For as long as he can remember, Cleveland-bred singer-songwriter Joshua Jesty has been chasing songs. As he recalled during a recent conversation, he grew up in a house that was full of music and was “always creating little melodies” in his head. There were plenty of areas from which he was able to draw early inspiration — his mother was a vocalist, his father played trombone and guitar and “the radio was always on.”
At the age of four, he wrote the first thing resembling a song which he describes as “a rip-off of a Gordon Lightfoot melody my dad was playing all of the time.” From there, things kept moving. He discovered his father’s “deep Devil’s rock music collection,” which strangely enough, was never played in the house. The radio brought a steady stream of pop and Top 40, and Jesty discovered quickly that he was a sucker for a good hook. Six years of piano lessons didn’t really light any creative fires, but one night while he slept, a spontaneous dream of being on stage and playing guitar did. And even though they had dumped a lot of money into the piano lessons that then seemed like wasted funds, his parents bought him that guitar, and, as he says, “I’ve been playing ever since.”
It was when he went to school at Berklee that the pieces really began to fall into place.
“I feel like I really hit my stride when I went to Boston, because even though I spent immense amounts of time writing at my house when I lived with my parents back in high school, there was always something social to do,” he says. “When I went to Boston, there was nothing to do — I didn’t know anybody, so I just went to these practice rooms that were down the hall from my dorm room and I would just sit every night [and write]. It was supposed to be me practicing guitar, but it always turned into me writing songs. That was months of just writing songs and that’s where I feel like I really started honing things a lot more and just paying a lot more attention.”
Jesty formed his first serious band, Love Scream, while he was at Berklee, and they made an album. For a moment, things looked promising. “Since we had some Berklee contacts, we were apparently having our record that we had made shopped to a bunch of high profile managers and record people,” he recalls. “But when they didn’t bite immediately, the band fell apart.”
He returned home to Cleveland, first forming the Feelbads, which evolved into a sketch comedy troupe (even spawning a pilot series idea that he submitted to Comedy Central — “I’ve got the rejection letter to prove it!”) and after that dissolved, he put together a new rock band called This Is Exploding, a project that he was quickly very committed to. He told the other band members that there would be a lot of hard work ahead and dove into the project full throttle. “There’s never enough time to do everything you want to do with a band if you’re trying to make it big, you know,” he says. “So we were rehearsing multiple times a week, I was emailing clubs to book, I was emailing promoters and publicists and everything and just pushing the boulder up the mountain.”
It was a wearing experience for the members of the group. “Five years into it, the payoff just didn’t seem that strong to the other guys and to me, I could see that it was starting to get there, but to them, it was a tired, exhausting thing, so we just folded right around 2007,” he says.
Since then, he’s been working solo, an experience that he launched into nearly 10 years ago when he pressed up a batch of CDs of home recordings that had been collecting over the years, so he would have something to sell at gigs. He became a familiar presence at area venues, playing solo acoustic and eventually also putting together a band to play electric shows as well in addition to his acoustic gigs.
Though the configuration of players surrounding Jesty has changed, one thing that has remained consistent is his output of quality songs that lyrically, often mix humor with unfiltered honesty. A prolific songwriter, he pushed out a regular series of albums, EPs and singles that would occasionally, just show up on his Bandcamp page with little warning.
About a year and half ago, he launched into a more structured plan and announced intentions to progressively release a series of four EPs.
It’s Your Fault Everything’s Alright is the fourth release that completes that cycle and the cover artwork features a pair of bunnies (an ongoing visual presence in Jesty’s world) sharing a smooch and raising a toast as a planet explodes in the distance. The music on the new EP, which will be officially released at an album release show this week at Mahall’s, captures the mixture of feelings and emotions that come along with the beginnings of a really good relationship. With song titles like “Time Gives Me The Screw” and “You’re The Worst,” one could easily assume that things aren’t 100% great on the surface, but the songs tell a different tale, starting with the guitar-driven poppy vibes on display with “I’m On High,” the opening track of the EP. Jesty himself says things are good, and he’s pretty happy about that.
“This fourth one kind of became pretty much a love song record. Which is nice to kind of get to. As the years progressed, you know, things happen. You lose people, you get hurt, so the songs get angrier and darker and I always wondered if I’d get back to that place where I could write honestly about feeling in love or feeling happy or hopeful, without it sounding forced,” he chuckles. “I got to a place on this last EP, where I finally feel like I came back around, being able to write these upbeat, optimistic songs. So that was pretty exciting for me personally. Even if it’s only one record, at least I got one record of happy stuff!”
Joshua Jesty, 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 26, Mahall’s, 13200 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-3280, mahalls20lanes.com.