Following the release of his album 'Empty Island' David Dawson caught up with Mesita (James Cooley) to ask him some questions
Hi James, Thanks so much for talking to me today! I recently have been listening to your new album Empty Island and loved it. What was the inspiration behind this album in particular?
ell it started just as another album of songs about where my head was at back in like February. The album before this album was really strange new territory, I’d never really gone down that road before, I was happy that I did that but then I wanted to readjust and get back to spending time making songs in the way that I would usually do it, but then with this year it just started wrapping into something different. I didn’t really want to make songs about COVID or the situation but it’s hard not to draw from that, like my mental state during it, the people around me and seeing all these people going through it, that really helped to inspire what I was writing.
You’ve been pretty busy over the last eleven years with nearly an album every year and two this year, which is a lot of songs and music. Where do you get the ideas from for all your different projects and even all your different songs?
I try to use like whatever is inspiring me or whatever is around me. I try to capture the mood that I’m in and take the energy around me and put it into a certain type of project, sonically and lyrically, and really try to make everything its own little capsule of the moment and the world that I see around me at the time. And the music that I’m listening to or that’s really inspiring me at the time. I always try to change up the production and challenge myself in new ways which keeps it fresh and I think that’s why I am able to create as much music as I do because I’m trying not to stay in the same place, and it also keeps the inspiration fresh. Like with the last album it was a lot of stream of consciousness stuff which I’d been dying to put something like that down, but then on the new album it was back to challenging myself with songwriting, really get in and surgically go through and try and write in that kind of way. So yeah, it’s just keeping it fresh and having fun with it as much as I can. I’ve actually written an article about channelling negativity with creativity, and writing all your own music you tend to include some themes that seem to draw from personal feelings/experiences.
How do you find it helps both you and your music to channel this energy into the music making process from writing to recording?
It's really therapeutic, it’s my outlet and all the stuff that’s building up in my head and everything that I’ve been going through, to be able to write something about it helps me process it. Even being in a bad place or going through bad things, being able to create a song and music from something where there’s nothing good, there is creating something good from these dark places.
So, onto your amazing new album; what do you hope that people feel or take from Empty Island when they listen to it for the first time?
’m pretty open, I try not to force any sort of way to enjoy something that I make…I want people to take away from it whatever they will. With my writing, if they focus on my writing, I hope that can help them in a certain way, but if they’re not into the lyrics and they like the audio vibe I wanted the album to be really tight and that anyone could pick it up and get something different out of it, to kind of have a Swiss army knife sort of thing with the lyrics and melody.
One of my favourite songs on the album is 'Self Care' which lists some of life’s negativities and features the lines “and all of this time I spent waiting, waiting for the turn of the tides of my failings, pulled me down”. The song also turns to a positive note at the end with the lines “And the love of my life and we hold hands and my husband with a view of the ocean and our mood’s always lifted and we feel complete and everything’s fine”. In a world of increasing pressure how important do you think it is to have that support from others around you, like in these moments described in the song?
I wrote that song right when New York had the pandemic, it was really dark times. I live with five other roommates and we all were starting to get this cabin fever and were all frantic about exposing each other to it and it was just this terror, but on top of that we were all trying to be strong for each other. We were just going through it, drinking way too much, it was death and despair outside. The focus was more on trying to deal with this mess going on, this was a specific event but that always happens in the world to some degree, but you have to be strong enough to be there for yourself and you have to be strong enough to be there for someone else who might lend you some strength in that time. It’s more being able to work on yourself to be able to go out and not focusing on finding someone who will fix you, but at the same time to have someone there for you would be really nice in moments of darkness. I left it kind of open ended in that song because while I would have loved to have been with someone in that dark time I’m sort of glad that I wasn’t. I got through it and my roommates and I got through it together in the way that we did. I didn’t really have any answers in that song.
Human Touch actually provides an interesting commentary on what is happening in the world right now describing you missing the touch of someone, missing the warmth as well as saying “please do not slam the door shut and leave me alone with my thoughts”. This will resonate with a lot of people who are feeling particularly isolated at this point in time and struggle with being alone. Was this the intention behind this song?
I wrote that song right after 'Self Care', which is why it comes right after on the album too, it was kind of a direct continuation. Being with these roommates at first it was like at least I have roommates we can get through this together and then when we were being separated it was like wait a second I kind of needed you guys, and then with the pandemic and social distancing it’s like how do you do that with people you live with? You kind of can’t. The focus was really about helping and being there for each other, I was watching some TV commercials and they were really trying to nail this, in every single commercial it was actually kind of annoying, this ‘we have to be together, apart’, but it’s true. I started zooming with friends I hadn’t talked to and playing video games online; reconnecting. It helped me through. This was kind of a specific event, it’s still going on but especially that April, but this happens all the time, general loneliness not necessarily just in a pandemic. Going through dark and difficult times it always helps to reach out to someone around you even just to hang out and chill. Sometimes that’s the best medicine.
Vanilla Hell also comments on the lockdown and how it has affected people, with lyrics such as “free from desire sat up feeling bored” and “your prison’s no kingdom”. There is also the line “some check accounts some check the count”, is that in relation to social media?
see where you’d get the social media thing for sure, that’s what I love about it, I love how everyone thinks kind of different things. Those three songs came during the peak of the pandemic in New York where I had to walk to Manhattan and I had to walk through Soho, and I’m poor, I’m broke and I don’t have money to flaunt around. Soho is the part of New York where people walk around and flaunt their wealth and it’s disgusting, not being from money there is a bitterness towards that. I was walking through Soho and I saw someone with a ‘Supreme’ branded mask and this was back when the mask thing, no one knew what to do but the hospitals didn’t even have enough masks in New York City, and to see someone wearing a ‘Supreme’ one was just…ugh. I was wearing a mask, my roommate had a friend who is Korean who sent us some early on so I had a mask and was wearing it, but I don’t know it was just walking through Soho and just seeing a branded mask. That line was also about those who are less fortunate, those on the front lines were checking their bank accounts and some people were checking the counts of people who were dying. Having one of those going up and one keep going down. Its still going on, we’ve only received one stimulus check and a lot of people can’t support themselves. There was some definite anger in that song, and still is.
'Somewhere Else' is one of your biggest songs from a few years ago and shares something with some of the songs from this album in that although the themes in the songs often come from negativity if you separated that from the music, the music sounds very positive and happy. Was this your intention?
I have noticed how a lot of times my lyrics are drawing from darker areas from my life and experiences then on top it can be kind of cheery. I don’t mean to do that. I love the sound of certain melodies, especially with 'Somewhere Else' it was around the time I was getting into the guitar tuning I use, it sounds good to me and it's like an expression of optimism. Having the lyrics on top of that maybe I am processing what I’m going through but there’s always got to be that certain light underneath. I actually like a lot of songs that are dreary because sometimes that resonates with me too. I guess it just sounds good in my head, it’s the sound in my spirit. With every song I just try to have it flow. That song, I recorded it when I’d moved to Seattle, it was my first time away from home, living alone and becoming an adult. I was really trying to be something back then. Seattle just fell apart and it was a failure, and through that I wrote 'Somewhere Else' as I was pretty much packing up to leave Seattle and move back home where I had tried so hard to escape from, and that’s where the vibe for that song came from.
Mesita's Top 3 Mental Health Songs: