Words by Leigh Patterson
Photographs Justin Chung

Tobias Jesso Jr.

Los Angeles, CA

Tobias Jesso Jr.
Los Angeles, CA

We arrive at Tobias’ house at 8am, the sun just peeking over the trees in Silver Lake. The Grammy-winning songwriter has an afternoon session booked in his studio, and the mornings have become a time for dialing in. Specifically: a pourover coffee, measured and weighed. An ambient-leaning playlist. Letting in the light. A moment to read and take notes at the dining table. It’s easy to want to construct a narrative about an artist’s process, to ascribe loyalty to some sort of ritual for the self-seriousness of it all. Yet Tobias eschews easy stereotyping. (His morning routine, he admits, probably isn’t that important. It just makes him feel good. Inevitably, “No matter where I’m staying or what I’m doing, the creativity I feel just wants to express itself.”)
And while his unassuming presence is a throughline, Tobias’ work speaks for itself: he’s amid a moment of career culmination, winning his first Grammy for Songwriter of the Year as a byproduct of ongoing collaborations with artists including Adele, Harry Styles, FKA Twigs, King Princess, and Orville Peck. Yet his journey to today has been a slow burn. Growing up in Canada, Tobias gravitated toward music as a kid and played in the high school band, but was never “seriously interested” in writing his own songs until his early twenties. After moving to Los Angeles, he released a solo album, “Goon,” in 2015. Despite critical acclaim and a record deal, he felt a bit lost. The momentum was pulling him in multiple directions, and all away from his creative center. He took a beat and moved back home, recalling how “it’s easy to recreate and reassess your life when you don’t really believe you’re the same person you thought you were…you’re wondering who you are.”
After a break, he came back to LA with a renewed focus on songwriting – less a singular ah-ha moment and more a gradual understanding that what he loved most about music was what unfolded behind the scenes. Music is intrinsically a language of connection, and there was an abundance in immersing oneself in a chorus of creativity, in removing possession from the process, and in learning to listen between the notes.
“I think to be a successful songwriter, you have to be able to understand where an artist might not yet realize they want to go,” he says. “It’s not always what they’re saying, but what you’re getting from being with them.” Tobias asks a lot of questions. He’s also quick to share his own recommendations — the best art exhibitions he’s seen lately, his go-to coffee beans, his source for Japanese workwear, his favorite vendors at the Hollywood farmers’ market. There’s a loose, organic fluidity to it all, a seamless merging of his interests and the creative process, each one informing the other.
“I think it’s important for creative people to not tie themselves to one particular outlet,” he explains. “Although I appreciate masterful craftsmanship, I tend to prefer artists who can express themselves in multiple ways and still manage to convey their inherent creativity. I don't just enjoy writing songs. I enjoy writing stories and letters. I enjoy sewing, I enjoy cooking, and making home movies. I think it’s really important for me to find out who I am in as many ways as possible [in order to have] a wider view.”
And really, it all comes back to that ability to zoom out — in life and in work. There’s a dedication required in finding ways to access the essence of yourself in order to show up and observe it in others. Life itself is the creative act; the output is secondary. Or as Tobias frames it, “I used to think you needed luck to be successful. Now I think you're successful when you're prepared to be yourself.”



Full story available in Making Sense Vol. 1 Book

Making Sense is a publication series with Le Labo Fragrances that is a study in distilling life to its essence, as told through the stories of 12 individual who have fearlessly hand-crafted lives of their own making.

Read more about the series here.