that I'd love to have about what it is to be a woman when you're kind of running the show and you've got five guys with you...like how often you're a psycho bitch when you're like "Alright, here's the fucking deal. I don't want you to get fucking drunk tonight, because you know, if you're all drunk...or we need to leave at 8, not 9." But I guess, the thing is, if you're a guy you're a dick too. But I do think that women get called neurotic. I take pride that we have not had anything ripped off. I mean, that's my rig; if I lose it, man, no one's buying me a new one. I'm not rich. People think that you must have a trust fund or something. They always think that. I'm like "You know where my money just went? Into getting a transmission." What are you gonna do? I called my mom up kind of bummed and she was like "Don't think about the money. Just remember, you're really not doing it the for the money." Ultimately she's right, but at the same time you have to pay the rent. But I was really excited up until that point because it looked like we were going to do really well and then boom. And it just goes to show, you don't know. But, again, it's probably part of the magic of it all, because it does take a really distinct personality to be the kind of person who can deal with it all and still be having a good time. .