What may have felt like a meteoric rise for Jesse Daniel in 2020 was something much more than that. The Texas-living singer/songwriter battled and overcame addictions and introduced himself with his 2018 self-titled debut album that established him as one of the great up-and-coming country traditionalists at the time, but it was 2020’s Rollin On’ and the album’s title track that served as Daniel’s breakthrough.
With a solid foundation of music beneath him, Daniel used his forced downtime in 2021 to churn out what may be his best work to date, his 2021 album Beyond These Walls, an album that Daniel admits is a more mature effort, all the while, keeping the elements that listeners have come to love and expect from his records, namely, plenty of steel guitar, twanging telecasters and masterful storytelling.
Each of those elements are on full display on Daniel’s newest single, “Lookin’ Back,” a heartbreaking tune that laments a past love and the decisions made that caused the flame to burn out. The song is dripping with steel guitar and serves as a three minute, twenty-one second transport to an 80s/90s country sound.
We chatted with Daniel all about “Lookin’ Back,” as well as the success of Rollin’ On, what he hopes listeners take away from Beyond These Walls, staying true to himself, his plans for 2022 and more!
Pro Country: You had solid streaming success with your self-titled debut album in 2018, but 2020’s Rollin’ On, and specifically the song “Rollin’ On,” were major breakouts for you. How encouraging was it to see both that song and album take off the way they did? What did the praise from both industry heavy-hitters mean to you in the wake of those releases?
Jesse Daniel: It was very encouraging. Very confirming too. After the first record was received so well, it kind of lit a fire under me and made me want to make a better record than I did before. When “Rollin’ On” was released, it did really well and received a lot of praise, but it wasn’t really until 2021 that I got to see just how well it did. We got back out on the road and were met with packed venues full of folks singing all the words to those songs. It still blows my mind, and I’m thankful for those people.
PC: Your bio mentions that you used your forced downtime in 2020 to write your newest album, Beyond These Walls, which you’ve called a more mature body of work than your previous efforts, all the while, keeping what made you “you” intact. What was it like striking that balance of a bit more maturity and remaining true to your artistic identity as you were writing the record?
JD: I definitely took my time with the songs on Beyond These Walls and made a point to go really deep with a few of them. “Gray,” for instance, was kind of a hard song to write, but it was a message I needed to put out there in a serious way. It was a challenge, but I think my songwriting grew from it. Musically, I’ll always make hard core country music, because that’s what I love, but I know there’s always room for improvement with songwriting.
PC: “Think I’ll Stay” has quickly surpassed 500,000 Spotify streams and has quickly become a song that listeners have latched on to. What do you think it is about the song that has allowed it to strike a chord with listeners the way it has so far?
JD: I think there are a lot of great songwriters out there right now. Their songs are so well written, but I notice that a lot of the actual music doesn’t have much of an edge. I’ve always loved when a country artist puts a little rock and roll in their music and production: loud drums, dry, twangy telecaster, etc. That’s what I think people like about “Think I’ll Stay;” it’s fun, rowdy, loud and relatable. It grooves. I think Marty Stuart calls that kind of thing “Hillbilly Rock.”
PC: What went into the decision to release “Lookin’ Back” as the next single from Beyond These Walls?
JD: Musically, it feels a lot like an 80s/90s country song to me. Those types of songs are what I want to hear more of on the radio, so it was a natural choice. It’s a song about decisions and hindsight. Something most can relate to.
PC: You co-wrote “Lookin’ Back” with Nick Foster, and you’ve said it’s a song about questioning decisions. Can you take us in the room and talk about the inspiration behind the song?
JD: Nick and I had both been through relationships in the past where things didn’t work out as planned. I think they worked out for the best, but it’s natural to think about past decisions, actions, unkind things you may have said, etc. This song was our take on an older man who, when looking back over his life, feels regret. He knows he could have been a better husband, and that he was ultimately at fault for his wife leaving him.
PC: You’ve said that “Lookin’ Back” is one of your favorite songs from Beyond These Walls. What is it about the song that is so special to you?
JD: To me, “Lookin’ Back” is kind of an emotional song. I love songs that stir something up inside you, and this one does that for me. I also like the way it all turned out musically. I arrange all the music on my records, and I was especially happy with the guitar and steel guitar “call and response” on the intro and solo parts. It just sounds sad and longing.
PC: The album title “Beyond These Walls” comes from the album closer, “I’ll Be Back Around,” and the line “Life goes on beyond these walls, but I can’t hear a sound.” What was it about that line, and specifically the “Beyond These Walls” title, that you felt encapsulated the record so well to make it the title of the album?
JD: That song is about being locked up, and I’d had the idea to write that song for years. I always related a lot with Merle Haggard; he was a Californian and spent time in correctional facilities as a young man. I felt that it was a good way to turn the page and end that chapter of my life, with a song about the past. It’s a little piece of my story.
PC: Beyond These Walls was recorded with members of George Strait’s band, Willie Nelson’s band and The Mavericks. What was it like to be surrounded with so much collective talent on this record and how did they bring the songs to another level?
JD: It was incredible. All of those guys are amazing talents on their own, but put them in a room with your songs, and it’s something else. They all cared a lot about my songs and were completely open to me and Tommy’s production vision. When I make records, I have a very clear idea of what I want to hear and they nailed it to the wall. Any time I’m around those guys, I try to soak up as much knowledge as I can.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Beyond These Walls after listening all the way through?
JD: I hope they feel like they got to know me a little better. I put my heart and soul into my music. I make my kind of country music and when folks like it; it becomes their kind of country. It’s something we can always share.
PC: You have earned plenty of success and well-deserved accolades since your debut record in 2018. In the time that has followed, what would you say has been the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself as you continue your artistry?
JD: I’ve learned that as long as I’m staying true to myself, I’m on the right track. I think that’s been one of the biggest revelations for me.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for 2022?
JD: I’m aiming high in 2022! We have a whole lot of touring we’re about to be doing all over the country, and some pretty cool festival dates on the books too. There are some surprises we’ll be announcing at some point, and I’m thrilled to get back on the road and see our fans out there.
*Feature image by Bret Hartman*
**Jesse’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**
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