St. Louis' Kijani Eshe and Nick G Bring the Heat with Summer 22'

click to enlarge Accomplished local musicians Kijani Eshe and Nick G teamed up for the release of Summer 22'. - EMMA CONNELL / @D1TCHW1TCH
Accomplished local musicians Kijani Eshe and Nick G teamed up for the release of Summer 22'.

January 12, 2022, was an unseasonably warm day in the often cold and joyless River City winter. Who really knows if Kijani Eshe and Nick G dropped their new EP
Summer 22' right when temps hit a high of 59 degrees Fahrenheit that day, which feels like heaven this time of year, but in any case, that peak of warmth in the early winter was the perfect backdrop for this seasonal set of six songs by two prolific St. Louis musicians.

"I record all my vocals on my phone's voice memos. And I think they be sounding pretty damn good," Eshe says in jest.

Taken out of context, that quote potentially describes a person who doesn't spend much time thinking about the production of a recording, yet even a cursory listen through Eshe's work proves quite the opposite. There's an aspect of DIY ethos here that comes through in the sound, prioritizing what works for each song over what's "right" according to a textbook or gear heads from an online forum.

There's a good reason for that. Eshe grew up in a household of musicians (their mother being Auset Sarno of the Auset Music Project), with access to many instruments to try out. By the third grade Eshe was learning how to play violin, and at sixteen they sold their viola, bought a bass guitar and spent an entire summer building chops by riffing along to their then-current obsession: Led Zeppelin. Eshe's aesthetic blends bedroom pop, shoegaze and elements of hip-hop into a lo-fi indie vibe with an edge informed by their own early work in more punk-leaning projects.

"My first experience writing songs was when I was seventeen in my first band My Bloody Underwear," Eshe explains. "I also wrote for the punk band Kiki and I wrote one song for the band G.N.A.T. I didn't really start getting in-depth with songwriting until my solo project St. Louis Is for Lovers, which was a completely different sound from anything I'd done before. I found a lot of freedom in that and the sound just continued to develop from there."

"Develop" is an understatement, as Eshe followed up the release of St. Louis is for Lovers in early 2019 with music for two separate film projects: the 2020 documentary Infinite Canvas starring Nick Cave by director Ryan McGinley, and 2021's Beba by visionary Rebeca Huntt, which debuted at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

"I thought it was a scam at first but when I realized it was legit, it was a huge confidence boost," Eshe says. "I had never written for a movie before so getting to work with the team of Beba and be a part of the process was a great experience."

And while these projects would be enough for any other industrious young artist, Eshe was also low-key working with a fellow St. Louisian who had more than a few accomplishments to his name: Nick G.

Nick is credited on a number of demos, tapes and records, typically as a guitarist or songwriter in groups such as Posture, the Stranger, Mom, Shux and Freon, to name a few. He's played in basements, warehouse spaces and small stages across the United States, and has even toured Europe as a fill-in bassist for New Orleans punk outfit Sick Thoughts. Teaming up with Eshe represents a natural progression for his work.

"Over the last two years I've wanted to grow as a songwriter but still have the flexibility to work with other people without starting a whole new band or project," Nick says.

Despite the pandemic and all its challenges, 2021 was somewhat of a banner year for Nick as he recorded and mixed the YeAsTieS' Here for Flesh tape, which made Spin magazine's Best Punk of 2021 list. He most notably debuted as a solo songwriter under the name Nick G with the release of the Misadventures Mixtape, a stellar set of four songs that dropped nearly a year ago on February 2021's Bandcamp Friday, with all sales donated to ArchCity Defenders.

"Going under my own name gives me the freedom to not just work on whatever I feel like but also work with whoever I feel like," Nick says.

He kicked off 2022 with "Wave," a single made in collaboration with fellow St. Louis songwriter Big Step and then, only days later, released Summer 22', the joint effort with Eshe that took nearly two years in total to create.

Summer 22' isn't the first project this duo has produced. Eshe and Nick became friends while working at the Mud House on Cherokee Street and attending the same shows around south city. Eshe recalls an early jam session at the Lemp practice space, but the first major collab happened when they asked Nick to jam on "Get Out," a song featuring rapper Ra Child. Nick had never written guitar over a hip-hop track so he opted to instead write riffs around the vocals — a unique approach that resonated with Eshe.

"I'm not the best person at describing what I want. I just talked about the vibe and Nick just killed it with that," Eshe says. "I feel like Nick will do things that I don't think to do. I can be kind of a control freak, he can push it but never goes outside the limits of what I'm comfortable with."

Rather than just play guitar, Nick took an active interest in augmenting songs specifically by making them longer.

"Well, I think Kijani has a certain way that they write songs. Super short, to the point, leaving no room for boredom to set in for the listener. I think that rules and is a cool way of writing, but it makes me upset because I'm selfish and want more," Nick says jokingly.

After "Get Out," the pair casually worked on "Zero Beach," which eventually snowballed into a cohesive EP project after Eshe moved from St. Louis to Alaska in May 2021.

"I needed to be a little isolated, and it was really good for me that way," Eshe says. "It was the first time I lived anywhere other than St. Louis."

Eshe worked at a coffee shop and an inn while living in a tiny cabin alone in a small town in Alaska where residents see the sun less than five hours a day. Eshe learned firsthand of the dangers not present in a place like Missouri one night when a moose blocked them from going inside their home and they had to find someplace else to go.

"My plan was to write a whole screenplay for a movie while I was out there, but I maybe wrote two journal entries," Eshe says. "It definitely cleared my head and allowed me to get a different perspective." During this time away, Eshe and Nick worked on additional tracks, and the end product of their effort was in sight, at least conceptually.

Eshe moved back to St. Louis in September 2021 and, after taking time to reacclimate, linked up with Nick to smooth out the set of songs. Mastered by renowned engineer Brad Sarno, notably Eshe's stepfather, Summer 22' is a dreamy, lo-fi pop journey with elements of many genres that feels well-traveled with a friend in tow — despite the fact that 95 percent of the music was recorded remotely.

The songs range from personal stories about being in love and reminiscing on simpler times to acknowledging one's own problematic behaviors in a self-accepting way. Both Eshe and Nick contributed lyrics to the songs, sometimes separately, which results in a diversity of subjects and emotions that powerfully intersect.

After months of collaborations, long breaks and experiments in production and approach, the pair spent the end of 2021 focused on wrapping up the project. After a few more weeks of labor, Summer 22' dropped exclusively on Bandcamp on January 12, still the warmest day recorded in 2022 at the time of this article's writing.

"I wouldn't have done any of these styles of music really on my own," Nick says. "It's one of the most accessible pieces of art that I've done and it's a thing that I'm legitimately proud of."

Nick plans to follow up this release with upcoming projects with Ace of Spit and Piper (from Mom), along with more collaborative singles featuring Isabel Rex and others. Eshe is also energized, looking toward the future with Summer 22' as the jumping off point for the year ahead.

"This pumped me up and I'm ready to see what's next and stress about the next thing," Eshe says.

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