Tuesday 27 October 2009

Paris People - Jesse Vernon

What persuaded an established musician to give up home comforts and start anew in Paris? Jesse Vernon of Morningstar explains why he chose the city to pursue his career and how he is surviving in the digital age.

The digital revolution in the music industry has left many artists spinning, but for others it has opened new perspectives. Jesse Vernon though is from the old school, an artist who just loves being up on stage and sharing his music. Indeed, to get the full Morningstar experience, you really have to see Vernon and his musicians play live. The group is essentially his solo project, with a changing line up of hired musicians according to where he is playing, but it is his onstage persona and his posse of backing singers which creates the spectacle.

As Vernon bounds around the stage it is as if Buddy Holly had joined up as the seventh member of the Monty Python team. Seeing upwards of fifteen backing singers alongside him is equally as surreal, but the overall effect is warm and charming. Vernon is no newcomer to strangeness though as he was previously a member of the mildly successful Bristol band The Moonflowers who often took to the stage dressed as flowers.

He tells me that he came to Paris originally "for the adventure", but this is not the only reason.
"Actually my record company (Microbe) is based in Paris” he explains. The choice of coming to Paris was not made by Jesse Vernon alone though. His girlfriend, Kate Stables, is also a musician, running a band called This is the Kit (who have also released an album via Microbe), and it was very much a joint decision. They have been living in the city for four years now, and combine playing music with bringing up their young daughter. The situation is even more complex as they often play in each other’s bands. Wouldn’t it make things easier if they just formed a group together I ask? “No, we support each other when we can but we also have our own different styles” explains Vernon, “and anyway, we would have so many more problems with babysitters and things”.

Vernon's style is certainly different, but how does he explain the large on-stage choir? In fact, its creation was more as answer to some of the practical issues of playing in Paris. “There are a lot of small venues here, places that will pay me 50-60 Euros per show, but I can’t afford to pay professional musicians with that. However, going up on stage with a choir enables me to offer something a bit more original than just a man and a guitar”.

His interest in choral harmonies dates back to his time in The Moonflowers, and he has been running various choirs for ten years. In Paris it was initially a way to earn some extra cash, but as his time has become more limited, he has now had to almost incorporate them as part of his group. He gives free lessons, but in exchange they will appear on stage with him at his concerts for no fee. Seeing the group live, it was clear that the singers were delighted to be there with him.

As Morningstar, Jesse Vernon has released three albums, and a fourth is finished but not yet officially available. It is a tricky subject for Vernon, and one that highlights some of the problems confronting musicians at the moment. “I can sell the CD at my shows” he tells me, “but there has been a problem and the distribution won’t be until January now”. Wouldn’t it be easier to bypass the record company altogether and use an online service like iTunes? Vernon hesitates - “Perhaps in the UK where I don’t have a distributor, but I don’t want to upset my record company here. It’s a partnership and they have helped me a lot in the past”.

A track from Vernon's latest album.

So is it easy to be a professional musician in Paris today? “Paris is anything but easy” Vernon tells me. “It can be so difficult to organise anything. In Bristol I would phone two or three places in the morning, see who had any slots available then organise a show for the same evening. Here everything takes so much longer”. Vernon has also seen a huge rise in the number of bands around on the circuit recently too making it more difficult to make his mark in the city, but he has always had favourable reviews, and the popular Télérama magazine recently highlighted him as the standout act in a festival organised in the city.

Between delays with albums and problems finding gigs that pay a decent rate, how does he manage to survive? Firstly by working hard, (as well as playing as Morningstar and in This is the Kit, he also plays in a French band called Hyperclean), and secondly through royalties. A few years ago his record company put forward one of his songs for an advert for female sanitary products, and it was used for three years in a row. "It wasn't enough to survive on, but it certainly helped" he tells me.

What will the future bring for Jesse Vernon and Morningstar? The day after meeting me he is already rushing off to Toulouse to play a concert in somebody's house, and in the weeks to come he will be off touring around the UK with Hyperclean. It's a hectic, unorthodox lifestyle, but Paris remains his rock - for the moment. "We won't stay here forever" he tells me. “We came to France for the adventure” he continues "and we love it here, but who knows what will happen in the future". We should make the most of such original artists whilst they are still here!



Starman said...

Never heard of him till now. He's weirdly good. I would definitely go to see him live.

Owen said...

I second Starman... if the chance presented itself, I'd go check it out... great reporting job Adam, as always.

Don't know if you've come across another English gent playing in a rock band in Paris named Dom Hutton ? I've been meaning to track him down and see a show, after meeting him some time ago.

And finally, don't know if you like jazz, but if so, don't miss Ludovic de Preissac, who plays in jazz clubs around Paris, absolutely awesome piano player...

Cergie said...

Bien sûr Jesse Vernon pourrait travailler n'importe où dans le monde. Il pourrait faire des choix économiques, s'installer en Suisse ou en Patagonie comme certains, mais il a voulu profiter de l'opportunité de vivre en France ce choix personnel et familial sans doute est meilleur pour sa créativité n'étant pas dans son milieu "naturel" ; ce qui est bon pour lui fut (et est) bon aussi pour des écrivains ou des peintres.
Et toi Adam, si tu vivais à Londres, ferais tu de telles rencontres ?
Des rencontres différentes...

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