Give us a little idea of who you are.
My name is Jesse L. Eubanks. I am originally from Louisville, KY but currently reside in Philadelphia, PA serving as the Worship Arts Director for the Port Community Church. I am also a part-time musician and a free-lance writer.
What is your background as a musician?
Here it is. The musical history of Jesse Eubanks. Skip to the end if you want to get past the middle school and high school years. Being long-winded is the sometimes curse of being a writer.
I started making original music when I was 14 years old. My first song had a catchy little melody with the words, “I’ve been missing you, baby. I’ve been missing you, girl.” I later was part of a punk rock band called Main Priority where I played bass and sang. Main Priority then morphed into an alternative rock band. I just sang. We did a Stone Temple Pilots meets Rage Against The Machine vibe. I screamed and rapped a lot. After that, I worked with a musician named Chris Palmore. We did a lot of stuff together, including recording. After the studio, we never played together again. The patience and the magic just wasn’t there. I took a little time off after that. When I came back to music, it was for a talent showcase at my high school. We covered the song “Wencarla” by Fold Zandura. I learned to play the guitar for this. The stage had a giant movie screen in the back with tons of custom edited imagery on it synced up with the video. I wore angel wings. We played under the name Ellipsis.
Ellipsis quickly became a band. We played a bunch of gigs and eventually recorded a full-length album just after we graduated. That was my first full-length effort. Then, I moved to California where I played drums for the predominately black church I attended. At one point, I sang the song “40” by U2, accompanied by a black gospel choir. I wrote a lot of lyrics and a lot of songs. I recorded them all onto a cassette tape in my church and had originally planned on releasing them. Maybe some day.
Upon returning to Kentucky, Ellipsis reformed and we recorded the Libereme EP. It was basically the songs I wrote when I lived in California. Only they got dressed up in fuzzy guitars and falsetto parts. I am very, very proud of that record. I still love to listen to it. I also served as one of the worship leaders for a Bible study in Kentucky.
Somewhere down the line I had begun to fall in love with percussion, so I started playing with that a lot. I played live with that a lot – and still do quite often – in various worship settings and with different bands. Chris Palmore called me back up and asked me to produce his new EP, so I did that somewhere in the mix as well.
I had also begun to compile the 100 + lyrics that I had written while living in California into concise and cohesive lyrical structures. I started writing new songs based around the songwriting style of Denison Witmer. I wanted to make songs that revolved around these lyrics that I had spent a year writing. The recording for this was very on and off. Sessions would take place and then next ones wouldn’t happen for a year.
I began to play some of these acoustic songs live. On a certain occasion, a friend of mine who was a jazz drummer and another who was a cellist joined me for the gig. As a joke, we called it Jesse Eubanks and His Orchestra. Most people found it pretty egotistical, so of course I ran with the idea. Eventually, the name was changed to the Jesse Eubanks Orchestra. In our hay day, we consisted of myself singing and playing acoustic, a jazz guitarist, a cellist, a violinist, a vibraphone player, a jazz drummer, a trumpet player, a flutist, and a pianist. We use to do a really cool fiona apple-eque version of Radiohead’s Creep. We also re-did a lot of Ellipsis songs in this vein of music. I personally found what we were turning out to be really interesting and a lot of fun. Most of the musicians involved were extremely talented and understood team playing in a large context. Unfortunately though, our last gig was so horrible that I immediately disbanded it to save all our heads from continued public shame. It was created to be fun. When it wasn’t fun anymore, I didn’t want to do it.
I also had learned how to engineer a little bit at Ear Candy Studio, so I went into the studio to record another section of these acoustic songs. Instead, my temptations gave way and I ended up playing mad scientist with some different drone sounds. The song sort of made itself. I really didn’t mean for it to develop into an album. It was just sort of me goofing off and then discovering something beautiful by accident. Not to sound pretentious, but it sort of became my musical version of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I just wanted to make a beautiful record to help people encounter God. The rest of the details on this record are recorded elsewhere, but essentially I got a lot of friends to come and help me and this album, Meditation, Contemplation and Prayer (no “s” Mr. Brent Diaz 🙂 ) made its way into the hands of the Southern California musicians who I grew up playing air guitar to. (Much of Ellipsis was a simple attempt to sound like the Violet Burning meets the Lassie Foundation with a little Prayer Chain and Starflyer thrown in. I forgot. Ellipsis also use to cover Prayer Chain’s Radio Friendly Stone. So, I was excited when this album made its way to them.)
Just before recording on that record began, I was offered the Worship Arts Director position with the Port in Philadelphia. It’s actually much less glamorous than it sounds. I raise my own support (if I can even do that – sometimes I don’t make enough money) and our church is a plant in southern Philly. It’s a wonderful group of about ten people. The odds say we will fail to become self-sufficient and develop into a thriving community. I say the odds can kiss my butt. We’re very honored and passionate about God calling each of us to work with the Port. I serve nearly full-time with that position.
Well, months later, after having moved to Philly, I started writing again based on these acoustic songs from California around 1998 or 1999. I wrote another batch and headed back to Kentucky where I finished recorded the new songs and finished the album – 14 songs. It just came out in early July.
Along the way as a musician, I have come to be a part of a wonderful community of artists in Louisville and am growing some roots currently here in Philadelphia. I’ve also become musical pals with Eric Campuzano, Andy Prickett and Michael Pritzl. Like I said, I grew up playing air guitar to these guys, so hanging out has been a blast. Eric and I are planning on working on a drone record together. I might help out with a record in California that Andy and Eric are both working on. Andy and Michael are going to be playing with me here in Philadelphia on August 15th. That’s quite backwards, Andy and Michael playing my music. God is funny and amazing like that. I’m also writing songs with an amazing vocalist named Ronald J. Shariff. It’s sort of Marvin Gaye-esque. It’s pretty cool, I think. I also hope to start another incarnation of Ellipsis again soon. I really want to rock. I just want to write a pop record. It’s been too long. These last two albums have had a negative zero pop element, so it would be nice to do a pop album again.
Wow. Long winded. So sorry.
What are you trying to accomplish with your music?
I want to create music that brings freedom. I want God to be the ordainer of that freedom. Whether my music is free through the worshipful space drones provide or free because they’re about me talking about my pornography problem, I want people to be free. If my music ever begins to negate the movement of God and ceases to be worshipful, I would pray that he strips it from me. That doesn’t mean that every song will be a sing-along worship song, but it will hopefully be honest and just as my life is, the albums will sort of lean on the presence of God. I want my music to be an extension of my heart. If my heart is wicked, then I hope my music shows that. If my hear is pure, then I hope it shows that as well. Through it all though, I really do hope that people will be able to see God moving. He is real and alive, not just some doctrine or cosmic mojo out in the universe. I talk to him every day and he talks back to me. Sometimes I love him. Sometimes he pisses me off. But, he is powerful and alive and full of grace and I want to share that with my listeners. I want to give him my best.
What do you do away from music, and how does that influence your music?
Well, I am the Worship Arts Director for the Port, so I do that most of the time. Various things in preparing and guiding Sunday’s services. Because it is a small plant (a brand new baby church is called a plant), I also do many other things. I guess I am a man of many hats sometimes with that. I love spending time with my friends. Sometimes, even as I type this, I think about my friends back in Kentucky, and I just want to cry because I love them and respect them so much. I love just hanging out and having good conversation. I have been blessed with a good community here in Philadelphia as well. I also love to play video games. I’ve been playing San Francisco Rush all week on N64. I also like to watch movies. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen anything amazing. Well, actually I watched The Power of One a few weeks ago. I loved it. The soundtrack is beautiful. I love African music more and more. I also watched the Last Temptation of Christ recently. That got my mind going. I also go to counseling. I’m really trying to work through some different things that are now a part of me that I really don’t know how to deal with. And of course, I write. I’ve been slowing down in this area a bit because my life has been so busy. I hope to write my first book this year. Ministry and music is keeping me busy, so it’s hard to tell if I will find the time, but I hope to write a book of true stories from my life and the lives of my friends this year. They’re really amazing stories about God’s movement. I do hope they are told eventually.
As far as influence goes, the ministry of the Port and my music are very closely tied together because my role in the Port is partly as a musician. My counseling influenced a ton of the lyrics on the new acoustic album. Many of my songs are about my friends. The Meditation drone album sort of surfaced in part from conversations with a friend of mine named Olga-Maria. She taught me a lot about solitude and focus. God used her to really help to refine my mind, make it sharper and seek clarity. I would say a lot of the books I read also influence me. As I said, the Meditation album was based on a Richard Foster book. Hopefully, in the end it was about something bigger than a book, but in the beginning that’s where the idea stemmed from. My response to the world fuels a lot of my music. Whether I am joyful or pissy as I see things in life, those emotions drive me to create. Hopefully, those emotions don’t own me, but as I dig further into my artistic side which is so far inside me, I am becoming more introverted and connection to the outer world takes a bit more effort. It’s kind of lame experience in that sense.
What influences you musically? Any particular bands/genres/etc?
I’ve been into what goes on in the Southern California scene since I was in middle school. Charity Empressa was very intriguing to me. The Violet Burning’s Plastic and Elastic album was very inspiring to me while I lived in California. The Prayer Chain’s Mercury still stands as my favorite and most influential record of all time. Some people grow up idolizing Bono or the Beatles. I grew up idolizing the guys from the Prayer Chain. And now I’m associated a bit with those guys. It’s pretty exciting.
I really like space rock. I like ambient music. I really like honest lyrics, like early Pedro the Lion or David Wilcox. I’m into walls of sound and giant sonic guitars. I like vocals that are beautiful and that stir me deeply. If an album can make me smile or cry, it is a good album. I wear tears like badges of honor, because for a long time, I couldn’t cry for different reasons. So, if a song can unlock that in me, then I think the song has succeeded. Well, that or I’m just a little girly man. Just kidding. I also like music with good percussion. I like Middle Eastern and African percussion. I don’t like Latin so much, though I will hear stuff every now and then that is an exception. I really like Ric Hordinski, a guitarist from Cincinnati in a band called Monk. I could watch him play all day. I could watch Doc Prickett play all day, too. I don’t know. I’m a bit of a musical hermit. I’m not really in touch with much stuff. Sort of Northern Records and the extensions thereof and that’s about it. Maybe some things I stumbled across because someone told me, but I’m not that hip to new music.
What place do you see your music having in the Christian music industry?
I actually created Meditation, Contemplation and Prayer for Christians. It stemmed from when I lived in community with five other people in a very small apartment. We use to go into the closest and sit on the floor to pray and read and have privacy. We would usually keep a CD player and a pair of headphones in there so we could put on some music and drown out the sounds outside the door. We would often use the space to have private prayer and worship. The only problem was that most of the Christian worship stuff that was out was all sing along choruses and stuff. We needed something for the quiet, something to still our river of life. We needed some peace to encounter God. So, a couple of years later, I found that formula in drones. I only wish I had created that album sooner. It would have been helpful.
So, I do see myself active in the Christian music world, but I don’t have great desire to solely move within it. I don’t look at things like Christian artists who had “big crossover success.” That concept seems strange. Here in Philadelphia, musicians and bands intermingle. The great divide between Christian music and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to exist so much. When I create music, I do it with an audience in mind. The Meditation album was created for Christians, though I believe non-Christians can enjoy its music as well. It’s just that Christians will understand the music as a vehicle and tool for something much deeper than personal enjoyment.
But neither one of the Ellipsis records or the new acoustic album were created with a Christian audience in mind. Talking about involvement in doubt, online sex, confusion, and claiming that white people both have it better here in America and have bloody hands concerning the plight of our inner-cities don’t seem to be very welcomed in the mainstream Christian market. I’m not a great preacher. I’m a 23 year old man who’s crying his soul out to God, begging for some help. As a friend once told me, He wakes up at the beginning of each day and crawls to the side of his bed, nearly terrified that the weight of the world is going to crush him that day. He is forced to depend on God. So it is with me. There is no way for me to bypass that. My dependence will always come out in my music. But, I believe that God’s response to my life – his promises and his love – are powerful. It is pure sin to keep that within the walls and company of the Church. I am no fool though. Much of the world does not want to hear the things we sing about. It’s a horrible catch 22 sometimes. I hope to reach the sick, the needy, the hurt, the sinners. I hope to share with them my ongoing story of God’s walk with me.
Describe for me a bit of the recording process for your wonderful Meditation, Contemplation and Prayer.
Well, I recorded it at Ear Candy Studio in Louisville, KY. I recorded to 8 track A-DAT. One track at a time. I only used one mic for everything. My favorite mic – Audio Techna 4033. At the time, I was using a couple of different guitars – a Squier Telecaster and a Washburn J-9 hollowbody. The hollowbody was great for any feedback drones. I usually don’t like Washburns so much, but this one was amazing. It plays like the poor man’s Gretch. I still think about it. I’d really like to get one eventually. I used two different amps – both were Fenders. One was an old tweed reissue. The other was my Hotrod DeVille 4×10. I used a gazillion pedals. I also used the Digitech RP2000. Once again, I usually don’t like multi-effects pedal units but this one was very user friendly and I could do a lot of spacey effects and pitch shifting. Then, I ran everything through various multi-effects rack units. I really liked these a lot. Most of the drones contained a good degree of their original sound, but with more reverb and spacey sounds attached. I did a lot of double tracking where I would drone and pitch shift it down and then a second track where I would pitch shift it up. It shows a lot on Nothing Can Separate Us. The set up for the new acoustic album was the same for 75% of that record as well. One little microphone at a time.
I had a renewed interest in drones when I read some messages by Andy Prickett describing his guitar work on Mercury. He said the drone on the the song Humb was a guitar. I couldn’t get past that. I was so surprised. Andy said it was a trade secret and didn’t say any more. Like a spoiled child, I went to the other parent. I wrote Eric Campuzano. He quickly and openly told me how to do it. So, that’s where I learned the droning technique I used on Creation Cries Out. I went to church that night and was so excited. It was the first new song I had written in about 8 months. A week later I was sitting in the studio and the most beautiful, gentle rain was falling outside. I just ran the mic up to the door and recorded two tracks of it. Eddy Morris’ (owner of Ear Candy Studio) dog was outside. She kept shaking her collar. That shows up in the recording. Poor dog. I should have put her in the house, but I was too wrapped up in what I was doing. So, I based the whole mood of that song around the rain. It was freakin’ weird too. Amazing, but weird, because I recorded the slide parts and then went back and did the e-bow parts. I had no thoughts of putting in the two different guitar parts. But, when I recorded them, it took one take a piece and they fit perfectly. I think God knew exactly what he wanted to hear or something. Then, I sang that Middle Eastern melody. That was a lot of fun. From there, I think I really started planning out the whole album.
Everything was included that I wanted except that I also wanted to include some chanting from The Abbey of Ghetsemani and I also wanted to take Olga-Maria into a cave and have her sing there. Maybe on another album. But I wanted to make sure Mike Cosper got to record a song. I am a huge fan of Mike’s guitar playing. He’s more talented musically than most people realize I think. He’s a worship leader now for Sojourn, a church in Louisville. I also wanted Nathan Stites to do some of his amazing orchestrations on keys, as well as Tim Donaldson on cello. The cello struck me as a bit of a naturally droning instrument. Luckily though, Tim didn’t drone. He played the beautiful cello part that showed up on the album. I wanted Olga-Maria doing different things. She’s a very talented person in many ways, both musically and intellectually. She was actually a blast to work with. She just really ran with the concept. I wanted her to do this big vocal opera thing and instead she hummed a lullaby. It was beautiful. I was also working in the studio one day when my best friend, Coury Deeb, and his fiance, Anne, came by and hung out for a while. I asked them if they wanted to help me out with a track. The concept on that song was no amplification. I wanted all the sounds to be natural sounds, hence the title Natural. So, we all sat around a little coffee table and smacked it and clapped and tons of fun stuff. It was just like being at Middle School camp or something when everyone does that rubbing hands, stomping feet thunderstorm thing. Do you know what that is? Anyway, it was a lot of fun. A nice memory, too, of their engagement.
What does the future hold for Jesse Eubanks (as far as you can see at this point)?
Well, I have no idea what could happen. I might die even before I finish this sentence. But, I do have some dreams. I recently decided that I will not be moving back to Louisville, KY as originally planned. I will be staying here in Philadelphia. I will continue to serve with the Port and see it into a self-sustaining stage if possible. I hope to continue to pursue music. I would like to record albums on a frequent basis and do a minimal amount of touring. I’ve always said I would do just one tour and call it the Jesse Eubanks One Time Only Tour. I really only want to do it once for the experience and that’s it. I love to travel, but a different city night after night would destroy me emotionally and spiritually. I know my limits. I love the idea though of flying somewhere for a weekend and playing some shows. I am planning on traveling to Ethiopia to spend a few months there with some of my closest friends. Many Christians there use percussion as their dominant form of worship. I want to study with one of the tribes and learn how to use percussion in that way. I hope to record an album based around this. Sort of in the same spirit as MC+P but more percussion based. I am really fascinated by Africa. I could possibly move there someday. I would like to pursue writing more. I really want to meet Philip Yancey and Richard Foster and learn from them about writing. I would like to begin publishing on a regular basis. Both books and articles. I’d like to write for Christianity Today. And if I should happen to look to my left or right and see a woman running towards God alongside me, then maybe we’ll journey together. I do love children – deeply love children. I would like to be a father, but there is something blessed about being single as well. Whether it sounds cliche or not, I am content with either one. I hope God will burden my heart one way or the other and that my fulfillment of that burden will bring me special peace.
How does being a Christian influence your songwriting?
Well, sort of like I said before, God seems to make his way into everything. I don’t always love singing about him. I know that’s not very pleasant to hear, but I don’t always like saying Jesus’ name a thousand times in a song. His name is written on my heart. So, whether I am singing about faith or materialism, Jesus has a part in it all. Whether I am being a total dick to my housemates or a being the only kind face a homeless woman might see for a day, Jesus is there. I hope that as I sit and write songs about my life and my mind and my journey that I can quiet myself enough to listen to what he is saying. I know he’s talking to me. I just don’t listen real well sometimes. Hence the times that I am a total jerk to people.
There are those who feel no obligation to sing about their faith. I am not one of those people. I don’t feel called to do alter calls, but I recognize that we live in a society where to be a musician is to be on a platform. Whether we like it or not, that’s where we are. We have power. I want to use that power to share my story with people. My story is both uniquely my own and also universal. There are bits of humanity spread throughout it. I believe God wants people to know who he is and I believe that in response to the Voice in my heart I should speak about that.
I don’t know. I mean, how can I not sing about God? All the hope I have is banked on him.
Do you have any favourite places on the web you like to check out?
Yes. I am a bit of a posting freak. I told myself I would slow down but Andy Prickett told me to keep it up, He said he likes my thousands of posts. So, I guess I’ll keep on doing that. I obviously frequent the Northern Records website a lot. I also check out Velvet Blue Music’s website as well as Relevant Magazine’s site. Other websites…well, basically everything in my Links section on my website is what I go to everyday. I never even have to type in addresses anymore. Everything I check every day is on my Links page. So – Monk, Denison Witmer, Charity Empressa, The Lassie Foundation, Over the Rhine – they’re all on that page, so I just click to my heart’s content. Oh, I also like to check out www.Adbusters.com. I think they’re really great. I support a few of their campaigns each year. In particular Buy Nothing Day. I recommend their site.
I give you $10 to go to a fast-food restaraunt of your choice. Where do you go and what do you order ;)?
I call up my friend Sarah Thompson here in Philadelphia. She is the queen of finding amazing hole in the wall joints. You could whisper a restaurant’s name three miles away and she would hear it and promptly check it out. I would call her and then zoom off to wherever she suggests. Then, I would probably wuss out and order something fairly normal without any vegetable, smile, feel very full and then drive home to chill out.
Any other comments?
Please, check out my site at www.jesseeubanks.homestead.com. It has information on both the ministry of the Port as well as my musical endeavors. I have two new albums out. Meditation, Contemplation and Prayer is an album of music to aid in the spiritual disciplines of private worship, prayer, contemplative though and meditation. It is especially nice for people with hectic lives. It brings stillness to the rush. The other album is called West Coast Politics East Coast Love. It is a bare bones acoustic album centered around the lyrics. I love to post, so please come by my website and post on the message board.
Brent Diaz is a generous man. I have enjoyed his correspondence and his presence in my life. Thanks so much for doing this interview.
Blessings to you all.