Creating heartfelt music with Jesse Witney

With bright and moving vocal ability resonating through his skilful guitar work, Jesse Witney, a Sydney based musician is slowly making his way across the internet with some uplifting and meaningful tunes. 

Jesse’s sound is a far cry from his upbringing in the regional town of Gympie, Queensland. Which has lead him to perform on bills such as Woodford Folk Festival and the Melbourne Jazz Festival are just the beginning of the Jesse Witney story.

Jesse chats to SYS about the choice to create the EP through crowd funding, his love for Nerd lollies, as well as working with Thirsty Merc bassist Phil Stack who will be producing Jesse's debut EP 'Be It.’ Bree Stewart writes. 

First off Jesse, there is a clear roots feel within your tracks, where did the relationship with roots music begin for you? 

My parents are folk musicians and I grew up around campfires and parties where the jams would happen until the early hours of the morning. Most of the time I was playing Gameboy or Nintendo and complaining about when we could leave….but I guess some of the rootsy goodness must have rubbed off. 

Apart from that I was really into Brazilian music for a few years and the reggae/samba styles over there really got me moving.

Your guitar work, most especially your picking skills are incredibly developed - when did you first start with guitar?

I started playing bass guitar first of all, I was uber rough around the edges, trying to hold the groove and sing lead vocals in our high school punk outfit ‘Better than Britney’. One girl at a party told us we weren’t. After that I went on to learning the acoustic guitar. I picked up a lot from my older brother as well as a teacher in my home town called Mike Hayes. He was a fantastic teacher and funny guy, used to talk about ferrets being inside the guitar!

In relation to the music industry, which artists are currently inspiring you?

I’m really into Ben Howard. Heartfelt strong songs. Meaningful and spacious. I saw him perform recently in Sydney and he superseded my expectations. I wanted to meet him and arrived at the venue around 4pm, only to realise there were 20 teenage girls who had the same idea. I was too embarrassed to meet him as a groupie so I just acted like I was checking out the venue and made a sly departure.

Who was the first musician that blew you away?

My favourite song as a kid was ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by the Charlie Daniels Band. It was so badass and high energy, I loved the storytelling content of the song and incredibly fiery violin playing. I used to request it all the time on family road trips.

Do you remember the first album you ever bought?

‘Dookie’ by Greenday

Definitely one of my first three! On a local level however, who is an artist you really admire?

Daniel March, Will Henderson and Ben Panucci. All hardworking guitarist/songwriters who inspire me, not only their skills but their demeanour and individual approaches to life.

I really enjoy your song ‘Rescue Me’, it’s so upbeat - walk us through the meaning behind this track. Will this be the lead single off of your upcoming EP, Be It?

It is the lead single off the upcoming EP! ’Rescue Me’ comes from a place of the desire to explore new experiences with people. I don’t want to say too much. I want listeners to hear the lyrics and have their own relationship with them.

You’re raising funds for your EP ‘Be It’ through You’ve offered up a range of items in exchange for funds. From residential concerts to giving up your signed guitar - it is quite a cool concept! Tell us why you’ve chosen this avenue to fund your project?

I was contemplating saving up for the EP costs by busking, however I chose to do a crowd funding campaign because it gets me doing the things I’m not naturally good at, like social media. It also forced me to think about things that I can offer to people beyond my music. I subsequently invested in having some really nice bamboo singlets printed up as well as 5 Panel Paisley caps made. I think it’s been a step in the right direction! Though I am looking forward to it being over so that I can get back to writing and creative downtime.

The video for 'Rescue Me' shows a great relationship between you and your band live, is collaboration important to you when making tunes?

Writing for me is a fairly solo endeavour. However I do enjoy collaborating on arrangements and fleshing out elements with other musicians. I’ve been writing with a friend of mine, Kieran Ryan Colton, and that’s been a really fun and rewarding experience. Bouncing off each other and having him bring his ideas to the table.

Phil Stack has signed on as producer for ‘Be It’. How did you two come to work together?

I met Phil through doing a show at ‘Inner Soul’. It’s a gig that happens in Sydney on a Tuesday night. He was playing with a great Sydney singer called Alice Terry and we got to hang out and talk music. We exchanged contacts and hung out a couple of times. I showed him some demos and he was into ‘Rescue Me.’ He then organised a live recording and contacted the musicians he thought would sound good on the track. We went from there and decided it would be a good idea to have a crack at an EP.

What’s Phil Stack like as a producer? 

Present and creative. He’s a beast. I love what he does.

Any plans for a nation wide tour?

There’s plans to tour solo September through until November. Not all states but a fair go.

When’s the EP Launch?

14th August this year.

If you could describe the Jesse Witney sound in three words what would they be?

Acoustic, intimate and heartfelt

Finally Jesse, what stimulates your soul?

Long strolls along the sun setting beach, candlelit dinners listening to Celine Dion, and I really like Nerd lollies.