Jesse Ebaugh started playing piano at age eleven where he grew up in Colorado. “I was allowed to quit when I joined a punk rock band when I turned thirteen,” he said, with his rescue dog Scout listening as intently to his story as anyone in the room. “My hippie parents were drag-a-long parents so I went to every party they ever went to. Listening to all the adults playing music is what made me want to play music. The adults pulling out the guitars and playing grateful dead songs was the most vital feature of any social activity or party.
After having graduated high school in Pennsylvania and dropping out of art school in New York, Jesse says he drifted to Kentucky out of circumstance. “When I lived in Kentucky,” he shared, “aside from being in punk bands I played bluegrass six or seven days a week. I supported myself as a bluegrass musician for two years.”
Playing bluegrass for so long, Jesse says his biggest influence is American Folk Song Form in all of it’s permutations: Appalachian mountain tunes, murder ballads, piedmont and delta blues, early country music, etc. “American pop music grew out of those traditions. I can hear those song forms in the songs on the radio,” Jesse said. “I really admire Dan Penn, Gordon Lightfoot and Gene Clark as writers. I admire Aaron Blount and his writing with his band Knife in the Water quite a bit.
“From punk to bluegrass – it’s all folk music – it’s just people playing music about who they are and where they are. Whether it’s zit-faced 14-year-olds playing songs in their parents' basements or anyone else, they are singing songs about their lives. Bluegrass music is about people singing about their lives. Music is a function of the community you want to be involved with.”
Jesse met Erika (Wennerstrom) and all the Heartless Bastards there in Kentucky and eventually made his way to Austin with them. After putting out five albums, the Heartless Bastards are taking a little hiatus so each of the musicians can focus on individual projects. “Ragged From the Road,” is one of Jesse’s newest tracks, which you can hear at KUT’s song of the week.
Jesse plays bass in punk bands and upright bass in bluegrass bands. One of his recent collaborations, The Austin Roots Collective, came together in 2017 exclusively to showcase the different talents of each of the musicians involved. “We formed it in order to attend the Folk Alliance,” he said, “and took different turns being the band leader. If you came to listen, you didn’t necessarily know whose songs you would be hearing.” The Folk Alliance, he shared, is like SXSW for folkies. “Talent buyers go to see who has a new record, who they want to book on their festival this year.
The Austin Roots Collective is comprised of:
Jesse Ebaugh and the Tender Things is Jesse’s latest record he has been working on. “For me, I’ve always been a side man,” he said,” Scout now in his lap listening even more intently than before as Letitia shoots their profile. “I started writing songs this time last year. I’ve been home recording this record little by little with fancy players on the record. Elijah Ford has been playing bass, David Colvin has been playing drums and David Pulkingham on guitar. Of Pulkingham, Jesse said David has played with Alejandro Esocvedo, Patty Griffin, Robert Plant and more. Jesse plays acoustic on the record and he says it comes out as soon as it gets done.
The full band will be performing at C-boys heart and soul Tuesday-Saturday during SXSW from 4p-6p. No wristband needed, just an honest free show. “Come drink beer,” Jesse says with a welcoming grin. This version of Jesse Ebaugh and the Tender Things includes David Colvin (drums), Brad Meinerding (electric/vocals), Chris Cosintino (bass/vocals) and of course Jesse.
“In addition to Tender things, I’ve been working on Erika Winnestrom’s latest record too. There will be more Heartless Bastards stuff in the future,” Jesse said, “it was a decade of relentless touring and we agreed to take a break and circle the wagons. Erika is working hard on getting her stuff out. Patrick Hallihan from My Morning Jacket plays drums on her project.”
What is your song writing process? “I’ve always been an arranger, but never the primary thinker-upper. My technical ability as a songwriter is pretty advanced, but my primary inspiration is still naïve.
“My first step in writing a song is so abstract. It can be any number of things. Sometimes you hear a sound in your imagination and you want to get that sound out. Sometimes there’s an emotion you want to communicate and it starts there. Sometimes you hear a snippet of someone’s conversation and it sticks in your head and you think – that’s a hook.
“I’ve only been writing lyrics for a year and I have notebooks of trash that I hope no one ever sees. I don’t know if I should burn them or what,” Jesse laughed. He recommends “Writing Better Lyrics” as a resource for anyone interested in songwriting. “How much songwriting you do is dependent on the daily ritual of notebooking and journaling, and how much creative thought falls through you. You also have to be ok with throwing your garbage away. The ideas that stick around are the ones you work with.
“Instruments aren’t important in songwriting, it’s just about ideas,” he said. “I love how songwriters metabolize their life through their writing."
Favorite thing to eat in Austin – Quality Seafood: “I get something different every time. The food is great, but what I like about it the most is that it's not part of the “new” Austin food scene. I spent a lot of time working in food service, so I have a strong opinion about what restaurant experiences should be – and it’s more than just food. Quality Seafood is also one of the biggest cross sections of all the population in Austin: you see whatever Austin has to offer diversity wise every time you go.