INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Jesse’s Divide are a Stoke-on-Trent three-piece, comprising of vocalist/guitarist Simon Ward, bassist Nick Cotton and drummer Rob Barnes.
In the last couple of years, they have gained a substantial local following with a heavy, melodic and progressive sound combining elements of rock and metal, as well as live sets that are entertaining and fun, but also all about the music.
With last autumn’s EP ‘Strange Alchemy’ still getting rave reviews, a new EP planned for release later this year and an exciting new venture that will hopefully benefit the Stoke music scene, it looks already as if 2017 is going to be a great year for the trio.
Before their gig in Newcastle-under-Lyme a few weeks back, I chatted with them about all this in more detail.
How did the band get together initially?
SIMON WARD (vocals/guitar): We are bits of all other bands. In 2012, Nick and I had been all in a band called Livid, which disbanded, and we were left with an empty studio.
While we had nothing else to do, we started to jam, and that become something, our first set of songs, which were heavy and done as angry teenager stuff, and we were just like “Wow, this is new!“, and that’s basically how we started.
How did the name Jesse’s Divide come about?
NICK COTTON (bass): Basically, we had been playing together for three or four months, and we hadn’t yet planned for gigs or anything, but then all of a sudden, we had a gig booked and we all thought “Shit! We have to come up with something!”
So one night, me and Simon were around his house, getting really drunk and watching the film ‘Predator’. There’s a scene in it where Jesse Ventura’s character gets shot by the Predator and ends up with a massive hole in his chest, so big hole in Jesse, Jesse’s Divide!
How would you describe your sound?
SIMON: I would say now that it’s more rock, and I think we’ve actually mellowed a bit, because we used to be quite aggressive, the songs purposely had to be over five minutes long, we didn’t do it because we didn’t care, we did it for us.
Over the last three years though, we’ve kind of sank into the songs a bit more. We still do what we want to do, because we love it, but it’s changed, we’ve naturally progressed, kind of back to our roots.
NICK: I’m not saying we’re ripping anyone off, but I think our sound is an amalgamation of the stuff we love.
We are very much influenced by, if you imagine Rush and Black Sabbath got into a bar fight, and then Dave Grohl came in and split it up, that is sort of what we sound like, so it’s heavy, a bit technical, a bit proggy in places, but we have the kind of rock sensibility if you will, so we don’t write silly long rock songs any more.
What is your approach to songwriting?
NICK: Yeah, we have a little ritual called Malibu Tuesdays, where we all go in, get drunk, normally off Malibu, but fake Malibu’s cheaper, and we just bash stuff out.
One of us will come on with a riff, and we’ll just jam on it later on, but we are going to be trying something new with our new EP.
SIMON: What we’ve decided to do with the EP is to try and record it as a whole. Rather than writing songs on their own, we are going to write them for the EP, write the whole thing as one.
This time, we’ve also decided to go the other way around, write the lyrics first and then put the music to it afterwards, because we know the kind of music that we want to go for, we’re going to go a bit more middle-of-the-road, Metallica kind of thing.
NICK: Don’t call it middle-of-the-road!
SIMON: We don’t like sticking to one thing, and we know what we’re going for this time, so it’s going to be very, very different.
The best thing about it is that we’re all best friends, and any one of us can come to each other at any point, we’ll go in together, and it’ll all sound different, but we’ll all pull together under a cloud of……….shit! (all laugh)
So, it’ll still sound like Jesse’s Divide, but each song, as it comes in, will sound very different.
You just mentioned there that you have a new EP out soon. Have you started to record it yet?
NICK: Actually, we’ve only just started writing it. Our last EP came out last September, ‘Strange Alchemy’, available on iTunes, Spotify etc… (all laugh)
How has the reaction been to ‘Strange Alchemy’?
NICK: It’s been good!
SIMON: It’s a lot lighter than the other EPs we’ve done, there were no six, seven minute pieces, the songs were mainly around three and a half minutes, we didn’t intentionally write it like that, it’s just how it came out. It’s actually given us a lot more attention.
ROB BARNES (drums): Yeah, it has. In the last six months, the attention for our website, the EP, gigs and that, has sort of slowly grown, hasn’t it?
NICK: Yeah. The new EP we’re doing, it’s still very much embryonic, but we have got an idea of where it’s going to be, we’re hopeful of knocking it out in about three months, in between all of the gigs we’ve got, we’re going to write and perform it as we go along.
SIMON: It’s got a good feeling this one has, hasn’t it? Whereas the two EPs we did before, the first was kind of like a concept EP, which was cool, we enjoyed that, but ‘Strange Alchemy’ turned into a concept EP with a chemistry theme to it.
NICK: It was just a collection of songs, wasn’t it?
SIMON: The new one should be more of a complete EP.
You’re all from Stoke-on-Trent. What is your opinion of the music scene there currently?
ROB: It seems to have taken a bit of a dive, hasn’t it?
NICK: It has started to come out of the swamp, though.
ROB: It’s beginning to, I think it’s going to be a slow process to build it back up again.
NICK: Around ten years ago, when me and Simon were playing in Livid, the music scene in Stoke was thriving, it was mental.
SIMON: For kids who were around fourteen, fifteen, The Sugarmill was the place to go, because it allowed under 18’s in, and it just used to pack out with bands. It was such a great place to play, because that’s where everyone went.
Now, I don’t know what’s happened, something crashed around three, four years ago, and it hasn’t recovered.
There’s still a lot of talented bands and musicians out there, you’d be surprised, there seems to be a Kevin Bacon effect, in that everyone on the Stoke music scene seems to know one another. It’s like a very close-knit family, even when things are a bit shitty, like they are now, everyone will still support each other.
We all still have a good time when we play locally, and we have a laugh with the other local bands, also helping each other out in any way we can. I just think that it’s really difficult to get a sizable crowd in anymore.
ROB: From a music perspective, nothing’s changed, like Simon’s just said, there is still a lot of talent coming out of Stoke. Even when I started around five, six years ago, places like The Sugarmill were still getting the crowds in.
NICK: Rob’s a lot younger than us, by the way.
ROB: As I was saying earlier, it has taken a slump. Now, there seems to be more gigs being put on at pubs and smaller venues. For the larger venues, it’s harder these days for them to sell tickets, whereas pubs and other places like that are usually packed for every gig.
SIMON: A reason for that, I think, is that the larger venues have put their prices up for everything. It used to cost only £3 for a gig ticket at The Sugarmill, now it’s £5. Therefore, less people are able to afford to go out anymore, it’s such a shame.
However, there’s a large venue that’s just opened in Burslem called Eleven, and that’s an ambitious place. Hopefully, that will spark something in the Stoke music scene in the next year or two, I really hope so.
ROB: One of the good things about Stoke music is that it’s diverse. There’s a lot of stuff going on, rock, indie, metal etc…
SIMON: You seem to notice that it’s not just the bands who seem to all know each other. It’s also the producers and the people who run the recording studios and rehearsal rooms.
They’re all good people, and it’s a good scene to be a part of.
Apart from the EP, what else do you have planned for the future?
SIMON: We’re about to officially open our very own rehearsal rooms and studio in Longton, and we’re doing that because we’ve been doing it ourselves for so long now.
Back in the day, when we were paying for hours of rehearsal time, we realised how much we loved what we were doing and we would be rehearsing at least three times a week.
When we were putting together our first EP, we wanted to get ourselves away from our day jobs, we wanted something to aim for. We’re still like that now, continually pushing for our dream, no matter how many years and thousands of pounds that may take, because we really enjoy it.
What we did then was rent our own industrial unit, because we found it was actually cheaper than renting out a rehearsal room three times a week, and we did that five years ago.
We’re doing it officially now, we’ve done the place up as much as we can, and we’ll be opening our doors next month to Happy Ninja Media, which will be a non-profit, charity-based organisation.
We’ll be renting out space, offering the best rates in Stoke for local bands that are just starting out that can’t really afford to rent any rehearsal space, and we’ll be giving them that opportunity because we want to help our fellow musicians.
That also helps us because we have a private place to play and record the EP for nothing, and we only pay for mastering it externally.
NICK: Aside from the business side of things, we have a few gigs pencilled in over the next few months, all the dates are on our website.
We don’t have any lofty rock star aspirations, we just play our music because we enjoy doing it, making the music we want.
SIMON: We’re busily trying to get more gigs booked this year, and we’ll be recording our new EP, which should be out later this year.
NICK: Hopefully, people out there will enjoy listening to it. Listen to the record and come out and see us!
JESSE’S DIVIDE’S THIRD EP WILL BE RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR.
FOR MORE INFO, CHECK OUT THESE SITES:
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://jessesdivide.com/