Sweet Hereafter, if not happily ever after.

Jesse Sykes: Might as Well Jump

The Seattle/Iowa siren makes the finest album of her career. The hard way.

Jesse Sykes has arrived early and staked out a table at Belltown’s Uptown Espresso. You wouldn’t guess from her demeanor that she is suffering from a protracted fever. But she confesses to being tired. And she has every right to be.

In the week before this interview, Sykes opened for Lucinda Williams at Woodland Park Zoo, performed in Sweden with her longtime band the Sweet Hereafter, and readied the stateside release of Marble Son, the best album of her career and the haunting, gorgeous result of one of the most tumultuous years of her life.

Since she released 2007’s Like Love Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul, Sykes has left Barsuk Records, her longtime label; left Seattle, her longtime home; left Sweet Hereafter guitarist Phil Wandscher, her longtime boyfriend; and given up drinking, her longtime salve.

Today, Sykes is intellectually engaged and ferociously curious, with her oft-noted raven-haired beauty intact. Her hands animatedly dance when she makes a point, which is often. Because there is much to discuss. At 44, when many artists become pale facsimiles of their younger, bolder selves, Sykes continues to ascend creatively. “As artists, all we have is our ideas,” she says. “I’m not patting myself on the back, but you absolutely have to take risks. I can’t even afford health insurance. If I’m going to make these sacrifices, what’s the point unless I push myself outside my comfort zone?”

“We’re lucky we live in a time that allows us to age in the arts, to some degree,” she continues. “There are some younger bands that are making phenomenal work. I don’t want to diminish the great music they make. And back in the day, the Stones or Zeppelin made incredibly rich music when they were young. But today, some new bands just say, ‘We’re positive! We make positive music for positive people!’ Well, sure. Because you’re 23 and nothing’s gone wrong yet.”

Marble Son, which Sykes co-produced with Wandscher (co-founder of the defunct and legendary Ryan Adams–fronted band Whiskeytown), couldn’t have been made by an unscathed, elfin newbie. It’s both incandescent and dark, ethereal and serpentine. When Sykes, on the title track, sings “Oh, marble son/Why can’t I love you more?/I wish I’d found you beautiful before, before/When I was young, I’d have most anyone/I only loved what was to come undone, come undone/Oh, marble son/Who stands beside you?” she channels love’s beauty, loss, and wonder with a knowledge, or maybe a resignation, only time affords.

Indeed, without the losses Sykes has incurred in recent years, Marble Son couldn’t exist. While she and Wandscher remain good friends as well as bandmates, their breakup after a decade together was painful for both. “Phil is still family,” Sykes says. “We just love each other differently now.” If she hadn’t left Wandscher, though, she wouldn’t have met her fiance, a scientist finishing his Ph.D. in Iowa—and the reason Sykes now hops between the Midwest and Seattle, where her band remains. “I met the love of my life at 40. This kind of love, where you know you’ll grow old together, shelters you. And it changes each part of your life, including your approach to your art.”

Asked about Marble Son‘s stellar reviews, the kind for which most acts would sever a thumb, Sykes pauses to reflect. “Man, it’s really, hugely gratifying and so humbling. It’s funny, too, how some people say this record doesn’t sound ‘alt-country,’ because I never understood the fixation on genre. You can’t make art for the reviews, though. Then everything is just a copy of a copy of a copy. I just feel really fortunate, like I’m just getting started.”

music@seattleweekly.com

More in Music

TacocaT got you a new song for Valentine’s Day. Photo by Helen Moga
TacocaT Returns to Dance With Its Seattle Drag Pals in the “Grains of Salt” Video

The Seattle rock quartet’s new album ‘This Mess Is a Place’ comes out May 3 on Sub Pop.

Brandi Carlile needs more mantel space after taking winning three Grammys on Sunday night.
Seattle Cleans Up at the Grammys

Brandi Carlile, the Seattle Symphony, and Chris Cornell combine to take home six awards.

Pickwick’s Galen Disston stars as Drew in 5th Ave’s ‘Rock of Ages.’ Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Pickwick’s Galen Disston Takes the Stage in ‘Rock of Ages’

The local rocker steps outside his comfort zone for 5th Avenue Theatre’s ’80s hair metal jukebox musical.

Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kait Moreno
Caroline Shaw’s Classical Music Fan Fiction

Seattle Symphony premieres the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s postmodern take on Beethoven.

Quadrant and Iris performing at Le Bikini nightclub in France. Photo by Thomas Feugas
Seattle’s First Family of Drum and Bass

Leigh and Karen Caplan (Quadrant and Iris) are key producers in Seattle thriving underground electronic music scene.

On Being Trans: J Mase III Creates a Space to Feel Welcome

The Seattle artist hosts a three-day event at Gay City.

All Star Opera. Photo by Rachel Koll
All Star Opera Embarks on a World Tour of Seattle

The hip-hop/soul band’s second annual tour of the city’s venues with local artists raises money for homeless women and children.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

The best music of the year.

Travis Thompson’s Ride From Burien to the “Corner Store” and Beyond

The local hip-hop up-and-comer and Macklemore protege readies to headline The Showbox.

Top 10 Seattle Albums of 2018

The best the local music scene had to offer.

Minus the Bear is Ready to Hibernate

After 17 years of influential innovation, the Seattle rock band prepares to say goodbye.

Brandi Carlile Notches Six Grammy Nominations

Fellow Seattleites Alice in Chains, the late Chris Cornell, and the Seattle Symphony also are up for awards.