Time Is On My Side
Jesse DeNatale has played guitar, and written and recorded songs, for as long as he can remember. He writes insightful lyrics describing the details of life and relationships, and sets them to striking melodies. He said the songs on his latest album, The Hands of Time, are no exception, although they were also shaped by the recent nationwide lockdown.
“I spent the first part of Covid worried about the pandemic and trying to be safe,” DeNatale said. “As a writer, my routine didn’t change much. I wasn’t socializing a lot and I could make music in my studio. I did catch the virus. It hit pretty hard. When I came out of it, I was happy I was getting better. I felt like the world had been through the wringer and we’d changed. Everyone was more sensitive to everything, a little more conscious that we’d just been through hell. We weren’t completely out of it when I wrote these songs. I expressed my appreciation for the little things, but there are songs like ‘Stop the World’ and ‘Streets of Sorrow’ that are about the state of affairs as they are right now. There’s a lot of sadness in the world. It’s what we’ve created, so maybe it’s where we belong. Maybe that’s how we can see our way out, rather than finding distraction and avoidance.”
He continued, “I’m talking a lot about time itself on this record, with its power and irreversibility. It’s had a hand in creating everything around me. If I look at just what that is—my cup and the coffee it holds, the computer I’m working on, the bed I sleep in; all these things I didn’t invent, but use—there’s a story in their existence. There’s a promise, too, that good things can come. I recognize my privilege and have some gratitude.”
When he had enough songs for an album, DeNatale contacted his friend, producer and drummer Nino Moschella. Moschella runs Bird and Egg Studios in Richmond/El Cerrito. He’s worked with Maria Muldaur, Galactic and other local and national acts. “It’s easier to write songs than record them, but Nino’s a songwriter himself, so he makes the process smooth,” DeNatale said. “I brought in my band—Tom Heyman on guitar, Paul Olguin on bass. Nino played drums. We did everything on the fly. I went in and played the songs, maybe with a little explanation. I’d write out the chords, then we played together. After a few tries, we knew how the songs would go. It’s not rocket science, it’s emotion, it’s feeling the music. We all know how to converse musically.”
“I grew up in North Beach and knew I liked music,” DeNatale said. “When I was a kid, it was a mystery. It had a power, whether on the radio or on the record player. I was given a guitar that was too big for me, when I was around nine. A friend of my mom’s gave it to me. I felt like I was being entrusted with something important, an old Harmony Monterey Archtop guitar. I was mostly self-taught. My mom would say, ‘Go to your room and practice,’ and I’d go in there and bang on it till I heard something good.”
After he began playing guitar and writing songs, DeNatale started recording himself. “My mom sang and taught me how to record on a reel-to-reel tape deck,” he said. “She’d teach me how to harmonize with old Ranchera songs, and I developed a love for recording. I got a 4-track and learned how to overdub and produce.”
He continued, “I learned piano because I had a girlfriend whose younger brother was a piano player. She had a piano in the house, so I’d go over and hang out. He’d appear, sit down and really go at it. I was enthralled. You compose differently on the piano. It can be more orchestral. It’s not a troubadour’s instrument, it’s a big sturdy castle, so it gives you a different way of presenting songs.”
As DeNatale grew older, he began pursuing music full time. “When I left high school, I had an idea that I’d just keep writing songs and playing,” he said. “I went east and played in bars and cafes. I came back to San Francisco years later and started a band and a family. The family won, but I kept writing and playing and started making records. The Hands of Time is my fifth. I’m always living with that desire to fill a blank piece of paper with something too big for words. I believe that’s what songs are.”
Listen to “The Hands of Time” and buy the album on DeNatale’s Bandcamp page: jessedenatale.bandcamp.com. Information on upcoming live shows is on DeNatale’s website: jessedenatale.com. He’ll play a record release show on Sunday, Sept. 3 at 2pm at Toby’s Feed Barn, 11250 Hwy One, Point Reyes Station. Tickets will be available for purchase at www.eventbrite.com.