On his new EP ‘Birmingham’ Jean-Étienne Sheehy shines a little light on a lesser known side of his songwriting.
Saint-Jack is a new project from Beard Springsteen frontman and Bored Coast Records founder, JE Sheehy, who found his latest dose of inspiration while traveling the Maritimes and Quebec this past summer through his work as a music journalist. It has been well over a year since Sheehy released any solo material of his own, choosing to devote much of 2016 to Beard Springsteen and getting his label off the ground.
Described as “the soundtrack for national hangover day”, Birmingham, the debut EP from Saint-Jack, is some of Sheehy’s most personal material to date and a solid effort on his part to reconnect with the French music community he so passionately supports.
“In early June, I ended up covering a French music festival for work where I was surrounded by high quality Francophone acts and different members of the industry which I’d never have access to,” said Sheehy. “After three days, I was so inspired by the energy of the festival, and this strong reconnection with music in my mother tongue that I had this ‘Fuck it, I wanna be part of the gang again’ moment.”
“I took all the courage I had and asked my festival roommate, a key member of the Quebec music industry, for feedback on my French stuff,” said Sheehy. “I’d already shown her Beard Springsteen earlier in the week and she liked it, but showing that band to people doesn’t get under my skin since it’s all in-your-face and energy. This time, I really felt like a high school kid playing his first talent show.”
At the time, he had just finished an album’s worth of material he intended to release under his previous solo project, Off Season. But after some thought and consideration, Sheehy decided to develop his new material further and take the music in a different direction.
“My roommate offered me constructive feedback, and I clearly had a bunch of stuff to work on in these songs before they were ready to be shared,” he said. “When I got home I ended up booking studio time with Dylan Ward, who’d recorded the Beard Springsteen EP, and then worked every single word and arrangement in the songs.”
As he explains, one of the major differences between Off Season and Saint-Jack is in the development of the music. Where much of his Off Season material developed rather quickly, often in a single session, the process of writing this latest collection of songs involved a lot more time and patience to get things right.
“A lot of the Off Season material doesn’t have the care and the attention to detail that Saint-Jack has,” said Sheehy. “Off Season was a great bedroom outlet when I was in college, but there’s been so many positive changes in my artistic approach that I feel there’s a distance between the two projects.”
Birmingham is probably best described as pop music, but understanding where Sheehy’s musical attention has been recently, this EP represents a major departure (or maybe the perfect compliment) to his recent output.
While he has always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to songwriting, Saint-Jack finds Sheehy going deeper both lyrically and musically. It would appear he now has a musical outlet to suit any emotional or musical need imaginable. We should all be so lucky.
“Both Beard Springsteen and Off Season are very personal outlets to share my thoughts and experiences, as is Saint-Jack,” said Sheehy. “I can’t write fiction stories and I have a hard time writing about other people’s experiences too. The biggest difference is that Beard Springsteen is a very direct outlet. I rarely change words in songs that I write for that band. I usually talk about one specific story, which happens in the course of an hour or maybe a day.. With Saint-Jack, there’s a lot of rewriting involved, but also distance. Saint-Jack goes deeper, looking at a year sometimes, or the dynamics in that year.”
Sheehy credits musicians like Philippe B, Avec pas d’casque, Jean Leloup, Daniel Bélanger, and Stephen Faulkner as some of the inspiration behind his new material. But at the heart of it all, he’s just happy to writing songs in the language he knows best.
“In this case, because it’s my mother tongue, it’s easier for me to build images, rewrite every line until every word fits and take more risks,” he said. “It definitely fills a void in my creativity.”
Birmingham is available now through Bored Coast Records.