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​​Peeling Back the Layers of Jesse Northey's Onion Knight

A sensitive guy in the modern world.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Heather Saitz

It’s taken Jesse Northey a few years to come to terms with who he is as an artist and creative. Moving to Toronto from Edmonton three years ago, he was working at Six Shooter Records until he left on good terms to start his own label, Victory Pool Music, through which Northey has guided artists like Marlaena Moore, The Deep Dark Woods, and more recently, OMBIIGIZI, on their musical journeys. 

Using his wealth of knowledge on the Canadian music landscape, Northey has been an artist manager, grant writer, tour manager, etc., but he’s also quite an accomplished singer-songwriter and always knew he would one day want to go back to writing his own music.

He had fronted his band Jesse & the Dandelions for almost a decade, touring Canada, the US and Japan for a bit and releasing three albums, but when he was writing his latest batch of songs, releasing new music under the Dandelions moniker didn’t feel right. “I guess I wanted a fresh start for my entity as an artist,” he says from his home in Toronto. “That band had a really good run and I wanted to take the opportunity to play under my own name.”

Now he’s fanning the flames of his first release as Jesse Northey, dubbed, Onion Knight; seven songs that incorporate the neo-psychedelic, halcyon rich tones of 60s and 70s pop/rock. With respectful nods to guys like George Harrison and Harry Nilsson, Northey’s songwriting still feels current and contemporary.

Onion Knight is a tranquil, easy listen, with vocal, keyboard, string and guitar hooks that draw you in without overstaying their welcome. The lyrical themes are also quite straightforward; speaking of the modern day anxieties that plague many of us, while also offering little glimpses of hopefulness in between. “It’s reflecting back on your own life and trying to give yourself a message,” Northey says of his lyrics. “Usually it comes back to the ‘everything is going to be OK,’ message or like a calming mantra that George Harrison does or something.”

At its core, Onion Knight is a vulnerable album coming from a very consciously sensitive guy, unafraid to share his worries and apprehensions about modern day life. “That’s kind of where the title came from,” he says. “I’ve always been a sensitive guy and I wanted to lean into that idea of it being OK to be a sensitive guy in this modern world. And then there’s also the absurdity of onions making you cry.”

Northey also decided to work with producer Thomas D’arcy (Yukon Blonde, The Sheepdogs, etc.) on Onion Knight, which was a new way of recording for him as he was used to being in control of everything. “He saw me play a short piano set at the Dakota Tavern and we started talking about influences and he asked me to come to the studio and try a few songs out. We banged out ‘Soul Seeker’ and ‘Hold On’ in two days and it was really nice to be on the other side of the recording process,” Northey says. 

It’s also the first time Northey has played piano and sang at the same time. With the Dandelions, he played guitar and sang, yet around the writing process of Onion Knight, during one of the many lockdowns, he essentially taught himself piano using a Beatles song book. “I guess I just got bored with guitar and I wanted to have the thrill of learning a new instrument as an adult,” Northey says. “So one of my leisurely activities is to smoke a joint, just let go, and play piano for hours. I’m getting better everyday.”

Now that Onion Knight has been released, Northey will be touring Western Canada with his friend, musician Chloe Doucet. He’s excited to play the album live back home in Edmonton, but also for his new community in Toronto.  “Everyone knows me through the business side of the music industry in Toronto, but it will be cool for them to see me as a performer,” he says. “I’m reinvigorated.