Now/It's: An Interview with Jake Wesley Rogers

What constitutes a spiritual experience? Is it the ethereal state of satisfaction that comes with some form of discovery? Is it loss? Is it joy? Is it something in between? Realistically, it’s some combination of “all of the above,” but within the confines of being a case-by-case basis. Each individual’s experience with the spiritual can vary, sometimes it’s perceived as literal, other times it’s simply figurative. In the end, it’s likely something more akin to affirmation than any sort actual universal confirmation. It’s a positive validation of something innately known to an individual despite the general trepidation and animus that coincides with the human experience. For Jake Wesley Rogers, Spiritual is the fullest representation of his human experience. From a process of true self discovery, confrontation, and interpretation, Rogers has reached an artistic crest. A cresendo, at least in terms of his current status. After years of grappling with various challenges and anxieties, Spiritual is Rogers’ offering of something to help draw out the (at the risk of sounding redundant) spiritual experience for any and all who interact with his work.

Now/It’s met with Jake Wesley Rogers at Portland Brew in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee.

N/I - Thanks for meeting with me.

Jake - Thank you so much.

N/I - So is this your tea time for the day?

Jake - I’ve had probably close to four cups so far….

N/I - What got you into to tea as opposed to coffee?

Jake - Coffee makes me manic, and then it makes me feel terrible.

N/I - Well it’s not that good for you, so that checks out.

Jake - I think that was it.

N/I - Now I say that as I plan to sip this coffee throughout our conversation, but that’s beside the point.

Jake - I went through a phase last year where I wanted to get back into it really back, but then I noticed that my overall mood in that period was just terrible. Tea makes me feel good.

N/I - And here you are.

Jake - It gets me through the day.

N/I - That’s fantastic. So how have thing been for you lately?

Jake - They’ve been good.

N/I - I know “Little Queen” came out recently.

Jake - That’s right. It’s wild because I spent so long writing everything and to put it out…. It’s a lot of emotions built up.

N/I - Totally, and then everyone is left to immediately interpret it and….

Jake - Get bored…

N/I - Or stick with it. Ruminate over it.

Jake - Exactly. I have a lot of peace with it. These past few releases I’ve had a lot of peace, which is nice - I think it’s because I took so long to make sure I “said it right,” the way I wanted it to be. I wasn’t too worried about it.

N/I - That’s good.

Jake - I feel like I’m doing this authentically. I’ll be rewarded in whatever way I’ll be rewarded.

N/I - Did it take you awhile to get to that point? To avoid the emotional and mental animosity that comes along with the thought of “How is this going to be received?”

Jake - I think because I put out my first EP when I was fifteen - which you’ll never find, by the way….

N/I - That’s fair. I get that. Sometimes that needs to be done.

Jake - I did a good job of taking that down. I had already been through this emotional walk [during a release]. But this time felt a little different, because this time I had a team helping me. In a lot of ways, my expectations were a lot higher, but I feel like we’re meeting them, which has been nice, too. This is probably my first project I’ve put out where I feel like my whole soul is a part, and that just feels great.

N/I - Why do you think that’s the case with these two songs that are already out and eventually all of Spiritual versus, say like, Evergreen?

Jake - I do love it. But I think Evergreen was right when I moved to Nashville, and I was meeting a lot of people. It wasn’t a project that was forced, but I didn’t go as deep as I wanted. As I knew I would end up going.

N/I - Do you think that was an age or time and place thing?

Jake - Maybe time and place. Right after Evergreen came out, I was confronted all sorts of transgressions of the past [laughs]. So it kind of makes sense whereas making this new project, it was a lot of me dealing with things I’d never dealt with. Growing up in Missouri. Growing up gay. Growing up with all of these secrets and I was like “Wow. I’ve never actually written about that.” And all of those things started kind of coming back up.

N/I - Why do you think that is? That that was the moment things started to come about?

Jake - Well my first year in Nashville was really insane, because I came here for Belmont and through Belmont, those weird things lined up where I did the showcase, got a publishing deal and then I started dating someone new. The first year was amazing. Things were great.

N/I - I would say so.

Jake - And then I think once that shine wore off… I feel like the body keeps score. If you deal with it then, you’re going to have to deal with it later.

N/I - At some point, life will represent itself to you whether you are ready or not.

Jake - Exactly. And it just fucking slapped me across the face.

N/I - So were you able to reconcile with that proverbial slap across the face quickly?

Jake - No…. Well, maybe quickly. I feel like I needed to fix it. It was a hefty year and a half. Lot’s of therapy and journaling and all of this stuff, and I still feel like I’m kind of…. I think it was sort of the perfect time and place, because I had the tools around me, and I feel really grateful for that. I could afford a therapist. I was introduced to meditation around the same time. So I was doing all these things, and it all lined up kind of quickly. And at the same time, last year I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking. I even stopped drinking coffee. I just needed to release all of that. So it was a long time, but in retrospect, it was like “Oh, it really hasn’t been that long.”

N/I - Sure. In the grand scheme of things, a year, year and a half, if you look at how long one hopes to live, that’s not a ton of time. But in the moment, it does, day by day feel very overwhelming. I think most people have been in similar scenarios. It’s a scenario in which when you recognize it, that’s a big achievement.

Jake - It is. I think I had that moment recently. I was like “Wow. I’ve come a long way.” But it was a lot of work. A lot of suffering and pain.

N/I - And sometimes - I won’t speak for you - but I know sometimes I get hung up on things being so difficult for however long, but if you just look at how much less difficult it is now.

Jake - You read old journal entries and marvel about some of the things you said and were feeling. And that’s kind of why this project is titled Spiritual. I was thinking of all these old…. These things that seem bad and terrible and were really hard, but now I’m at this point where it feels very contented. And I love who I am now, but if that had never happened, I would never be who I am now. And then it starts to feel like this magical, ethereal thing, which is where I am now, which is nice.

N/I - It’s the furthest from a bad thing. So in getting to that point and deciding to write in service of this EP - I know you did some co-writing - how do you approach those interactions? Do you have to present it in the sense of “Here’s what I’ve experienced and just now begun understanding, is this a good idea?”

Jake - That’s interesting. I guess song by song…. The first song I wrote for the project is a song called “Holy Man” that will be on the EP. I wrote it with Mike Miller, who ended up producing the whole thing. That was kind of a situation where I wrote that song and then I didn’t write another song for that project for another nine months. It was kind of looming over me. We got together, and I really trust Mike, he shared this story that allowed me to share a story, and then he played piano and then it came out. And that’s kind of how “Jacob From the Bible” had happened too: I was writing with a guy who I had written with once before. I wrote down that title a little while ago, and he was playing acoustic guitar and we were having a really good conversation, only to have the whole song just roll out. Which that’s rare. That’s two percent of the time [laughs].

N/I - Very rarely do things just spill out like that.

Jake - Right. And after I sang “Jacob from the Bible…” I was like “Whoa. Okay. I think I need to sing about this one thing that’s really been on my mind,” and I kind of get intense in those moments, but luckily I’m around people who encourage that kind of thing. They let me follow those trails. I’m not pushy, but there is a tunnel vision there.

N/I - And those other people manage to read the scenario properly in order to allow your creative roam.

Jake - And then on the other ones that I wrote alone, they were just kind of me on pianoing, improving and having one of those moments where I was sitting there like I usually do every day and for some reason that day, a magical lightning bolt came down. I think my favorite song on the project is called “The Pretender.” It’s a story that I never thought was worth a song. It’s literally about me being fourteen and being in love with this guy who’s sixteen. It’s very innocent. But I’m like “Wow. That version of me really needed the song.”

N/I - So when you’re re-introducing yourself to these experiences, are you looking at it from your current lens? Or is it back to being your fourteen year old self?

Jake - I think it’s from my current lens. And what gets me emotional is the thought of singing it to that version of myself. That’s what I think about when I sing “Jacob from the Bible,” I’m singing to this very, very, very lost boy whose overwhelmed and sad. I think that was a big part of me, finding ways to interact with the parts that I’ve mistreated for too long. Just try and have more grace.

N/I - And is that a byproduct of growing up in The Rust Belt?

Jake - The Midwest…. Or the Bible Belt.

N/I - That’s fair. It’s funny, Missouri falls into that unique area where it could technically be the Midwest, it could technically be The South, it could technically be The Rust Belt….

Jake - It’s everything. Where are you from?

N/I - I’m from here.

Jake - Nice! Like Nashville proper?

N/I - Like Nashville, Brentwood area. It’s one of those things where I debate going through the effort of explaining the areas and trying to break down someone’s preconceived notions….

Jake - “I know what you’re about!”

N/I - It’s just not worth the effort. Because most of the time it’s a moot point.

Jake - “Not all of us. It’s not my fault.”

N/I - So it is funny.

Jake - So you’ve been here the whole time.

N/I - More or less. I still like Nashville more than most other places. But to bring it back around to your interacting with these experiences, was it more so environment or was it a case of self?

Jake - What do you mean? Say that again?

N/I - Sorry. I kind of lost my train of thought…. In growing up gay in Missouri, did you know that?

Jake - I first tried coming out when I was eleven, so it was always there. But I think it’s because I grew up doing a lot of theatre, so obviously [laughs]. Representation is high. When I was in sixth grade, I fully came out, I was in all these musicals, and it was all there. That’s why I’m like, representation does really matter in realizing who I was so young. It’s kind of interesting, because apart from my first experience in sixth grade of trying to come out, which did not go well, I have more grace for the situation. It was 2008. A lot has changed - we’ve come a long way in eleven years [laughs]. I just don’t think a lot of people were ready for it. A lot of the people that mattered in my life came around, and they had to grow, too. So again, I’m privileged to have support and best friends around me, but I think it’s more the idea of being hyper aware. In thinking “Oh, I need to draw back in this situation,” but they’re kind of just microaggressions at this point. It’s the “I want to branch out and do this, but I can’t do that because of safety.”

N/I - Some version of self-preservation.

Jake - Exactly. You learn to hide yourself. That’s another one of my things - I’m amazed at people who are so vulnerable. Talking is really hard for me to be vulnerable, but music is easier.

N/I - That’s interesting. So through music it’s easier for you to be vulnerable?

Jake - And I’ve done that forever. I was using “he” pronouns in songs since I was thirteen, before people knew that I was singing them. So I guess I’ve felt safe in those instances. I really came to realize that in the past year. I thought I was a very open person, but there’s definitely some things where I’m like “Oh my god, if I was open with that, they would kill me.”

N/I - That’s natural. There’s always a nagging thought in the back of the mind that suggests the worst.

Jake - Exactly. “Everyone would hate me!” But everyone does that. I mean, it’s like Missouri. In my town, there was a mega-church. There is a mega-church that’s fifty thousand members. They overturned discrimination laws, which is crazy. That was always kind of there. But this project wasn’t an “I’m repressed project….”

N/I - Oh no! I don’t mean to present it as such. But I do think experience does inform everything that anyone does.

Jake - It’s interesting to think back to what it was actually like [laughs].

N/I - So this will be a little bit of a divergent topic, but in researching and reading what other publications and people have written about you, there are a lot of comparisons that pop up. And for as long as I’ve been doing this, I do my best to avoid comparing Artist X to Artist Y, because it’s unfair to Artist X in that equation, because everyone should be able to operate without the confines of comparison. So I’m curious, how do you feel about the comparisons that crop up? You’ve been making music for a while, but it’s been Jake Wesley Rogers’ music this whole time.

Jake - I’m glad you said that, because it is always weird to me. I understand when you’re starting out, putting these names in your bio allows a promoter to say “Oh, I get it.” But that’s a really hard question….

N/I - That’s fair.

Jake - No, when someone asks “What do you sound like?” I’m not even trying to be extra, but it’s like “What do you mean? It’s pop music.” It does make me uncomfortable. Especially when a lot of people I “sound like” are influences.

N/I - I would imagine the Amy Winehouse and Adele of it all. I like to ask that question, because some people, but it is becoming an increasingly rare situation, but some people love it. It’s something that I can’t imagine being equated to how Anderson Cooper interviews someone. His style is much different than my own. But I would like to say “Sean is Sean,” as I would imagine you would hope people say “Jake is Jake,” you can hear the influences, but it doesn’t have to be represented by that.

Jake - Because a lot of times they’re not right.

N/I - And that’s the other thing….

Jake - Because I don’t really listen to Sam Smith or James Blake….

N/I - And that’s what you run the risk of - being beholden to what the person writing about you knows. They may not know about anyone outside of James Blake, and that’s the only person they can think of who happens to play piano with some heavy pop visions…. That was more of a personal interest question more than anything else. It fascinates me from a “journalistic” standpoint, and for someone like you, who does do a lot of press, I can imagine it gets tiresome.

Jake - Although, one time I did do this show and someone said Sam Smith, and I was like “Whatever.” But they said “A mix of Sam Smith and Rufus Wainwright,” and I was never happier. Because I love Rufus Wainwright. If someone says that, you can’t help but be like ‘Thank you!” If someone said I was like Joni Mitchell, I’d be crying. It’s more so when someone uses a contemporary.

N/I - Have you ever been to The Wainwright’s Holiday show at the Ryman?

Jake - No! I saw him in January…. No, in December. Like Martha and Rufus?

N/I - Martha and Rufus, and then they always bring out Emmylou Harris, and then a couple other people as well.

Jake - What!? That’s crazy. How have I not heard of that? Do they do it every year?
N/I - Well it’s my understanding they do it every year, but they do split the dates between Nashville and Canada - Montreal, I believe - every couple of years or so.

Jake - Maybe that was last year?

N/I - It could have been. But it’s a lot of fun.

Jake - You’ve been to it?

N/I - I have. It’s really great. Them being the Wainwrights, they bring out all sorts of amazing special guests.

Jake - They’re amazing. He’s amazing.

N/I - How did you first come across Rufus Wainwright?

Jake - Actually, my boyfriend, Charles, introduced him to me. He said “Jake, you have to listen to this song” sometime last year, and it was “Foolish Love.” It was another example of representation. I was like “Oh, wow. This is a very alt singer songwriter who is queer,” and I only knew his version of “Hallelujah” at that point. I feel like among music people, he’s very revered, but I don’t feel like he’s a household name, necessarily.

N/I - Well like you said, I think most people would recognize the name as the guy who sang “Hallelujah” in Shrek.

Jake - Or they wouldn’t even know that he was the one who sang on it. And I wonder sometimes, because he was so flamboyant in the 90s - his interviews were crazy. They were amazing, but was that too much for the time?

N/I - It’s funny, I’ve always thought of Rufus as an unintentional performance artist, especially in the 90s.

Jake - That’s a great way to put it.

N/I - I don’t think he ever set out to create a character, entity, or proxy of himself, but because there were so few performance artists on his level of exposure, people weren’t accustomed it.

Jake - They weren’t ready for it. It was honestly too much. For some reason Rufus…. When I was listening to Rufus a lot, I was also getting into Oscar Wilde, and they both have this Venn Diagram in my head of the same type of person.

N/I - They do resemble each other in a number of ways.

Jake - And there’s like one hundred years between them. Almost exactly 100 years. They’re both these personalities - performance art is the best way to put it - they were a little too much for their time. But since then, they’ve inspired years and years and years of queer artists, and other artists. I stitch sometimes, and I stitched something of Oscar Wilde not long ago. I like having stuff like that around me. It’s comforting.

N/I - Absolutely. So outside of music, it sounds like you’re into literature to some degree, and also stitching. How much of your time is devoted to other interests?

Jake - I feel like a lot of the visual art, at least the past couple of years, has been used to supplement the music. It hasn’t just been visual art for whatever sake. Like for this project, it was designing all the covers, and preparing all the videos and making merch the past couple years, it’s been in service of that. Music is still eighty, ninety percent of it. But I do like it when I have the time to paint for a few hours. It’s amazing. And it teaches me so much about songwriting too.

N/I - How so?

Jake - They’re just so similar. There’s such a similarity in finishing a painting in finishing a song for me. When I’m finishing a painting, it’s really hard to stop painting. There’s a stroke with a bunch of volume to it, so to kind of let it sit there, maybe that’s the same as a line I sang that’s so interesting, but there’s a part of me that wants to make it perfect. And started a painting or starting a song are so similar to me, where I just kind of stand on the canvas scared. Usually when I go for an idea with a painting, I don’t like it as much as when it was an abstraction. Sometimes it’s the same with a song. The thing I love about physical art though is that it’s physical. You have something to show for it at the end, whereas a song doesn’t necessarily exist when you finish it.

N/I - Sure. With physical art, there’s a sort of muscle memory. You remember aspects of the process. Not necessarily every stroke or every sketch or every stitch, but you do remember the time you spent doing it. Whereas with writing, and I’ll use the type of writing I do as an example, it’s definitely mentally taxing, but I don’t necessarily leave it thinking “I’ve been standing for four hours straight.”

Jake - Exactly. And it’s a longer process. Longer in different ways.

N/I - They both are long, in certain senses, but at the same time, to self-edit while writing is much different than editing in art. You can’t necessarily edit a painting unless you’re just starting over entirely.

Jake - Once that stroke’s there, it’s kind of hard to cover up.

N/I - So with this EP that’s coming out on April 5th, do you have any hope for how it’s received or how people interact with it? Again, we started this conversation with the idea that once it’s out, people are left to their own devices.

Jake - In the age of Instagram, it’s so strange. It’s hard to know. I was thinking today, when you released something in the 70s, they didn’t really know for a couple days even. You had to wait for sales reports, or reviews. I think for this one, I can’t really think too much about it. I know all I can control is the art itself, and the team I put around it to help it reach as far as possible. I definitely have expectations, but it’s just really strange now, because you can get fifty mentions in stories, and it’s amazing, but is it actually impacting people? I want it to impact people. Each of these songs tell a story, and I believe in these stories because they’ve helped me. That’s kind of a lame answer [laughs]....

N/I - Not at all. If that’s what you truly want from it, that’s what you want.

Jake - My favorite part of the whole process is performing, so, I think that’s when it’s full circle for me. I have so much more anxiety writing and recording than being on stage. That’s what I crave.