Jeff Klein of the Austin-based band My Jerusalem didn’t set out to pen a musical “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” but circumstances beyond his control forced his hand.
His mother died after a protracted illness at his boyhood home in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach while he was on the road with his dark-textured group, and he says, “I never stopped to process it. I just kept the blinders on, maintained what I had to maintain at the time, and never really sat and dealt with it.”
When he stopped to compose his latest album, which wound up with the ominous title “A Little Death,” words didn’t come.
So the singer, who appears at the Fillmore with the band on Sunday, left Texas, where depression and various distractions were clouding his thinking.
“Instead of running away from my problems, I decided to deal with them head on,” he says. “So I thought I would go to New York, to the area where I grew up, and see if I could kill two birds with one stone. And it worked. It was like these floodgates opened.” He wrote 20 songs in two weeks.
Subletting a musician chum’s apartment, Klein had access to an arsenal of guitars and a mini-home studio.
He fell into a daily ritual of walking the wintry streets of his old neighborhood, past his mother’s former abode and his grandparents’ unusual home, where they raised a revolving brood of 15 foster kids in exchange for free rent.
“There’s just something indescribably beautiful about Brighton Beach when it’s completely frozen over, with snow everywhere,” he says.
“It was like some 1950s time capsule, with immigrant ladies in huge fur coats and fur hats. So I’d take in the isolation, grab some breakfast, and go back and just start writing.”
Klein conceived stunning tracks (“I’m a recovering goth,” he says), performed in his trademark Roy-Orbison-meets-Echo-and-the-Bunnymen style.
There are musings on mortality (“Rabbit Rabbit,” “Done and Dusted” and “Young and Worthless”) and the sax-screeching opener “Young Leather” features a backing-vocal by blues-rocker Elle King, whom he’s known since she was 18 and working at a New York tattoo parlor.
“Her voice is so amazing, and she has that authenticity that I love,” he says.
Klein formed his group in 2010, after an eye-opening trip to Jerusalem left him so impressed he borrowed the name.
But Brighton Beach provided an epiphany, as well. “Death is everybody’s fate. There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” he says. “So you’ve really got to live your life the way you want, because you never know when it’s going to end.”
IF YOU GO
The Sounds, with My Jerusalem
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 18
Contact: (415) 316-6000, www.ticketmaster.comA Little DeathAustiBrighton BeachBrooklynJeff KleinMy JerusalemPop Music