Jesse & Noah Talk About Southern Usonia
Southern Usonia Photo One

In an alternate reality Jesse & Noah’s (Bellamy) album Southern Usonia would be topping the charts in America or at least some of the songs would be, because the lyrics are great, but we have come to expect that of this duo, and there are some great guitar solos that make your ears perk up. It just so happens that the album title plays to that alternate reality.

Jesse explains, “It could refer to the American South in an alternate reality.”

To which Noah adds, “Usonia is an archaic term for the United States that was favored by Frank Lloyd Wright and some other great thinkers of his day.  Everyone in Americana was making “identity” albums. It plays with that idea by coming from a place that doesn’t exist. It’s an imaginary identity album!”

The ten track album opens with “This Town Was Built On Heartbreak Songs,” which pays homage to Nashville where both Jesse and Noah live. The companion music video has cameo appearances in the audience by some storied musicians, singers and songwriters.

Noah explains, “We wanted people with some history behind them. We put the concept out there and ended up with a group of legends with a deep history in Nashville (such as), Tanya Tucker, Deborah Allen, T. G. Sheppard, Ronnie McDowell, and (of course) the Bellamy Brothers (David Bellamy is the father of Jesse and Noah and Howard is their uncle).”

Jesse says, “We knew that we wanted to do a video, but ultimately we didn’t know what form it would take. Our friends at the publicity firm Webster & Associates were kind enough to help us coordinate with some of the country legends on their roster. To work with cinematographer Joshua Black Wilkins had been on our to do list for a long time as well, so this was a perfect opportunity to collaborate with him.

Nashville Palace was chosen as the location for sentimental reasons, because we used to go there with our grandmother when we'd visit Nashville while growing up.”

The song talks about just what the title suggests the type of music that served as Music City’s foundation, songs about heartbreak. The lyrics talk about the personalities that defined other cities such as Los Angeles, Memphis and New York.

Noah talks about what inspired the song, “A few years ago Nashville started really changing a lot. I wanted to create a portrait of the version of it that I knew. One of the free TV stations was showing a bunch of old noir films. They generally take place in New York, L. A., or San Francisco and they have these great voice-over narrations with a certain style and rhythm. That’s where the spirit of the song comes from.”

Jesse continues talking about the song, “L.A. and New York have other facets of the entertainment industry to divide up the energy, but Nashville has always been more specifically a “song town.”

A really fun song on Southern Usonia is the second song, “Austin Keeps Me Weird.”

Noah says, “Austin’s motto is “keep Austin weird.” I liked the idea that if you didn’t quite fit in with the rest of Texas, you could go to Austin. It’s fun to get the mandolin out for this one when we play it live.”

“A House Called Hungry Bend,” is stunning in its beauty and spectacular, because of the instrumentals. More than any other song on the album or in recent memory from this duo this song rocks out. Noah is spectacular on the guitar, including a scintillating solo and he also plays the mandolin. This may also be the best vocal performance by Jesse in the decade or so that Riveting Riffs Magazine has been associated with Jesse & Noah.

“I carried the idea around for years.  I use to make frequent visits to Cedar Key in the Big Bend area of Florida and in some of the art galleries I started to notice multiple paintings of the same house. At some point I found out the name of the house was Hungry Bend and I was eventually directed to the actual house. I remember thinking I wanted to make the song equivalent of those paintings so that was when it first started. I tried to write it several times over the years but nothing really stuck. When we were working on material for this record we just started jamming on what would become the chord changes and some of the lyrics I had been working on, off and on, for years seemed to fit and then I finished it from there,” says Jesse.

Noah adds, “It’s a very Florida song with a sixties Folk-Rock feel to it. I played a Fender Jazzmaster on it because I thought it was a less obvious choice. There are lots of noises and harmonics you can get out of that guitar, because the strings are stretched behind the bridge. I tried to take advantage of that.”

The meandering “Pushing Off To Oblivion,” features understated vocals by Jesse and the instrumentals are nostalgic, reminding one of classic Rock songs from yesteryear. While the vocals create a more reflective mood they are juxtaposed to guitar work by Noah that injects an energetic vibe into the song, including a fabulous solo.

Noah says, “This song was mainly written by Jesse as country song with a David Bowie / Marc Bolan twist to it. Bowie’s original lead guitarist was a guy named Mick Ronson. I tried to capture a little of his style in the guitar solo. I used a Uni-Vibe effect pedal, which gives things an unmistakably seventies sound.”

Explaining the mood of the song, Jesse says, “I was thinking of Tennyson's portrayal of Ulysses, old and restless at home and longing to return to the journey.  Originally I thought the song might be part of a bigger concept I could develop like a musical or a suite or something and some of the lyrics I worked on for that became "Pushing My Will," another track on the album.”

For those music fans looking for a true blue Country music album you are not going to find it with Southern Usonia, because this collection of very good songs features a little bit of everything from Rock, to Americana and Country. Few of the songs can be pigeonholed as belonging to one distinct genre and that is a good thing. Noah says the diversity of the album is one of the things he really likes.

“We didn't really know where this one (Southern Usonia) was going when we started, but we just followed it and the album became exactly what it needed to be,” says Jesse.

Noah plays nine different instruments on the record and Jesse plays rhythm guitar. Jesse is the lead singer, with Noah providing background vocals. As for the other musicians who appear on the album, the drummer and percussionist is Herschel VanDyke, Sambo Moncivaiz plays bass for the song “Man Without A Country,” and Jim Heep plays pedal steel guitar on the opening song, “This Song Was Built On Heartbreak Songs.”

“Herschel’s been our drummer for the past three years or so. We initially worked out most of these songs in jam sessions with him. He’s become a big part of our sound. We’d been playing with a lot of different bassists over those three years and I ended up playing most of the bass on the album, but I knew that track (“Man Without A Country”) needed something different. Sambo is working with us on the next record on the technical side, but he will probably end up playing on a few tracks as well. Jim Heep is in our dad’s band (The Bellamy Brothers). We knew “This Town Was Built On Heartbreak Songs,” was going to need steel, and it had to be the right kind of steel. He is great at getting that classic country sound,” says Noah.

“Unrealized,” is a beautiful song that one can easily imagine being arranged for an orchestral setting with strings playing a prominent role. This is a beautiful song. There is no other way to describe it. “Unrealized,” has great crossover potential.

“For a while Jesse had this idea for song with a Brazilian jazz samba flavor. Until we found Herschel, we never had a drummer who could play it correctly. Nashville drummers don’t play sambas or bossa novas that often. After we cut the track, Jesse wrote several different versions of the lyrics. It probably took longer to write the lyrics than any song we’ve ever done. It’s tricky, because Brazilian music is meant to be in Portuguese and the sounds of the words are really more important than the literal content. I came up with some of lyrics after the guitar solo, with some inspiration from a line in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. It ended up filling in an empty space and completing the song,” says Noah.

Jesse provides further insights concerning the song “Unrealized,” “I wrote several sets of lyrics and at one point I even thought it might be an instrumental. As Noah said, with this track it felt particularly important to go with what the groove suggested the lyrics should be.”

Southern Usonia by Jesse & Noah is a fabulous album and this collection of songs offers the listener many different flavors, but always sounding cohesive. If you enjoy superb instrumentals, very good vocals and excellent songwriting then it would serve you well to purchase a copy of this outstanding album.

Please visit the Jesse & Noah website and you can listen to the music from Southern Usonia here.                  Return to Our Front Page

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This interview by Joe Montague  published July 19, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Jesse and Noah , unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved