On the surface, The Senators’ upcoming single “Indiana” describes the transcendental moment of seeing the sunrise in an unfamiliar place.
The track is about the reward one can feel when one expands their horizons and gets out of their comfort zone. But for Jesse Teer, who wrote the song, the meaning of the song runs a little deeper than that.
It also describes the relationship with his dad, who grew up in a small town south of Gary, Indiana. Teer describes the industrial community as one of those Midwestern towns that’s its own little world, where everyone still smokes inside the local bar.
The song is the perfect example of how Teer is taking a more honest approach with crafting music, emphasizing more on the fundamentals and telling an authentic story about the relationship between him and his father, rather than adding bells and whistles.
“We were trying to pare back and focus on the essentials,” says Teer.
The song was recorded in the Catskill Mountains in New York and produced by Simone Felice, a former member of the critically acclaimed group The Felice Brothers and the man behind the boards for bands ranging from The Lumineers and Bat for Lashes. Teer, who describes Felice as “blunt as hell” in a creative setting, states that the producer wanted him to focus on what the song was about instead of adding bells and whistles to the tracks.
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The track won’t be out until the spring, but the first taste of that recording session with Felice came out last August on the EP Promised Land. On Friday, January 17, the quartet, who include Chuck Linton, Marshall Hunt, and Jason Yee, will debut their new EP, King of America, at Valley Bar, which like Promised Land, will feature cover art by the Fortoul Brothers. Palo Brea and the Flagstaff band Quinn & the Confluence join them on the bill.
There has been some slight resistance to Teer’s new approach to songwriting. “Indiana” features a character named Jesse, who is based on the songwriter. In a meeting with some people about placing the song in film, television, and commercials, the rep told the group that the feedback said the song was too specific, and it needed to be more general.
“They said we should make it a pronoun. I told them no. The specificity is what makes the song approachable,” Teer recalls. “Chuck said with a straight face, ‘What are the names of all the characters on Riverdale? We can just write their names in all the songs.’”
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In addition to writing music, Teer can add the title of published author to his resume. He told his story “The Healer” at the local storytelling group Bar Flies and was included in a collection that came out last December. (Full disclosure: Many former and current Phoenix New Times contributors also have stories in the book.)
He describes how his parents disapproved of his choice to pursue songwriting as a career. Despite his success with The Senators and being the inspiration for beautiful music, Teer says their position on his career remains unchanged.
“This is everyone’s weird Freudian subconscious thing: What do I have to do to make my father proud of me?” says Teer. “Maybe it’s showing up on Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Kimmel one day? I don’t know what that is.”
The Senators are scheduled to perform on Friday, January 17, at Valley Bar. Tickets are $8 via Eventbrite.