John Vesely of Secondhand Serenade
On his latest release Hear Me Now, John Vesely, the man behind the Secondhand Serenade curtain, pushed himself harder than he ever had before to make a record that he strongly stands behind. Fans that have followed Secondhand Serenade from day one know that Vesely wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s that vulnerability that has undoubtedly drawn in his rabid fan base who relate to his deeply personal lyrics that easily translate. His songs have weaved intricate tales of life’s greatest personal struggles both through agony and defeat as well as success and enlightenment – a true lyrical journeyman.
Vesely’s musicianship has always been at the top of his game however there is a notable growth in the songwriting on Hear Me Now. The richer arrangements and powerful vocals are a clear shining point throughout. Vesely also takes a stab at producing on a few of the tracks as well rounding out the album perfectly.
Hear Me Now has an overall theme of finding closure and moving on and the songs flow fluidly from start to finish. The first single “Something More” shows the progression of his sound with additional elements introduced and a smooth blend of pop meets rock with the signature Secondhand Serenade emotive lyrics that we’ve come to know and love.
We recently talked to John about the honesty of his new album, his growth as a songwriter and what he hopes music fans will take from his latest collection of work.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
Your first album was pretty much a solo acoustic effort, on your second there was a full band and orchestral elements, and now here you are releasing your third album Hear Me Now – what can you tell us about it and the evolution that brought you to this point?
This time around I was very focused on growing. I was breaking out of a bubble creatively. The last time around I was a little timid, it was my first time working with producers, and this time around I felt a lot more confident to explore more so I did. I experimented with electronic elements, tempo changes, and all in all as far as the production goes it’s more advanced and the music is further along. I think the writing grew as time went on too; I’ve had a lot of experience over the past several years – performing, playing, writing and living so it was just more there.
You mentioned the production, you worked with producer Aaron Johnson on some of the songs and then you produced others on your own- what dictated what path you’d take?
I think I was doing a lot a listening to what’s going on right in music and my drummer and I would just lock ourselves in my place getting creative. For the song “Hear Me Now” we made the beat for it with a hollow body guitar. You always hear things that you haven’t heard before, and it will catch your ear, so we tried to make it new and interesting for people to hear. It’s not just a song, the lyrics mean something. Listening to it, you feel what the lyrics are putting forth, and that was really what we wanted to accomplish with the production – to set a mood for each song.
The first single “Something More” is definitely among my favorites on the album. There’s some angst in the song and a cool tempo change, how did the song come together?
I didn’t have “Something More” written until the very end of the album process. We had recorded the majority of the album with Aaron Johnson and then “Something More” was one of the songs that came together after that. I was going through an interesting time. The label was asking for more songs and I was worrying about what was going to happen because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come up with the songs that they wanted. I was dealing with some difficult things in my life at the time and “Something More” just kind of came naturally as far as the lyrics go. It actually started out as a piano based Christmas song. I wrote the progression on a piano and then I was going to try to make a Christmas song out of it. So I recorded the piano for it and thought that it would sound cool with some strings so I arranged the strings and recorded that and one thing led to another – the electronic beats, the synthesizers, the guitar parts and we had a song. That’s when the label came to me and told me they were looking for more songs, that they didn’t feel that they had the right single yet and I changed some of the lyrics and presented “Something More” to them. They liked it as it was and decided to use it for the album. I ended up recording two more new songs – “You And I” and “Hear Me Now” and they all ended up on the album and “Something More” was chosen as the single. It was really exciting for me because it was the first time that I got to sit down and do the full production on my songs and have that kind of response.
So “Hear Me Now” came later on in the process as well? Why the decision to name the album after it, did you feel it really encompassed the album as a whole?
Yeah when I wrote that song the whole idea was what I’ve had to say in the past, particularly to the person that the song is directed to, was never really as reliable or as right on as it should have been and right now I want you to listen because this is the truth. It was kind of admitting to not being a great person to that person in the past and or to myself. It encompassed the whole album because it is about owning up to mistakes and actions that I’m not proud of. Sweeping issues and problems under the carpet was an easy thing to do because you don’t have to deal with them at the time but they end up blowing up in your face in the long run. The song is about me admitting that so I can move on.
There’s a female vocal on “Hear Me Now” that’s sung by Juliet Simms of Automatic Loveletter, was that element always part of the song or did that develop later on?
I love Juliet; we’ve worked together in the past. I wrote one of the songs on her record and we’ve toured together – she’s a great friend of mine. I had her in mind when I was writing the song. Not in the sense that I wanted her to sing harmonies and call it a duet, I wanted her to actually have a part so I wrote it as a conversation and that’s how it comes off and it makes it really impactful because you can feel the other person’s perspective. I thought she would be perfect for it so we recorded it at my house. The whole process was really organic, I had her over following a writing session, we all hang out, drank wine and recorded the song. I’m really happy with how it came out.
So on a personal level, do you feel that there’s an overall theme to the album – perhaps finding closure and moving on?
That’s definitely the overall theme and some of the songs are very positive. It’s about starting over and doing things straight. It definitely tackles some major issues. There’s a song called “Distance” and that’s obviously a big deal for me because I deal with that no matter what kind of relationship I’m in whether it’s a significant other or family or friends – I’m away most of my life. It’s a very legitimate, honest album.
There seems to be a real maturity on the arrangements throughout the album. Was this something you concentrated on or is it more a product of this being your third time around the bases?
It has a lot to do with experience. I’ve done projects and demos along the way over the years and working with different producers and watching them work has taught me a lot. Instead of writing a part and saying “I’m going to write a guitar lead line because this song needs that” I tried to figure out what the song needed and give it the according part. Every part was written out of necessity because it’s a part of the song. It’s not just a lead line it’s an actual theme in the song. For instance, in “Something More” there’s a piano line in the very beginning and it reoccurred throughout the song on a glockenspiel or with a guitar, and it’s all about creating themes and things that are memorable and not just doing it because you have to. I tried to really focus on that.
So you’re multi-talented and you play many different instruments. What’s your general songwriting process like, do you start on guitar, or piano, or does each song dictate that?
It depends. I’ve written on both and this album was definitely a good combination of both. Some song take a guitar to write it, songs like “Something More” took a piano to write and “Distance” was all guitar. You can usually tell from the finished product in my case.
I think that one of the reasons that so many people are drawn to your music is because although your songs tell vivid personal stories, a lot of us can interject ourselves right in the middle of them. How do you balance writing such deeply personal songs while keeping them so adaptable to everyone?
I try not to bury my songs in metaphors and writing in an overly personal way. I like people to understand what I’m writing about. All the themes are very obvious things that every one deals with. On “Something More” I wrote “Do we know what we’re fighting for” – because I wanted to include everyone in it because it does include everyone and it’s important to keep the listener involved because they are an essential part. You have to keep that in mind when you’re writing because you’re not just writing for yourself.
In closing, what do you hope people to take away from your new album after listening to it?
I just want people to take it seriously. I know I have a lot of great fans out there who have been with me for a long time. I hope they enjoy this album for what it is and not get too hung up on the fact that I’m not writing just straight acoustic songs anymore. I will, I’ll release an acoustic EP for them, but I want them to know that I’m growing as an artist because I want to and this is the music I want to be making. For the songs that I produced I performed every instrument on them, I wrote them, produced them, sang on them – I did everything, those are me as much as they can be. I just want people to get that. I’m not changing anything because I have to, I’m just trying to grow as an artist and evolve. This is Secondhand Serenade and I just want people to appreciate that and enjoy the music for what it is. That’s all I can really say about that. Besides that I just want people to enjoy it and be there. I love to play live for people so come on out and see me. I’m having a good time and I think that the music speaks for itself.