As I walk up the spiral wooden staircase at the spacious and obscenely cool apartment in Hackney, I am greeted with the sound of a piano and someone singing. I have inadvertently walked in on Tobias Jesso Jr's practice time. He continues singing, completely absorbed in a world of his own, tirelessly going through the songs in preparation for his second night of super-secret shows at the apartment. Eventually, he realises that I am in the room and ready to talk about love, songwriting and all the little bits in between.

Tobias Jesso Jr is the new kid on the block; a Canadian who plays piano and writes poignant songs that explore the different aspects of love and the pain it can cause when it all goes wrong. After trying to become a behind-the-scenes songwriter in LA for a few years, it didn't go entirely to plan and so he ended up returning home and began playing piano, which was when his luck began to change. He put a few demos on the internet - which he assures me were recorded with the most "primitive recording equipment available" - and then sent them over to former Girls' member Chet 'JR' White on the off-chance that he might have a listen. Amazingly, JR replied and invited Tobias to come record with him in LA. Since then, he's been snapped up by True Panther Sounds and is set to release his debut LP early next year, which is simply entitled Goon.

"I don't know, I kind of liked it as an album title. 'Goon' can be misinterpreted as someone who is, you know like The Goonies are, a hopelessly romantic group of people, who are just clueless and adolescent about love, and then you have 'Goon' who is a big old thug, and dumb simple and couldn't talk about love if they tried. So it sits somewhere in the middle."

That makes sense, as love and romance is really the focus in songs such as 'True Love' and 'Without You'.

What would you say is the main ingredient for a great love song?



Yeah, I think suffering, that's what it takes to write something that really means you want to get out of that place. I mean, you can write a great love song if you are in love, and you can say something about that. But, I think a certain amount of pain is involved in great love songs that hits a nerve with people. Because, love is pain. You can never be fully content and happy and pleased and stuff. With love, there's always another person involved, so there' always a chance that, whether it's deep, deep down, or not, pain and suffering is always waiting.

So, are you kind of saying that suffering is mandatory to write a love song?

I'm not saying that. But, I've never sat down and written a love song when I'm feeling great on a sunny day. I sit down and write a love song - whether it's good or bad love song - when I want to write about how I'm feeling or a theme about love, or about people who do not have great lives, but they have great love. You know, it came from just thinking sometimes pain comes from life, and love is the saviour and then it's the other way around. You know, your life is fine, but your love life is not so good, and then you don't feel so hot about it.

The phrase 'hopeless romantic' may come to mind here, but it is the way that Tobias has managed to translate this pain which means his songs reach out and tug at your own heart strings. His songwriting has a maturity and a poignancy that well surpasses his years and experience, however the live arena is something that Tobias is yet to learn more about.

Whereas most bands and artists learn the ropes touring for months before they even get a look-in on an album release, Tobias' first ever live performance was at Pitchfork Festival Paris later that week.When asked how he was feeling, he was understandably apprehensive about the whole thing, seeing as he has barely even sung in front of strangers before.

"I'm nerve-wracked. The whole process for me is definitely one of learning per show and stuff like that. Yesterday was the first show - apart from that birthday party I mentioned - I've played for anyone I don't know."

How do you feel the shows are going?

Ah, it's better to look back and reflect on them than it was in the moment and say "this is so great" because in the moment you're like "this is terrifying!"


Oh my god, yeah! I mean, I was trying to keep myself as composed as possible, but inside I was shaking inside, for sure.

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Tobias Jesso Jr. is his height. Standing at somewhere well over six foot, he towers over you with an infectious smile and an easy, friendly manner, and is most at ease when talking the songwriting process or the songwriters he is most inspired by ("Cass McCombs. He's really good. And I've just heard the new Ariel Pink record, and I mean, it's way beyond any form of songwriting I can imagine. Carole King, Harry Nilsson, The Beatles. I love The Beatles.") For a young man who seemingly has the world at his feet, he is also incredibly modest. Time and time again, he takes a critical stance and points out his faults. But it is this raw and honest element of his music - the way in which it lacks perfection and the sheen of over- production - that makes it so endearing and believable.

Have you done any other preparation for the shows?

I mean, like I practice a lot, I mean as you walked in I was playing. But I don't think there is any amount of preparation that for my voice that I can make it do what I wished it would do... just because my voice is so untrained, that's just the way it is. I can't make it better. I can't force it... But for now it's kind of like take it or leave it. Kind of the mood of whole thing.

You've only put a few tracks and demos online, what do you think it is that people have latched onto?

Maybe the fact that they saw a baby, and thought that was them. They thought it was some 8-year-old that was writing these songs, so it was some circus freak thing. I don't believe I'm the only person to do this sort of thing, but I think that the chord that is hitting people is that return to simplicity. I think with the demos, if I was hearing them from the outside, I would just say "well, I could do this" and that's why people have liked it, because it is something that anyone could do. It's not a terribly great voice, it's not great piano playing coming out of there, it's clearly not recorded very well. And so, people go "I can do this" and so, they don't feel threatened by it.

A lot of people are talking about how those demos have a real '70s sound about them. Was that done purposefully?

No! I had like one microphone, a 4-track tape recorder, and I obviously had logic on my laptop to put it into from there. There were 40 demos before any demo you have heard, because it was me screwing up all the time. I would start, and it would be too hard for me to play, so I'd put the mic up and play all day, all day, all day.

When it came to recording the album then, how did you decide how you wanted the songs to come across?

Well, I always felt that the songs deserved more than the demos, I really wanted to flesh them out. I sent them to JR, and he produced the record. His opinion on it meant a lot to me. He was like the more demos there are, the more people will get what he calls 'demo-itis', where they just don't want to go past that. Where, no matter what comes out they will be like, "I like the demo better..." [and if you] want to stand up to the contemporary without pigeon-holing yourself as an indie-artist, then we're going to have to really go for it. And I was like "I'm in... I let him do his thing.

But with the songwriting side of things...

The songwriting is what I feel like the only thing is really important to me. If someone said to me "we have to change the tracklist of your album", I would say ok, whatever. But, it would be different if someone said "we have to put another verse in this song". I would say [we would] stop there.

Tobias is conquering the live experience one stage at a time and assures me that next year will see a tour alongside the release of the album, and these cosy warm-up shows are only the tip of the iceberg. Once we finish chatting, it's not long before Tobias is back on the piano again, and once again absorbed in his own world.