The immediately striking thing about Jesse Sykes is that she seems like a person out of time. She looks like she should have been one of Dylan’s muses in the ’60s rather than getting out of a rented SUV and asking directions to the little venue where Paste Magazine is officially ending the tour that serves as its wake. The music she plays suffers similarly. Sykes, along with her loose backing collective The Sweet Hereafter, plays a stripped-down, earnest take on country and folk that is too raw to find much of an audience among country fans and not nearly ironic enough for the indie-rock crowd. Like, Love, Lust, and the Open Halls of the Soul received good reviews when it was released in 2007, because it should have, but the album failed to find the audience it deserved. As magazines like Paste and No Depression, among the largest proponents of Sykes’s work, go under, she is left to hope that the some part of the Internet is reserved for artists who seem to have no place appearing on a computer screen.
How has the tour been so far?
It’s been really special. Because of the dynamics of the tour, it’s been really easy for people to get to know each other. There are four bands, which is pretty rare. There are lots of people. We’ve gotten particularly close with Mimicking Birds and Langhorne Slim, in particular. They’re really nice people, and I also really like their music. That’s golden when that happens. It’s a rare gift. Paste Magazine basically shit the bed the day the tour was announced, so there was a weird vibe at the beginning where there wasn’t much effort put in to getting the shows together, and people were just down.
What happened to pull the tour together?
It turned around once people got past the idea that it was four very different bands and it wasn’t going to be promoted very well. We just decided to have fun and play music. There have been some really good nights and there have been some empty rooms. You’re just planting seeds. You’ve got to overlook that stuff.
You’ve already mentioned Paste’s troubles. Does it concern you that magazines like Paste, Harp, and No Depression are all going out of business?
It used to really bum me out. I’m a freak in that I’m not a fan of the Internet. I think that it’s done a lot of destruction. We’re just sort of seeing the fallout now, and I used to be worried, but now I’m more like, “Let it all fall to hell and maybe it will thin out some of fodder out there.” People are going to blogs instead, which is a bummer in that the bar is so low for them, but on the other hand maybe in 10 years the bar will be raised as the dabblers fall by the wayside.
Are you worried that a band like yours will get lost on the Internet?
I think that my band will get lost in the way that everything gets lost. There are some things I wish would disappear from the Internet that will be there forever. I hate that there’s shit up there that’s so ridiculous and photographs that are horrible. It’s awful. You have no control over your personal mythology like you did back in the day. Everything’s up for grabs. I find it disheartening.
How do you plan to promote your new album, given that many of the outlets that supported you no longer exist?
We’ve always gotten very good press, whatever format it comes in, so I don’t worry so much about us individually. But collectively, it’s such a clusterfuck out there that I don’t think many people have the attention span to sift through it all. In terms of us, I don’t know the answer to that. There’s definitely been a change of context, but it remains to be seen what effect it will have.
What can you tell me about your new record?
For anyone who’s familiar with us, it’s probably our most challenging record. It’s a continuation of where we left off, but it’s heavier. The first song is ten minutes long, and it’s more complex than most of our old material. A lot of people aren’t even listening to albums, so it’s a great time to go out and really make the album you want to make, because who cares? I look at the record as looking into the void of everything we’re dealing with right now. This is such a confusing time, so artists need to be making records of the same weight. It’s a heavy time to be a human. People are going to interpret that in their own ways, but I think that the music needs to reflect it.
Why has there been such a delay between records?
We haven’t exactly been totally gone. We made a couple of EPs between the two records, and we were touring up until this time last year. The record took about a year to write and record because it was kind of intermittent, getting studio time. I’ve been doing some work with Sunn O))) and Boris. That’s been an ongoing thing over the last few years. Other than that, I’ve been focused on getting the album together and finding some of the artwork.
How have you grown and evolved since the last record?
I think I’m definitely an anomaly in that I’m getting older and still doing it. Music’s kind of a weird thing. Some parts of making music are transcendent, but in another way we are very much in the trenches. I don’t think that I ask for the same things from music that I did when I was young. On a good day I feel really blessed and I don’t necessarily want for more. I mean, it would be nice to have health insurance, but I feel like getting older has made me feel luckier to have had these experiences and met so many interesting people. It’s an interesting vantage point when you’re not so much looking down the line at the future. What is, is. I’m doing this because I feel like I’m connecting with people. I might end up at the next level of recognition, but at the end of the day I’m only really bummed when I feel like I haven’t made that connection.