Band Booking: Jesse Lortz of Case Studies

Interview by Tobias Carroll

Though he’d played music in a host of Seattle-area bands for years, I first came across Jesse Lortz as one-half of The Dutchess & The Duke. Their pair of albums — both highly recommended — were catchy and gritty, confessional and irreverent. (Their second album, Sunset/Sunrise, was the reason for my last conversation with Lortz, which took place in 2009.)

Following said band’s conclusion, Lortz has returned with Case Studies, which covers similar ground (touchstones: Leonard Cohen, mid-60s Stones, a garage-rock aesthetic) but takes an even more personal approach. The mood here is darker, the images more stark — and that shift in lyrical perspective was one of the topics we discussed earlier this week.

Was there a noticeable difference in your process of writing lyrics for Case Studies relative to your previous bands?
Normally, I write the songs all at once about a week before deadline and then record them. No editing. The Case Studies record took a while to come to fruition due to recording issues, so I had the opportunity along the way to cut some older songs and replace them with newer and better ones I had written over the course of trying to record the older songs. Instead of being a narrative about events over the course of a week and whatever I could come up with thematically in that time frame, it became a narrative of events over the course of one year. That is the difference as it relates to the album as a whole.

My songwriting in general hasn’t changed that much, except I take a lot more time to get them just the way I want. Dutchess and Duke songs were always written to accommodate the time frame of releasing an album so I could get a check from the label. Now I just write songs when I want to or need to psychologically or to mark an event. I also have more influences to draw from now, and more experience.

Your artist statement for The World Is Just a Shape to Fill the Night mentions that Case Studies will involve “non-musical creative writing.” What do you have in mind for this?
I am currently working on a book of short stories and poems. I will be self publishing it and trying to sell it in book or magazine shops! I have also been working on a children’s book, The Longest Eyelashes in the World, based on my son. A few years ago I designed and bound a two volume collection of the complete poems of Richard Brautigan, my favorite author. Since then I have been trying to get back into book building. I am also talking with Brooklyn artist Arturo Medrano about compiling and releasing a collection of his amazing collages.

On “The Day We Met,” the lyrical perspective shifts to the third person. It’s a subtle yet noticeable change of pace; what prompted you to use this?
I was in a situation with a woman where we were completely embodying archetypes of darkness and light. I was the damaged dark and bitter animal shrouded and sightless, and she was the light hearted and virtuous maiden who had graciously and sweetly taken the time to get to know and attempt to understand me. It made sense to tell our story from the third person because at that point in our relationship, we had ceased to be two ordinary lovers or even, to each other, ordinary human beings. We, or at least I, had become disconnected from her and our situation. We had become characters, so I used that song to tell the story our characters had become.

Once the song was written, did you have a sense that this would work best to close out the album?
I think Caleb at Sacred Bones wanted it to end out the record. Also the whistling fade out helps.

Are there musicians you hope to work with on future Case Studies recordings?
I would like to see what The Fresh and Onlys would do with my songs. Wymond Miles is an absolutely incredible guitar player.

What have you been reading lately?
Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark, Warlock by Oakley Hall, a lot of Dr Seuss.