Tell us a little about Jesse. Where were you raised? Do you have a wife and kids? What was interesting about your life that brought you to this point as a musician?
I was born in Texas (unexpectedly), but spent my childhood around Orange County, CA. My formative years growing up were spent out in the desert in Yucca Valley, CA. about thirty minutes north of Palm Springs. Then I left the desert to go back to Orange County as I still had family there. That’s where I met my wife, Kristen. We were married in 2007 and we have two beautiful boys that just turned 5 and 7. But the foundation of Traumatone was laid in the desert. That’s where I joined my first band and started using music as a creative outlet. I had witnessed a lot of dark stuff throughout my childhood, including my dad’s near death from a drug overdose. That lifestyle caught up to my mom who died when I was 12 years old. That was a couple of years after we moved out to the desert. Our family had already turned to Christ by that point, but too many years of abuse took their toll. After that, various events of heartbreak and anger just fueled that creative outlet. Those years were a tumultuous time that resulted in tons, and tons, and tons of music just exploding out of me. Quite a lot of the music of Traumatone was either written fully or partially during that time, and I’m still making my way through it all the way up to this latest album. In fact, the music for “War”, the opening track on this new album, was written in 1999 when I was 17. There are a lot of life experiences I could talk about. But, obviously, everybody endures trials and heartache all throughout life. And like all artists, I draw from the emotion of those experiences to create.
How did you come up with the name Traumatone?
I actually did not come up with it. One of my best friends, who was in my first band, had come up with it as a mock record label name to put on our EP. I now know there actually was a Traumatone Records, but at the time, it seemed nobody was using it and we liked it. So when that band evolved into the very beginnings of Traumatone, I took the name. As I mentioned, the music was being born out of various what you might call traumatic experiences, and I thought it fit perfectly.
Being that there are probably not too many Jesus-influenced Goth bands out there to tap into for inspiration, what was influential in shaping your sound, secular or otherwise?
Well, I grew up in the heat of the Nu-Metal movement. So, I was heavily influenced at the time by Korn, Deftones, and Rammstein. Usually, when asked to compare my sound to other well-known artists, I wind up referring to that group. Maybe if you threw them into a blender you’d get something like Traumatone. As far as the Christian side, a couple friends of mine used to be a part of an old band called The Terminal Generation. Their “Pop Culture Junkie” album was really big for me.
One thing that sticks out for me about you is that you have consistently put out albums since 2003. Not including your next album, that span covers a 13-year time period. What has driven you to keep going at this for so long?
I would have to say that creative explosion that I mentioned before has been mostly responsible. I’ve just had droves of fully or partially written music for years and I can just keep pulling from it. As a musician, the creative flow doesn’t ever really stop. So, there have been songs that have been written along the way also. But I would put out an EP or album and still have a bunch of songs sitting around that I really liked and wanted to put out. Then it was a matter of trying to see what songs to put together on an album. I would say every Traumatone release is a combination of new and old material with the exception of Demo 2006. That was 4 new songs I had written at that time. As far as the drive, I just recognize that my musical ability and love for it is a gift from God. I also have a strong desire to spread the Gospel. The logical thing to do when seeking what God would have for me, was to combine those two things and run with it.
What was the scene like for Christians playing music when you were first getting started?
At the time, there was a semi-existent underground Christian Goth/Industrial scene. But a lot of the alternative styles of Christian music at that time were still stuck in or coming out of the “Christian version of” phase. So, a lot of it got written off. And to this day, I don’t think the Christian scene knows what to do with it. But there were some churches that were into that scene and could see the effectiveness of the music. My old band would go play at city and youth outreaches and such. You can still find those kinds of things happening today. The alternative would be to go play the clubs, and in that case, you’re basically throwing your hat into the ring with any other band out there as far as exposure, and building a following, and all that stuff that goes with the business.
Do you think it is a much more saturated market now than it was then?
Yes and no. There are a small handful of popular or more highly exposed bands that might be categorized as or at least known to be Christian Rock, or Metal, or whatever. But it feels like it’s a dying breed. It seems a lot of bands are really just trying to blend in. There has been this fight between heavy bands and the Christian label. Not even just heavy bands, but all different styles. Yes, they’re Christians, but don’t call them a Christian band/artist. Well, why not? Are you proclaiming Jesus or not? If so, what good is the message if the message isn’t clearly heard? Lyrics are open to interpretation and so forth. Yes, we should be out and amongst the lost to reach them, but you shouldn’t have to disguise your message in any way to do that. Our identity is in Christ. I say let the music speak for itself. Let your mouth openly speak for Jesus. Let the chips fall where they may. The Spirit will draw who He will draw. Everybody else is still underground and/or not really getting the exposure they should. And you can still find the really strong, outspoken artists out there. Technology has majorly changed everything. Anybody can record music and put it on the internet these days, so there is probably a lot more out there. Just have to really look for it.
Clearly, your music is well-put together and sounds capable in the genre in which it resides. Do you think that being such an outspoken Christian artist has kept you from becoming more popular among the masses—at least within the Goth scene?
Naturally. But we’re talking about a style of music that is not massively popular anyway. As soon as you add the Christian label onto something, it will naturally repel some people even more. Which is why, going back to what I was just saying, a lot of bands don’t want to be labeled as such. But, like I said, my identity is in Christ. I just happen to really like heavy, dark, moody music with minor chords and that’s the sound that naturally comes out of me. I know a lot of people struggle with how you could possibly tie the labels of Christian and Goth together. Maybe even the thought of it seems ridiculous enough that people think it would be cheesy and not even give it a listen. Admittedly, if it's not done right, it could definitely come off as cheesy and do more damage than good. But living in a sinful, fallen world that is awaiting God’s Judgment provides a lot of darker material to draw from. So, I try to make it the best quality I can. I want to make the music good enough that people will want to listen more and open that door for the truth to come in. Traumatone may fall by the wayside, but hopefully it will make enough of a blip on the radar of the underground scene to influence others to continue to reach that genre and create a bridge to people that God deeply loves. Aside from all of that, it can also be very challenging to be a solo artist and find people to come along side you to play your music. I would definitely say I regret not being able to take Traumatone to the masses more and really get a chance to see how people would react. All I can do is trust that if God wills for my music to be a tool he uses in someone's life to bring them to Him, that it will happen one way or another.
You know, I listen to your music and as a fellow musician, I think it’s impressive that you’ve handled most, if not all, of the instruments, programming, etc... Did you have any formal training or is this something that you learned on your own?
First off, I do have to give credit to Steven Adams, who played bass for Traumatone during a brief phase when I actually had a live band. He handled bass on the Absence of Fear album. But, yes, everything else was done by me. I’ve never taken lessons for anything I do. That is why I refer to what I do as a gift from God. I play everything by ear. If I can hear it, I can usually figure it out and play it. Drums are my first instrument that I’ve played as long as I can remember. I picked up bass around 6th grade, and guitar in high school, if I remember right. I’ve always messed around on piano, which translated to keys. My Grandmother used to teach me fun little two part songs that we would play on the piano together. But still no formal training. I come from a line of musicians. My Dad gave me pointers here and there and showed me a couple of chords. After that, I just started playing along to other people’s music. I would buy tablature books and see how chords were being formed. That’s pretty much how I learned everything. As far as the recording aspect, I was fortunate enough to have a studio in our house with a bunch of really old recording equipment. That’s where I first started tinkering around with recording and mixing. Then I just paid attention to things. I would listen to songs in headphones and notice panning, and different levels, and how things were mixed in the background. I learned somewhat how to EQ so instruments would stand out from each other and all that. Programming all came pretty easy. I’m not going to say all my work is perfect or even on par with people who actually know how to do that stuff. But it’s good enough to get the job done, I think.
What is your favorite song that you have ever written? And why?
That’s a really tough question! I have a few favorites. But if I had to narrow it down to one song, I would pick “Cantexist” from Absence of Fear. I like the drive and arrangement of the music. I really like the lyrics and the message. But what really makes that song unique for me is the sample of my old pastor who allowed me to use some sermon excerpts to finish off the song. It’s a very direct, hard hitting song about how all religions don’t agree and therefore do not lead to the same God. Which is a very important thing that people need to consider. People are always too sensitive and scared to talk about religion. But since we’re all going to die, and religion is the only thing that has anything to say about what happens when we die. It’s in everybody’s best interest to talk about it. So that song puts it right out there, and it's definitely one of the pieces I am most proud of.
On the song Loss, from your record Death by Culture, you sing the words “So, in despair, your heart is thickly coated. He tries to speak to you, but you don't care. Your bitterness has left your faith corroded. And now you doubt that He is even there.”. Could you tell us in your own words what this is about?
This song is based on experiences with a couple of different people in my life. One person was a self-described Atheist. He actually had a church past. But he lost a baby daughter and bitterly questioned God about it until he just gave up and decided He wasn’t there at all. Another person seems to hold a grudge against God for tragedies in the past as well. It kind of builds on this mindset that some people have where they think they’re going to be able to die and give God a piece of their mind and/or demand answers when they stand before Him. So, it starts with some kind of personal loss and ends with the truth that anybody who thinks they’re going to argue with God in the end will lose that argument. Hence the title “Loss”.
Do you believe in a literal, burning hell?
I do. I do believe Hell exists and it is a place of eternal torment.
How can one avoid such a place?
The Bible says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead that you will be saved. Repent from your former ways and trust in Him for salvation.
Do you think that God uses music to reach people?
Absolutely! I believe God uses any and all avenues He can to reach people.
If so, can you tell us one example of how God has used your music?
I will occasionally get emails from around the world. Thankfully, the internet can bring the music to places we can’t go. But I remember exchanging emails with a guy in Brazil who was inspired to use his own musical abilities to reach others for Christ. He was very excited to share the music with some other friends and people he knew who were not saved. I don’t know what came of all that in the end, but I am content to pray and trust that somebody out there somewhere in the world is being influenced to give their life to Christ. Even if the music is being used to do nothing more than plant a seed in one person’s heart to move them closer to salvation, it’s all worth it. That’s what it’s about.
You have stated that this next album could be your final album, at least indefinitely. What does the future hold for Jesse after this?
Well, musically, I will probably continue to write. The last track on the new album is an instrumental piece called “The End” and it represents both the end of one thing, and start of another. There are no lyrics because I don’t really have anything left to say. But the future most likely holds more music in the form of instrumentals. Probably just under my own name, but I haven’t given it too much thought yet. I like to just wind down for a good long time after finishing an album and not give any thought toward what’s next until I feel moved to do so. I’d like to work with other artists. If I ever come across another vocalist that fits my style, I may just get back in the thick of it. One thing I have long said is that I never wanted to do vocals. I express myself best through music. But I could never find a vocalist, and I could hear finished melodies in my head, and I wanted to hear the finished product. So I just did it myself and unintentionally became the voice. Writing lyrics was always been a real struggle for me. I would have to really pray for God to help me find the words that He might use to reach someone. So, I’m putting all that down for sure. I’m involved with the high school ministry at our church, so my playing for the foreseeable future will be with the youth band. Playing and helping guide their skills. Another reason I probably won’t stop writing is because my boys like to watch me play. They bust out their own instruments when they see me sitting down to record. So, I’m just doing the everyday thing and enjoying life with my family.
What is it about faith in Jesus that makes you want to keep following him?
Ha! That answer would require me to write a book! I would say His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. His provision, protection, and guidance. There is a quote at the end of “Cantexist” that points out that all other religious leaders are dead, and that Jesus alone is risen. What does anybody else have to offer me that is better than following Christ? I think anybody who has fully given their life to Christ and followed Him with their whole heart will come to know the truth of what Peter says in John 6:68-69. “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!”
Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. How do you think that a person could actually obey this? What would that look like in the life of a believer?
Give everything you have to God. Put Him above everything, and everyone else. Live your life to glorify Him and be an example of His love in all that you do in your actions, thoughts, behaviors, and speech. Love others. Do these things because you love Him. Not because you feel like you have to do it out of some religious duty. It's a response to what he has already done in showing His love for us.
Is there anything out of all God's creation that just blows you away that he made it?
I don’t think I could honestly narrow it down to one thing. All of creation is beyond description in how amazing it is. The human body is an incredible machine. Anybody for that matter. Cells. The universe. I live in Arizona where we are spoiled with some beautiful scenery in the state. It’s all beyond comprehension when you consider the detail and artistry of His creation. Like the Bible says, it just screams out who He is. Creation really does speak of Him when you consider it.
We want to thank you Jesse for doing this interview and for putting such a good catalogue of music together over the years. And if this is the end of Traumatone, we want you to know that your contribution hasn’t been in vain. May the Lord Jesus richly bless you!
Thank you so very much for the opportunity! I absolutely love and appreciate what you are doing for the underground scene. And I have a feeling the Lord does too! Thank you so much for your support of Traumatone. Your kind words towards my work have been deeply appreciated. Blessings to you as well!
Interviewer: Cory Enderby 2016 (via email)