Jesse Saint John Is Now Writing for Himself

Jesse Saint John Is Now Writing for Himself

The songwriter has been crafting hits for pop icons like Britney Spears and Sia for years, but his first solo single felt too good to give up.

The songwriter has been crafting hits for pop icons like Britney Spears and Sia for years, but his first solo single felt too good to give up.

Text: Rayne H. Ellis

Often songwriters are the unsung heroes of the music industry. The work they do to tap into the psyche of both artists and listeners goes beyond the acclaim they receive. And while the success is ultimately shared between them and the artists, the songwriters often enjoy it alone.

This is not the case for Jesse Saint John. His songwriting career skyrocketed five years ago after the success of "Das Me" by provocative female rapper Brooke Candy. Afterward, pop icons like Britney Spears, Sia, and Charli XCX reached out, solidifying his career as a songwriter for the stars.

Fast forward half a decade and Jesse Saint John has cultivated his own sound and released his own single "MOVE," which commands you to do just that. And while the upbeat techno sound is reminiscent of the Blog House moment that took place circa 2010, it still fits remarkably well into the pop music scene of today. We spoke to the musician about his inspirations, his style, and his future in the music industry.

Did growing up in California shape you as an artist in any way? If so, did it help you or hinder you?

That’s such a good question, I thought about that a couple times. Maybe, not really. I definitely don’t always write happy songs, and you would think I would because of all of the vitamin D. I definitely have more of what you consider, and I know this is stereotyping, an East Coast work ethic. A lot of people think you can slack off in California, but I don’t. I literally wake up and squeeze in as much as I can in a day. If I could add an extra five hours to the day, that would be amazing.

When did you realize that your knack for songwriting could be a career?

The first time I wrote a song for somebody else that people reacted to was this song called “Das Me” by Brooke Candy. And then I wrote all of the lyrics, I didn’t overthink it too much, it just kind of poured out of me. And then it went viral online. It started getting all these amazing cool reactions and that’s when Sia reached out. And then I started doing some songs with her, and then that’s when I was like "oh, this is like a real actual job that people live off of. I want to do that."

Is there somebody in particular that you think it’s easier to write for?

Not really. I’m obsessed with crawling into other people’s minds and finding everything that we have in common because at the end of the day a great song connects with everybody. Even if it’s not their direct experience, they’re like, "Oh I have something in my life that is that same thing, but for me." So I think the universality of songwriting is what always brings me back to it.

How does the songwriting process change when you’re writing for others versus for yourself?

Well, that’s another interesting thing. I was just talking about this with my other friend who writes for other people, and for herself. Basically, my first single wasn’t something I was writing for myself, I was just writing it. And then the more I listened to it, the more I felt like I want this to be my song. It just felt like me. If I were to ever do an artist project, I would do this song. I would be pissed that somebody else put this out. And I was like, "Oh that’s so my song." So sometimes it’s better for me to step out of my own mind and being like "I wouldn’t say that I would say that, I wouldn’t say that", and just write a great song. And then decide this is totally something I would say.

So what makes it more you than somebody else?

It could be somebody else. I just would be jealous if somebody else put it out. Honestly, somebody else could sing it. I would just be jealous.

How would you describe your style?

I like to be really freaky and out there but maintain my good taste level. I never am doing things for shock value or attention. It’s more for just my sheer expression. I like clean shapes. I’m not too much into patterns and embellishments. I like really nice lines and a lot of Japanese designers. Avant garde. It’s funky but it’s never trash, you know? I like trash, but not for me.

Would you say that there’s a person that maybe pushed you or influenced you to get out of your fashion comfort zone?

I was literally never in a fashion box. Oh my god. I was in middle school, and every morning in school I would put tons and tons of gel in my hair, tip my head back, and pour glitter all over it so I could go to school with glitter hair. I saw this *NSYNC David Lachapelle photo shoot where they had gel and glitter and their hair and I was like, "That’s not fair." Why do they get to have it just because they're pop stars? I can have it too. I can just wear it to school. I used to wear leopard and flames. I was really into that whole kitsch-funk freaky style, but that’s since I was a little kid. My style has definitely obviously evolved, but I’ve never boxed myself in as far as feeling ashamed or whatever.

Who has influenced your style?

Greg Araki. I love '90s films. I love Greg Araki movies. I love the movie Go. That was a big one for me. I was like I want to look like that.  I love John Galliano. I know that’s pretty controversial, but stylistically, everything that he’s done has been amazing. I love Comme des Garçons. I love Issey Miyake. I’m wearing an Issey Miyake suit right now, as I speak to you. I love actors and musicians with amazing personal style. I love Andre 3000. I love Pharrell. But as far as the real source of it all, I love designers, I really do.

Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?

Sonically, I’m really influenced by that whole Blog House moment of the end of the 2000s decade. Sonically I love Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Passion Pit, MGMT, Uffie. I just loved how that was this interesting moment when this genre-less birth of the internet deciding what people listen to as opposed to just going with whatever was on the radio at the time. I thought that was the coolest sort of moment. I was a young teenager and I was like, "this is amazing, I can't believe people are making this crazy music." So that was a massive moment for me. And since then I’ve been in the same studios with Uffie and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and stuff, and my idol Britney Spears, that’s literally my queen. If you told me when I was a kid that I would be in the same leagues with these people, I would have never believed you.

What does your single "MOVE" mean to you? What was a part of the process?

Well, we wrote it in the snow in Colorado, which was so fun. We did a week of writing in Colorado in the snow which was amazing, and on the last day, I was like, "I just don’t want to write a typical pop song today." I want to do something that reminds me of all the stuff I grew up with. So Tim Pagnotta is the producer of the song, I showed him Uffie and Justice and Passion Pit and all that stuff. We just played around and had fun. We wrote the song in 15 minutes or something, and it was just kind of this moment of raw visceral energy – and recreating this energy that I felt when I was so much younger. It was just fun and happened really really easily. That’s what made it feel like I want to do this song, I love it.

Is there a magic place, item or routine that makes you feel particularly inspired?

I wish there was! If there was, I would do it every day. I would figure out the formula and make myself be like, "Oh when I walk and stand in front of this sign, I get inspired."  You just can’t help but be inspired. I write every day, so I can’t turn that thing off. It’s kind of like a muscle. When you train it enough, you go into muscle memory and you just start pooling your words together. I love words. I love putting words together. I love wordplay.

Why is blood such a significant part of your aesthetic?

Oh! Blood! Yeah, I just love it. It’s freaky. My favorite movie is Death Becomes Her. And I love Edward Scissorhands and Batman (the Batman Tim Burton one with the Penguin and Catwoman). That one has blood in it. I just loved blood ever since I was little. It’s this amazing thing. People always react to it and it feels like it gets this really visceral reaction but it’s natural. It’s what we all have. It’s sort of like the great unifier because underneath all of our skin and everything that separates us as society, we all bleed the same. We all feel the same. We’re just flesh and blood.

Why are you so passionate about your activism?

I think activism is such a powerful word that people shy away from because they're like, "Oh I’m not educated enough to become an activist. I’ll leave that to the activists." Which I definitely agree with if you’re going to be entering into politics or whatever, you should be extremely educated, which a lot of our politicians are not, including our president. I think activism is just finding a cause that you’re passionate about and educating yourself on the ways that it affects you and the people around you, and the ways that you’re able to be of value to your community. You can’t help but be involved. These are basic human rights that are being discussed or being stripped away or being tampered with. So I think that you should just educate yourself as much as you can. And once you start to pay attention, dig a little deeper, see the ways in which people are being ostracized based on their identities, or their income, things like that, you’ll start to feel like I’m going to use whatever platform I have to be involved and be useful to my community and the world.

Are we going to see any of that political awareness in your music?

I think yes. Totally, but I think that me existing as a crazy homo activist, I’m already pretty much a political statement without even opening my mouth. It’s definitely going to bleed in and that’s always been the energy that I come from. And I come from a really artsy kind of background as far as giving a lot of myself to my craft. I definitely will always operate from that place. It’ll show itself in different ways. It won’t always be obvious. But it’s always there, it’s who I am.

UP NEXT

Aaron Carter on Looking Forward