Jesse Clasen is scrolling through a long list of songs in iTunes. He plays a portion of a one-hour drum session before moving on to a demo from his band Harvard. That's followed by a song that might be for his project The Bear Romantic, then an indie rock tune under the name Native Trash, a jazz song written with his brother (a classically trained jazz musician) and then another solo song that just hasn't quite found a name yet. You should call him the "hardest working man in Charlotte."
"It started off that I didn't have anything to do with the music in Harvard," Clasen says. "I only did some arrangements until The Inevitable and I, then I started doing some writing. Native Trash has never played a show yet. A lot of songs I write will fall under the Bear Romantic name but may never get played live."
Not only is Clasen physically inside of his home at the moment, but it's also apparent that he's most "at home" while seated at his basement studio console. Surrounded by instruments, amplifiers and a desktop computer, the self-taught producer is as hungry to record as much of his own work as he is to work with other bands. He has three sparsely decorated rooms set up to work in — one with drums, one with a piano and his main carpeted console area.
"I can sometimes spend an hour just recording different drum beats as a work series, which may become the base of a song," he says. "I want another band to come in here so I can experiment with sounds and changing the natural reverb of the rooms."
Clasen is driven by songwriting and performing with his two main musical projects. Harvard, a band he joined while he was in college in Boone, is his priority whenever recording or touring comes up — the band is signed to the Enjoy the Ride label and is getting set to cut its sophomore album next month — while the rest of his efforts are mostly aimed at The Bear Romantic, which will perform at Snug Harbor on Oct. 21. The Bear Romantic has one album, 2010's Firewood, and a few B-sides available online. The live lineup adds Emily Aoyagi of Sugar Glyder, her brother George of Marco Polo, Tim Cossor of Harvard and Shago Elizondo from Lucky Five.
Clasen doesn't look at the other groups as solo projects as much as outlets to vent his creativity — he sites Mike Patton as an example. Each expresses Clasen's different moods. He will begin work on a piece of music and either stop to complete the creative process with his Harvard bandmates or he will continue on his own. He finishes the latter under the Bear Romantic monicker. His writing is so prolific, he only performs a fraction of what he writes. The only consistency is Clasen prefers to write music that doesn't follow a specific verse-chorus-verse pattern.
Clasen always wanted to be a singer. His use of masks and wads of fake money while singing with Harvard helps command attention as much through his performance as through his voice. While his rich vocal tone closely resembles late Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon's and his cadence is closer to the late Jeff Buckley's, his lyrical content comes from a different approach.
"The words are more important with the way they sound than the meaning — I put the way they sound first," Clasen says. He grew up listening to a variety of music including jazz, big band and r&b. His first stint as a singer was in a post-hardcore band.
"I listen to all different styles of music and you can probably hear what has influenced my creative process," Clasen says. "I've always loved adult contemporary — it's an awful name — Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday. I remember listening to Sade records with my mom in the car, but I was in a post-hardcore band as a teenager."
Clasen came to Charlotte from Raleigh. He's tried to commute between cities, but a full-time job for a local screen printer brought him to the Queen City six months ago.
He'll turn 26 this month and is hoping to get a violin for his birthday. It would make a nice addition to the array of instruments that surround him — drums, guitars, bass, glockenspiel, keyboards, trumpet.
"I'm most comfortable with a guitar, but I can sit at a piano and come up with 20 different things I want to record," Clasen says. "It's a curiosity about different instruments... I'll record something and then add a new instrument on top of it and then another."
When it comes to music creation in general, Clasen doesn't write anything down. He has to listen to old songs repeatedly to remember how they were played or he will record himself saying the names of chords at the end of a session for future reference.
His personal source of musical creation is simple. "It's just a love for sound," Clasen says. "I love to experiment with frequencies. It's a constant learning experience. I think my best musical work is ahead of me, for sure. I'm just touching the surface of things right now."