Fresh off his latest single "Mona Lisa," the Philly-born artist opens up about redefining the nature of his sound and the music he wants to create.
Last week, Jesse Moldovsky, who goes by the artist name j solomon, released his latest single, “Mona Lisa.” It’s an indie-rock anthem about the cyclical nature of life where “you know that it would take some money to make more money/You gotta get some money if you wanna get outta here." It is catchy and energetic and a complete 180° from the folk, acoustic sound that he has been known for writing.
While his music was self-described early on as “music for driving your second hand car in the pouring rain on the way to a likely haunted cabin in a pine tree forest in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness of the northeastern continental united states,” the newer inclusion of electric guitars, drums, brass instruments, and the grungy sounds of his last few singles hold only the faintest echo of the “pouring rain” vibes of before.
He is changing and entering into a new era.
Jesse began writing poems around the age of 7, and kept them in a spiral-bound notebook which he held as a prized secret. At age 12, he began to learn to play the guitar, inspired by artists like Jack Johnson and James Taylor, but was a musician to just his mom for most of his adolescence. It wasn’t until he took a year away from school due to an injury that the project of j solomon began.
Senior year he began doing open mics, mainly at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, and got involved in the Philly folk scene, often being the youngest person playing shows. During this time he ended up recording his first album, “Nocturne” with a friend. It was then that he put out his most popular song to date, “Hazel Eyes.”
He laughed when I asked about his early album “Nocturne.” “The secret album” he called it. It is available on Soundcloud, but no longer on Spotify or other streaming services. “To me it felt a little bit like I felt like a kid,” he reflected. So Jesse and his management team decided that “Nocturne” didn’t need to live in the same place as the current j solomon music.
“It felt right to move forward with not a completely clean slate but with a mostly clean slate,” he said. Part of the decision was also because “There's so much emphasis on artists being new even though they’re not very new.”
After high school, he moved to Philadelphia and began going to basement shows. But he never felt like he fit in with his solo acoustic guitar and folk sounds.
“Out of spite of not fitting into this indie-rock environment, I was like ‘I can try to do indie-rock music’ and kind of completely fell in love with it.” He moved to New York City a few years later and has been pushing for indie-rock ever since.
Switching into a new genre wasn’t a hard decision. “It takes so long for music to come out,” which made the new j solomon hard to present to the public, but the decision to make the switch was “instantaneous.”
He made sure to emphasize, though, that it’s not a new person, just a new side of him. “All these songs could be played as folk songs but I wanna show you one deliberate side of me.” He frequently plays acoustic covers of all of his songs on TikTok and Instagram livestreams, keeping that part of him alive.
“It’s the duality of it,” he said. It's a duality that still lives within him: being someone who lives in a big city with the grunge, speed, and atmosphere and the music that comes out of that, and the person within himself who loved folk, learned how to drive on a tractor, and was a self-described “American farm kid.”
In recognizing this duality, his music has become more mature and self-realized now.
“Greetings From Suburbia,” one of the j solomon songs of the new era, feels like the hindsight anthem that only comes with age. Based heavily on his life in suburban Pennsylvania, “Greetings From Suburbia,” “is a cynical, satirical piece.” When it came out, Jesse was surprised by how well received it was (it’s one of his top 3 songs on Spotify), noting that he “didn’t realize how global it would be, but I guess everyone goes through the high school experience and it’s so microcosmic but representative of the real world in a lot of ways [...] because every town is a little bit the same.”
Most of Jesse’s songs come from personal experience, or self-reflection. He doesn’t have a band behind him, so when it comes to songwriting it’s just him and his guitar. He carefully picked his words, as he described his approach: “I'm kind of obsessed with lyrics and words from a linguistic perspective also — the quality of phonetics and word sounds.” He elaborated on this interest saying, “I’m very inspired by story tellers and ways and combinations to manipulate words.”
The song “Cobalt” was a linguistic challenge for Jesse. When writing it, he asked his girlfriend to write a list of words and inside jokes, and he strung them all together in the melancholic ballad that is “Cobalt.” He described the experience as a look into psycholinguistics, as he wanted the song to feel “like it had a lot of meaning to it but at the end of the day meant nothing.” It helped him to leave the song intentionally open for interpretation, while evoking a similar emotion in all his listeners. “There's the balance between ambiguity and personal meaning” he said, “that somehow makes a song global, like intuitively understood.”
As for the rest of his music, each song is reflective, evocative of a particular emotion, and shows his lyrical prowess. “Hazel Eyes” was about the injury he had when he was 16, and all the time he spent with just himself. “It reads as a love song,” he said, “but it’s not.” “Subway Sick” is about living in the city, being unhappy, and feeling sick of city life. “Aurora Lights” is a love song for his girlfriend.
He hosted his first concert in two years on February 10 at the Mercury Lounge with Kate Stephenson. As for what’s next, he let MUD in on a little secret: “I’m working on more of a long-form project now, not an album, but a long form project.” Staying in a similar vein as the rest of his new music, this project “feels very mature, it feels very me, but it also feels bigger to me compared to my older music.”
The new era of j solomon is here, and if it’s as good as the rest of his music, we can’t wait to see what comes next.