Joel Jerome Morales has probably finished a new song in the time it took to read this sentence. Music is just in him all the time, and as someone with his own recording studio, he gets to make whatever sounds he hears in his own head whenever he wants. There’s no telling what might happen in the Psychedelic Thriftstore – the name of both Jerome’s recording studio and label – which is why the South Bay native and current NELA resident is a much-loved semi-legend, both for his own work and his work with such artists as LA Witch, La Sera, and Cherry Glazerr. Though he now releases music exclusively as Joel Jerome, he’s also got a 25-year discography of real bands, faux bands, self-released cassettes, instant solo albums, remakes of his own material and tributes to his favorite artists. It’s possible he finished a new album in the time it took to read this paragraph.
But that is not the story of Super Flower Blood Moon.
Jerome’s full-length Dangerbird debut (after a couple of singles for the label’s Microdose series) is still, as ever, “psychedelic thriftstore folk,” (which was also the name of his 2014 solo album). But from the fragile opening track “When You Land” to the swinging “We Made It Home” to the end-of-the-night exhale of “Everybody Come On,” the thrift store also includes soulful big-screen pop, bolero-inspired fingerpicking and tortured romantic crooning.
It’s also the first time in a while that Jerome has made a record for a label, and while he still did almost everything himself, and it’s entirely his own creative vision, he changed up his process at the behest of Dangerbird director of A&R Jim Fairchild. A longtime fan – Jerome’s old band, dios (malos), and Fairchild’s old band, Grandaddy, had toured together – Fairchild wanted Jerome to write nothing but brand new songs from scratch, and to write them simply and quickly, without all of the studio gear to lean on.
“He said, ‘just lay ‘em down on your phone,’” Jerome remembers. “They just wanted to hear the bare soul of the song, which I totally understand. It spoke to me, really. Like, okay, this is sort of a challenge. I’m going to do this, and do it this way. It really helped fertilize the creative space for me.” Also helping: coffee, and what Jerome refers to, with mock discretion, as “herbal jazz cigarettes.”
Working with both his phone’s voice recorder and a basic four-track app – so he could still do one harmony vocal and one extra guitar part – Jerome wrote and recorded something like 14 songs in 16 days – more or less a song per night. The approach almost made him feel like he was in the Beatles – the way their sessions might start with one member playing a new song on acoustic guitar, something he remembers first discovering when The Beatles Anthology came out in 1996.
And because Jerome was doing this late at night, at home, instead of in the studio space, he had to keep quiet, so as not to wake his partner. That meant using a nylon-string acoustic guitar for the first time in years, which ended up defining the whole record’s feel. The pace also forced him to up his lyrical game: usually, he’d do nonsense vocal melodies and figure out the substance later, but for this, he wrote the words at the same time.
From the minute Jerome wrote and recorded “When You Land,” with, as he puts it, its “melodic melody” and “ethereal space vibe,” both he and Fairchild knew that they were on to something special: a lush and gentle, orchestrated but minimalist classic, equal parts Elliott Smith, Burt Bacharach and punk rock. Because the way Jerome sees it, punk is not a genre or a sound. “Punk rock is whatever you make it to be,” he says. “There’s no costume. Just be passionate about what you do.”
That’s the lesson he learned growing up in Hawthorne, California, also home to both the Beach Boys and Redd Kross. But where Murray Wilson was able to put his teenage sons into a fancy recording studio, Jerome came up putting Scotch tape over old cassettes for home recording. “DIY’s always a big thing for me – out of necessity, but also, pride,” he says. “I come from a hard working family, and an immigrant mom. You just do it yourself. You figure it out.”
The music Jerome first discovered as a fan included the San Pedro band F.Y.P, plus a lot of stuff that he discovered on the college radio station KXLU, including the Elephant Six Collective bands and Guided By Voices (he remembers hearing Alien Lanes and thinking, “this sounds like crap. But it’s amazing!”) Most of all, his life was changed by Beck: both Mellow Gold and the three indie records from that same period.
“Pay No Mind was a huge huge turning point for me when I first heard that song on the radio,” he says. “It was not your traditional three-minute pop song. The way it went from like grunge and punk rock into acoustic guitars – but not like, James Taylor acoustic guitar – with junky drums.” Jerome could also relate to the way Beck released as much as he could as fast as he could, while also making the more collaborative Mellow Gold for a record label. In 2011 Jerome even released a Beck covers album, which he titled, with loving sarcasm, When Beck Was Cool, Vol 1 (Vol 2 remains in progress).
Another set of influences emerged for Super Flower Blood Moon: the music of his parents – the Mexican pop that he would hear around the house and on the radio. Picking up that nylon-string acoustic hearkened back to his first guitar when he was 14, playing along to Richie Valens. And just as the guitar wound up shaping the record’s sound, some of the songwriting pays tribute to the style of such artists as Roberto Carlos, Nelson Ned and Camilos Sesto. The dreamy “Falling Star,” which Jerome says is “a meditation on the all-encompassing power of young love,” has got some Beach Boys Sunflower in it, but its video is going to be an unabashed homage to Juan Gabriel’s classic 1984 clip for “Querida.”
Jerome wrote the songs for the album right at the end of 2019, and while he – like everyone – was not expecting such a long pandemic, he was also well-prepared to shelter – and record – in place. In general, he prefers to work alone. “For me, it’s like painting,” he says. “It’s something you do by yourself, and take time to do it.” The actual record was made in his studio, but he stuck to the spirit of the original demos as much as possible, with that four-track core of two vocals and two guitars, with only occasional added textures (strings, keyboards, mellotron, drum).
The record does feature some guest musicians, including drummer Trevor Beld-Jimenez and Jimi Cabeza de Vaca of dios (malos), but it’s still mostly a solo act. “I just play everything myself on my own schedule,” Jerome says. “It’s hard for me to plan. Like, ‘oh, let me get a drummer over here on this day.’ I just kind of go on inspiration and roll with it.”
Being on Dangerbird meant Jerome had more of a recording budget, and since he wasn’t going to have to pay for someone else’s studio, or an outside producer and engineer, they decided to bring in a fresh pair of ears for mixing. And not just any pair of ears – they reached out to the guy who did his most formative work with two of Jerome’s absolute touchstone artists, Beck and Elliott Smith. Not only that, but Rob Schnapf’s studio is just across the street from Jerome. “It just made total sense,” Jerome says. “Like, this is amazing. I can afford to go to this dude that worked on some of the stuff that really changed my life. It was a thrill to kind of wrap up these last 20 years by finishing a record with Rob.”
The admiration is mutual: “I have been a fan of Joel since the early 2000s,” says Schnapf. “He is a master and he keeps getting better, probably because he wears so many hats seeing songcraft from all different angles.
“And he rolls a mean joint.”