Wild Pink’s John Ross Chats with Young Jesus’s John Rossiter

Catching up about Shepherd Head, ILYSM, and more.

John Ross is the vocalist and guitarist for the Brooklyn-based band Wild Pink; John Rossiter is the leader of the LA-via-Chicago band Young Jesus. Young Jesus just released Shepherd Head last week on Saddle Creek, and Wild Pink will be releasing their record ILYSM next month on Royal Mountain, so to celebrate, the two John Ross(iter)s hopped on the phone to catch up about it.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

John Ross: What are you recording on, by the way?

John Rossiter: I’m using the Voice Memos on my mom’s phone. [Laughs.] 

Ross: Oh, excellent.

Rossiter: Yeah. I’m at my parent’s house in the suburbs of Chicago for the week, so I’m away from any recording situation.

Ross: Where do you live? Did you say you live in Michigan?

Rossiter: I live in LA. 

Ross: Oh, OK. 

Rossiter: Yeah. I spent the summer in New York, because my fiance was filming there and I recorded an album, and I’ve just been slowly driving back to LA before I go on tour.

Ross: Were you recording this most recent record at that time?

Rossiter: No, that was that was the past three or four years. This is one that will come out in like a year.

Ross: Woah. That’s so cool. Also very awesome about your new record — the one that I have heard, that’s coming out soon.

Rossiter: Yes, you too, man. It’s beautiful.

Ross: Thank you. Likewise. It was so cool to see that [“Rose Eater”] video, to see how it’s kind of bookended by you performing the song on an upright piano, handheld camera situation, but then it cuts to the beautiful, full, lush arrangement. I was just watching it at a Starbucks a few minutes ago and I was like, Woah, this is really is really awesome

Rossiter: That’s awesome. 

Ross: It really puts into context what must have gone into making that record. The record sounds so huge and really well produced, but then you’re just performing it solo handheld camera, and it sounds amazing that way, too. Very cool to see that.

Rossiter: It fits with the the ethos of the record — which, I’m glad it sounds huge and well-produced because I just recorded it on Garageband with the internal mic in the Mac and a SM57, because I don’t know how to use Pro Tools or Logic. [Laughs.]

Ross: Dude, that’s amazing. I was so curious about the string sounds — they reminded me of A Day Without Rain, that Enya record.

Rossiter: I love that record.

Ross: Cool. Are there some of or all of those strings MIDI or computer-generated, or real or a combo or what?

Rossiter: I’m not sure, because people ask me what are the strings, and sometimes the strings are a voice memo of a guitar that I found that would be in the same key of the song, and then I would just put a ton of reverb and delay and then pitch shift it and do all this stuff until it just sounded like a mix of strange strings.

Ross: Man, that’s incredible.

Rossiter: Or the piano, just the same thing — you just mess with it, because when you record in Garageband [with] internal mic on the computer, it sounds horrible if you just leave it what it is. But if you change it, it becomes a totally different instrument, which for me was super exciting.

Ross: Totally. You can process some raw ass audio to the point where it just sounds like something cool and different.

Rossiter: Yeah. And then there’s a bunch of whatever the Garageband preset string strings are, that you just play through the “musical type” thing, I think it’s called, [where you can play] an octave on a keyboard.

Ross: Totally. Did you make that record with a band? I’m sure you obviously you have players on it, but it wasn’t live recording guitar, drum bass for a take or something, it was more assembled by you, right?

Rossiter: Yeah. Some of it’s just playing the drums on a little laptop and mixing it together with other sounds, and then some of it sampled drums from other Young Jesus jams, like just isolating a three second moment that I thought was really groovy and then looping that and adding layers. Drums were really cool because you couldn’t get a full groove of a kit at all, so in things being off time — because as a band we would do a lot of free improvisation — if you just pile things on, it locks into its own groove rather than something straightforward and really perfect, which was exciting. 

My friend Sara Beth Tomberlin sang on a couple songs, and my friend Jamie Renee Williams read a poem, and Marcel [Borbón Pérez], the old bassist of Young Jesus, played bass on it too. So there were definitely collaborations, but it was mostly me for a lot of the tracks.

Ross: That’s cool. Yeah, you can tell there’s a collage quality to it that is really cool. I like disparate things coming together, and the sum is greater than the parts kind of deal, which I get that feeling on a few of those tunes. And also to your point about the drum production, it was really cool to hear what sounded like grooves being made out of delay. Is that right? 

Rossiter: Yeah. I was listening to a lot of dub, and there’s so many grooves from delay. And a lot of that happens in dance, house music. It’s like a whole new feel. I don’t know, I got really excited about just the fact that the more you throw together, if you’re aiming towards something and you keep aiming towards that, it’ll just kind of become a song. And it might not be the song that you had in your dreams, but it’ll become something full and weird. And if you’re playing in pretty much the same key and you’re playing it pretty much the same tempo rhythm. It just becomes something, which to me is just so crazy.

Ross: Hey, aim for the moon and you’ll still land among the stars.

Rossiter: Yes, 100%. What is your process like? 

Ross: You know, it varies. On this most recent record, I definitely wanted to experiment more than I had on previous records and also collaborate with as many people as I could. So there’s a lot of different players on it. There’s probably a dozen people on the record. And I was fooling around with extreme filter sweeps on drums — just ideas I had that I peppered across the record wherever it made sense. The record before this one, everything kind of fit into place — it’s a very smooth listen, I think, all segue into each other. At that time, I was very into conventional song structure, so whatever I did on the last record, I kind of aimed to get away from. So there’s just more experimenting on this most recent record. 

It’s also definitely more raw. I recruited this amazing piano player, David Moore, from the band Bing and Ruth. His music is very ambient and hypnotic, and so him doing what he does on these songs kind of took it in that direction, which is really exciting for me. But yeah, the record’s done. I’m writing new tunes now. I’m kind of slowly working on a new record.

Rossiter: I loved that there are genuinely, like, shocking moments on this album.

Ross: Oh, man. Thank you.

Rossiter: My favorite moment is that transition from — I mean, “See You Better Now” is amazing, it reminds me of Shania Twain. If that’s a reference that fits. [Laughs.] 

Ross: Absolutely.

Rossiter: And then that transition into “Sucking on the Birdshot” is like, oof. So beautiful.

Ross: Thank you so much. I love a good song transition. They’re just so fun to fool around with in the studio, so I wanted to be judicious with them and do them right and not just have one song go into the next.

Rossiter: Yeah, you did it really, really beautifully.

Ross: Thank you. Did you mix your record?

Rossiter: The old drummer of Young Jesus, Kern Haug did.

Ross: It sounds great. It really sounds nice.

Rossiter: He’s awesome.

Ross: Are all of you are in LA then?

Rossiter: Yeah. So, the band’s just me now, but we’re all still around here and still see each other. But yeah, we’re in LA.

Ross: Nice. Do you have some touring coming up?

Rossiter: Yes, I’m going open for this guy, petey, who plays sort of indie pop punk, very honest, straightforward, catchy tunes. He also has a very famous TikTok — and he happens to be the first drummer of Young Jesus back when we were in high school. 

Ross: No kidding. 

Rossiter: Yeah, 15 years ago. So I’m kind of going on tour with a lot of high school friends, which I really did not see coming. I have been in this band for the past six or seven years, so it should be really… It’s just one of those weird, full circle experiences.

Ross: Wait, so did you grow up in L.A.?

Rossiter: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, in a town called Glencoe, Illinois. 

Ross: OK, right on. That’s so cool that you’re kind of circling back with your buds. Young Jesus has been around for 15 years?

Rossiter: Almost. Yeah, I think I joined it when I was 19, and I’m about to turn 34. It’s incredible. We’ve had so many different iterations and adventures. We went on a Red Bull reality show when we were kids. 

Ross: You’re kidding me. 

Rossiter: [Laughs.] Yeah, we toured from Chicago to LA competing against another Chicago band on Route 66. It was called Red Bull’s Rock the Route. My only tattoo is a tattoo of the Route 66 road sign.

Ross: That’s amazing. Did you guys win? 

Rossiter: We did something really smart, which we didn’t even realize we were doing, but we became really good friends with the crew. Because we were just so young and, like, charming — you know, just teenagers — so we didn’t win the text vote, but we still got the prize because we had endeared ourselves to the crew. So we got to record for three days at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica.

Ross: Oh, wow. That’s great. How many records do you guys have?

Rossiter: I think six now? And a couple of EPs. How about you?

Ross: This is number four.

Rossiter: What motivates your writing, when you’re sitting down to get into a new phase?

Ross: That’s a good question. I had some health trouble in the last year or two, and that’s a big part of what this most recent record is about. I actually had cancer. But on the mend, doing good! But that’s that kind of took over ILYSM. But the new stuff that I’m writing — I don’t know if this sounds like a no duh, of course thing, but I’m trying to tell a story with each tune. Like, a lot of times I just do stream of consciousness, just meandering lyrically, but I’m trying to tell a story now.

And it’s kind of fun, because I get surprised by the time the song is done. Like, I didn’t expect to write a song about this. And I did that a little bit on ILYSM — there’s a song about a girl escaping a bad domestic situation, and obviously it’s all just a story, but I was just surprised at how that song ended up. You know, I don’t really do that.

Rossiter: I was reading along to the lyrics on ILYSM, and one of the things — I mean, I wouldn’t call them super meandering, because there is such focus. I love the balance between — there’s a lot of obviously deep poetry and natural beauty that comes out, that almost reminds me of some poets, like W.S. Merwin, that I really like. And then you throw out these very matter of fact, very colloquial, relatable statements. So I really love that. 

But I was thinking similarly with this album that I’ve been writing and recorded in New York this summer — I had similarly gotten to a similar place where I would just wake up and start writing and would think, I just want to write a really captivating thing in the first two lines of a song, whatever that is, and then go from there and develop that. Like, I just want people to notice what’s being said and have to think about where it could go and be held by that. Rather than, usually in the past, I’d write lyrics to try to fit with what I felt like the sonic feeling of a song or the chords were. And now I’m more like just writing words to chords and seeing what story develops from there.

Ross: Totally. I find that when you have maybe like a little chord progression or something sonically that you’re digging, and then you find words that for some reason the syllables fit with what you’re doing, it’s a good catalyst to start the lyric writing. Even if you just have a non-sequitur, like a string of words that surprises you, but it sounds really good with those particular chords or something, that can be like a fun way to start a tune.

Rossiter: Yeah. I used to just get bogged down by trying to match, because I would come up with these sonic landscapes in my head and they were so full and beautiful, and then the words could never live up to the beauty of the landscape. And that became so frustrating. So I feel like I’ve almost gone the other way, where you just let it speak and whatever happens, try to follow that thread.

I was going to ask you, because I feel like critics, or people in general, take me really seriously because my music can be serious — I don’t know if you have that experience, because we’re sometimes mentioned in the same breath.

Ross: I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s something that I don’t feel comfortable in all the time. 

Rossiter: Me neither.

Ross: I don’t mean for it to come off that way.

Rossiter: Yeah. I don’t necessarily have any things that I want people to feel listening to the music. But the interesting thing — and I think this is true of a lot of people — is that at different points in your life, if you’re really committed to your craft as a musician, your music is going to represent different parts of who you are, and you’re not going to put every part of yourself into the tunes. And so for some albums, I was extremely serious and angry because I didn’t know how to be serious and angry in the rest of my life.

Ross: Right. 

Rossiter: Or really sad, because I didn’t know how to express sadness with my family or friends. And I think that’s important, and I’m trying to learn how to communicate a little bit more broadly — but actually, no, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a part of life. And life is so full.

Ross: Yeah, I would say anger is a very difficult emotion to express in a healthy way. And for it to come out in music is about as healthy as it gets, probably.

Rossiter: Yeah. Well, of your music, the thing that stuck with me the most is that line — I think on the album from a while back — that’s, “You had so much anger and now you’re turning it around.”

Ross: That’s right, from “Yolk in the Fur.” 

Rossiter: Yeah. And it’s so simple, but I think it needs to be talked about often — the presence of anger within us, and the ability to slowly, incrementally change things.

Ross: Totally. Especially for me around the time of that record, and certainly the record after that, music for me at that time was about creating this idealized version of myself in an idealized version of the world.

Rossiter: Ugh, you’re speaking my language right now.

Ross: Oh, dude, yeah. I feel like in my case, it would tend to get very sweet — my fear is that it’s perceived as a little too precious or something, or like a too saccharine. But I don’t regret doing any of that, and I actually still identify with kind of creating your idealized world in a song. But yeah, that’s where I was coming from at that time.

Rossiter: I had this thing where the songs — and this is kind of the purpose that music fulfills in my life, that I’m usually trying to sing myself or write myself towards a future me. And I didn’t even realize that for about ten years. I started listening back to old Young Jesus albums, and I was like, Woah, I hadn’t even learned that thing that I was singing about. It was almost like channeling of an ability that I didn’t even know existed in my body yet. 

Ross: Do you ever feel like you’re writing lyrics that for some reason, you feel like these lyrics feel right, but then it’s not until well after the record’s out down the road that it makes sense to you?

Rossiter: Yeah, of course.

Ross: That’s a pretty special feeling.

Rossiter: Yeah. I also sometimes get a little bit embarrassed by it, by not realizing. 

Ross: Every now and then I’ll be talking to a music journalist or something, and they’ll have an observation and I play it off as if that was always what I intended. And then afterwards I’m like, Damn, that’s a good observation. That’s true

Rossiter: That’s the way to do it. What I’m going to try to do for the next five, ten years of my music life is just hit or miss — and really miss when I miss. Because when I miss, I want to see what people are saying so that I can learn. Because I think I’ve crafted such full sonic landscapes and have been a little bit controlling that I haven’t really let myself miss in a really vulnerable way.

Ross: Dude, I have to say that doing your record all in Garageband with an SM57 is — first of all, direct hit — but I think you’re taking some pretty big ass leaps to that point. It’s very cool. It’s inspiring. Honestly, I’m always torn like, how lush and full can I make this arrangement? And wouldn’t it be cool to have a seven piece band play it? But then it’s also really cool to be like, Hey, I’m only going to do this with limitations, like go the other way with it.

We’re at a half hour — I feel like this was a great convo.

Rossiter: I agree. Can I just share something with you real quick.

Ross: Please.

Rossiter: OK, I had a dream last night: It was Wild Pink and Young Jesus. We’re supposed to set up a record store or a celebration on the beach, and your band had set up this table that had a yellow cloth on it and a little tent covering in case it rained. And I was running around this area, which was like a delta and it had all these different neighborhoods in it — I was trying to do a million things like pick up records and books and talk to my family. And I said, “I’ll be back at 1 pm,” and I showed up late and I was trying to get my grandma to walk on to the sand to come to the table, but she couldn’t walk in the sand. Anyway, you were very nice in the dream, and you all had a great setup on this table.

Ross: That’s a beautiful dream right there.

Rossiter: Yeah. Thank you.

Wild Pink is a New York-based rock band. Their fourth album, ILYSM, is out October 14, 2022 via Royal Mountain Records.

(Photo Credit: Mitchell Wojcik)