Like most acts at SXSW 2022, Juni Ata’s Jesse Daniel Edwards was blown away by the post-pandemic fervor of the crowds at this year’s event.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” he says. “People definitely showed up ready to party extra hard, but not in a reckless way. It was more of a joyous celebration. Every club owner I encountered was just so grateful to have people back.”
As it turns out, Edwards also has the pandemic to thank for the career pivot that landed him onstage in Austin in the first place. “If it weren’t for COVID, I’d probably still be out there managing bands,” he says.
Raised in a tiny mountain town in Southern California, Edwards comes from a devoutly religious family that was also quite musical. After an acoustic duo with his brother, L.A., ran its course, Edwards moved to Nashville and came under the tutelage of John Prine’s manager, the late Al Bunetta, who nurtured his talent. After a series of heartbreaks including his mother’s sudden death, Edwards shifted from performing to tour management in 2017, hitting the road with the likes of Morrissey, Jason Isbell, the Strokes and Lucinda Williams.
“Morrissey’s tour manager needed someone to help with the band for a couple of weeks in Sydney, Australia,” says Edwards, explaining how it all started. “It was a week out, and I was working at a special-needs camp at the time, just about to start our summer session. A mutual friend said, ‘Hey, we just had someone drop out, and we need someone ASAP. I’ll teach you the job—it’s not hard. You just help get the band to and from the venue.’ Of course, it was nothing even remotely that simple. But I stayed in that gig for five years.”
At some point along the way, Lucinda Williams got wind of Edwards’ talent for something other than putting out backstage fires. “There was a piano in the hotel lounge, and she said, ‘Hey, why don’t you go over there and play some music,” says Edwards. “Looking back, that changed the nature of our relationship. Now she looks at me as an artist.”
Edwards was nudged along even further by friend Jake Rosswog, who worked with him to record what would become Saudade, Juni Ata’s lush, tender, often painfully personal debut. Its release was still up in the air when the pandemic hit in 2020. But with the touring industry shuddered, it was put up or shut for Edwards.
“I finally got back to a place where I could enjoy playing,” he says. “Looking back, I think there was all this art fermenting below the surface.”
Recorded at historic RCA Studio C in Nashville, “California Girl” is one of five late holdovers from the Saudade sessions. Edwards is releasing them as the Some Songs EP on April 29 via Flying On Fire.
“We ended up doing 16 tracks over the course of a month,” he says. “I laid down the 12 tracks that became the LP, then I came in at the end of the month and did a few more. Some I wrote on the spot. It seemed like a hodgepodge, but it’s more cohesive than I gave it credit for.”
Given the overall subtlety of Saudade’s mood and tone, it’s understandable why a more rugged and extroverted track like “California Girl” wasn’t included on the album. The song features Edwards’ brother on one verse, along with Madi Diaz on harmonies. Perhaps it suggests where Juni Ata could be headed on its next musical journey. If not, the song is an intriguing sidestep.
“It tells the story of moving to Nashville for me,” says Edwards. “When you move to this new place, you have all this new energy. If you’re single, it can lead to attracting a lot of interested parties. The song is about how I wished I could be with a California girl who was familiar to me. But instead, I’m out with all these miscreants in East Nashville—of which there are many.”