A dramatic, often unhinged breakup story that morphed into something bigger
“Obviously it’s not a record that everybody is going to listen to and enjoy. There’s some level of difficulty that’s going to turn some people off… and turn some people on even more.” Joscelin Dent-Pooley is as straight about his debut album as he’s always been about his good education and classical training in violin and piano.
Winterreise – released as Jerskin Fendrix in April – is named after an 1828 song cycle by Schubert and contains all the implied grandeur and ambition. It’s best to describe it as an experimental pop album – a dramatic, often unhinged breakup story that morphed into something bigger and weirder over the three years it took to make.
As it ricochets from baroque piano to electronic pop maximalism, from PC Music to Leonard Cohen to nothing but gargling space noises, it dares you to like all of it all of the time, and is ok if you don’t. It’s a dense, inventive, ugly, brilliant album, and I asked Dent-Pooley a few questions about it and his year to mark Loud And Quiet’s favourite record of 2020 (see the full list).
Do you even have a lasting memory of making Winterreise considering it was written over such a long period of time?
Yeah, the writing took place over a long time and coincided with a lot of larger points of my life, really. The older songs on there – ‘Depecc’, ‘I’ll Wait For It’ and ‘I’ll Clean Your Sheets’ – I wrote those in Iceland in late 2016. The first three are from New York in 2017, and the other four I wrote in England over 2017 and 2018. So it’s weird to think of someone listening to it and thinking of it as an album, because for me it spans such a massive geographical space and time. I just hope that some of that scope transmits to anyone listening to it. It feels very big in my head, probably bigger than it actually is.
Were you aware that you were making an album, in that case? Did Winterreise become the songs you had, or did you know from day one that you were making an album and it was just going to take as long as it takes?
It was more like the second of those. The concept of it being called Winterreise and ‘Manhattan’ being the first song and ‘Oh God’ being the last song, that was in place for a very long time. There were probably six or seven songs which would have been on the album at one point and I gradually wrote different ones, so there’s been a lot of editing and scrapping and redoing various bits.
It suggests you’re an extremely patient person.
I think it’s in my nature to just take my time. If you’re a solo artist, the two main ways to go about it is the Bob Dylan route, where you push stuff out at a really quick rate, and the other end of spectrum is Joanna Newsom and Kendrick Lamar, people really taking their time… And that’s the other thing – I feel like it was a pretty good mechanism to wait so long, because after a year or two you can really tell whether you like a song or not.
What type of record did you want to make?
I’ve always liked albums as a big emotional kind of thing. Remember that Antlers album, Hospice? I remember listening to that when I was 13 or something, and I was like, ‘Oh shit’ – it just felt like a different thing. I’ve always loved shit around books and films, and my general temperament is being an album person, and making something that is big and heavy and impactful, rather than fun single, fun single, fun single. If it was my way, you wouldn’t hear an ounce of it until you hear the whole thing – more of that longer, cinematic experience, I suppose.
What did you think people would make of the record, and what can you remember of the day it came out?
I’ve given up trying to second guess what people will make of it for a while. I have a very big lack of awareness of how something actually sounds, bizarrely, despite spending a lot of my time doing this thing. Stuff like ‘Onigiri’, at the time I didn’t see why that sounded any different to any of the top 40 pop shit. And ‘Black Hair’, that was written after I’d spent a lot of time listening to D’Angelo, and I thought, ah, this sounds like D’Angelo, and obviously it fucking doesn’t.
When it came out it was great. I didn’t mind too much about the lockdown release. I generally don’t like performing live, so I wasn’t massively gutted that I couldn’t tour it or anything. The amount of time I’ve spent on it, letting go of it was definitely a heavy thing, but I’ve had a great year. Out of all the musicians I know I’m definitely the luckiest one. A lot of my friends in bands have really suffered. I love being holed up in a room where no one talks to me, doing shit. That’s my favourite thing ever.
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