Photo | Chance Gray
Jesh Yancey’s “Livers and Diers” is filled with great songs reflecting artistic maturity and dedication, featuring an array of musical styles.
Band: Jesh Yancey & the High Hopes
Date: Friday, Dec. 14, 10 p.m.
Venue: Dauphin Street Blues Co., 568 Dauphin St., odalysirishpub.com
Tickets: Call 251-752-6429 for more info
One sign a city is becoming a musical hub is when out-of-towners want to become part of the scene. Such Azalea City newcomers as singer-songwriter Jesh Yancey serve as evidence Mobile is becoming a beacon in the Southeast.
He may be new to the local scene, but Yancey arrived with a catalog of original tunes, entered Dauphin Street Sound and archived 10 of those tracks on his debut album, “Livers and Diers.” For his first studio excursion, Yancey recruited such local notables as violinist Molly Thomas, guitarist Phil Proctor, bassist Stan Foster and drummer John Milham. Many who have been getting acquainted with Yancey’s music can experience it in a new context by getting to know the artist himself.
Yancey’s journey to Mobile began in 2002 when he decided to pick up the guitar. In those days, the offspring of an English teacher and a cowboy was living in Northeast Alabama. When someone picks up a guitar, the typical movement is to try and cover tunes by a beloved artist, but not Yancey. He quickly discovered he’d rather pen his own songs than try to tackle someone else’s work.
“I wasn’t good at learning whatever Willie Nelson song I was trying to think of,” he explained. “I just decided to make my own words so I can play something. It pretty much just came from there, and I never stopped.”
Since his first days of musical experimentation, Yancey said, his songwriting methods haven’t changed much. He emphasizes patience and observation. He said he is typically moved to compose by personal experiences or social issues that make an impression on him. However, he’s quick to add these experiences don’t have to be intellectually stimulating. Yancey has no problem writing about trivial matters.
“I don’t try to wait for something deep and profound to hit,” he said. “It might be something I think is funny, and I write about that. That’s been a common thread with everything I’ve been doing since I’ve been writing songs.”
Even though he’s spent almost 20 years writing songs, Yancey’s dedication to music followed a twisted path guided by destiny. He was led to a stint in the U.S. Navy in part through his desire to take advantage of the GI Bill. In 2014 he left the military and relocated to Fort Walton Beach, honoring his wife’s wishes to live at the beach.
Using his GI Bill benefits, Yancey entered the University of West Florida and took on a full course load. All the while, he couldn’t help but spend his free time penning new songs.
“[The years] 2015 and 2016 were some pretty tumultuous times socially,” Yancey said. “I was hearing it, but I couldn’t deal with it, because I was trying to get through school. I started writing and was like, ‘I can’t wait to get done with this school stuff so I can get a regular job and focus all my free time on music.’”
Eventually the desire to establish a music career trumped higher education. After moving to Mobile, Yancey realized the Azalea City provided the perfect environment to nurture a professional music career, which had not been the case in other cities. Until then, he said, he always seemed to be “10 years too late” from experiencing prime music scenes in other cities where he’d lived. He says he feels he’s right on time to witness the ever-growing Mobile Bay area music scene.
“It was perfect, because I was trying to find a music scene and a community of musicians and a creative community,” he said. “I feel that Mobile is more than poised to do it and be that place. It’s affordable to live here, and there seems to be gigs. It’s cyclical, and I’ve learned the cycles like football season. There’s also a demand. I go to as many shows as I play, and I’m starting to see the same faces at other shows. There’s a good community and a good foundation to build a future.”
“Livers and Diers” is filled with great songs reflecting Yancey’s artistic maturity and dedication, featuring an array of musical styles.
The album opens with the title track’s alt. country vibe before dropping to the swamp pop goodness of “Underground.” “We’re All to Blame” is a nod to the Grateful Dead’s classic West Coast country rock era. Yancey’s North Alabama roots shine on such bluegrass-infused tracks as “Another Day” and “Eureka.”
The diverse collection of songs was a logical, conscience effort on Yancey’s part, in an attempt to “make people uncomfortable and not see what’s coming next” as well as to recognize everyone’s shared, diverse musical tastes.
“We don’t listen to one genre,” he explained. “I never did. One of my favorite things to do is sit around a bluegrass circle and try to play bluegrass, but I don’t listen to a whole lot of bluegrass. I also listen to some heady jam-type stuff. I really like Guy Clark and John Prine. So I really tried to encapsulate all that stuff and present it all in that form. I was really trying to make people uncomfortable in a good way.”
Yancey’s debut album is available through digital outlets such as Spotify and iTunes. He is currently focused on showcasing his original songs in live performances along the Gulf Coast. Yancey’s inclination to jam makes the live setting ideal for experiencing his original works.
For his Dauphin Street Blues Co. gigs, Yancey will be joined by his backing band, the High Hopes. This group features drummer Ethan Snedigar (Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet), guitarist John Cochran (Bodhi Trio) and bassist Lizz Hough, who has been an active and talented hired gun in the local scene.