Montreal-born singer-songwriter, producer Jesse Mac Cormack’s newest album SOLO came out in April and was inspired by him coming to terms with his mental health throughout the pandemic and learning an important but hard lesson; to move on and reach self-acceptance. Impressively, Jesse plays almost every instrument on SOLO himself, as he did on his 2019 debut album NOW. SOLO’s songs are electronic, emphasised with drum machines and synths complemented by wistful vocals. He has been making music ever since he was 15 when he discovered his passion for music in school during a music class. Besides his own music, as a jack of all trades Jesse has also produced Helena Deland’s acclaimed album Altogether Unaccompanied, as well as various recordings for Philippe Brach, Sara-Danielle, Rosie Valland and many others. He took a moment to talk to us about Montreal’s electronic music scene, what makes a successful producer-artist collaboration and more about the inspiration behind SOLO.
The Curve: Was there a specific moment that made you want to pursue music seriously as a career?
Jesse Mac Cormack: No, because to me making music is more like a lifestyle. Even in my career it’s going by stages, whatever big show I’m doing or prize I’m getting, whatever stage I’m at it never feels bigger than where I was before. The next thing is always just a baby step ahead of me.
TC: You’re so many things a singer, songwriter and producer- what do you see yourself as first?
JMC: That’s a good question! The way I see it is I’m just into music in general, like sometimes it’ll be singing or playing an instrument, it’s always different depending on the context. Music is very contextual like if I’m at home alone I’ll make different kinds of music than when I’m with other people, it always depends on the environment I’m in. If I could only pick one out of those three things to do it would be songwriting but it’s so hard to choose because producing and songwriting go together.
TC: Who are your biggest musical influences?
JMC: It changes, but right now it’s Radiohead, James Blake, and Little Dragon. Suuns is a band who are on the same wavelength as I am, they’re like a really dark electro band. I really love them.
TC: As a producer you’ve worked with a wide variety of artists including Rosie Valland, Helena Deland, Cri, and many others. What is it that makes you choose to work with an artist and produce their music?
JMC: I think it has to be an exchange and I really have to connect with the art that person makes. I have to feel like I’m really going to get something out of it as a person, so personality wise I have to connect and be able to have fun with that person, the vibe has to be good, that’s the first criteria. Musically, I want to be on the same level and feel like there’s a good exchange. So those are the two main things for me.
“The artist comes to me because they want something from me and I have something that they don’t have and I want to feel the same way. I want to admire them and be impressed by their talent and musicianship or whatever it is that I like about them. “
TC: What do you mean when you say you and the artist have to be on the “same level”, does it mean they have to make the same music as you do?
JMC: Making a record takes months so you don’t want to be arguing for months. So there has to be a certain level of music tastes matching. What I mean by “on the same level” is the artist comes to me because they want something from me and I have something that they don’t have and I want to feel the same way. I want to admire them and be impressed by their talent and musicianship or whatever it is that I like about them.
TC: So is that what a relationship between an artist and producer should be, one where you’re both learning from each other, not one person telling the other what to do?
JMC: Well yes, but depending on the moment the roles change. Moments when there have been big creative differences are important because you realise “ok this is not my place and I’m not going to do this again.”
TC: Your latest album SOLO came out in April, what was the inspiration behind it?
JMC: During the pandemic and those two years I had, well we all had a lot of time to stop and reflect on ourselves and with the artwork on the album cover the way the album was sealed in a really positive way with me hugging myself. It kind of gave a second life to the songs. To me it’s a reflection of where I’m at in my life and accepting the bad times I went through and embracing my vulnerability, that’s really what the album was inspired by and is about.
TC: You mentioned that the songs don’t necessarily have an important meaning behind them but what is the general message you’re trying to send to the audience throughout the album?
JMC: Most of the songs have a lot of turmoil, darkness and sadness in them but they’re all about different things. To me the thing that connects them is embracing this inner turmoil and figuring out how to grow out of negativity.
TC: The album has an interesting cover, it’s you literally hugging yourself, how did it come about? Did you come up with the idea or did someone else suggest it?
JMC: Nathan Nardin, he’s this visual genius architect/designer who lives in Montreal and he’s the one who came up with the album cover idea. I thought it was a great idea and I loved it right away. We instantly connected and it was very natural, he came to my place when we first met and I just started talking about the record and what I was going through at the time and while I was talking to him he started drawing and it was a really cool moment. I was impressed with his creativity, me and him have been a really good fit. He also designed the set for my lightshow, he’s someone I’m going to keep close.
TC: What’s your songwriting process like?
JMC: I usually write notes on my phone pretty randomly, it could be a word, sentence, something I see in a book, or hear in a movie. I start with that and then make beats and ambients and when I feel like I have a vibe or something interesting is happening I’ll pull out my phone and start singing and then from there a verse will be born, and then chords and then a chorus and then a song. That’s usually how it goes and then I torture myself for months to try and make it good! [laughs]
TC: So many artists say that they struggle with some form of perfectionism and they can’t let go sometimes. Do you feel that way when you’re creating music?
JMC: In a way it is tough because I always feel like “ok I’m almost done now” and then you listen to someone else’s music or you see a show and you’re like “oh my god! I’m so not done!” Then I feel like I need to push my music further and I spend another month doing that and then the same thing happens again on the next song. It’s really hard to put a time frame on creation especially when you’re composing and letting new influences in.
TC: Do you think it’s a good or bad thing that a lot of artists including yourself are never completely satisfied with their work?
JMC: I think it’s really good because that’s what pushes my art further.
TC: You’re currently based in Montreal, what’s the electronic music scene like there?
JMC: I have been collaborating again with an artist called Cri and we’ve been playing big shows in Montreal. I think Montreal has a really good electronic music scene, but it’s not really connected to mainstream media. I think the mainstream media and culture in Quebec is very safe and boring.
“In other places in the world like Berlin the mainstream music scene is more interesting, it’s more evolved and left field, the left field is the mainstream over there but that is not the case in Quebec. Most people have been listening to the same thing for years and they’re playing it safe.”
TC: So do you think the mainstream music culture in Montreal is not accepting of electronic music because it’s not open minded enough?
JMC: Yeah for example, I was at this big music award show in Montreal where they give out prizes and it just really feels like everything that’s been on the radio is not interesting. I feel like in other places in the world like Berlin the mainstream music scene there is more interesting. I think that’s the case with all art forms, it’s more evolved and left field, the left field is the mainstream over there but that is not the case in Quebec. Most people have been listening to the same thing for years and they’re playing it safe.
TC: What type of music is popular in mainstream Montreal?
JMC: It’s like boring folky cheesy music and I think it’s really sad because there’s a lot of talent here.
TC: Do you sometimes worry that talented musicians from Montreal will leave and go to other cities where they feel they will be more accepted? Have you thought of leaving Montreal?
JMC: Well it’s definitely a place you want to get out of because Montreal is like the centre of the province so there is cool stuff happening in Montreal but all the rest is countryside and there isn’t a lot of artistic development in Quebec outside of Montreal. Interesting art doesn’t reach the majority of the province, it’s very niche and there’s only a small amount of people who appreciate it. A lot of artists leave and go to L.A or London for a while to try to make it. I’ve definitely thought about leaving but I’m rooted here and know a lot of people. I can see myself leaving to go to other cities for a while but not moving.
“I would actually love to make pop music. I listen to pop all the time and love catchy choruses but it’s just not what I do musically. I go to weird, moody, left field places.”
TC: Most industries today are competitive but the music industry has always been such a competitive and harsh business- how do you deal with it and the inevitable rejection that comes with it that so many other artists face?
JMC: I try to keep my focus on just making good music, if I was thinking about that, my music would be pop and it’s not. Whenever I feel like my music has a big hook or it’s poppy, I listen to other artists and then I realise it’s completely left field.
TC: Would you ever want to make pop music? Do you try to avoid creating it?
JMC: No I don’t try to avoid it, it’s just my instincts naturally aren’t pop it’s not that I want to it’s just that it happens. I would actually love to make pop music. I listen to pop all the time and love catchy choruses but it’s just not what I do musically. I go to weird, moody, left field places.
TC: Now that the album is out, what’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?
JCM: More music will come out next year and I have some shows and tours lined up. I think I’m going to tour Europe in the fall. I’ll definitely be playing shows all over the place a lot in the next year.
You can download and listen to SOLO here
You can follow Jesse’s journey here: