[EXHAUSTING POP] At this point, Jared Mees is just trying to keep his shit together.
For the past three years, his life has been a balancing act of responsibilities. On the one hand, there's his label, Tender Loving Empire. Once simply a means of putting out his own music and that of his close friends, it now boasts one of the strongest rosters of any label in Portland, releasing albums by Y La Bamba, Typhoon, Loch Lomond and the winner of Willamette Week's 2011 Best New Band poll, And And And. Then, there's the business of the same name that he runs with his wife, Brianne: a hybrid record store, consignment shop and art gallery on Southwest 10th Avenue. In addition to those operations, he also tours and records with his band, the Grown Children. And somewhere in the midst of all that, the 30-year-old songwriter tries to carve out time for, in his words, "being a human."
No wonder he gave his new album the mantralike title Only Good Thoughts Can Stay.
"It becomes really confusing and intense to keep all the plates spinning," says the bristly-bearded Mees, squinting in the sun from his table outside Ringlers Annex downtown. "It's a difficult task, but ultimately it causes the creativity, when it comes, to feel really freeing. It makes the catharsis way more intense than it's ever been."
Indeed, Only Good Thoughts sounds like the release of three years' worth of stress. Although it's his most labor-intensive record—Mees started writing it almost immediately after completing 2008's Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, with some songs taking six months of revisions to finish—it's somehow also his most immediately exuberant album, one full of joyous, heart-swelling pop moments. But the bright effusiveness of the music disguises an album that is, by Mees' admission, the product of much turmoil, and not even all his own. "It's really more just [about] deciphering why people go through things, and what you can learn from other people's heartache," he says.
In some cases, that means embodying another person altogether: In "Billy Bird," he recalls his younger brother's first encounter with death; "W.W.J.B.D." is about Mees suffering a near breakdown while on the road, told from the perspective of his wife, who was fielding his distressed phone calls back home. But on the last song, "Shake," Mees is undoubtedly speaking in his own voice when he sings the album's title and declares over trumpets and galloping drums, "I am trying to love what I'll have to leave/ And I'm trying not to grieve prematurely." It's a great final purge, casting off old worries and investing in the idea that enough positive energy can keep life in balance.
"It's upbeat songs about difficult things," Mees says of the album. "It makes them somehow easier to handle, and I think that's all anybody really wants: stuff to just be easier to handle. Half of your life you spend trying to just have life not be so difficult for you."
SEE IT: Jared Mees & the Grown Children play two album-release shows on Saturday, May 14. The first is at Backspace with Wild Ones and Your Rival. 6 pm. $7. All ages. The second is at Someday Lounge with Dirty Mittens and And And And. 9 pm. $8. 21+.