Labelling Jesse Labelle
The Toronto singer sits down with Shalom Life.
Don’t call him the next John Mayer. It’s not that Jesse Labelle minds. In fact, the Toronto singer welcomes the comparison. He told Shalom Life, “I feel humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. He’s a Grammy winner.” Labelle says it’s an easy comparison and he’s right. They’re both singer-songwriters who play the guitar. Even during his performance at the Tattoo Rock Parlour last Friday as part of Canadian Music Week, Labelle’s stage movements mirrored that of Mayer’s. And they’re both Jewish. Labelle, however, wouldn’t strike anybody as the kind of public figure who would divulge details about his intimate relationships with women.
Not that his songs aren’t personal. The single that propelled him to success, "Perfect Accident," was based on his relationship with an ex-girlfriend. So was "Easier," "Don’t Leave Now" and just about every song he’s ever penned. They are all based on real-life stories and Labelle believes it is part of his identity as an artist. He said, “I can’t write about things that never happened. It doesn’t gel. The emotion and the artistry, you can’t fake those things. You can fake it. But it doesn’t last very long before people start realizing that it’s not really there.”
But don’t call his career a perfect accident either. It’s anything but. The 28-year-old singer has been relentlessly pursuing a career in music for 10 years. After developmental and production deals, he finally signed on with Wax Records last June. Now, Labelle is set to go on tour with Faber Drive in April, which will coincide with the release of his full album that will bear the same name as his first single. The album will feature both heavily-produced songs and intimate recordings of just Labelle and an acoustic guitar.
Labelle, whose only link to music growing up was his jazz performer grandmother, was raised around Bathurst and Eglinton, a prominent Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. He attended Hebrew school until his bar mitzvah, which he celebrated in Israel. Since then, he hasn’t been in touch as much with his Jewish background. He last visited Israel when he was 25 years old and plans to go back within a year or two. For now, Labelle is much busier conquering the North American road.
He has previously toured with Hannah Montana star Emily Osment and stopped over in other parts of Canada during the Winter Olympics. He shares that being on the road is his favourite part of being in the limelight. “Live is what it’s all about,” he said. “Touring is so important because how else do I get out there and meet the people?” And the results have been rewarding for Labelle. Since the release of "Perfect Accident," he has garnered a huge following of female fans. Judging from the audience members seen at his live performances and appearances on MuchMusic, it seems Labelle’s music and good looks have charmed the 13-25 year old demographic.
Don’t be fooled, however, by the dimples. Sure, Labelle's looks can pass for those of a boy band member. But his knowledge of music goes well beyond top 40 songs. He cites Collective Soul, James Taylor and, of course, The Beatles as his musical influences. But when asked about the one song he wishes he wrote, he doesn’t name typical Beatles hits like "Yesterday" or "Hey Jude." Instead, he answers with "I Will." “Not a lot of people know it. It’s a two-minute song,” he said. “It’s really quick. It’s to the point. It’s simple, but it’s beautiful.”
He has a long way to reach the the Beatles’ calibre, but in a way, "I Will" represents Labelle’s own music: effortless and understated.