It was back in 2017 that I first came across Jessica’s Brother, the London-trio consisting of songwriter Tom Charleston, The Wave Pictures’ Jonny Helm on drums and Charlie Higgs on bass. That was during the build-up to the release of their self-titled debut album, a sparse collection of alt-folk that drew comparisons with the likes of Jason Molina and The Silver Jews. Now four years on, the band recently returned with their brand new collection, Just Rain, again released via Fika Recordings.
Just Rain opens with the title track, a track that instantly shows both the thematic and musical progress that has taken place since the band released their debut album. Here Tom sets out to explore themes of resilience in the face of melancholy as he comes to term with, “the disintegration of a long-term relationship, coinciding with a global fracturing”. Perhaps fittingly for a song that that touches on navigating choppy emotional waters, the music is suitably wild, as a fizz of feedback gives way to crunching slacker-rock, nodding to the early 90’s alt-rock sound, as well as contemporaries like Supermilk or Savage Mansion. At the forefront here is Tom’s lyricism, and in particular his ability to carve a distinctly self-deprecating British humour from the black, “I’m waking up, got a fire in my cup, it’s not just tea, it’s a lot”.
If Just Rain showcases the band moving their sound forward, it’s by no means the only evidence, the record is an eclectic affair throughout, from the Sweet Baboo like strut of Caroline to the gothic Americana of the closing track, Big Boy Now, with its distorted vocals and lo-fi guitars it wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Timber Timbre or Sparklehorse. Elsewhere, recent single Finding Snowdrop is a definite stand-out, the rambling sing-speak vocals conjuring up Bill Callahan or Odelay-era Beck, as Tom offers devastating summations as to the meaning of life, “as I mentioned I don’t know relatively anything that would count as a model to existing, could be it’s all just a matter of persisting? Taking your time to calculate a feeling”.
Particularly wonderful is Darling I Wanted To Know, a bruising duet reflecting on a relationship at breaking point, as Tom’s self-pitying lead sings, “I’m sick I think my pain is unique”, before his female counter-part hits back, “you’re a dick you know you just need some sleep”. While they seem to snap at each other throughout the song, there’s a certain sweet melancholy to the way it ends, as atop a steady acoustic guitar and swirling violin they sing in unison, “why won’t you, why won’t you please come back to me?”
Following the record’s release, Tom took some time to answer my questions, discussing the importance of good record labels, his love of cooking and how the songs on Just Rain cover, “all the juicy stuff”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Jessica’s Brother?
We’re a three-piece based in London. Jonny Helm on drums (Wave Pictures), Charlie Higgs on bass and myself. I write the songs and bring them to the band for mutation. The songs can be folky, grungy, catchy.
FTR: You’re just about to release your second album, Just Rain, what can you tell us about recording the album?
It was a frickin’ nightmare! No it was ok. Covid hit half-way through recording so we had to record in-between each lockdown over the course of months – totally bizarre way of doing it which I would not recommend or like to repeat.
FTR: What made this the right time to record an album, what did you do differently compared to your debut album?
I felt like I had a good collection of songs that seemed to tie in thematically with each other in a lyrical sense. The album covers a tumultuous period of heartbreak, over-indulgence, misery – all the juicy stuff. The first album was more or less a live take whereas Just Rain is more sculpted with overdubs and experimentation.
FTR: Where does the title Just Rain come from?
Something about how life can feel like nothing but a storm at times – Just Rain. When we’re beyond the storm, we might look back and feel that it was just rain (it’s only rain) after all. Flipping between those extremes. Trying to be brave and looking at the dark patches because there’s usually something being expressed that needs to be talked about rather than brushed under the carpet.
FTR: Who are the influences on your music? What were you listening to when you wrote this record?
I was listening to a lot of Tony Molina. His albums are over in around 10minutes sometimes and they’re just a beautiful moment to be enjoyed. Listened to a lot of Big Thief too who are very special, we’re fortunate to live in the time of Adrianne Lenker. I’m also influenced by moaning poets like David Berman from Silver Jews and Bill Callahan.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
It’s been a blessing and a curse I think. In one way it dampened the wind in the sails of excitement. Everyone involved has been blue at some point. In another way, it’s given me perspective on what’s important and what makes me happy when it comes to writing and sharing music.
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
Buy physical and see gigs when it’s safe to do so. If you aren’t able to, contact musicians and labels you love and tell them you enjoy their music, it can make a world of difference.
FTR: The album’s coming out on Fika Recordings, how did that come about? Do you think labels are still important?
Fika is the dream label that allows you to do your thing and doesn’t interfere. I had a plan and Tom gave me the freedom to explore it. I think labels are very important. People like Tom have the knowledge, contacts and experience to get a project going – they work hard to give your music a fighting chance. I can’t speak for people’s experiences with other labels and those who can become a twitter sensation independently but I think ‘good’ labels are passionate about bringing artists into the limelight as best they can.
FTR: Now shows are beginning to start up again, what can people expect from the Jessica’s Brother live show?
You’ll see our three gorgeous faces and hopefully a couple more in the form of Shantha Roberts and Dan Mayfield on Violin. I’m currently working on a cover of “Can’t get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” by Barry White so maybe we’ll murder that one.
FTR: Why do you make music?
It just makes me feel good and I’ve made other people feel good at times too so I think I’m happily stuck with it.
FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
I like to eat and cook. I’m teetotal so all my pleasure comes from wolfing ingredients cooked in butter.
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?
I’d like it to turn some heads and keep people interested in what we’re doing. It’s not a viable career no. Few of my favourite artists seemed to make careers out of their work either so it just doesn’t seem the done thing.
FTR: What’s next for Jessica’s Brother?
We’ll be playing the Winter Sprinter at the Lexington in London on the 13th January which will be awesome. Other than that there’ll be lots more writing and growing. I’m about to turn 30 so I’ll just keep my head down and make some songs.
Just Rain is out now via Fika Recordings. For more information on Jessica’s Brother visit https://fikarecordings.com/artists/jessicas-brother.