Escondido and that Desert Sex Sound: An Interview with Tyler James and Jessica Maros

Within the modern music industry there seems to be a growing appetite for music that’s moved beyond the boundary of a single genre. Audiences want more. They don’t just want to be entertained, that’s as simple as people-watching at a red light. They want to be mesmerized.

And for artists that means experimentation. Finding a voice, a tone, a style that’s more than what it appears.

We at MusicBham were fortunate enough to be given a chance to talk to the crew of Escondido, a band in the process of developing its own unique sound that has been heralded by the Chicago Sun-Times and others as “a band steeped in Southwest fantasia that stands on the strength of its songwriting.”

While so many other prominent artists have chosen to recreate their sound with various musical tech, Escondido opts to stick to basics. There’s something to be said of the power a grounded, simple melody can have on a person. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are obvious examples. Jessica Maros and Tyler James are doing their best to walk in those footsteps.

Hear it from them below.

Photography by Mary C. Fehr
Written by Sara Jane Overby
Into by Nathan Diehl

Sara Jane: So I have to ask, you guys are notorious for what’s been dubbed the “desert sex” sound. What exactly does that mean to you?

Jessica: Yea, so basically we have a lot of washed out guitars and my vocals kind of lend itself to a tonality that’s considered a little sexual, but ethereal. And it’s a little bit Western. And a little bit desert. And Tyler produced the album, and the songs just kind of came together. And then we were like, “Well, what genre are we? We’re not completely country and we’re not completely desert.” The more we thought about it, the more we realized we’re a kind of a blend of the two. From there we just decided to start our own genre and call it desert sex!

Tyler: We wanted to make a record that was this “Southwestern meets Spaghetti Western” type soundtrack, but in the form of 3-minute pop songs. So, think about the film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and a lot of those other Enno Morricone soundtracks, but in a way that’s a first chorus kind of hook format. “Desert sex” is more of something we said between the two of us when discussing what genre we were. Then people started writing about it and saying that’s what we actually sounded like. And yea, we call it desert rock, too, at times, because it’s got some of that inspiration from the ’70s California music with a backfill of old Nashville, the Johnny Cash kind of twang side of things. But we hope to make it all our own style, as Jessica was saying. And if you say “desert sex,” it can be kind of confusing, but if you hear our music then we hope it kind of makes sense.

I completely agree with you. It does make sense! From when I first heard the phrase desert sex to when I actually saw you guys perform and listened to your music, I was kind of like, ‘Ohhhh!’ 

Tyler: And you know that is not an option from the drop-down menu on iTunes. They have folk, pop, rock…but desert sex? It wasn’t there!

Well, maybe it will be now!

Tyler: Yea, you never know!

Jessica: You never know!

So with the release of The Ghost of Escondido (Kill Canyon, 2013), which was your first album, all the way up to the recent release of Walking with a Stranger (Kill Canyon, 2016), could you talk me through how your music process has evolved for you all as artists as well as individuals? It seems like you guys have developed a lot in the last few years.

Jessica: You know, we put out all our records on our own and we’ve had to make a lot of financial decisions on how we decide to do that. With the first record, we went into the studio and recorded it all in one day. We tried to save a lot of money because we were the ones funding the album. So, with that record it was kind of a fluke. On the second record, Tyler produced it all and we really wanted to hone in on the sounds and take our time. So we created the second record over a couple of years. At this rate the next one will probably be a blend of both.

Tyler: Yea, I guess for me on an individual standpoint, we were both solo artists for a long time. When we met we were both getting over large events in our life. When we came together it was almost like a starting over of sorts. With the first record, we didn’t realize its sound until after we started tracking. We listened back and we were kind of like, “Wow, this sounds kind of done.” We didn’t really have to do a lot of stuff to it afterwards. It was lightning in a bottle. From the very beginning it was this magical thing that was bigger than us, and we just kind of rode along. We were very lucky that some people heard it and also liked it. With the new record it’s a lot more work, and we took more time to really hone in and I’m very grateful we did that. But, the first record was a day, the second one was around 6 months in total, and the third one will probably be a combination.

Jessica: Also, we’ll be bringing a producer in on this next one. So it’s going to be interesting. We’re both very opinionated: we know what we like and what we don’t like. But it will be nice to have a third person to come in and help blend. It should make the decision making process roll a little faster.

That’s so interesting you say that, because I was talking to Dylan LeBlanc this morning at Sloss Fest. We were discussing the creation process behind his Cautionary Tale album, and he actually had a couple guys come in and work on the production of the album where he self-produced his previous albums. He said it was a process for him to relinquish some of that control as well.

Tyler: (singing) ‘Cautionary tale that you know that I won’t be reading!’  That’s a good song! But for real, I can see why. It’s a process for any artist that has someone coming in and shifting things around. That being said, I’m not giving up complete control because I did do those first two albums, but it will be nice to have someone come in to help out.

Jessica: Yea, it’s going to be good!

Speaking of a song that you produced, “I Am Bad Without You!” is one of my personal favorites. Tell me, what inspired that song?

Jessica: Oh man! Umm..WELL!

Speak the truth!

(All laughing)

Jessica: Okay, so I have this friend, LeeAnne, she writes a lot of lyrics and stuff. She sent me a poem one day, and in the poem there was the statement, “I am bad without you!” So I kind of took that line and developed the song. But at the time I was also sort of seeing a guy, and it was like that situation where you’re not really serious with someone and that kind of makes you want more of something else. You start to realize it’s not right, the fit isn’t right, and you start to go out. And you see where I am going…I’m bad without you.


Listen to Jessica discuss how a broken heart led her to Escondido on Billboard’s Soul Sister Podcast.


Yes I do! 

(Laughing)

So now, looking into the future, you were speaking about your next album. Do you know what the name will be? Or maybe some songs that will be on it?

Jessica: Sonny and Cher!

Really???

Jessica: We have a song that we wrote and it’s called “Sonny and Cher!”

Wait, have you guys performed that yet?

Jessica: No, we have not performed it. It’s totally new.

Tyler: I think we’re going to be making a longer record, inspired by life and more festival-friendly. We’ll be bringing in a third person, as we mentioned, to help sonically.

Jessica: We want help to kind of extend the songs a little bit more artistically and really accent the desert sexy element.

Tyler: And it’s our third record, so it has to be a masterpiece!

Right, it’s your third go at this, so it’s make it or break it! 

All laughing

Tyler: Yea, I mean, we can’t make a shitty record.

Jessica: Guys, are you kidding me! There is no masterpiece. It’s all subjective and all perspective! (Laughing) You see now why we work so well together?

Yes…

Jessica: (Laughing) We literally say the opposite! But that’s what creates the sound!

Tyler: That true!

You know I have to say, the first time I met you both you were performing at Good People Brewing and had just performed the Conan O’Brien show. 

Tyler and Jessica: Yeah!

Looking back at that from where you are now, performing festivals and touring, what’s it been like for you both?

Jessica: It’s been really fun! It’s always an uphill battle, no matter what stage you are on. We just want to make music we love, and if that gains an audience then it’s like a dream for us! Whether it’s five people or one hundred people, we just want to go out and play. So, we really are grateful that people are noticing. We do it for the love of the art and the rest is out of our hands!

Tyler: Most people don’t know us, so we still have a lot of work to do.

I don’t know, you guys are pretty popular around here. We definitely appreciate you sharing your art with us! 

Tyler: That’s good! So maybe the South is our bread and butter!

Maybe! So as we wrap up, is there anything you would like to add or leave our Birmingham followers with?

Jessica: Yes! I just want to thank everyone for listening to us! And thank you guys for promoting bands whether they’re local or just coming through town. It means the world to us that there is a platform like you!

Tyler: Yea, bands notice. One person is one person, and it builds from there, and we notice that. So thank you!


Escondido is currently recording their third studio album due out later this year. To follow Escondido, visit thebandescondido.com.

This interview was conducted by Sara Jane Overby during 2016’s Sloss Music & Art’s Festival. The 2017 Sloss Music and Art’s Festival takes place on July 15-16. For more information visit slossfest.com.