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Everyday Spirituality with Jesse Lewis | Everyday Spirituality | connect.faith
Jesse Lewis visits and shares his story – how he got started with music, found the connections between music and nature, and has come to this new era of Atticus Benjamin!
ES with Jesse Lewis
Debbie Bronkema: This is Everyday Spirituality with connect.faith. I’m Debbie Bronkema and I’m here today with Jesse Lewis. Jesse is an amazing guitarist with a resume filled with collaborating with a lot of incredible musicians. He’s a founding member of Endless Field Band with Ike Sturm that seeks to lift up the intersection points between music and nature.
They’ve gone as far as Alaska to make original music together. Recently, he’s been [00:01:00] exploring some new ways of making music come to life in the world. I also want to say he’s a great dad and a wonderful friend and a connect.faith collaborator. And finally, I want to share my favorite quote that I found about you.
"Rebirthing the cool in the 21st century, Jesse Lewis is flipping the script on jazz for a whole new generation." I love that! "Rebirthing the cool." So I’m so glad to have you here with us today.
Jessie Lewis: Yes. I’m happy to be here and get to talk to you, Debbie as always!
Debbie Bronkema: Thank you. So I wanted to start today by just asking you to talk about how you found guitar.
How is it that you developed that as your gift and your love?
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. I got my first guitar actually, when I was four years old. I still have that instrument, actually. It was a Sears and Robuck acoustic guitar. It was given to me as a present [00:02:00] from my parents. And I tried to learn it, four is very young. I went to a preschool and one of the women who was a teacher there, her husband or partner was a professional musician. And they tried to give me guitar lessons with him and he was really amazing. I actually kind of have memories of this, even though it’s so long ago but I think it was just technically like way too hard for me at that age.
I have more insight on that now, you know, sometimes teaching really young kids. It’s very young for guitar So I kind of put it away and ended up picking up cello when I was in first grade I believe? My school public school offered like a strings program.
My sister played violin and so I didn’t want to play violin. I wanted to do my own thing. So I did the cello. I got, I would say really into cello. I [00:03:00] loved playing cello. Actually I played cello all the way through college. I had a scholarship to Loyola university in New Orleans and it was a cello scholarship. So, I thought that was kind of funny, I actually applied on guitar. I applied on guitar and sent them a cello tape as well. And they were like, "Your guitar playing is not really that impressive, but your cello playing’s very good!"
" We’ll give you a scholarship. As long as you play cello here. You can still try this guitar thing if you want." And I was kinda bummed about that, but I was like, "Hey, that’s a lot of money, so I’ll do it." Yeah, but anyways, what happened was around maybe 13 or 14 in high school I started like really getting into rock music. At the time bands like Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And there were like the Ramones and Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. I just like became fascinated with rock music. And then I remembered I had that old Sears guitar, which was, you know, a children’s size guitar. So I [00:04:00] started kind of teaching myself how to play that again. And I just got super, super into it and started taking guitar lessons and formed my first band when I was 14 called the Suburban Pahoehoes. With me and my best friend. And it was, I’m sure, very terrible but we just had a blast with it. And then I played, you know, I had rock bands throughout high school and it really became kind of my passion.
Interestingly, I was playing cello and my teacher gave me this piece by Claude Bolling which is called The Jazz Cello suite I think? There was a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing it. And it was like a classical piece, but with like a jazz rhythm section playing in the background. There was a recording. And so I was really into that. And then after playing that, I started thinking, "Wow, could I do jazz cello actually?" And so I got involved with this [00:05:00] afterschool program. Where you could learn how to play jazz. And I played it on the cello. That was my first experience playing jazz. And then in my combo, there was a kid playing guitar, electric guitar.
He had a Fender Stratocaster and I just was like, "I want to do this on guitar." Because it was kind of like combining like this instrument that I was just absolutely loving playing and this music that I was really curious about. So that was kind of the beginning of kind of how I was introduced to the guitar and then like kind of how I got involved with jazz.
It was kind of through the cello, and then the guitar. Well actually what happened was, when I was a junior in high school and you start thinking about college and stuff, My parents, we had that talk about what are you gonna do?
You know? And I had always assumed, I would maybe be like a teacher? My mom was a history teacher in high school, and I thought it might do something like that. And, you know, they said, "Well, you know, [00:06:00] we noticed like, all you really seem to like to do is music. That you’re really into that. And like, I don’t know. Did you ever consider going to study music in college?"
And I was like, it hadn’t even occurred to me, you know? And I was like, "No, I wouldn’t want to be a musician, like, this is just something I love and want to do all the time, but like, I wanna have like a real job."
But it was interesting that they kind of put the ball in my court and they were like, "Okay, well, like, think about it. You know, I just wanted to let you know, it’s an option." And I thought about it for like 24 hours, you know, like woke up the next morning and I was like, "I’m going to music school!"
You know? It like I, after I-
Debbie Bronkema: I love that your parents said, "No, don’t get a regular job. Be a musician. Follow your dream and your passion." That’s so great.
Jessie Lewis: It really is. And it’s kind of wild because neither of them are musicians, or were musicians. Nobody in my [00:07:00] family really has ever been a musician.
So it’s kind of weird that I became musical and also that they would offer that to me. Clearly they as parents could see that this was something I was really serious about, you know, and I guess, with some perspective now, being a parent, I can imagine when you see your child like really resonating with something you wanna like amplify that and support it, you know?
Debbie Bronkema: For sure.
Jessie Lewis: That’s what I would like to do, but that’s probably, you know, because of my background too.
Debbie Bronkema: Right. They came and planted that seed in you, but yeah, that’s really awesome that they gave you that space to follow what you loved and pointed out to you, "Hey, you really love this at a level that is kind of unique that you wanna pay attention to." That’s really great.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. Yeah. That wasn’t on my… I didn’t see that. I saw it as this thing I love to do, you know, but not as something I might ever actually do. And [00:08:00] they saw it, you know, somehow differently.
Debbie Bronkema: Interesting!
Jessie Lewis: Yeah.
Debbie Bronkema: So now the music and nature, knowing you for a bit, I know that’s just a really great intersection point for you. And how do you think that came to be that you found that place in you?
Jessie Lewis: That’s also kind of a long journey. I realized actually something, doing another podcast actually with Ike, you know, from Endless Field and the woman had asked us, "Well, what was your first experience playing music in nature?"
And I had like, I hadn’t really thought about it. I thought it was much more recent, but then I remembered, you know, my father moved up into the woods in New Hampshire like when I was in high school, like when I was maybe 14 or 15. I’m from Boston, a suburb of Boston, Newton, Massachusetts.
And so it was like very, very suburban [00:09:00] kind of like urban upbringing. Like not completely like a concrete jungle, but not wilderness, you know? Like I didn’t grow up in that. And my parents were not also avid outdoors people, but my dad moved to New Hampshire.
That was always really important to him. And he was very urban. He was from like the streets of Boston. I actually like recalled on that interview, when I was probably like 20 or 21, I remember sitting by his pond and listening to these birds sort of singing their song and, and actually like, you know, hearing the melody that they were making.
And then I took my guitar and tried to copy the melody and then create chords that went along with the melody. So I was kind of having this dialogue with the birds or, you know, at least I was-
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, that’s so cool!
Jessie Lewis: I was trying to accompany them in my own way. And then that became a song called White Pond Song, and I put that on my first album that I ever made back when I was like in my early twenties.[00:10:00] This idea of, of nature and music has been something I’ve been even subconsciously doing for a long time now, you know, over 20 years.
And then of course, you know, more recently, being friends with Ike and our adventures with Endless Field, I started also around that time, exploring like the idea of being in nature and going camping, going hiking a lot. I did a big trip, which was kind of life changing, by myself in my early twenties.
I went out to Utah for like three weeks just by myself and just basically camped out there. And did back country camping for the first time where I would have my backpack and go hike up and up a mountain and spend a couple nights. And at the time that was just so frightening for me.
It was pushing my comfort zone. Growing up in the city, spending a night on top of the mountain with snakes [00:11:00] and mountain lions and stuff was just really frightening, but I pushed myself to do it. And anyways, I guess I’m trying to just kind of paint this picture of this evolution where I was exploring in natural places.
And then I think the way that relates to music is like just very natural because you know, music is just inspired by what you’re going through in your life.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay. It sounds really courageous to me to go from being a city kind of kid all the way to doing the back country kind of camping.
It sounds like there was another you taking a leap and then the leaps kind of came together. That’s pretty cool.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah, yeah!
Debbie Bronkema: So writing music, how does that work for you? I know you do writing and I’ve heard some of your music and I love it. And I just wonder what’s your process?
How does it happen?
Jessie Lewis: Oh, um, yeah, [00:12:00] I guess it kind of depends on what I’m writing for. For Endless Field, a lot of times I’ll be at the guitar. And I’ll write thinking that I’m gonna have to actually play or perform this music at some point.
And thinking about Ike and what his role in the composition would be and to try and create some space for him. Some sometimes I’ll write for that group just to like push myself or to push him to go beyond our comfort zone. To like write something that will make us better musicians, or make myself a better musician. That’s a more technical side, but then sometimes I’ll write something that I just wanna like create an emotional space. Kind of a vehicle for us to improvise, or create a mood. So like, sometimes it’s like very [00:13:00] vague, like that. You’re barely writing anything and you’re leaving a lot of openness for like the moment. And then sometimes I’m writing things where there’s almost no openness for the moment.
And it’s almost like a composition that’s meant to be just performed the same way.
Debbie Bronkema: As its written.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah but the interesting thing is I’ve really begun resonating a lot more with the "in the moment" thing.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay.
Jessie Lewis: While I’ve really enjoyed pushing myself technically through composition, I enjoy the process of composing it and learning it, but then I don’t enjoy the process of performing it. Which is interesting, you know?
Debbie Bronkema: That’s very interesting, yeah.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. I’m learning to like, listen to those signals, you know?
Debbie Bronkema: So does that feed into what you’ve been doing lately? The new things that I’ve been seeing you do, or maybe revisit in a different way? Can you talk to us about whatever you’d like to share about that?
Jessie Lewis: Yeah, it’s kind of a [00:14:00] deep subject really. A very cool one. I’m happy to talk about it because I feel like I’m kind of just exploding right now with creativity and excitement in a way that I may have never actually felt in my life before.
Debbie Bronkema: Wow, that’s amazing.
Jessie Lewis: And maybe to some extent I’ve felt that way at times around Endless Field when we were doing our thing in Utah. It felt like pushing to this place where your body is like, literally you can feel the excitement and feel the energy and like you have to do something.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah.
Jessie Lewis: You know? And I felt that at other times as well, but right now is a special time and a lot of things kind of converged, I think, or coalesced to create what is happening right now for me.
Debbie Bronkema: Tell people a little bit about what it is you’re doing.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So the short story is I’ve sort of created I guess you’d say like an [00:15:00] alias or a stage name or a AKA called Atticus Benjamin. And Atticus Benjamin, this musician who is me, but is also this character, is a place where I’ve been creating and sharing all kinds of music, but music that’s mostly centered around electronic music and ambient music. Really "without boundaries" is how I’m thinking about it. My little mission statement is "Music made from love and positive energy without boundaries, a work in progress."
And I really thought about that. I really thought about that, cuz I’m like, "What is this?" I wanna say to myself what this is, and for other people, I’m like, you know, it’s music. That’s what it is. It’s coming from a place of love and positivity, and there’s no boundaries and it’s a work in progress. This is not perfection. [00:16:00] This doesn’t have to be good! There’s no judgment at all. It’s just me creating from a place of love and positivity and sharing it. And that’s all it is. And that for me, has been so liberating. To go back to your earlier question, it’s like, "Okay, well, what the heck? Where is this all coming from?" You know? I should say that Atticus Benjamin are actually my two middle names.
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, okay. Okay.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. My full name is Jesse Atticus Benjamin Lewis. So I thought it’s kind of cool. I think it sounds cool, you know, I thought it was kind of interesting that also, it is me. And it’s kind of like at the center, you know?
Debbie Bronkema: Ooh. Yeah!
Jessie Lewis: But like, this thing that people don’t know. In retrospect, it’s all so obvious that I would do this. I’ve had this deep love for electronic music for many, many years. Growing up in the 1980s, like eighties pop, electronic music in the 90s and 2000s. I’ve just been fascinated with the sound of like synthesizers and drum machines, [00:17:00] but I never understood how to make those sounds. I was more focused on cello and guitar, but it’s been a love of mine.
In what, 2007? I made an album called Atticus actually.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay, Okay!
Jessie Lewis: Which was a huge thing for me. And I actually really love that record. It’s actually one of the ways that Ike and I met. I gave him that album and he gave me his album and we really loved each other’s albums. That album was one that he really loved and what happened was, I had a good buddy who was an electronic music producer and bass player. And I asked him if he would produce the album for me. So we worked together. I wrote the music but he like really created all these electronic sounds. And I love the album mainly because it’s like part me, but it’s like, it’s so much him, the producer that it almost feels like I’m listening to my music, but through this other lens that I really like.
So [00:18:00] that’s 2007. That’s like 15 years ago.
Debbie Bronkema: Right, right.
Jessie Lewis: I’ve been wanting to be able to do that myself. For 15 years!
Debbie Bronkema: Wow!
Jessie Lewis: But never had the technical skills to learn how to use computers to create my own music.
Actually through teaching at a school, about five or six years ago, they started an electronic music program. So I as the teacher had to learn how to do this stuff. Cuz I had to teach the kids.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay!
Jessie Lewis: So I spent a summer doing tutorials, just teaching myself how to use Garage Band, which is a program that you get on a Mac for free.
Debbie Bronkema: Right!
Jessie Lewis: Basically I always had to stay like ahead of the kids. I wasn’t the main teacher, but I had to teach it two days a week. So I had to know it, you know? Be able to answer the questions. And so I started learning. I’ve basically spent the last five or six years, you know, just slowly learning more and more skills about recording and electronic music. [00:19:00] But never doing anything with it.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah.
Jessie Lewis: I got to this point maybe about six months ago where I was like, "Okay, well, like I know how to do all this stuff. And I enjoy doing it, but I have no outlet for this.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay. Okay.
Jessie Lewis: It’s like cool to know how to record a guitar and manipulate it. It’s cool to know how to sample drums. And it’s cool to know how to do sound design and create your own sounds to your liking. But it’s like, If you’re not gonna do anything with that, I don’t wanna say it’s pointless, but it’s not really inspiring. At least on the level I’m inspired now.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah.
Jessie Lewis: And I’ve been just gravitating more towards that and away from playing guitar. If I have like a couple free hours, instead of practicing my scales, I’ve been wanting to learn how to do more and more things.
Debbie Bronkema: So the learning process is just really filling you up. Yeah.
Jessie Lewis: Yes!
Debbie Bronkema: That’s great!
Jessie Lewis: And another piece of it is the pandemic. I spent a lot more time alone creating music because I wasn’t [00:20:00] out in the world playing as many shows. There was a club in New York city called the 55 Bar.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah?
Jessie Lewis: And it closed. This was kind of like my spot. Like I would play there at least once a month, usually twice a month. Obviously it goes without saying that the world is not the same and the music scene is not the same as it was three years ago. But when the 55 Bar closed it like really hit me.
Things are never gonna be the same. On one hand like really sad, like the community aspect of it. I had this gig every month with this singer and the band and we would see each other and I would always get to hang out with musicians and that’s kind of done. I mean, I’m gonna be playing gigs all over the world, like performing hasn’t stopped, but the scene as it was, is not the same. And I started really thinking about what that means. What do I want to do? Do I wanna, do I wanna fight against that?
Do I wanna like sit here and brood [00:21:00] about how I had this really great thing going? Or do I want to to be open and say, "Okay, well, maybe that’s not where I am anymore either."
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah, yeah. So you’re following your own energy now.
Jessie Lewis: Yes!
Debbie Bronkema: You’re listening to yourself really well. That’s really good.
Jessie Lewis: In Endless Field, through all of our adventures that already started. That process of realizing you can forge your own path in life and in the music scene. The path doesn’t have to be "book a lot of gigs, play concerts…"
If I love playing music with my buddy and we love playing in nature, let’s do that! And let’s create a new scene that resonates with where we are in our lives. All these things came together and I’m like, " I don’t wanna go into the city and do the same old thing."
"I want to be going out into the woods and creating music and making this new scene that’s really resonating with me right now."
It all kind of really hit me in like one moment. Actually Ike had sent me a piece [00:22:00] of music. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Erin Hogan, who’s our friend who’s also involved with connect.faith, she had sent this artist to Ike and he forwarded it to me. And it’s this real fusion of like acoustic music and electronic music and this artist, Holland Andrews, was saying these words like, "You know who you are."
And something about that moment and with the sounds that I was hearing, it was like a lightning bolt just hit me and I was like, "I want to create music. I wanna share music." But I was like, "How do I do that?" Because it’s a little complicated. Me, Jesse Lewis, I came up at a time where I went to music school and worked on being a perfectionist with my craft. [00:23:00] And it was a time before social media where like you would work for a year on crafting an album and then you’d put that out into the world. And that was like the thing. Now things are a little different where people almost like show you really raw things that are part of the process, you know, and not the finished product.
And I’ve also established myself as this professional musician where I’m a side man. You can hire me and I can play creative improvised music. I can play ambient music. I could play like deep blues music. I can play swing and jazz music. Like, Jesse Lewis is like a professional, you know?
Debbie Bronkema: Yes, yes.
Jessie Lewis: And that’s just the career I’ve developed and it’s been fulfilling and I love that. But I’m like, "I don’t feel comfortable sharing, under my own name, this kind of thing that’s really off grid" [00:24:00] you know?
Debbie Bronkema: Yes, yes. Yeah, that you wanna work on and that you wanna be able to play with and not have it have to be perfect. Right.
Jessie Lewis: Exactly. I don’t even know what it is and it feels like it might be sometimes confusing for people. Not for everybody, but if you have one artist who’s just doing so many different kinds of things. Like posting a traditional jazz video in one moment and then like doing some crazy thing. Where I’m going with this is, it’s really pushing me.
Like, I mean, I just recorded a video or I’m playing drum set out by a reservoir. And I’m producing that. I mean like, it’s not even about guitar at all anymore. I felt like I really needed to create a space to do that. It just like hit me, like, "Okay, Let me create that space where I can just be free and like really make music without boundaries, with the spirit of love. And it could be raw and it doesn’t have to be [00:25:00] good. And it’s like, "That’s the vibe." As soon as I created that, my life has just been insane with creativity. I mean, I can feel it in my body. Like right now. I have a family, but I could work on this stuff for 12 hours straight. I could do it all day.
Debbie Bronkema: That’s amazing! It’s so good to see you free like that.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah! I couldn’t do it on guitar. There’s no way. I couldn’t come and practice guitar for two hours. I’m just not interested in that right now.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah. It sounds like it just totally unleashed a part of you that really needed to be heard, right?
Jessie Lewis: Yes!
Debbie Bronkema: That’s amazing.
Jessie Lewis: And it’s not about anybody else. It’s just about me. I mean, I’m sharing the music, because it’s like a little bit of accountability.
Like, "You have to finish this." Not like "finished" like it’s great, but I know this thing I’m working on, I am gonna share it with people. And hopefully they’ll enjoy it. They might, or [00:26:00] they might not. But if I was releasing things as "Jesse Lewis" it would feel way more vulnerable like this. Although of course the irony and the deep part is, it is me. Of course it’s me. You know what I mean? Yes. And it’s opening up my own life as "Jesse Lewis" the artist, because it’s giving me this other confidence.
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, that’s amazing.
Jessie Lewis: It’s crazy, Debbie. I’m telling you, it’s weird and wild but the point is I am doing it because I have to do it.
Debbie Bronkema: Well I can see that you’re totally alive with it. And that’s really, really wonderful to see and to hear. As I’ve been watching it there’s just a whole different side of you that you’re letting come out. That’s so, so great to see. So great to see.
Jessie Lewis: Yeah. It’s very, very exciting. Yeah.
Debbie Bronkema: So if people wanted to hear it, or find out more about this side of you, and the other side too, where would they find you?
Jessie Lewis: Well, right now I’m just releasing [00:27:00] videos of this music. And it’s on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. It’s "Atticus Benjamin" is the name. And the handle is called "Sounds of Atticus."
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, fun!
Jessie Lewis: I’m not releasing the music. It’s not on an album. It’s not on Spotify or iTunes. This is just purely like, art. There’s no other objective to this at all.
Debbie Bronkema: It’s just letting you be you. I love that.
Jessie Lewis: And letting me find me. That’s so exciting!
I had like a free day. Like I was telling you, I took a drumset and I went down to the reservoir. It was so on edge. It was so on edge. It was this beautiful morning and, you know, I play drums, but it’s not like my main thing. And I got to the reservoir and it was perfect, but there was a guy on a rowboat, I could see him. And I have a rowboat on the reservoir and it’s like, if people make noise on the reservoir, like, I really don’t dig that. Cuz it’s like a [00:28:00] place of peace where you should be able to go and not hear a drum set. You know what I mean?
Debbie Bronkema: Okay. Yes, yes, yes.
Jessie Lewis: So, but I’m like, I’m like, oh man, like I, I have this drum set and like, so, so you should have seen me there.
I bring the drums like down to the reservoir. I felt like I was, you know, doing something illegal. I was like undercover. I like ran down there. I set ’em up. It’s all totally like DIY. I’m setting up all the cameras myself. I got the mic set up and I’m like, "Okay, I literally have 60 seconds to get this done." Because I am not gonna make noise for more than 60 seconds down here.
Debbie Bronkema: Wow, okay!
Jessie Lewis: I was just like, "Okay!" I was like, took a deep breath and I like played for 60 seconds. And then, and then I was like, "Oh my God! Okay!" And I like packed up everything as quick as I could.
And I like ran out of there. And I was literally like, buzzing! I was driving out of there. I was like, "Are the police gonna come and bust me?" But then that’s just like half the excitement cuz now I have this drum beat. [00:29:00] Okay? And this video and now I’m like, "What am I gonna do with that?"
You know? Because it’s not just gonna be a drum beat. I’m gonna start producing this as a new song. So I have to now create music to the drum beat and that’s why I’m excited right now. Because I have to like, figure out all these puzzles and I have to learn how to do them.
And I’m excited that I’ve gotten to a point technically with my music production and electronic music where I can actually manipulate things to the way that I’m hearing. And that’s the other side of this. The fact that I’ve allowed myself to do this without judgment, I’m getting so much better at it all the time. And that’s the way you get good at things is just by doing them.
Debbie Bronkema: Right, right, right!
Jessie Lewis: Right? I could sit around and watch tutorials for my whole life, but like, to get good at something, you have to do it. And that’s what I’m doing now!
I’m not great at it, but like…
Debbie Bronkema: But to get good at it, you have to do it. Thank you! This [00:30:00] whole story has been super inspiring. It’s fun to see and to hear your energy and the way that you’re leaning into who you are as a creative person, and really listening to your own voice and your own gifts.
I thank you for that. I thank you also for the, "If you wanna do something, you gotta do it." I think people that are listening are gonna really appreciate that as well. Cuz sometimes we stay too long in the books and we forget to give ourselves a chance to actually try. You have been wonderfully inspiring today! I’m really glad that you came by. Thank you so much for being with us and this has been Everyday Spirituality with connect.faith. If you heard something you think someone else needs to hear, please feel free to share it with your community. And it’s been great to have. You take care.
Thanks again from Everyday Spirituality.
Jessie Lewis: Thank you, Debbie!