What, exactly, is going on in the music of Greenville’s Apricot Blush? What is this odd combination of nakedly emotional singing, lilting acoustic guitars, and muted percussion? What is that eerie, haunting howl moving throughout these delicate, passionate songs? And what is it about this self-titled album that’s so compelling and frightening?
To answer these questions, we have to turn to Jackson Wise, the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who for a time was the only member of Apricot Blush. Because in every way, this startling work is a personal one for him.
On Apricot’s Bandcamp page, you’ll find a paragraph that Wise wrote to explain the record, and for a 20-year-old, his reasons are startling to say the least. “This started as a conceptual album about the journey into celibacy,” Wise wrote. “It’s mainly focused on the trials of being a young adult with a high sex drive and trying to fight that nature in order to grow further in my relationship with a higher power.”
Then down below, underneath the production and instrumental credits, the darker motivation behind the album’s concept is laid out in blunt, brutally simple terms: “Please don’t f**king rape people.”
In conversation, Wise is more circumspect about his immensely melodic, intensely passionate collection of songs.
“It all started with some unfortunate events in my life and the lives of some my close friends,” he says. “It sparked an anger towards humanity and especially towards sex. I decided to become celibate and see what happened, almost to spite what happened to me and to see how I would feel about it. As a young adult, it’s really hard to refrain because of hormones, and it felt like I was fighting nature.”
That struggle is made clear as Wise wrenches lyrics like, “We speak through our lips/But we breathe between our legs,” and the placid propulsion of the music (think of the hushed, whispered tones of Yo La Tengo’s quieter songs) puts the words into stark relief.
The juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics wasn’t intentional, though. “Once I started writing, the whole album just kind of flowed out of me,” he says. “It just happened. I think with this album, I really found my sound. It just came out naturally. Regardless of the lyrics, that’s the kind of music I write.”
And that eerie, haunting wail that runs throughout the songs? That’s a musical saw, an instrument that can quite often be seen as a novelty, but became one of Wise’s go-tos while recording.
“I first heard the saw in [Toronto singer/songwriter] Jordaan Mason’s music and I fell in love with it. It was captivating,” he says. “I’m always open to new instruments, so I got one and taught myself how to play. It’s what I’ve been looking for the entire time I’ve been writing.”
Wise has expanded Apricot Blush into an interesting lineup that, in addition to his guitar and musical saw, features Jonah Terry on banjo, Dan Fetterolf on drums, trumpet player Wesley Heaton, and bassist Mike Robbins. The band will play the Radio Room in Greenville on May 24.
Ultimately, writing and recording the album was therapeutic, both for Wise and others that heard it. “It was very tough to write about the things that have happened to me,” he says, “but through writing it out and showing people the songs I wrote, it helped me develop a healthier view of humanity and sex. And it’s resonated with a lot of people who have spoken to me about it.”
He adds, “I continue to get messages saying that the album is really healing to people and they just want to thank me. It’s the best feeling in the world.”