Renaissance Heart: an interview with Jesse Gearhart

Jesse Gearhart talks to Josh Compton about his various writing and music-making projects, his approach to producing others, and what he is learning from Ron and John through his internship at Realgrey Records in Canton Ohio.


Josh Compton: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Realgrey Records?

Jesse Gearhart: For sure, dude! So I found out about BYS (Bring Your Song) back in early 2014 from my friend Ron Kent. He brought me once and I loved it. I went for a few months until I ran into some life problems that I had to focus on for some time. I came back this spring now that my life was together again and I’ve been coming ever since! I spoke to Ron Flack about the possibility of me helping out at the studio and getting more plugged into the community surrounding the studio, and we sat and talked about it and now I’m an intern!

Basically, my internship is about helping out Ron and John King wherever the needs are, whether it be simple set up or clean up, helping during recording sessions or doing scratch tracks for clients.

I’m learning a lot from those dudes, and I’m extremely thankful to be a part of the awesome community around Realgrey. My future is made far better because of my time spent here, and as always, the relationships are what make this experience such a great thing

JC: I know you’ve said before that you’ve recorded and produced other peoples’ records in the past, as well as create your own songs and albums. Do you approach the two sides differently? The producer side and the musician side?

JG: It depends I suppose. As a producer, I’m often looking at things through the lens of what I would like to hear, but what the client wants always comes first. I always give ideas as suggestions, and allow the client to decide what they would like.

When I collaborated with my friend Adam on our hip hop project, it was an interesting mix of being both a producer for someone, and a musician writing my own music. This mix allowed ideas to flow freely and in an environment where there was structure and accountability.

So in a way there was that artist’s freedom, but in the end, Adam and I had to agree on the selected music, much like a producer would.

It also depends on the type of music. I helped produce a worship album this past summer where I play several instruments and sing, and I had plenty of artistic freedom with almost no changes made to my original vision. When I’m doing lots of MIDI work in the studio, clients often want changes to my original ideas.

So that’s how I feel! I’m the worst at answering simple questions so I apologize. To summarize, I would say that I approach the two sides as a musician in the beginning, but often as a producer by the end of it.

Hopefully that makes some sort of sense.

JC: So what are you working on these days, either as a musician, producer, or all-around creative person?

JG: So right now I’m working on several different projects. I have my personal music, which I’m always writing, and at the moment it’s in two separate parts.

The first part is a mix of electronica and indie with the intentions of using different instruments that often don’t go together, or simply to create a unique sound. The album has a nice mix of Coldplay-type piano rifts, mixed with indie guitar rifts and Twenty-One Pilots-style sounds. I don’t currently have a release plan for that one.

The second part is an acoustic driven project that I plan to have Ron and John engineer at the studio. I will still write and perform all the parts, but Ron and John will be behind all the recording, mixing, mastering and edits so I can FINALLY have a professional sounding album. The album will be indie acoustic rock with a strong pop vibe throughout, and I’ll most likely use as many live instruments as possible.

I’m also still working on my joint hip-hop project with Adam Robb. We released Californiaddict this past spring, and we’ve had a blast playing shows all summer. We started recording new material and so far have two songs fully recorded with a third just needing lyrics. We have a show coming up in October to unveil some new material to our dear friends who come to all our shows!

And I’ve been recording a worship album with my friend Bryan who is a worship leader at a church out in Massillon. He is a super talented songwriter, and I’ve come alongside him to help him compose other parts and record the songs at a studio up in Wadsworth.
More personally, I’ve been contracted to produce a contemporary Christian album with a wonderful young singer from Akron named Jennay Jones. She has a dream of creating a modern and hip mix of R&B, electronica, and worship. She only writes melodies and lyrics at the moment, but we’ve been working together to create songs from her words.

Outside of music, I am a writer for the millennial blog The Odyssey, where each week I write a 500+ word opinion article about a variety of topics. I often write about lessons learned from different life situations. I write a lot about travel and world cultures as well, as part of my life goal is to be a modern Renaissance man — haha! I have learned Spanish and Portuguese to advanced levels and converse daily in each language, and I’m currently learning German.

I have created a Vlog called Gringo Maneiro which is a Portuguese speaking channel aimed at Brazilians who want to learn English and visit or live in the United States. The first episode is scheduled to be filmed next week and will simply be an introduction to the channel. The channel will consist of tips on how to learn English, comparisons between the two countries and cultures as well as the languages, and it will tell my story on how I learned Portuguese without ever leaving the country, or even talking to a Brazilian in real life. And I’ll be playing my favorite Brazilian music, and showing off Canton, because I’ve learned that nobody in the world knows where or what Canton is — ha ha ha.

I also plan on creating an English Vlog, under my name, to simply create funny videos and talk about the humorous life as a guy from the Midwest. This will happen once Gringo Maneiro is established.

JC: So where can people find your music and various renaissance endeavors?

JG: Unfortunately, most of the current projects are still in the works so nothing is available except at my live shows, but you can find my old music at jessegearhart.bandcamp.com. These songs are a bit rough, but I still enjoy them, and it’s really cool to see how I’ve progressed as a producer. My most recent finished production, Californiaddict, can be found on iTunes and Spotify and all my articles can be found on theodysseyonline.com by searching @jessegearhart.

I hope to have new material released by the end of next spring, assuming life happens how I want…haha! Until then, it’s rocking out to the oldies and getting people to come see me live.

JC: So what has your experience been like working at the studio? Are there any specific bits of wisdom that you’ve picked up?

JG: It’s been awesome. I don’t think I could be learning from better people than Ron Flack and John King. They have such a heart and talent for music and that is truly inspiring to be around. It’s a huge honor for me to be a part of what they are doing, and hopefully I’m not being too dramatic!

But really, they’re great dudes and they have been teaching me a lot about the ins and outs of production, especially in a professional setting. Anything from microphone placements to plug-in use to the best way to bus a group channel to use the same reverb setting. These dudes know their stuff, and I really enjoy seeing how they do things.

The biggest thing I’m taking away though is training my ear. There are so many little nuances in recording that happen that often a regular listener would not pick it up, but it in some way can take away from the recording. For example, the other night we were recording vocals with an artist and to me it sounded fine, but Ron pointed out there was a slight pitch difference, and after we recorded it again, I could then see the difference.

So it’s little things like that during the process. Especially with mixing you have to have really good ears for frequencies and where in the mix an instrument should sit. Something that takes time to develop and training from experienced people.

JC: Excellent, Jesse…thanks for talking with me!