Last week Tobias Jesso Jr. shared sheet music for “Just A Dream,” the first song he ever wrote on piano. It was an unusual move for a modern musician, but it turns out there was good reason for it: For one of Tumblr’s IRL events at SXSW Friday afternoon, Jesso taught a roomful of fans and/or aspiring keyboardists how to play songs from Goon, our reigning Album Of The Week, before playing a brief but impressive set.
The setup at Austin’s Ironwood Hall was fun. An array of about 15 keyboards were lined up in the room, each with a Jesso songbook that included both sheet music and step-by-step photos of the finger placements. The keyboards faced a stage with a grand piano and a video display, where Jesso eventually held court. For the first hour, though, he mingled about the room while Goon played softly in the background, pulling a stool up to each station to offer one-on-one tutorials. As a result, I can now semi-confidently play “Crocodile Tears,” though Jesso says that’s the easiest one on the record. (“Without You” is the hardest, and “Just A Dream” is the one he forgets on stage the most.)
Next, Jesso hopped on stage to teach the whole group how to play lead single “Hollywood.” While doing so, he offered his rationale for putting on this event. “For those of you who don’t know, I’ve only been playing piano for two and a half years,” he said, explaining that he learned how to play from YouTube tutorials. “A lot of my chords came from Adele songs.” But since there aren’t an abundance of YouTube how-to clips for Jesso songs (yet), he thought it would be fun to share his methods, especially since his songs are ideal for beginning pianists. “Every one of my songs is pretty easy,” he said. “I don’t know if you could tell from listening to the record, but all the chords are pretty simple.” In the case of “Hollywood” that included F major (“one of my favorite chords”), A minor, and something Jesso calls the “pyramid chord.” (He called it B minor, but according to the songbooks they handed out, it’s actually more of an inverted G minor 7.) Jesso said he borrowed the chord inversion from Carole King: “She does it a lot — brings out the emotion.” He also mentioned that “Hollywood” started out as a joke song before he infused it with gravitas.
The event wrapped up with a six-song solo set. Jesso’s career has exploded since we reviewed one of his performances in the kitchen of an NYC apartment — he now counts Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, and Adele among his fans — but this show had a similarly intimate feel, a few dozen people huddled around a grand piano close enough to see the twists and wrinkles of Jesso’s every facial contortion. (He might’ve dated Alana and collaborated with Danielle, but Este is the Haim sister his expressions call to mind.) The whole experience was as charming as you’d expect from the guy behind one of the year’s most ingratiating albums. My only complaint: No “How Could You Babe”? How could you, babe!
“Can We Still Be Friends”
“Just A Dream”
Read our recent interview with Jesso here.