Jesse Mader: A ‘Breath’ of urban rock

Written by Scott Mervis on .


The first song you encounter on Jesse Mader’s site starts with a flitting synth line into a hip-hop beat over which the rapper launches a rapid-fire verse. Before you know it, he moves fluidly into a head-turning refrain of “Baby, we were born to run.”

“I grew up attending Bruce Springsteen concerts every year with my mother,” the rapper says, “and that’s what I wanted to be. So I finally found a way to make it all work, haha.”

“Born to Run” is one of the tracks of “Breath by Breath,” a new album from the Pittsburgh artist that combines rock and hip-hop with a feverish intensity.

He and producer Chris Longo (aka Mindbender) call it “urban rock,” and the rapper attributes it to growing up in a musical family with a lot of loud music being played in the basement.

“I knew how to rock a “four on the floor” rhythm at age 3,” he says. “My father sang with different bands and I remember watching him perform at local festivals in the summer. I learned early on that it’s OK to sing, dance, laugh and perform. A lot of kids don’t ever learn that.”

As a teenager in Allentown, he was fully immersed in what he calls “that ’90s golden era of hip hop where it really broke free and meshed with R&B melodies, and that music is timeless.”
By 15, he says, he was making songs out of sampled guitars and keyboard riffs into a tape recorder.

“I think that was the beginning of my hybrid music production. It came from experimenting with anything that I thought sounded good — pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop. I always wanted to write stories using hip hop, but front an energetic rock and roll band.”

He built a fanbase selling his first two mixtapes out of the trunk of his car and in 2006 released his debut album, “Thin Line,” named for the thin line between his musical styles.

Back then, he was going as J. James. “Breath by Breath,” with its full band sound courtesy of the Urban Rock Project (DJ Climax, Chris Kraski, Anthony Tomassello, Mindbender and Jason Longo), has him working under his own name, for marketing and artistic reasons.

“The main reason was for growth and change as an artist,” he says. “The music I was writing felt too honest and authentic to really need a stage name anymore. The other reason was for online marketing and ‘ownability’ of the name as a brand. There are a lot of other ‘Jesse James’ and ‘J.James’ in the independent music world already so Jesse Mader was more unique. I still use “J.James” as an alias for the grittier side of me and the music. So it still exists in the underground.”

The release show is at Club Cafe, South Side, at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9. Tickets are $8.