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Seattle’s Sweethearts

written by: on March 8, 2012

“So I’ll just meet you at Finn’s tonight at 8 p.m. sweetie?”

“OK, see you then.”

“All right, I love you, bye!” she says cheerily and hangs up to go to work. In a much less cheery voice, reflecting the time in Seattle on a Sunday morning, the other voice on the line says, “She never talks about it, but she was a child piano prodigy. She’s just amazing.”

This sleepier voice belongs to Jared Cortese, the guitarist and vocalist for The Jesus Rehab, a two-piece rock band with incredible indie-pop sensibility. The band consists of Cortese and his drummer and brother Dom Cortese, both Chicago-area natives now living in Washington. After spending several weeks in the studio finishing the mixing and mastering of its new album, The Jesus Rehab is counting down the days until they can release the third collection of songs, Drunken Hillbilly Fight Bar.

The six-song stomp-inducer sounds like a cross between Keane and Queens of the Stone Age, except for one song that sounds like a not-so-secret-admirer letter to Rivers Cuomo. Considering Cortese wears his influences proudly on the EP is no surprise. Other than Weezer, he counts Dizzy Gillespie, Adam Duritz, The Flaming Lips, Cake and several local Seattle bands among his musical inspirations.

However, among all of these influences, only one name continues to reoccur. The child prodigy. The girl he was talking about on the phone. The love of his life.

On record, there are two slightly different versions of the story, depending on whom you ask, but there are unalterable facts in each. In October 2008, Cortese went to the Skylark Café in Seattle to see his bass player at the time perform with another band, featuring a singer whom the bassist excitedly described as “angelic.” This was the night Cortese met Julia Massey, a Baltimore-area transplant by way of Boulder, Colo., and Brooklyn, N.Y., who found herself singing heartfelt and beautiful melodies over a bassline provided by a member of Cortese’s band.

“I told my brother to go give her his information to see if she needed a drummer, but it was really my way of having an excuse to get to know her more,” Cortese laughs. “She had dreadlocks, and I was so impressed with how she could make the crowd feel,” he adds, remembering the first time he watched his now-fiancée perform that night. “Her voice made everyone feel so warm, so comfortable. I felt it and remember that feeling because I had never felt anything like that before.”

Listening to Massey sing, it isn’t hard to believe how Cortese, and others in many crowds, have instantly had this feeling. Whether live, or on her most recent record, Is There Room for Me?, the lead singer of The Five Finger Discount approaches music like a child dancing without reserve. Playfully, her voice bounds octaves, singing melodies that complement the almost toy-sounding keyboards and poppy arrangements in several of the band’s songs. And while most the songs may have a playful sound, the songs can be anything but.

From death and remembering lost loved ones to sadder childhood memories to personal struggles and challenges, Massey’s lyrics span a wide range of content. She attributes her songwriting to her influences, as well; a list including Michael Jackson, Bach, Emily Dickinson and of course, Cortese.

“Half of my songs are about him, and the ones that aren’t usually have a line or two for him in there.” Massey says.

“We will have long conversations about anything. … They will last for days, and lines from these talks will show up in either of our songs.”

Other songs will grow from little moments the two shared early in their relationship. Is There Room for Me? features a song called “Blueberries” about a time that Cortese gave Massey a small amount of candied blueberries, her favorite food.

These little moments turn into songs on albums that have musicians and critics in the area buzzing. No matter how many shows Massey and The Five Finger Discount play in the Seattle area, the show offers continue to pour in. “Last year, they played like 50 shows in the area. It wouldn’t work for most bands.” Cortese says. It was by attending each other’s local shows that Massey and Cortese grew closer. The journey that started as friends and contemporaries sharing Seattle stages and bandmates, has led to a husband-and-wife-to-be sharing tour dates and an apartment.

“I proposed after one year and four months. At the time, I had this whole plan. But I couldn’t get the ring in time, so that plan didn’t work. I had a backup plan, and that almost didn’t work. But the end result was the same. I was down on one knee. She said yes. We’re getting married this July,” Cortese explains.

In the time between now and July, both Cortese and Massey have a lot to plan for, not including the wedding. The Jesus Rehab and Massey and the Five Finger Discount embark on a tour together this March down the West Coast that will land both bands in Austin during SXSW, where they will perform several times. The Jesus Rehab will release Drunken Hillbilly Bar Fight at a Seattle show on April 21, featuring a solo Julia Massey as the supporting act. Massey will continue to play shows in support of Is There Room for Me?, which was released this past summer.

Both musically and personally, Massey and Cortese continuously come back to each other when citing influences, even if it isn’t from a musical standpoint. “[Massey] opened me up to be able to accept that warmer feeling, something I hadn’t let in before. It’s changed me as a person and affected my music.” Cortese says.

“I’m supposed to be with [Cortese],” she says when he’s out of earshot. “Our music certainly enhances the relationship. We’re each other’s manager, cheerleader and sounding board. But if we never picked up a guitar again, we’d still be together.”

A musician from the Chicago area and a musician from outside Baltimore spent several years and wrote several songs about their separate journeys, only to have their best experiences and music occur when they found each other in Seattle.

Catch Cortese and Massey at SXSW:

  • Kick Butt Coffee – Austin, TX – March 17, 2012
  • Bar Louie – Austin, TX – March 17, 2012
  • The Local Pub and Patio – Austin, TX – March 17, 2012
  • The Green Iguana – Austin, TX – March 18, 2012