Q&A: Jesse Liam Gauthier discusses his love of music and performance

by Annika Eske

Q&A: Jesse Liam Gauthier discusses his love of music and performance

Jesse Liam Gauthier is a professional singer/songwriter based in Rhode Island. His father, Jack Gauthier, is a Grammy-nominated music engineer. Together, the two musicians create a lively and communal atmosphere through their father-son harmonies. On tour in New England, they are also joined by drummer Michael DeQuattro, a Boston Conservatory alumnus. Catch the Jesse Liam Band at Faneuil Hall this Friday, September 17, from 5-7 p.m.

Annika Eske: First, I read that you and your father have co-written some songs and that you also co-produce a lot of songs, so I was wondering if you could tell me more about what that dynamic is like, and also how you and your father ended up working together on music?

Jesse Liam Gauthier: Sure! It all started being a little kid and my dad being in the music business since before I was born as a recording engineer. He’s had his recording studio here in Rhode Island where we reside, and he’s had that for about thirty or so years now. He’s worked with so many different types of musicians, even managing – really well-known in blues music – this guy called Duke Robillard, a world-famous blues guitarist. So I grew up always loving music, and my dad knew that I loved music. He’d always hear me singing around the house, and I’d always sing along to what he was playing on the guitar. It kinda just started organically, naturally. Just kind of meant to be in a way.

I’m very lucky that I had a mentor like him who’s been in the business and, since I was very young, being a huge fan of music and learning so much about the business and so many aspects that the average listener just doesn’t get exposed to. Then he saw me do a bunch of musicals and be in the chorus in high school, and he noticed I had a great voice, so we’d just practice. I would sing every song that he would be playing…After a while, we had like a setlist together of just, you know, that kinda classic 70s rock stuff that he would always play around the house, and we went to some open mics down the street from our house. He had been in bands, of course, throughout college with his buddies. So he knew, how it was to not only perform…and how to cultivate a following…but he also knew about the part of…promoting yourself and calling these clubs and he knew all the rejection that could happen. So he’s like, I wanna give you that title if we’re gonna be in a band together, just the two of us. We started out just acoustic– you know with his guitar and me singin’ and he would sing the harmonies…and we started that one open mic, and then the bug just hit me, and I would just call any local restaurant or any local whatever that had live music and I would call them until they hired us. And of course, the more you do, the more connections you make, and you branch out to different areas.

That sort of starts to answer one of my next questions. In one of your older covers, “Long Champlain,” the lyrics say, “The radio my favorite toy.” So it sounds like you were also drawn to music early on. Was it always pretty clear to you that you wanted to be a musician?

Yeah…The first two records, that was actually written by another Boston singer-songwriter by the name of Todd Thibaud. He had been in the studio with my father for years with different projects that he recorded, and when we first started performing, I was mostly just an interpreter of songs. I always loved singing along to the radio. My father would always pick up whoever was the latest pop star at the moment –and this was going back to when I was really little, like with CDs– and that kinda introduced me to the pop world. And then of course all different generations of music were very timeless to me. I always kinda gravitated towards any kind of music, whether I had heard it in a film, or he had played it around the house or gave me a CD of it. I always gravitate towards music nonstop, even today. I’m always listening and learning from music – and just loving music.

So Todd Thibaud…he saw that I was just kind of interpreting songs at that time and hadn’t gone through many life experiences, so that’s why I was more of just a singer at that point. And he lent us some of his songs because he’s a local singer-songwriter…It was kinda also helping his music get out there by letting us record it at the time. But yeah I definitely gravitate toward the lyrics [of “Long Champlain”]. I picked the songs that really touch me the most…I just wanted to sing about stuff that just made us feel good and connect to people.

And then, we put out some EPs. We would put one out every year to keep the momentum going with my music. We could also start writing our own music because that songwriter, Todd…he encouraged me to start writing my own music. So he gave me a journal, and he was like, “Just write anything down. The more you live, the more experiences you can write about,” and that’s what I’ve always learned even from writing classes in school. They always say, “Write what you know.” …By the time of the third record, I’d lived more life. We started writing our own [songs]: everything I had written in the journal. And my dad would help me with the melodies on guitar, and then I was so blessed to work with so many great studio musicians to add the music to it.

And now as a vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer, do you find yourself drawing inspiration from very different places for each of these skills?

Definitely. Like I said, listening to music is the best schooling when it comes to learning about all different production techniques and of course songwriting, listening to the great songwriters of our time and from the past. Just learning how to articulate. You can write something in a journal…but then it also takes a creative muscle that you have to keep working on to kind of put it in a more poetic or edgy way that grabs people, and then the music comes along with it: finding melodies, the instrumentation.

Right, and then you also mentioned getting some of your stylistic inspirations through connections and through your father. So some of your music has folk influences and there are some country influences in there also. Do you sometimes pick up on those styles from places you go or other people you meet, for example?

I do meet a lot of people, and everybody’s got their own unique tastes and music, and I love exploring what other people share with me…I’ll bring [my dad] some new materials just like he’ll show me the classics, and [we] just kind of learn from each other. When it pertains to the genre of music– and that’s what’s kind of cool about music nowadays– there’s a lot of blurred lines when it comes to genres.

…I just always gravitated toward anything with a catchy melody. I almost had blinders when it came to genre. Anything that would make me feel good, make me feel upbeat, and also what we would love to do with our show. We understand the fact that we are performing in front of all ages, especially at things like outdoor concert series and festivals. We love picking popular music, and everybody’s always complimenting that there’s always something for everybody…I love seeing everybody having a good time. I can sing Bruno Mars one moment, …and then I can turn around the next moment and sing a Beatles song…Making people happy and incorporating everybody. It’s a communal kind of thing. That’s why I’m so excited for Faneuil Hall because I know there’s going to be all walks of life. It’s a challenge, but such a reward to perform in front of multi-generations and just kind of captivate them all and see their smiles. It’s what I love doing, and it makes me feel blessed to be able to do that and to make people happy, especially in crazy times. Music is just so powerful. You can see it playing at a local bar…in a sense, when you’re singing a song, they’re all kind of connected for that one moment and forget about everything that was bothering them for the day…It’s a healer for me as well. It’s just getting lost in all these different worlds…Even performing at nursing homes, I also do that as a side kind of thing. It’s just so inspiring to see these people – …just that power that [music] can just revive somebody in a way.

Definitely. It really is a beautiful thing.

The universal language.

Absolutely, the universal language.

Even playing in Finland. When we performed in Finland– you’d be surprised, they just love American music…And I remember just being at so many different local venues over there. Everybody, all ages again…Sometimes you forget that you’re overseas because they’re singing every word to Bruno Mars or whatever it may be and they’re just so happy too…So that was a really cool experience.

Yeah, I was actually just about to ask you about that tour in Finland. Can you tell me more about how that 2019 tour in Finland started?

Sure…I work really hard to get our band to get out there and to perform…There are a few other handful times– which is a great blessing that my dad’s in the business of recording– he had managed and also records [Duke] Robillard…and he had been in Finland on one of his tours, and then he brought a Finnish band back to Rhode Island. Duke and my dad had recorded and produced a record for this Finnish band that was here….Of course, what’s also cool, is what my dad does is, I swear he would have been a psychiatrist in his next life….[the music artists] feel safe, and they can kind of express themselves, which in turn puts out good music from these artists because they can feel comfortable with him…So he met this band, and they kind of hit it off…And of course, he invited me to come down to the studio and meet the guys, and they were so gracious. Got to learn a lot about their perspective of music…And we had been dying to get over there. Through this business, you got to persist and just kind of keep going even when there’s hard times or people rejecting you, or people promising things that don’t ever happen….It’s a very nice gesture in the moment because…it’s just the compliment of how they’re enjoying our music. But it was really cool that one of the guys from that Finnish band followed through, and he booked about six shows for us over there. And I gotta say that it was the trip of a lifetime. It’s so indescribable how awesome it was, and just the reaction: everybody loved the music and the father-son aspect of it…We probably hit about 10 different cities starting in Helsinki, the capital…my dad and I were getting a taste of the touring life, especially in Europe, which was so cool…I would have never thought to go there.

Yeah, it sounds like you’ve had a lot of unique experiences as a musician, which is pretty cool.

The more you do, the more you get connected. It kind of fuels you if you get one gig…It’s a very appreciative and humbling experience to see your hard work, kind of grow through the years. And of course, exposed to everything that my dad has exposed me to in the business and being able to record like six albums which, a lot of people don’t get to do that, and I know how blessed I am. But yeah, it’s all learning. It’s all about, like they say, the journey and where it takes you and everything you learn along the way.

Yeah, and then in terms of the style– I know in your 2020 album, some of the songs had sort of like a seaside feel and other songs from, 2017’s “Come on My Way” also gave sort of a beach party feeling. So is that a style that you plan to explore further? Or do you think you’ll be delving more into the pop side like with your latest single “Elite”? Or are you kind of open to exploring everything right now?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I love to have a good time with music, and I started out, I still love all genres, but I love exploring– each album having something, a different taste for everybody, and a different side of me in a way. But yeah, I love that kind of beachy sound. I’ve always, especially lately, been loving all that tropical house music…So if you know this band Dispatch, they’re out of Boston…They were in the studio with my father, so about like 20 or so years ago…Of course, my dad had gotten friendly with them. My whole family did– we grew up with them…And we watched them have jam sessions, which is not your average…you wouldn’t see that growing up, so that was really awesome. So [Pete Francis] from that band…he’s starting to do his own solo stuff now away from the Dispatch band, but we’re still great friends with their family…We were like, “We have a song. We’d love to work with you.” …We got to produce a track with him and his keyboardist. “Yeah, Yeah Dance” was the first one, and then “Come on My Way” was the second one…And then we brought it back to my dad’s studio, and he had these excellent horn musicians put the trumpets on there. It’s so cool to explore because “Yeah, Yeah Dance” kind of has a hip hop/pop element to it, and then “Come on My Way” has that tropical, horn/trumpet sound to it.

And then on the 2020 album, we worked with Pete again. But we made more of like an acoustic kind of thing, “Through the Night”. That’s what’s so cool is that he’s so diverse. And we got to work with his programmer, and I love sprinkling all different sounds on the record. And of course, we do love to throw in the cover songs…It’s a great way to introduce new music and the creative songs that we’ve written, mixed in with all those popular songs. And then…last year, we released “The Light That Follows Me Home”…the pandemic kind of kept going, but I had so many creative lyrics and songs that I wanted to put together. So there was one song that I had written…right before the pandemic happened– like we had gotten back that March, and then everything kind of shut down. So then I kind of took that inspiration and made it into this like, exciting, brand new– you can interpret any way you want– a brand new adventure, “Elite”.

And then we hooked up with our friend Pete Francis, and we actually hooked up with his keyboardist again…And we gave him like an acoustic– just my band and I– voice memo. And then I told my influences at the time…And he brought it back, and I was just like, almost in tears, it was just so exciting to find a song that I was like…You know how musicians can be, you can always like, nitpick everything…I’m always hearing my voice when I’m performing, so I’m not really listening to my songs on a daily basis. But I was like, “Man, this track is so sick that I would definitely, like listen to this a lot.”…I had secretly also worked on a music video with my dad’s cousin, who was also a director out in Los Angeles…So that’s the latest single that we’re promoting now…

Yeah, it’s very exciting. And then, as the last question, just to end with a more broad question: what kind of atmosphere do you hope to create with your music? Or in other words, how do you want people to feel when they listened to your music or come to your shows like the one this Friday?

…You want the atmosphere to just feel happy, just good. The world is pretty crazy right now– it kind of always has been, but that’s what I love about music: it can brighten somebody’s day. I love incorporating everybody into the show, too…I love incorporating dance into what I’m doing. And I love feeling the music and then them feeling it. It’s such a two-way street. And they always say that too: how they love the energy. It’s just the positive energy that we love to bring. I love to moving to the music and just feeling it naturally and performing like I always wanted to as a kid, and like all the greats I would watch growing up. I want to make people feel excited…I always announce to them, “Whenever you come to our show, it’s incorporative.” There are parts where…it’s like a call and response kind of thing. It just makes people feel part of the show…The main way I can describe it is, I would love the atmosphere to just be communal…There’s no wall between us. And we just have a good party, like just have a good way to forget about all the bad things goin’ on.

Comments from Jack Gauthier, father in the father-son duo:

Annika Eske: Would you like to tell me more about what you think about the dynamic that you guys have? What it’s like working on music together?

Jack Gauthier: Well…even though we come from very much different influences, certainly – although I get to see some of my music playing around the house… I think it’s interesting that we both really do like the same thing even if it’s a different generation of music. We both like that same kind of upbeat, pop quality to things. And so I think that’s part of what makes our sound a little different, too, is obviously taking his influences, my influences. And, you know, we’re always working at it, compromising and just get to a point where we both say, we really like it…It’s a given that, you know, it’s a great joy and a rare gift to be able to play music with my son all these years. So, first and foremost, important thing. And I think too, you know, there’s that unique quality of having family harmony, which is, you know…a lot of times there’s brother bands and sister bands, not oftentimes as a father and son, you know, singing together really, you know? So that’s been kind of our trademark too. And of course, Jesse’s, you know, boundless energy, which is always fun to watch.

Since he was very, very little, you know, before he could speak, you could see he was singing…it was always just part of our life. And it was very organic how it all went together that we ended up performing together…And you know, also a lot of the great musicians I’ve worked with in my studio through all the years – obviously, a great help to the recordings that we’ve done. You know, even putting a band together to perform…Michael DeQuattro was our drummer. And he’ll be there on Friday…he was actually a Boston Conservatory graduate… and when we do a tour normally we have a full band, we have Steve Johnson on bass – he won’t be there [Friday], but he’s with us usually too.

But we oftentimes will do this trio work out where it’s just me on guitar and Jesse, singing together, and Mike playing percussion. He brings so much energy. He makes us dance. But yeah, he learned from being at the Conservatory to be a hand percussionist for drummers and for dancers…he’s been accompanying dancers professionally for the last 20 years…

Jesse Liam Gauthier, Jack Gauthier, and Mike DeQuattro will be performing at Faneuil Hall on Friday 9/17 from 5-7 p.m., and the Jesse Liam Band will represent Rhode Island at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, MA on 9/21.