On the eponymous title track of Stargazer, the lushly orchestrated and existentially optimistic fourth LP from singer/songwriter Jesse Terry, the notion of personal unhappiness is framed in terms of a cosmic choice: “Go on stargazer, I know how much it hurts / But you are free now to pick your universe.” In a period of American life considered the most divisive and tribalistic in modern memory, the notion of hopefulness may feel misplaced to some. For Terry, though, it’s a byproduct of his own life experience. “I think I will always be innately hopeful, because I’ve seen how much life can change,” he says. “And the road I’ve traveled on my journey has shown me how much people can change, if they open up and allow themselves to do so.”
Stargazer is very much an album representing the arc of that journey and is precisely the kind of record we need in these seemingly hopeless times. Forged in the crucible of the artist’s earnest engagement with a chaotic, confusing world, the record is wonderfully difficult to classify. Drawing inspiration from a diverse pool of influences — from vintage Jeff Lynne-produced pop to the Roy Orbison of “In Dreams” to The Man Who-era Travis — Stargazer is an album commensurate with its moment, imbued with an unconquerably sunny perspective. “I will always go back to hope and lean on that, because that’s what has gotten me here in the first place,” Terry says.
Produced with multi-instrumentalist collaborator Josh Kaler in Nashville’s sumptuous EastSide Manor Studios, every aspect of the album went through an intentionally rigorous evaluative process. “Josh and I worked in the studio for months, making sure that we were bringing something fresh to every track, some kind of new sound or new harmony line or new string line,” Terry says. “I wanted Stargazer to be arranged and produced like the records I first fell in love with.” A significant part of that production process involved strings and renowned arranger Danny Mitchell. “I’ve worked with great string players in the past, but this is the first album where I’ve had the strings professionally arranged for a quartet,” Terry says. The inherent magic, power, and emotion in Mitchell’s arrangements are palpable throughout the record. “I wrote many of these songs with the strings in mind, knowing that they’d be taking my songs to new places.”
One need only listen to the soaring chorus of track “Woken the Wildflowers” to understand what Terry means. Begun while on holiday in New Zealand with his kiwi wife in the wake of the 2017 Women’s March, the song is a tribute to the renewal of American ideals made manifest that day. “Those are the American values that we read about in grade school – equality, justice, decency, freedom, truth – and I loved seeing millions of people across the world standing up for those beliefs,” Terry says. “I wanted to honor that in song.” Undergirding the chorus’ gentle call to “Wake up, wake up, wake up,” the strings swell with the possibility of regeneration felt across the world that day.
Stargazer is notable, too, for the diversity of its sonic palette. Terry is as adept at cross-pollinating spacey rockabilly with power pop (“Dance in Our Old Shoes”) as he is at writing dreamy, Beatles-esque ballads about a loved one’s toxic personality (“Kaleidoscope”); as comfortable at the helm of a charging, Springsteen-down-South ode to the new Nashville (“Runaway Town”) as he is singing a heartbreakingly tender lullaby to a European capital (“Dear Amsterdam”). “People, myself included, are always trying to categorize music into specific genres and I really wanted to avoid thinking that way while making this record,” he says. “In fact, the term ‘genre-less’ became a bit of a mantra for me as I was writing and recording Stargazer.”
The result is a record representing a clarity of vision and a creative pinnacle that, for Terry, has been a career in the making. The countless hours logged on the road and in the studio, he says, have primed him for this moment. “I’ve loved the slow and steady arc my career has taken, the places around the world it’s taken me and the people it’s put in my path,” he says. “Two years ago, even a year ago, I wasn’t ready to make this album.”
He remains anchored to the raw wonder he felt when first picked up his mother’s guitar all those years ago, to the period in his life when an optimist emerged from the black fog of early tribulations.
“Everything feels like it’s happening at the right time.”
Visit Jesse’s Official Website here: www.jesseterrymusic.com