Vespera: “The whole platform for this band is to promote a positive message.”

Interview with Vespera front man Jonathan Wolfe

Vespera: “The whole platform for this band is to promote a positive message.”

By Mark Johnson

May 22, 2018 15:30

Jonathan Wolfe is no stranger to the music industry, but prior to the formation of Vespera, he’d become somewhat estranged from it. After doing shifts as a touring musician for Falling In Reverse and Slaves, Wolfe lost his spark and took some time off from music. That was until 2016, when he decided to write music on his own, and hasn’t looked back since. Buoyed by the process of writing songs again, Wolfe has crafted a 15-track debut album, assembled a full band and given himself a new sense of purpose. And this year he’s unleashing it on the world.

Throughout the conversation, Wolfe’s incredible work ethic and determination emerges as a clear theme. Having tried to launch a predominantly online band prior to this project, Wolfe became frustrated by the lack of progress from other musicians, leading to the decision to simply drive it himself. With no barriers to hold him back, the momentum since that point has been unstoppable.

“Towards the beginning of 2016 I just started writing music on my own and the plan was to write an album, get as much put together, then build a band around it. Instead of coming in and trying to write with other people, which is what I was trying to do before, I decided screw it I’m just going to write my own stuff and see where it goes from there. One thing led to another and the next thing you know I’m in a studio in Maryland for four months on and off writing this record!”

What started as an idea for a five track EP quickly grew into an ambitious full-length project in the studio, but despite writing and recording a 15 track album alone for a few months, Wolfe had no desire to take a break. “It took four months on and off to get the record done and after it was done, literally the day after, I flew back home and met the band for the first time.”

Wolfe had already enlisted Jon Schwartz as the drummer for the band, a musician he’d collaborated with in the past, and through their combined network, managed to complete the line up with guitarist Cairn Tse-Lalonde – an old school friend of Schwartz – and Paul Anderson, who responded to a Facebook post about a bass player vacancy.

“Jon and I were already friends, he was actually the person that I spoke to the most while I was getting all this done. I’d send him stuff and we’d go back and forth on it, and that was pretty much the start to everything. I wanted to make it a simple four-piece, where we all have a dedicated instrument and that’s it, so we had to find a guitarist and bassist. Schwartz and I found Cairn and Facebook found Paul for us. We got very lucky; it’s an amazing group of dudes to be in a band with.”

Wolfe wasn’t about to allow his new band mates a lengthy settling-in period. With the meet and greets out of the way, it was time to set Vespera’s wheels in full motion. “After I met the guys, we started rehearsing for a whole week and the next thing you know we’re filming six music videos the following week. It was nuts. It was quite the adventure and it really set everything at the right tone, at the right pace. I was like ‘hey guys this is going to be the kind of band where we do ridiculous stuff for work. Get ready, this is how it’s going to be for the rest of our careers’. And everybody hung on pretty well. Meeting them, doing six videos in seven days, and then just recently we did five videos in six days, there’s been a consistency of crazy work ethic so far. We’re a little crazy, but we love what we do and we’ll go above and beyond for it.”

Among the many videos already recorded is ‘Paradise’, which the band released as a single in December 2017. The video is Wolfe’s vehicle for opening up about mental health issues, both from a personal perspective and by means of encouragement for others to join the conversation. The Jed Foundation, an organisation that promotes emotional health and prevents suicide among teens and young adults, assisted with the creation of the video and coached Wolfe on the best way to communicate these issues with a wider audience. Having opened the dialogue with ‘Paradise’, you can expect a lot more reflection and challenge on the rest of the album.

“This album gets pretty dark and pretty real. It’s based around the past three years of my life where it’s been a big emotional roller coaster and what I got out of it in the end was that I’m not alone in this. A lot of the suffering that humanity undergoes is quite similar. As much as the experiences from person to person might be different, the sentiment, the reaction, the overall tone of an event is very similar. We all go through the same thing and it’s funny that we’re so disconnected from each other at times. We’re apathetic towards each other when we’re all undergoing the same stuff under that shell and the mask we wear. So, that’s the whole concept of the album.”

While ‘Paradise’ is a personal reflection of Wolfe’s own struggles with mental health and suicide, the events that influenced the rest of the album’s lyrics are left intentionally vague, to be as inclusive to the audience as possible. “We don’t talk about specific events but more about the emotions that were felt during the time. That’s how I try to connect with people – ‘hey, there’s this emotion, how do you feel about this?’ My whole platform for this band is to connect with people. I don’t want to get on stage and do this for ego, I want to promote a positive message, to help people connect.”

According to Counselling Directory, 615 million people suffer from anxiety or depression and in the UK alone, mental health related illnesses are the leading cause for sickness or absence from work. Despite the alarming commonality of these conditions, there’s still a stigma attached to them which can prevent honest and productive conversations. With Vespera, Wolfe hopes to provide a safe place to talk openly about these experiences.

“So many of us are going through so much and there is no voice to help lead people in a certain direction. It’s okay, we all have bad days, that’s life. You’ll have amazing days, you’ll have terrible ones – it’s learning how to get through it all that makes this experience worth it. Kids aren’t getting that anymore, they’re just going through life without proper direction and they get thrown out into this world where they have to face a myriad of emotions and personalities and at such a young age you’re never sure how that might turn out for someone. One kid that’s getting picked on all the time might end up taking his own life at 12-13 years old because he sees no other option, but if someone just said, ‘hey dude this normal, it happens all the time, you’ve just got to get through it’, things might be better. There isn’t enough of that and I’m hoping that can be part of the conversation we tie in with this band where it’s positive, encouraging messages for people in general. We focus on the negatives far too much.”

Through our experiences and interests, we’re taught from a young age how we can be happy, but we’re never taught how to be sad. Sadness is a natural, common emotion and something we have to face regularly, but we’re not well equipped to deal with it. An all-too-common response is to hide away and suppress these feelings, but having lived through these experiences, Wolfe encourages a very different path.

“People like to run from it and that’s the last thing you want to do. Whenever there’s anger or sadness in your heart you have to run right towards it and figure out at that exact moment how to handle it. Sometimes you just need to cool off, but instead of running away from the issue like so many of us do, we have to learn how to tackle it head on and wrestle with it and get through it. That’s one of the best things I did for myself. There was a period of time where I ran away from my issues and it was the most toxic 18 months – it didn’t help whatsoever and when I finally turned around and said I’m going to deal with this head on, that’s when everything changed. Don’t run away from your problems – talk to someone about it, do something productive about it, don’t just let it wash over you because it won’t disappear, it’ll just build. The whole point of this band is to be a positive vessel and spread positivity.”

The positive environment is already paying dividends for Wolfe. The process of writing Vepera’s debut album has allowed closure on some of the demons that have plagued him from the past. “Some people impulsively write at the moment when they’re feeling something and that’s something that I’ve learnt I cannot do. I’d rather talk about something after I’ve lived it and recovered from it. When I started writing these lyrics it wasn’t something that was happening at that moment, it was something that happened in my past – I wanted it out of me. It’s extremely cathartic. I don’t have to deal with this emotion any more. It’s on paper, it’s done. It’s out of me.”

The depth of the album is not limited to lyrical content. As the sole songwriter for this effort, Wolfe had the flexibility to write whatever interested him at the time, and keen to ensure Vespera’s debut was not tied to one genre, he took full advantage of this freedom. “The whole goal was to pick out separate sub genres in rock. I didn’t want to just sound like a certain kind of band, I wanted to see if I could make a sampler, a platter, of just everything that we could sound like and then some. I can’t write the same song over and over again, I want to keep every song unique.”

Though the process of writing on his own has been rewarding, the prospect of crafting future records with his new band will bring a fresh perspective to their future sound. “The whole process was hair pulling and emotional but at the end of the day I grew as a musician. I’m really excited to do the second album with the band; they’re all amazing musicians and they have a lot to chime in on so I’m excited to see what we make together. For the next record I want to push the dynamic even more. I want to be able to get softer and more atmospheric at the same time but on another song get even more grandiose, heavier, more epic, and build up on the dynamics of the record.”

Before getting too far ahead with album number two, there’s the small matter of releasing the debut album to contend with, and the impending excitement of a touring schedule. While there’s no official release date just yet, the band are targeting the end of the year for the launch of the record. “We’re looking at November and between now and then we’ll be releasing content throughout the year, shows, touring and what not. It’s going to be a very jam packed year. We just want to get out and play music. It’s been three years since I’ve stood on a stage, I’m dying to play again!”

For an emerging band, it’s hard to justify the increasingly expensive trip overseas to play on our shores, but it’s something Vespera are targeting sooner, rather than later. “I want to tour the UK over and over again. My best friend lives there and so does my god daughter actually. From what I’ve seen, what I hear and what I’ve been told, it’s amazing and we’re dying to go! I feel rock music is alive and well there and it’s truly appreciated. If we can make it this year we absolutely will.”

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