Last summer when mtvU discovered Jesse Rifkin of The Wailing Wall, he had released his debut album Hospital Blossoms and was in the process of plotting out future tracks and trips to the studio. A year later on the cusp of his sophomore release, I sat down to catch-up with Jesse to discuss his new album The Low Hanging Fruit.
mtvU: I understand that Tim Fite produced the album for you. How did this collaboration end up happening?
Rifkin: Tim’s manager, Jacob Harris, also works with JDub Records [The Wailing Wall’s label]. Tim made a record called Fair Ain’t Fair and, at the time, I was listening to it and it seemed to really articulate a lot of things I had been thinking and feeling. I was starting to write the songs for The Low Hanging Fruit and when we were figuring out the process of where we were going to make this record and who was going to contribute to it, Tim was one of the names that came up. So the three of us all went to dinner together.
mtvU: And how did you know that Tim should be the one to produce the record?
Rifkin: He gave me really honest feedback in terms of Hospital Blossoms. He agreed with the strengths and weaknesses that I thought the record contained. He was able to say, “This is what you do great, this is what you should do differently this time around.”
mtvU: And what did you focus on in terms of what could be approached differently?
Rifkin: Very, very nerdy things. Like focusing on certain particular sounds and figuring out how we could get instruments to make the exact sound we were looking for. I wanted this album to feel more natural. We recorded Hospital Blossoms with very limited means so a lot of songs sound more digital than I would have liked. And we recorded in a lot of places but none of them were exactly acoustically desirable spaces.
mtvU: How did working with Tim change your idea of creating an album?
Rifkin: I had only worked with peers and to have Tim around… we knew each other because we were going to be doing work together. It was more of a professional relationship. He was willing to point out aspects of the work where friends might not be willing to do so. The way that a good take could be an excellent take. Being able to consider every single note. I came out of my experience with Tim far more conscious of what I’m doing musically.
mtvU: When I listen to both albums, the biggest difference I see between Hospital Blossoms and The Low Hanging Fruit is that the narrative seems to come from a much more personal place this time around. On Hospital Blossoms, you seem to be drawing on other stories. But The Low Hanging Fruit seems to come from your own.
Rifkin: There wasn’t necessarily a deliberate decision to go one way or another. I have not really sat down and put the records next to one another in terms of their content. Songs kind of show up when they show up. It’s always been the same process for me, which is to say that it’s not very specific. Lyrics will show up in clumps and chords will show up in clumps and every once in a while, a verse I wrote two years ago matches up to a verse I wrote two weeks ago.
mtvU: How did you come up with the title of the record? Do you want to tell us what it means?
Rifkin: I don’t know if that is necessarily a good idea. I think that it may be better to leave it up to individual interpretation. I will say that it relates to a bunch of different things about the record. I keep finding new ways that it seems to make sense.
mtvU: Fair enough. Did you have that title in mind when you started the album though?
Rifkin: Not at all. The whole time we were making it, we kept saying, “What are we going to call this?” We actually had five or six different names for it and my Dad suggested this one.
mtvU: Another major distinction I see coming out of your work now is the way your voice is really coming to the forefront and taking precedence on this album. It’s interesting that you’re a multi-instrumentalist, it’s something that you get a lot of press for, and here all I can think about is what a strong vocalist you’re becoming.
Rifkin: That was actually a very conscious decision. That is one of the first changes Tim decided to make. He told me, “Your voice needs to be louder.” As far as the instruments go, obviously there’s a ton of them on the record. But I tried to be very careful and make sure nothing is there just for the sake of being there. It would be very easy to have a glockenspiel and a banjo and a saw on every track. But every part of the arrangement is really there to serve the song.
The Low Hanging Fruit will be out June 8th on JDub Records. Check The Wailing Wall’s MySpace page for upcoming tour dates as Jesse joins his producer Tim Fite on the road. Below is an exclusive performance of the second single off The Low Hanging Fruit, “Dandelion,” that Jesse filmed for mtvU in New York’s Central Park. You can hear the single in its entirety today, and download courtesy of JDub, by clicking here.