Hi Christopher, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve never been better. Or older. Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about my project.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “I’ll Save The World”?
This is the fifth cut from John Doe Saves the World,which itself is the first of four albums comprising my rock opera called Resonance.In this song, John Doe has decided he must act rather than just complain about the world. Sometimes we get overwhelmed worrying about where things are heading, and we either shut down or get pissed off. John wants to actually do something about it, which is much better, but harder.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
As they say, capitalism is the worst economic system – except for all the rest. The crash of 2008 really highlighted the flaws. But what happened in 2008 has far older roots. In writing ResonanceI tried to figure out why we fail to solve obvious problems. There may appear to be villains and heroes in Resonance,but in the end we’ve all become victims of a system that evolves to serve itself.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
Not yet. My dream would be to turn the whole story into a stage musical, or even a TV series. I have done some work toward that end, and if I get any kind of interest from the music release, I might take a shot.
The single comes off your new album John Doe Saves the World– would you call this a conceptual record?
Yes – a four-album concept! But I don’t like calling Resonancea “concept” or even a “rock opera.” My drummer, Brian MacLeod, coined the term “rock literature.” That’s more like it, because there’s a novel’s worth of writing behind the lyrics.
What’s the story behind the title?
The titles of both the song and the first album are pretty self-explanatory. However, the overall title, Resonance,has to do with how our descendants find a way out of a dystopian nightmare circa 2070. I wasn’t trying to write fiction – I describe what I see as the most probable future given where we are now. Even the way the story ends is based on plausible science. I wantto find a way out of this future mess, a way to re-align humanity with its moral nature.
How was the recording and writing process?
I compose and record the songs in my home studio using Logic Pro. Then I send them to the musicians – Brain MacLeod on drums, Davey Faragher on bass, Steve Zukowsky on guitars, and Jeben Bruni on keys. They learn the songs, make their charts, and then we record with Michael Blum at Titan Recording in Studio City, California. Brian and Davey track together, followed by Steve and then Jeben. Then I do all the singing, or, as I like to say, ruin perfectly good songs! With the exception of This Time(horns by Tom Marino), all the horns, strings, and various synth parts were imported from my demos. I would LOVE to use real horns and strings, because I love scoring these parts and, while the samples sound good, nothing – and I mean nothing – compares to real instruments played by real musicians. This is a rule I have – use real musicians. I worry about the future of music when so much can be done “in the box.” I can make a great-sounding track in the box, but I want to record the real thing. And the results are magical.
How have Pink Floyd and David Bowie influenced your writing?
I guess you read my bio. The fact is, everything I hear that I like influences me. Floyd and Bowie are particular favorites, and I grew up with them, so my sensibilities lean in that direction. But you’ll hear influences from jazz, pop, prog rock, punk, classical. I try not to edit myself, like saying “wait, this isn’t cool enough.” But a song is not done unless I’m convinced it’s got musicality and it goes in unexpected directions. I want to challenge the listener because that’s the kind of music I’ve always enjoyed most. I find the most difficult challenge is self-criticism. The only reason I am brave enough now to put my music out there is because I spent about 30 years practicing and not putting it out there. Finally, I have enough experience and confidence to believe my songs are actually worthy.
What aspect of technology and society did you get to explore on this record?
John Doe is getting his ass kicked by an economic system that is leaving so many people behind. He lost his wife to cancer, he’s raising a teenage son, he’s working two shitty jobs and still can’t make rent. Not that it should matter so much, but he’s a college graduate, too. This record talks about a capitalistic system that is inherently flawed, yet now too complicated for humans to actually fix. John wants to start an old-fashioned revolution – git out yer guns! But his son has a better idea: He wants to use computer algorithms (i.e. artificial intelligence) to come up with solutions. We like to imagine that technology can always solve problems. But what if the problem transcends technology?
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I read a lot about socio-economics and science, especially neuroscience and physics. But what kept me going, what made me want to tell this big story, is the hope that it could engage listeners at a critical time in our history. I’m not interested in fame or personal fortune. I want to give back, leave a meaningful legacy before my time runs out. Profits from the music of Resonance will go into a charitable gift fund I’m seeding with everything I have. My kids will administer the fund after I’m gone, and I’m advising them to focus on musicians in need. Of course, they’re free to identify other targets.
Any plans to hit the road?
Not yet. I’ve never performed live, but I admit the prospect thrills me. I’m pretty sure my musicians would be up for it. Whatever helps move this thing forward. But don’t expect me to dance.
What else is happening next in Christopher Esse’s world?
We’ll be releasing the other three albums probably 30 to 60 days apart. I think dumping everything at once would just be too much, too soon. I expect to be back in the studio making a new album sometime this year. I’m beyond grateful for the means and the opportunity to continue making music.