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Durand Jones pens a love letter to being Black, queer and from the rural South

"The rural South is deeply beautiful and complex and contradictory," says Jones. "I really want [people] to know the rural South has something to say."
Rahim Fortune
/
Dead Oceans
"The rural South is deeply beautiful and complex and contradictory," says Jones. "I really want [people] to know the rural South has something to say."

Durand Jones & the Indications have been making vintage soul cool again since the mid-2010s. But after several years, three albums and international tours, frontman Durand Jones felt the need to step out on his own.

When he approached his label, Dead Oceans, about releasing a solo album, he didn't explain what it might sound like. "Rather, it would smell like zesty magnolias on a hot July day in Louisiana," he says.

And so began Jones' journey to memorialize his hometown of Hillaryville, Louisiana, a small community on the banks of the Mississippi River, in Wait Til I Get Over. In an early interlude, over melancholy piano, strings and sounds of a creek, Jones narrates Hillaryville's history and how his grandmother described what it was like when she first moved there: "the place you'd most want to live."

Jones grew up attending church, singing in the choir and living in his dad's trailer, not far from his grandmother's house. But Hillaryville changed from how she remembered it. Jones says the war on drugs and a nearby state highway, cutting through, turned the town into a much more desolate place.

"The mantra [for] me and Durand's generation was to always leave Hillaryville, to get out of Hillaryville," says Damon Jones, Durand's younger brother.

I began to realize I was moving away from these fragile forms of masculinity. There's so many rules and boundaries we set up for ourselves that really limits and tarnishes us to be empathetic with one another and to love one another.

They succeeded. In 2012, Durand Jones moved to Bloomington to study classical saxophone at Indiana University. There, he met his bandmates and formed Durand Jones & the Indications. Other events would shake out in the interim, between the start of Jones' graduate studies and the band's success – an incident with law enforcement, a rocky period back in Louisiana, and finally, a return to Bloomington to finish his master's degree and begin touring with The Indications in 2016. But something kept gnawing at him.

"I really felt like the fans only knew parts of me, and I wanted to be transparent and vulnerable in a way that I haven't been before," says Jones.

That meant returning home, both musically and spiritually. "Whenever I went back to Hillaryville as a grown man and went back to church and saw they weren't doing the lining hymns anymore, it really broke my heart," he says.

On the title track of Wait Til I Get Over, he layers his voice repeatedly to recreate those childhood sounds. And he opens up about other key experiences that shaped him, like an early romance – and breakup – chronicled in the soulful ballad, "That Feeling."

"The emotions of that song stayed with me for so long because that was the first intimate relationship I shared with another man," Jones explains.

The song marks the first time Jones has publicly addressed his sexuality. He explains that the relationship that inspired "That Feeling" was beautiful but filled with shame. In the video, two men encounter each other as adults and slowly remember the tender love they shared – and hid – as teenagers.

"I began to realize I was moving away from these fragile forms of masculinity. There's so many rules and boundaries we set up for ourselves that really limits and tarnishes us to be empathetic with one another and to love one another," says Jones. "I felt the need to really be open about my bisexuality because I know how stigmatized it can be for a queer, young person in the rural South."

Wait Til I Get Over paints a deeply nuanced portrait of Jones' life and the Southern customs that raised him. It transforms from quiet, piano-driven melodies to full bursts of synths and electric instruments, creating a blend of traditional and modern sounds akin to Jones' influences. On "Someday We'll All Be Free," a slow and steady groove breaks into an explosive verse by rapper Skypp, which pays homage to victims of police killings like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice.

On "I Want You," a self-described prayer Jones wrote about music following the turbulent break in his grad school years; the beat eschews expectations. Sometimes it feels a bit ahead, sometimes a bit behind. Ben Lumsdaine, who co-produced, recorded and mixed the album – in addition to playing a number of the instruments — says they intentionally made "I Want You" challenging to tap along to as a way of highlighting the song's thematic elements. "There's a rhythmic struggle happening in that song that, to me, feels representative of reaching something you can't always grasp," he explains.

The sonic timelessness of the record is also born out of a range of recording techniques; perhaps most importantly, Lumsdaine says, the whole band tracked everything live. On "Lord Have Mercy," an upbeat tune about Jones' complicated relationship with his faith, his voice soars over the entire ensemble.

Jones says the process of making <em>Wait Til I Get Over </em>helped him appreciate the efforts of his family and the elders of Hillaryville on a new level.
Rahim Fortune / Dead Oceans
/
Dead Oceans
Jones says the process of making Wait Til I Get Over helped him appreciate the efforts of his family and the elders of Hillaryville on a new level.

"Those are scratch vocals. I didn't even set the mic up very well, and so it's distorting and like..." Lumsdaine trails off. "But it was just too powerful to not use."

Wait Til I Get Over is the rawest look at Durand Jones yet. For the album's visuals, he returned to Hillaryville with new eyes. His brother, Damon, is now raising his kids in their grandmother's house. The elder Jones posed for photos in front of their dad's trailer.

"The 17-year-old Durand was so embarrassed and ashamed of living there, being from there," he says.

After surviving countless hurricanes, the trailer burned down shortly after that last visit. Jones sees it as a symbol that there are brighter days ahead. But he's proud, now, to show the world where he comes from.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.