Jesse Terry's seventh album, When We Wander, is the first he wrote since becoming a parent. So it's no surprise the family theme courses through many of its 12 songs. His music career has been a family project ever since he became a full-time touring artist a decade ago.
That was right around the time when Jesse met his wife Jess working on a cruise ship in the South Pacific. "As soon as we got back to the states, I proposed to her at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe in July 2010 and we packed up the car for the first tour right after that. We've been touring together full-time ever since." Now with two-year-old Lily added to the clan, family is more important than ever to him, including the parental urge to love and protect. "If I were the moon, I’d light all of your back roads," he sings in "If I Were The Moon": "You wouldn’t need no headlights / I’d always be full."
The life of a touring family inspired the album's title track. "When we wander, when we wander / Don’t it feel like we’re finally found." But in the face of the pandemic, he has found that "wandering is not just a literal thing. We've followed our hearts with so many decisions in 2020-2021, and have found that there are many ways to wander and be free and brave."
One of those ways has been going virtual. He says that his livestream concerts have "become the highlight of my week and the thing that sustains us emotionally and financially. And an amazing community has sprung up from these concerts."
The stage had been Jesse's home for a decade. He plays around 150 shows a year, from Bonnaroo to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the 30A Songwriters Festival to AmericanaFest. When the pandemic canceled concerts and delayed the album's release, he pivoted to performing online and found a strong new connection to his fans, who had helped fund his albums all along. "My musical tribe has always been there for me," he says with gratitude.
Though recorded in 2019, the songs off the new album click with fans online too. He and his band recorded When We Wander live in the studio, a first for his career. "I wanted to try that Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Neil Young approach to live recording, prioritizing emotion and raw performances over perfection. I loved that experience." Recorded live, the album resonates especially with the intimacy and community spirit of the online shows.
He also wrote all the music and lyrics this time, instead of working with collaborators, and took a very personal approach, including a look back. "In Spite of You" recalls his stay in a residential facility for behavior modification that traumatized him as a young teenager: "The sermons that you sold me all were fakes." Yet he emerged to earn a degree from Berklee College of Music, net a five-year staff writer gig on Nashville's Music Row penning material for major TV networks, and win prestigious songwriting awards. And then to become the singer-songwriter his countless fan know today, who (in the words of Music News Nashville) "bring[s] to mind iconic artist/poets like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne... [with] a performance that touches the heart like only a whisper can."