The Neighbourhood frontman Jesse Rutherford has revived his solo project Jesse® — and he has some catching up to do. The 31-year-old musician last shared music under the moniker in 2019. Since then, his six-year relationship with model Devon Lee Carlson ended, his band embarked on a hiatus, and he got sober. Now, he has seemingly found a muse in his current girlfriend, 21-year-old Billie Eilish, which colors the tone of his new singles “Joker” and “Rainbow.”
“It’s been a minute since I’ve shared anything. It feels like I moved away from home & got a new phone number. This is my message letting you know I’m back in town & trying to get together,” Jesse® shared in a statement about the songs, his first releases under a new contract with Atlantic Records.
“It’s a true solo journey, and the music is just kind of soundtracking what I’m going through in my life. And I thought it was kind of time to grow as an individual, because I’ve put a lot of my time and energy into growing within relationships, which is a great thing,” he told Zane Lowe on Apply Music 1. “I mean, I love and I hold dear all my relationships, and I feel like I have a lot of strong ones. And even the ones that didn’t last, I feel like were lovely, and nobody’s on any sort of bad terms or anything. And I just needed a moment for myself. It was just kind of like it had to happen sooner or later. So this felt like the best time to do it.”
We last heard from Rutherford on “Fallen Star,” a 2021 Neighbourhood single that never made it onto an album. “Tryna find the right time to tell you what you might not like to hear,” he sang about growing apart from a partner on the melancholic record. On “Joker” and “Rainbow,” Jesse® doesn’t so much as find his way back as he finds somewhere – and someone – new.
“Diamonds and spades/Jack of all trades/I’m having trouble not finding my place/Been around kings, I had a queen/Lost in the club with my heart on my sleeve,” he sings on “Joker,” a stream-of-consciousness record about identity that features a play on the “Merry Go Round” children’s rhyme. “Can’t play your game, I tried to change/Painted my face, made a new name/Are you entertained?”
Jesse® emerges on the other side of the “Joker” fiasco on “Rainbow,” a sunny song about finding joy in the aftermath of a storm. “I saw a halo over your head, you were my angel/I must have been dead/So I had to say goodbye to get to the gold on the other side/I saw the future after our past, I wasn’t ready for it to last,” he sings, later coming around: “I’ve had some others, there won’t ever be another like you/You give me butterflies, I might puke/You motherfucker, you’re too easy to love/My mama even likes you, too.”
Rutherford and Eilish first stepped out during Halloween weekend in coordinated costumes: he dressed as an old man and her as a baby. With an age gap of nearly 11 years, criticism around their relationship was largely rooted in their initial meeting in 2017, when the pop singer was around 15 or 16.
In September last year, Eilish credited Rutherford’s band with inspiring her approach to performing live. “Since the first concert I ever saw – which was The Neighbourhood, which completely changed my life – I have essentially been trying to make my show feel the way that show felt,” Eilish told Zane Lowe at the time. “It’s inspiring. The feeling that I got at the beginning of that show, in my chest, I can’t even explain it. My main goal is to have everybody have that feeling at my show.”
During her sixth annual Vanity Fair interview, just over a month later, Eilish gushed: “I managed to get my life to a point where I not only was known by a person that I thought was the hottest fucking fucker alive, but I pulled his ass. Are we kidding me? Can we just … round of applause for me? Thank you! Jesse Rutherford, everyone.”
Jesse® will follow up “Joker” and “Rainbow” next month with “Me & Universe,” followed by his third full-length solo record later this year.