There is really something special about the resurgence of country music in the south. It’s something different; the alternative influences that shape this new wave of independent music creation are rooted in years of music exploration and discovery. For MJ Lenderman, represented by locals over at Sub-fi Records, a recording studio run out of Colin Miller’s house in the rural suburbs of east Asheville, this process resulted in a few releases: a 9-track LP, Him, of 2017, a B-sides release, a split EP with Asheville synth-pop turned sweet-rock project fronted by Karly Hartzman, and, now, a self-titled album, MJ Lenderman.

I first met Jake at one of my first interviews for Melted; in my sophomore year of high school, I approached Jake via email, thinking This is how the professionals do it, right? I felt as though I had to prove myself to him and his band, and explain the significance of the magazine in my eyes. However, I now realize that at-the-time senior in high school was as lost as I was, and found solace in music, just as I had. 

Jake’s latest self-titled release is a perfect balance of local charisma and a culmination of maturity. I attended a small birthday party in 2017, the year when Jake began releasing music on Spotify in very cohesive, personal ways. At the end of this party, where friends got a little wine drunk and danced to Hannah Montana songs from 2008, a guitar was unearthed from a bedroom and about seven people sat in a circle, chanting “MJ! MJ! MJ!” Jake, wearing a Jason Molina jersey, responded with a small, modest noodle and passed the guitar onto the next person. 

This instance represents Jake seamlessly. When given the opportunity to be in the spotlight, on stage, or during times of attention, he expresses a reluctance to self-indulgence; nonetheless, his self-titled album is a beautiful balance of personality and gifts. 

With riffs like the legendary one in “Left Your Smile,” or unapologetic moments such as the excited, appropriately abrupt shift in tone during “My Baby Says,” Jake continues to carry his representation of his own journey through his roles in the changing local music scene, his experience with growing up, and his immersion in a rich life as a whole. And as the percussion kicks in during “Southern Birds,” I can feel the tears trying to make their way through my face for no particular personal reason. “Southern Birds” brings an implied feeling of introspective, hopeful yet accepting sadness and rightful reflection. 

In fact, this feeling can be explored throughout various parts of the album. Seven out of nine of the songs on this release are over six minutes long, which allows for listeners to experience a similar musical journey during each track. The shortest, previously mentioned track “My Baby Says,” may be the only song under five minutes on the release, but still allows for self-reflection and active musical immersion, alongside the familiarity of masterful artists like Songs:Ohia or Neil Young. And, again, yet another example of growth and exploration unearths itself during “Grief.” A song that was previously three minutes and 54 seconds is now a little over six minutes. 

Each track on the album gives listeners a feeling of being a part of some journey; whether it be modest self-reflection, emotional storytelling, or comfortable familiarity, MJ Lenderman’s self titled release is a perfect balance of the three in anything from sonic execution to composition to style. 

After interviewing Jake and his bandmates back in 2017, I began photographing more and more shows in the music scene, and involving myself in the local art environment as much as possible. Now, in 2019, listening to his self-titled release reminds me of how much influence he and his band members had in shaping my experience in the scene. I have lost count of how many MJ Lenderman sets I have had the opportunity of listening to, photographing, and writing about. And I am eternally grateful. 

      P.S. If you’re in town on the 31st of July, check out MJ Lenderman at the Odditorium in West Asheville. He’ll be playing alongside Hoo:Lumes and Lavender Blue. :~) 


audrey keelin