“Music To Me Is Fragments Of Memory”: My Empty Phantom Interviewed

Photo by Germana Lavagna

Hailing from Austin, Texas, My Empty Phantom is the instrumental one-man band of the multi-instrumentalist musician Jesse Beaman. He is distinguished by combining different styles from classical music to experimental to avant-garde to come out with something true to himself and his artistic vision. We got to have a talk with him about his roots, inspirations and his vision of the future.

Before we get to talk about the music, can you tell us how your life before the project was and how it inspired you to consider this musical path?

I was born and adopted in Miami, Florida; I’ve never known my birth parents. I grew up in New York City and in the hill country of Texas. My first memories are in New York City of all the different cultures, tall buildings and going to theater performances like CATS and STOMP.

My brother and I spent most of the time in Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Being a kid, your imagination runs wild in those kinds of places. All of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived back in Texas close to Austin and down in the valley on the border of Mexico. We always visited Texas and Mexico for the summers and holidays.

My grandparents used to have a cabin deep in the mountains of a cloud forest in Mexico. My grandfather would take all of our family on some amazing adventures through there; so while I was still living in New York City I was still experiencing a lot of Texas and Mexico. All of this has stayed with me. Sometimes I think it’s the reason why I’m so curious about the world and am willing to explore it.

Eventually my parents decided to move to Boerne, Texas; it’s a really small town in the hill country.  This is the time in my life where I started to be creative. My brother’s friends were in the cool bands at our school. I would go watch them play on weekends. My brother turned me on to great music too. If it wasn’t for my brother, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. He showed me a lot of my musical influences.

Music to me is fragments of memory and based off nostalgic feelings. I believe not knowing my birth parents, exploring Mexico, spending time in the Rio Grande Valley, growing up New York City and Boerne, Texas all has had a big influence on me as a person and my music.

Your project shows a lot of unique features as you not only compose and record all the instruments yourself, but also manage to play all of them live! What drove you to take that choice, and have you considered collaborating with musicians in the project?

It wasn’t really a plan to play music alone. When I was about 18 years old I was the drummer in a band with two of my friends. We had a lot of potential, but our leader and older friend quit on us and I couldn’t let go of the idea of creating music, so I bought my own instruments and started my own project. A few years later is when I really started to play shows and tour.

I’m very open to the idea of collaborating. For the recordings I’m working on now I’m looking to have some guest musicians.

I have noticed that through different live shows you adopt different setups and approach to your tracks. What is the reason for that?

I do perform songs I’ve recorded, but it’s always going to be different live than my recordings.

Sometimes I adjust my show set up for different situations. There have been times where my piano/keyboard was broken and I just had to play with the guitar and drums. I like the challenge of doing things differently. When I opened for Cocorosie I used drum machines and no drum set. Once I played a show with only a guitar. For the most part though I perform my shows with piano, guitar, drums and film projections.

How do you manage to stay in contact with your audience and preserve the musical mood when your music setup forces you to jump from playing the guitar to the piano to the drums giving a lot of attention to the effects and loops you have to control?

I’m hoping to connect mainly through the music more. Most of my shows I use projections of film shots my friend Lucas Millard took. For a few years I’ve been working on the idea of a visual setup of film and art. I’m working with some people on the brainstorming of it. I want to make it easy to travel with. Hopefully through that people will understand my music even more.

You recently worked with National Geographic on a video featuring very inspirational natural scenery [Watch here]. How was this experience for you, and how did nature in general affect your insight towards music?

I’m really excited about contributing music to National Geographic; I’ve been working on more projects for them lately.

I’ve always been really into what they do. People have always told me to get my music in more films and TV. I’ve done some licensing before, but I couldn’t be happier having my music in National Geographic videos. It’s like a dream come true.

The last couple of months were very busy for you with your European tour taking you to a lot of places such as Romania, Hungary and even to Puerto Rico, some of which you never played in before. How did the tour turn out? Are there any special incidents that you faced during your journey?

The European tour earlier this year was great. I performed in eleven countries. I felt welcomed everywhere I went. I connected with a lot of people on this tour. It’s always a pleasure going through all these countries and just playing music for people.

Puerto Rico was great too. I went there for one show in San Juan, but I spent four days there.

Exploring and performing in new places can be a life-changing experience. To me tour is all about going out there to connect with people, exchange ideas and share culture. Many special things happen on tour. I can just go on and on about that.

We have heard you have been spending a lot of time in the studio lately, should we expect something new on the way soon?

I have a few new things in the works at the studio. I’m planning on putting out an EP early next year and a full-length album to follow it in the spring.

Can you share with us some of your plans for the future? Any upcoming tours or musical collaborations?

Next year should be a lot of touring after I release the album. I’ll be touring the US for the first time in a few years and I should be going to Europe again. It’s looking like I’ll be going to some new places too so I’m really excited about that.

As far as collaborating, I’m working with a few string players on recordings, but I’m not sure when I’ll have more members on tour performing with me. I’ve been talking to a few people about it. Hopefully someday!

You can find My Empty Phantom at:
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