In the opening track of My Jerusalem’s 2016 release, A Little Death, singer Jeff Klein howls, “Smoke billows out of lungs, you burn bridges back where you come from. Long whisper, little dreams, you'll never find your champion in me”, through a layer of saxophone, cymbals, and galloping guitar. It sets the tone for what will be a the next great 50 minutes of your life.
Jeff was born in the Northeast and migrated down to Austin, Texas where I became familiar with him in the early 2000’s. He seems to constantly be working on something and weaves a musical landscape in his wake. A gifted storyteller, his band My Jerusalem, has toured extensively sharing stages with everyone from The Psychedelic Furs to Spoon.
Jeff has a vulnerableness in his delivery and approach that is refreshing. He commits fully and isn't afraid to allow the light to shimmer in the cracks.
GPBH: One of the things that I have always admired about you as a songwriter is your ability to create these snapshot images of situations through your lyrics, they almost play like a storyboard being reviewed before the cameras roll on a film set. Do you feel that imagery or language is more powerful when crafting a song, and why?
Jeff: One of my favorite things that I'm most influenced by, other than movies, are short stories. I love the writings of Amy Hempel because of her unique and powerful sentences. Every sentence makes you crave the next one, even when they are presented in a minimalist fashion. I think taking that into consideration, its both. The ultimate goal, for me, is how to create the most vivid imagery while using the most economical language. I guess the film buff in me would rather be whisked away into a world I could relate to than be jerked off by a bunch of clever wordplay for no reason. But there are people that have mastered both. Take Paul Westerberg for example. Most people who know me know that I’m gaga for Westerberg. I feel like he crushes it at the sentence level. To a point where it assaults all your sense. Wait, what was the question again?
GPBH: When you look around and realize that you’re on stage with the likes of Mark Lanegan, Greg Dulli, or Peter Murphy, do you ever just feel humbled by the association? What do you think makes these guys stand the test of time amongst songwriters, and what part of you is the most affected by these collaborations?
Jeff: I've done some pretty cool shit in my short time here. I just played this NeilFest benefit thing where I got to sing “After The Goldrush” with Mickey Raphael accompanying me. And right when I walked off stage Boz Scaggs ran up to tell me how much he loved my voice. I mean WTF is that? That's a dream and I’m living in it. Touring/playing with Mark and Greg taught me a lot about performance and showmanship. Peter is a sweetheart. We did two tours with him and he’s been really kind to us. Telling people we are one of his favorite bands. John Doe, Richard Butler, Britt Daniel and countless others have really been supportive of our band. All of these things just make me hungry to create more art and strive to do it consistently on the same level as they do. I feel humbled by everything. I’m humbled I get to play with the dudes in my band. That I have folks like Thor Harris or Elle King that want to add to what I’m doing. I just helped John Doe move a heavy 1950’s stove into his new house. That's a collaboration I never saw coming.
GPBH: My Jerusalem has been a band now for 8 years. Do you feel that creating under a band name v.s. under your given name allows you to take on a different role as a performer?
Jeff: Well, My Jerusalem had some false starts. So really it’s only been a band since 2012. Before that was a series of collective misfires. My solo performance experience and band experience are very polar opposite. As a solo artist it was a much more selfish endeavor. Everything was about me. The songs, the show. And there’s this weird stigma attached like a noose around you. That word. "Singer Songwriter".
People say it the same way your grandmother used to whisper the word "cancer" in an otherwise normal volume conversation. "Oh, Jeff? yeah, I think he's a 'singer-songwriter'". As a band, there's both a freedom and a sense of community. Most nights there are a few songs I don’t even play guitar. I just sing. There’s an opportunity for interaction and showmanship that I never had before. And we're a gang. Four dudes in it together. Speaking a musical language to each other. And there's less of a stigma (though I am the idiot that named his band “My Jerusalem” when in retrospect something like “Black Leather Smoke” or some lame, spooky shit would make us more popular with far less effort)
GPBH: Obviously the music business is a series of small successes, backward slides, determination, and persistence. The long drives, slow days, and blissful minutes on stage that erase any of the negativity that existed from before. What is it about the struggle itself that fuels your creativity? When does the release become the reward for you?
Jeff: Oh man, I mean the music business? The music business is just a bunch of motherfuckers that don't know how to swim trying to get/keep jobs as lifeguards. My struggles run way deeper than that nonsense. I've got that me v.s. me struggle that really crushes and inflates me over and over ad nauseam. I’m a fighter though. I jokingly always call myself the Apollo Creed of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Every part of the struggle is fuel. Tell me I can't do something and I'll fight to the death to prove you I can. The release is getting to breathe. Getting to create. I'm alive because of music. I'm still breathing because of music. Those moments on stage or moments writing songs when words click...that’s death and rebirth and Oxytocin gangbanging in your brain. It's the reward and the punishment, punishment because you'll be chasing that feeling every day for the rest of your life. I know dope fiends that ain’t got nothing on my withdrawals.
As a tribute to his late mother, Jeff collaborated with David Doobinin on the short film, Flashes.
GPBH: You’ve been given an all expense and logistics absorbed opportunity to write and record a duet with any living musician/singer in the world. Who would you choose and why?
Jeff: Living? I don’t know that’s tough, probably Aretha Franklin. She's got one of the greatest voices of all time and is the last of a dying breed of classic soul singers. Or Julien Baker or Jenny Hval. I love both of their voices and writing so much. I really find myself predominantly drawn to female artists lately. Or in reality I should collab with Drake, since that would mean an instant payday. Kidding. Kind of.
GPBH: Finally, what three albums by other artists should someone who is just learning about you listen to to have a better understanding of your material, and why?
- The Replacements 'Let It Be' : This is where everything started for me. The emotionally wrought witty lyrics and the honest guitars, drums, and bass. There's a swagger to this album that ripped a huge, beautiful hole in my entire foundation. Unsatisfied...best recording in music history.
- Nick Drake 'Pink Moon' : This album is a perfect album. Just perfect. Every note and every word. It's haunting and introspective and perfect for turning off the lights, grabbing some candles, and staring off into the abyss and pondering your existence. I once held a benefit show where I played this album in its entirety. The guitar playing is other worldly.
- The Cure 'Disintegration' : The Cure had both a sound and look that seemed otherworldly and I was fascinated. I came to it a bit late, maybe junior year in college. I think someone sold a used CD to the record store I worked at so I popped it in the stereo. It's so lush and dark and comforting all at the same time. It's romantic and violent and mysterious. I was hooked. Still am.