Jesse Locke: Music For Writing

Artwork: Aurora Borealis (As observed March 1, 1872)
By Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, 1881, Courtesy of the NYPL

Music writer, podcaster and drummer Jesse Locke (@wipeoutbeat) dons his DJ hat for a beautiful, heady mix of wordless music he listens to while writing. Late night listening? Maybe. Songs by J Dilla, Woo, Obuxum, Kraftwerk, Craig Leon and more.

He also kindly answered a bunch of questions about his work, writing, life. Read those and the tracklist below. (For even deeper cuts, check out Jesse's podcast with amazing people called Tracing Spaces.)

Can you give a bit of background as to where you're from, what moved you to a career in music?

JL: I was born in Calgary, where I studied journalism at Mount Royal University. Most of my classes in that program were quite worthwhile–teaching me the skills required to research a piece of writing, cold call people, and file assignments by deadline–but it was working for the student newspaper that really moved me towards the “career” I’ve had for the past 15 years. As the arts editor of The Reflector, I was able to channel my love of music into reviews, interviews, and other kinds of features.

That led to freelance writing for Calgary’s great alt-weekly magazine, FFWD Weekly (R.I.P.) followed by work with other local publications until I built up enough of a portfolio to start pitching to places outside of the city. Another invaluable experience was my time as the editor of the blog Weird Canada, where I forged connections with people in different communities all across this country. In the years since, I’ve strived to continue developing the kinds of writing I did for that website, covering artists who aren’t getting nearly enough attention and giving a spotlight to members of marginalized cultural groups wherever I can.

I should also mention that I have a parallel life as a musician. Right now I play drums for the bands Tough Age (we have a new album coming out on August 7th!), Motorists, Lavender Bruisers, Chandra, and occasionally Simply Saucer.

With the epic task of writing as much as you have— any pieces that stick out in your mind (and why)?

JL: I’ve had the opportunity to speak to so many of my heroes: Buffy Sainte-Marie, John Waters, The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva, Flaming Tunes’ Mary Currie, CAN’s Malcolm Mooney and Irmin Schmidt, Roedelius, Suzanne Ciani, Byron Coley, Nardwuar, and the Nihilist Spasm Band are some that immediately spring to mind. There’s nothing in life that feels more valuable to me than hearing them share stories and learning what it was like for them to make incredible art in opposition to cultural norms in various parts of the world.

How about anyone in particular you'd love to interview one day or write about?

JL: In her book Girl In A Band, Kim Gordon wrote a frustratingly short chapter about how she formed her first band while studying at the U of T. It’s my dream interview to talk to her at length about that and learn more!

Any fictional writing? Tips for exercises or practicing in general? Asking for a friend...

JL: I sadly don’t have a practice of fictional writing at the moment, but it is something I studied in school. My main tip for exercising your writing muscles is to write a lot! If you don’t have an outlet to publish your writing, start a blog or a newsletter and try to write every day if you can. Do it for fun! Even if you decide not to share it with anyone, just keep writing and writing and writing. I’ve essentially become a full time freelancer again since the start of 2019, and I’ve now tried to turn it into a 9-5 job. Mondays and Tuesdays are typically focused on pitching to editors, and the rest of the time I just try to buckle down and write as much as I can. Then I stop in the evening to give myself a mental health break. Frenzied late night sessions are pretty rare these days, but they do still happen occasionally.

If I can also share a second tip, it’s to gain knowledge from places outside of the internet. Read books, read liner notes, watch documentaries, and (most importantly) spend time talking to people with different experiences than your own, especially those from another generation or BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who don’t typically get to tell their stories. Expand your perspective, challenge your preconceptions, and the world will feel a lot more open.

You play in Chandra's band, aka the artist famous for the song "Subways" eventually sampled by The Avalanches. How did that come about?

JL: Are you comfortable? It’s a long story! My friend Aaron Levin (who founded Weird Canada) was the person who originally reissued her Transportation EPs on his label Cantor Records in 2009. A few years after that, Chandra was interested in reissuing them again, but Aaron was working in Berlin at the time. He asked if I wanted to take on the project, and I leapt at the opportunity since I loved her music! My friend Julie Reich is also a Chandra mega fan, so we interviewed her together for my old blog Texture Magazine as a means to promote the new reissue.

That was a great experience for all three of us, and Chandra decided to come up to Toronto to perform a few of her songs, backed up by Julie’s band Bile Sister at the DIY venue Double Double Land (R.I.P.). From there, she was inspired to form a more permanent band, which we’ve now been doing for the past six years. Chandra’s incredible music and story have continued to steadily gain more attention thanks to surreal things like the Avalanches sample!

2019 was our busiest year yet as we reissued the EPs as a definitive, remastered 2LP set with Telephone Explosion Records, performed at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Sled Island in Calgary, Part Time Punks in LA, and released a new 7" on Third Man Records. The pandemic stopped our tour plans this year sadly, but we will have some more cool things to share soon!

Lightning round! Your desert island disc?

JL: Buffy Sainte-Marie - Illuminations. I wrote all about it for Musicworks last year.

How about an artist you'd be like to see live once things kick up again?

JL: Mourning [A] BLKstar, who were supposed to play here this fall with U.S. Girls. Just imagining how their three vocalists would sound live gives me full body goosebumps.

Last but not least... 2020. Can you speak to how this year's affected your work and life?

JL: I was supposed to be touring and playing festivals all spring, summer, and fall, so putting that on pause has been a really dramatic change. Having that free time has allowed me to focus much more on writing this year, so I’ve been super fortunate to have my work published by amazing outlets like Tone Glow, The Ringer, and Xtra Magazine. If I can find any kind of positive in the negative, it’s been an unexpected opportunity to reflect, rebuild, and hopefully come out the other side better than before.


Craig Leon – One Hundred Steps

Ngin-O – Ncounter

Der Zyklus – Mathematische Modelle

The Soft Pink Truth – We

Bobby Hutcherson – Little B’s Poem

Obuxum – Black Girls Flying

J Dilla – So Far To Go

Beverly Glenn-Copeland – Winter Astral

Zbigniew Siatecki – Chronologica

Museum of No Art – Form and Focus

Woo – Swingtime

Tidiane Thiam – N'Dianguene Demngal Men

Kraftwerk – Ananas Symphonie