A piece of advice that David Bowie once offered to artists has kept resonating long after he originally stated it: "If you feel safe in the area that you're working in," he observed, "you're not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you're capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don't feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place to do something exciting."
When longtime Bowie fan Jonathan Wolfe -- a former touring member of such rock acts as Slaves, Falling in Reverse and Dayshell -- stumbled across this famous quote soon after the icon passed on Jan. 10, 2016, it was as if Bowie was personally speaking to Wolfe from the grave.
"I'll never forget that moment," recalls Wolfe. "I was lying in bed, reminiscing on memories of listening to his songs as a teenager. I was looking through some of his old interviews when I eventually fell upon that quote. It sent shivers down my spine."
At the time, Wolfe was on a hiatus from making music, but that night, he grabbed a guitar and began experimenting. "A month or two down the road, those sounds would form the initial skeleton to a song titled 'Deafening, Dissonant,'" he says. "In my eyes, that's where the story of Vespera truly began."
Vespera is the band that frontman Wolfe formed in 2016. "Deafening, Dissonant" is one of 15 tracks that round out The Thoughts That Plague You, Vespera's debut album that is tentatively set to be independently released via AWAL in the fall. The project "showcases many different subgenres in rock without being overwhelming," says Wolfe. "It really showcases a darker psychological side that I've never shown before as a songwriter … I envisioned a dark and aggressive, yet calm and grandiose sound with lyrical content that spoke directly to the soul." To achieve this direction, Wolfe experimented for the first time with a seven-string guitar and dropped tuning. "I wanted to go out of my depth and create something completely different from what I had ever done previously."
Introductory track "Bloom" handily encapsulates this style. Describing the title as being "about two people with a haunting past crossing paths and creating a beautiful future together," Wolfe says it was inspired by his girlfriend, 2013 America's Next Top Model winner Jourdan Miller, who appears in the song's video. Watch it below:
Wolfe explains that the clip showcases "some of the personal strife" both he and Miller have endured. "There's a lot of symbolism in this video that helps paint a clearer picture, but I kept certain aspects vague," he explains. "I think wearing my heart on my sleeve shows a genuine eagerness, but I would never want to give it all away. It's one of those videos you have to watch a few times to pick up all the clues."
He cast Miller in the video since "Bloom" which "is literally about us. We met during a really interesting point in our lives. Even with all the wonderful things that have taken place for us, we've both endured some deeply trying times," he says. "This song was a point of reflection; a vow to ensure that we never let such terrible things ever happen again. She was by my side while I wrote the treatment for the music video, so it only felt right to include her in a song inspired by and written for her."
Wolfe hopes that with The Thoughts That Plague You, he does more than simply deliver an album. "I want to tell a story," he notes, saying Vespera will be releasing a handful of songs throughout the year in hopes of garnering listeners' attention. "Technology has definitely overwhelmed listeners with so much wonderful music, and I understand it's hard to keep track. I want people to experience the songs individually, to absorb them bit by bit in preparation to eventually listen to the whole album as an intimate and visceral experience."