Over the last five years, Jesse Saint John’s unapologetic persona, destructive fashion aesthetic and lyrical mastery have helped him become one of the most recognized songwriters in the game. He’s got names like Sia, Britney, Camila on his resume and his most recent home-run hit, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” is rapidly ascending the Billboard Hot 100. And after a year of self-discovery, the Los Angeles based writer lifts the curtain to share a personal message about his own mental struggles on his debut EP “Don’t Stop Dancing. Life Gets Sad.”
The 5-track project, co-written and produced entirely with a tight-knit group of friends, finds Jesse flowing through the process of embracing clinical depression with anger, release and triumph. The call to channel a deeper authenticity came on the heels of his first single “Move.”
“When I did ‘Move’ I was thinking: just make bops. Just make funny, cool, kitschy alternative songs. Then I thought, ‘Why would I sing this instead of somebody else?’ So I started talking a lot about my mental health and the things that scare me.”
The opening track “WALL” sets that tone immediately, with lyrics like, “Swallowing the staple gun, I don’t feel no pain at all.” Brooke Candy and lil aaron contribute equally monstrous verses, drawing focus to the collective nature of our darkest emotions.
Having soldiered through depression for years, Jesse has over time found ways to focus on small, positive tasks that keep his mind occupied and his spirits lifted.
“Chemical depression is inside of you, it’s not based on outside circumstances so you have to keep distracting yourself. Dancing is a metaphor for, ‘Don’t stop being you.’ Don’t stop doing your shit because life is going to get sad. That’s the only constant that we all have in common.”
The EP is fueled by both experimental and bouncy pop production, distorted vocals and ear worm melodies, with a common thread of seeking stability when the world feels like it’s crumbling.
“I wanted to keep the music danceable, fun in theory, but it’s still dark. When you’re listening, you don’t think you’re listening to something really depressing.”
This disparity is best on display during track four “Crying.” The first half feels summery enough for a Fourth of July pool party, the second half nose-dives into a disjointed halftime banger, dark enough to be the soundtrack to any lucid nightmare. “I’m happy when I’m crying, hurry up and hurt me right now,” he sings.
The EP has already garnered the attention of Spotify’s New Music Friday and Apple Music’s premiere pop playlists. And while he definitely could, Jesse has no current plans to pursue a full-fledged artist career through touring and heavy promotion.
“I put all of my intentions as an artist into this project without thinking too far ahead or thinking of anything I had done in the past. I just wanted this to be one singular project. I literally just wanted this piece of art to exist and to be as honest and unique as possible.”
Instead, he has focused on building local one-off shows that bring the vision in his mind to life, incorporating high fashion, horror and camp into his live performance.
“When I’m making the songs I kind of see them, too. So the live performance is just the visual interpretation of what the song looks like to me. And I don’t think it’s bad to be dark. I don’t shy away from that because that’s so universal.”
“Don’t Stop Dancing. Life Gets Sad.” is available on all streaming platforms.
-Josh Wood, Editor