stream Young Jesus’ “Saganism vs Buddhism” and read a Q&A with the band
LA-via-Chicago indie rockers Young Jesus are releasing their fourth album (and first recorded for Saddle Creek), The Whole Thing Is Just There, on October 12, and having already released lead single/opening track "Deterritory," we're now premiering track two, "Saganism vs Buddhism," along with its video. The video opens up as a mock YouTube how-to video, but the song has a much more serious tone. It's seven minutes long, and it goes from melodic indie rock to a freeform atonal jam and back again. It's good stuff, and it's the kind of heady indie rock song that you don't hear enough of these days (it's kind of a spiritual descendent of Perfect From Now On era Built to Spill and A Thousand Leaves era Sonic Youth). Listen and watch the video below.
We also asked singer/songwriter and only original member John Rossiter some questions over email, and you can read on for those too...
We're premiering the video for "Saganism vs Buddhism." It starts out as a mock how-to YouTube video, but then the song comes in and the song has a much more serious tone. What inspired you to combine it with a silly/humorous video?
All of us are both silly and serious. And other things. But they're not mutually exclusive and the overlap of the two is pretty important to me. I gave a remembrance at a funeral this year and I told a story about this person sitting in the car with me the first time I remember being in physical pain from having gas (~age 9?) and she just waited for me to fart.
Now the funeral and everything, this was a real heavy time in my life, but it was not without laughter and joy. Humor can be a way of synthesizing pain, of incorporating it into a life that is also full of many other things. Growing up I really believed the idea that time heals all wounds. But now I kind of think wounds don't heal, one just learns how to live with them. I learned a lot of that from my mom, who has a real way with these things.
The goal of Young Jesus right now is to try and show people the way the four of us live together, the way our friendship functions. We're not a very sleek and stream-lined band (I don't think?). So this video was pretty natural for us. And fun.
Can you give a little background on the song's lyrics and its title?
While we were writing this album, I was trying to record some dreams either by writing them down or recording them on my tape player. One morning I woke up with "Saganism vs. Buddhism" written on my hand. I'm not sure what the dream was, but I like thinking about those two ideas against one another. If I were to interpret it a little, I was probably feeling tensions between living in this science-heavy, anxious technotimeline (Saganism) and wanting something more eternal, less anthropocentric. At the time, I found Chan Buddhism really appealing. I was reading Wang Wei, Hsieh Ling-yun, T'ao Ch'ien, Wang An-shih. They spoke to a kind of 'everything' living in the smallest moments. Given enough attention and care, the universe can open up in the stuff we take for granted. I was trying to take less for granted (still am!).
The song itself then plays on that idea. I had found a mode of thought I was very moved by, so maybe I started talking like I really knew what this Buddhism thing was all about. But dang, I really have no idea. I take myself pretty seriously sometimes and in this song I wanted to turn the lens around and look at what I'm doing when I do that. I'm no mystic, no oracle, no rivers and mountains poet, but I am trying to live consciously, making mistakes all the time and I can laugh at that a little hopefully.
As for the music, it has these very pretty, very melodic parts and then this more atonal instrumental stuff in the middle at the end. Was that all planned and pre-written, or are we hearing total improvisation, jamming, etc?
The song was written through improvisation, but we had eventually laid out some loosely set 'parts' for each of us. That being said, every time is a bit different. Eric has a lot of room to work with tone and expression because he really thrives in the moment. Marcel always plays around with the feel and rhythm and plays off of and in response to Kern. There are set zones, feels, chords, but what we do within that is, now that I'm thinking about it, actually pretty open. I like to think it is and is not a total jam.
I remember back when you were releasing Grow / Decompose, the story going around at the time was that Young Jesus was ready to break up before that album was written. Now it's three years later and it seems like Young Jesus is in a better place than ever. Can you talk a bit about what you had to go through to get from those seemingly tougher times to where you and the band are today?
Well, in the past four years we've had a lot of change in the lineup. That's both good and bad. I didn't handle the transition super well. I wasn't as kind as I should have been, as honest with old band mates. In the older lineup, we just weren't enjoying playing together and I didn't know how to talk about it. Live and learn.
The past three years it's been me, Eric, Kern and Marcel. The four of us feel really good together. We really do love playing music together. Now, that came from a pretty tough but fun time where we were trying to find our sound together, rather than trying to play like the past iteration of Young Jesus. It can be a bummer when you put your heart and soul into a set and people just ask why you didn't play a song from a few years ago. But that's okay! I've been the person asking for the old song, too.
But by doing that, together, we really came to believe in the new and wild thing we were doing. It just strengthened our bond and our belief in music. Maybe no one else believed in it for a year or two, but that made it more exciting, more vital. And through that, you start playing music for different reasons. It becomes a companion in life. It came to renew my belief in living, like a spring you drink from. It can't be bad if we feel so good from it. Or maybe it is bad, but if it keeps you interested in life, what more can you ask for?
I'd say that beforehand I loved music. It was fun and I got a real rush from hearing a song I loved and from playing a show. Now, I really think it's a unifying force in the universe. There's something inexplicable and magic there, and I'd like to be exploring that for the rest of my life.
Though The Whole Thing Is Just There is your fourth album, I imagine it will be the first Young Jesus album that a lot of people hear because it's the first recorded for Saddle Creek and seems to already have heightened exposure. Do you feel any disconnect between being perceived as a "new" band despite having released music for almost a decade?
If you get hung up on the perception of your music versus what it makes you feel and how it helps you deal with life, then you are in for a terrible experience.
But dang, if people hear our music and think it's new, that's great. You find it every once in awhile in a book. Poets like Anna Akhmatova, Alejandra Pizarnik, Rilke, JH Prynne, Cesaire, Paul Celan, Tracy K. Smith, Frank Stanford. I felt that reading Hieu Minh Nguyen's book Not Here-- these things breathe the same breath to me. Nicolas Rothwell and Octavia Butler really moved me in that way recently. Newness is not a function of time, but maybe a document of fullness, of receptivity to living both the good and the bad. If we're at all participating in that, then I'd be honored.
This doesn't really answer your question.
Speaking of, how is your experience working with Saddle Creek so far? Were you a fan of Saddle Creek bands growing up?
Big fan! The Good Life, Cursive, Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley. All of these things have been and continue to be important to me. And now there's Hop Along, Tomberlin, Stef Chura, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Sam Evian, Big Thief-- it's a really good crew right now. When I step back and think of ourselves in the company of these groups I think, "Holy shit."
Also, Saddle Creek is staffed by legitimately good people. The deeper I get into the 'industry' side of music, the more I realize how rare that is. We are spoiled.
If someone is just discovering Young Jesus for the first time, what's something you'd like them know going into listening?
If you have Discovered™ us, read this: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-problem-with-muzak-pelly
Young Jesus / Ian Sweet -- 2018 Tour Dates
10.18.18 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room
10.20.18 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
10.22.18 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
10.23.18 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret
10.24.18 – Seattle, WA @ Sunset Tavern
10.25.18 – Boise, ID @ The Olympic
10.26.18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
10.27.18 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
10.29.18 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
10.30.18 – Chicago, IL @ Subterranean
11.01.18 – Toronto, ON @ The Monarch
11.02.18 – Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
11.03.18 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
11.05.18 – Brooklyn, NY @ Park Church Co-op
11.06.18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
11.07.18 – Washington, DC @ Union Stage
11.08.18 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
11.09.18 – Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
11.10.18 – Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
11.12.18 – Tallahassee, FL @ The Wilbury
11.13.18 – New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
11.14.18 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
11.15.18 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
11.16.18 – Austin, TX @ The Mohawk
11.19.18 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
11.20.18 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar