Jesse Labelle hasn’t been getting a lot of sleep lately. But then, when your follow up to a widely acclaimed debut album is due to drop at any moment, sleepless nights are to be expected. But don’t expect complaints from this Toronto singer-songwriter. He calls his latest album, simply entitled Two, a true reflection of who he is as an artist and as a person, even more so than the previous album. And the lack of sleep is only part of a cycle of changes he’s gotten used to in his musical career.
“It’s weird. It’s like seasons, but my seasons are off with everyone else’s. I’m on a completely different schedule,” he says. “There’s the recording; then there’s where I’m in right now. This is where I’ve finally finished the album, and I’ve kind of let go of that part of it. But now there’s a whole entire storm of getting it out there and representing it, and you really never stop. There’s really no downtime when you look at it that way! It’s strange . . . it would probably make for a great song.”
It wouldn’t be the first time LaBelle mines his life for musical inspiration. In fact, he says that this album is the most personal album yet, as it was inspired by definite events in his life that shaped his songwriting sensibilities.
“There’s a lot of [my personal life in the lyrics]. I don’t always want to tell every story, because I like some people to be able to listen to it and draw their own conclusions from it, right? I mean, almost all of the lyrics come from personal discovery. There’s a lot on the record, a lot of lessons that I’ve learned, and I’m trying to give advice as much as I’m letting people into that little inner circle, of letting them know how I think about things. But it’s an extremely personal album.”
On “Heartbreak Coverup,” the first single off the album (featuring Alyssa Reid), he says it’s about the emotional tug-of-war that happens when you’ve just ended a relationship.
“It’s about that reeling from getting out of a relationship where you’ve got that hurt going on, but you’re trying to get over somebody, and you’re trying to forget the fact that you’re heartbroken,” he says.
“It’s such a push and pull, that song. It’s about what happens when you love somebody. At the same time, you are just so bothered by everything that happened, and you can’t love that person for whatever reason. And you’re over in the corner and you want to just run back to them, but you know you can’t. So it’s like, what do you do? I call it Two for a number of reasons. There’s the push and pull in anything you do; there’s the right decision and the wrong decision; there’s that yin and that yang. And that’s really what I made this whole album about. It’s about finding the middle ground, but always having to know that there are two sides to every story. There’s a lyric on the first song of the album: ‘There are two sides of a heart / The one that fears the end, the one that fears the start.’ And that, to me, encapsulated the whole entire album.”
Given that he’s been creating music for over half his life, since he was about 15-years old, it seems only natural that the music and his life would be so tightly intertwined that one can’t necessarily be separated from the other. When asked if he feels apprehensive about having what essentially amounts to his diary being played for all the world to listen to, he laughs and insists that he’s open to sharing his personal experiences.
“I don’t mind it. I’m a really open book. The way that I am, I’ll talk to strangers. I like to really put myself out there. Because I think that if you’re going to learn anything about yourself, you need to be open to conversations and to experiences, and you can’t have a closed mind – if you have a closed mind you’ll have a closed life. So I really believe that if I open myself up, not only will I be able to meet a lot more people and connect with a lot more people, I’ll welcome experiences into my life. And I’ll welcome good and energy. So I don’t mind it; I think it’s great. I like letting people in.”
This openness to sharing his life is reflected in the way LaBelle connects with his fans; not just through his shows and music, but through an active participation in social media interaction, particularly when using Twitter.
“Twitter is this place where you can literally, directly reply to somebody immediately, and it’s simple and it’s quick,” he says. “I think Twitter is a really effective tool for communicating with people and with fans. And I really like that I can go on there, I can spend ten minutes on my phone, and I can just reply to everybody. I’ve gotten really good at that!”
In the same way, fans can get to know LaBelle a whole lot more on his new record. He says that despite his debut album being so well received, this is the record he feels is the real introduction to his music.
“This album to me, even though it is a sophomore album, it is a second release. It’s the first one where I kind of feel like I’ve come into myself as an artist, really, especially as a singer too,” LaBelle says.
One reason for this is his move away from composing on guitar to focusing solely on writing songs on the piano.
“Toward the end of that first record, I started writing on the piano. There was one song on that whole album called ‘Australia’ which was a complete piano song, and it was, in my opinion, the truest sense of who I was at the time I made that album. Most of the songs on that album — the first one, had been written years before, like from the time I was 18 to the time I was 25, 26, I had written that album. And right at the end of it, I started playing the piano, and I felt like I was just getting into this area as an artist where I wanted people to know more about it. And that was what that one song ‘Australia’ was about.”
He adds that the switch to piano had an impact on his songwriting process, given that with a guitar, one hand is percussive, while the other takes care of the melody and notes. Whereas on the piano, both hands are taking care of melody and notes, which allows for a fuller musical composition experience.
“It’s such a different instrument to write on. It brings out a whole different sound, and that’s another reason I feel like this album is a real start for me,” he says. “The first record was more like something I was experimenting with, and this one is more what I’ve been solidified in.”
That’s not the only instrument he’s putting to greater use on this record.
“The first record I sang very safely; it was all in a very safe zone and it was easygoing and it was light. This time around, with this record, I took a lot of risks on it. I definitely sang a lot differently than on the first one. I’ve come into myself, especially vocally, and I’m using my voice much more as an instrument, as opposed to just a nice layer on top of the music.”
This latest record is only the beginning, though, says LaBelle. His long-term plans include expanding his touring to international waters, and he plans to have at least three more albums out in the next five years.
“I’ve been at this for such a long, long, long time, and it’s pretty much the only connection that I have with any work, any job. I mean, this is really all I’ve ever done. So the fact I can do it and I’ve made a life out of it is awesome, because it never feels like I’m working,” he says with a laugh. “This is all I know, you know? And it makes me really, really happy.”