Frontman Jeff Klein talks about holing up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn in the wake of his mother's death to write the band's latest record.
Photo: Steve Gullick
Jeff Klein started making music as a solo artist before switching his attention to My Jerusalem. Initially formed as a musical collective in New Orleans in 2009, My Jerusalem has since morphed into a more traditional kind of band. A Little Death is its third full-length, and much of it was written in the wake of Klein’s mother’s death—he returned to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, where she grew up, rented a house there, and started writing. It is, as Klein’s music always has been, a dark and tormented affair, but it’s also one infused with black humor—the French phrase for orgasm is “a little death,” after all—as well as an infectious sense of emotional defiance.
Klein recently talked to us about the album, which you can stream below, as well as being on tour with Against Me! when Laura Jane Grace made national news by burning her birth certificate.
Noisey: First things first, what does A Little Death mean to you?
Jeff Klein: It means everything to me! I don’t know. When we made it, I wanted to make something that I felt was meaningful to me, and something that I felt would really speak for where my head was at. I suppose I used it as a self-help thing, because I was in a really dark place and I felt if I went back to writing songs as medication, it would help. Which it did. It’s a little autobiographical, which most of my work ends up being. I went to where my mom is from in New York and just holed up in the winter and wrote everything there as a way to feel I was in touch more with myself and where I came from. You tend to sometimes just be a zombie on a treadmill in this world, just going forward and doing whatever, and so I wanted to take a second and make sure I was okay. Or at least make myself feel a little bit better and get healthier as person. And I think writing these songs did that.
One of my greatest fears is losing my parents, so I can’t imagine what you went through. But did writing these songs help with the grieving process, too?
Yeah, I think the whole thing helped me come to terms with it, just in the fact that I was trying to come to terms with it. And I think it helped me be okay. There’s this weird vibe about that whole part of Brooklyn in general, and knowing that’s where my mom was when she was a kid and where I remember going to visit my grandparents when I was a kid, and it definitely helped. It was some kind of emotional Band-Aid. And just that I was taking that step to figure things out is the first step towards figuring things out—accepting that I need to deal with this and not just stay on tour drinking booze every night and pretending that nothing’s happening.
Obviously you were previously a solo artist, and My Jerusalem started out as a collective, so were worried that this record was going to be too focused on Jeff Klein?
A little bit, but at the same time, the beauty about this band is that, while I definitely write most of the songs, I bring it to everybody and they help me edit it. So I create this thing, this piece of art, and then I bring it to the other guys and they pull my head out of my own ass!
Does that make you feel there’s some more distance between you and the dark hole that you were in emotionally on much of your solo stuff? Does it help having people around to bounce ideas off and take you away from the darkness?
It definitely does. You can only write so many autobiographies, I feel like. I don’t even know if my life is interesting enough for one. But it’s definitely great to have a gang. Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted was to be part of a gang and have my gang with me, so it is good. And otherwise, everything I would do would sound exactly the same, so they help bring different flavors to everything, and having other people around you to collaborate with gives you the confidence that you really need. I’m lucky enough where the three guys I play music with right now are three of my closest friends, so in some sense it’s not too far from writing songs on my own because they also know exactly where I want to go. It’s just that sometimes I don’t know how to get there on my own, and they’re the vehicle and transportation that knows the easier, better, less painful route. And sometimes they just drive me fucking crazy, but in a beautiful, beautiful way.
Of course! Now, the title of the record is from the French term for orgasm…
Right. Which has a double meaning for me. Because for a lot of these songs I was going back where my mom lived and was trying to deal with her passing away, but then at the same time there is always a sexy vibe to everything and I am always fascinated with the idea of relationships in general, whether intimate or otherwise. So part of it is about the reality of mortality and then the other part is a little tongue-in-cheek and all about intimate relationships.
You toured with Against Me! back in May, which included a show in North Carolina where Laura Jane Grace burned her birth certificate in protest at that states HB2 bill. What was it like to play that show?
For us, it was a happy accident. Laura had asked us to do those shows before any of that had even started. But for me it was such an intense experience, because here, with Against Me! and Laura, you have such an amazing transgender artist playing in the one state that’s so vocally outspoken on passing these ridiculous laws, and I thought it was amazing that Against Me! still played the show. But I think it was the right thing, that they were supposed to do, and for us to even get to be a part of such a moment and stand up for it was incredible. I understand people like Springsteen canceling shows because he has such a huge podium that it makes sense, but when you have someone like Laura and she’s like “Fuck this, I’m going to use this as my own podium and protest” and then coming out and burning her birth certificate, it was just overwhelmingly emotional to just stand in solidarity with your fellow humans. Which is what this is all fucking about—it’s not about gender or any of that other stuff. And that even goes back to the Orlando shooting the other day. We’re all just fucking bones, skin, teeth—humans.
You’re not a political songwriter, but do you find yourself getting drawn into issues more and more?
You have to. How do you not? If I had my way, I’d love to not. I’d love to just be the dumb kid playing guitar and singing songs, but it’s hard, especially when we’re in this weird dream where fucking Donald Trump is the presidential nominee—when it affects you and your entire future, it’s hard not to feel like you have to take some kind of stand. Lyrically, my stuff is never politically driven because I’ve never been inspired to make my art about politics. I’m not saying it won’t be—and every day that seems like more of a possibility, because the world does keep getting more and more fucked up. We’re living in weird, fucked up, dark times right now.
And I think the record really reflects that, even if it’s not directly about that. Yet it’s also very anchored in the past.
It’s definitely part-throwback, part-modern album. And I think a lot of that is yearning for how things used to be and how things used to feel, and trying to figure out how to push forward and have that same passion and inspiration at the same time. And being in that part of Brooklyn again, it was like being in that movie The Warriors!
A Little Death is out on June 24.