Jake Cassman of Drunken Logic meets us at Rise N Grind in Hollywood, CA to discuss the themes and inspirations of his latest release The Loudness Wars, the lack of attention span within modern music listening, and not being afraid to speak your mind.
So you recently released your new album, The Loudest Wars. Congratulations!
Jake Cassman: Thank you!
And then also for those who have yet to discover its awesomeness, would you like to share a little bit about how the songs came to be and some of the instrumentation tactics that you decided to use?
Jake: Yeah! So The Loudest Wars is a concept record with two main characters who switch off singing the songs. They have very different perspectives, they’re from different generations, different parts of the country, different political perspectives, different parts of their lives, and when they switch off on the record they’re kind of comparing and contrasting their reactions to the way the world is changing or particular political moments. There’s a lot of confrontation and contradiction on the album, which is a huge difference for me. I’ve always liked writing about zeitgeist-y kind of stuff and I react very strongly to the news and what I see happening to the world around me. I don’t want to just write about personal experience, or write about somebody who I don’t understand without trying to create some kind of empathy or some way into understanding that person. I finished probably ten out of the twelve songs that we wrote in a span of three weeks in the summer of 2016. It was the fastest I had ever written probably, but it was because I was really kind of disturbed by what was happening to the country at the time during that presidential election. I was writing all of it with the assumption that Hillary [Clinton] was going to win, and I thought that nobody would want to listen to a record about this stuff or that nobody would really care after the elections were over. But we did find one song in that batch called “What A Beautiful Morning,” and we ended up releasing that song along with a music video as part of the Anti-Trump Compilation right before the election. I’m very proud of that song and very proud of that video, but when the election went the other way, our video quickly became a hot topic on Facebook. The Alt-Right found us and started commenting and meme-ing us to death and all of that. *laughs* On the one hand, I was very much shocked and dismayed by what had happened in the country, but then I kind of realized, ‘Oh, well now I have to talk about this kind of stuff. Now I have to continue pulling at this thread because people are having some strong reactions to it.’ And so, I had the album written, eleven of the songs made it on the record, but we also recorded twelve songs over the course of the next calendar year after the election.
And what made you decide to kind of do that back and forth, two characters kind of thing?
Jake: You know, I think I just kind of realized that eventually I ended up with several songs from this other person’s perspective that was not mine. The character who was younger and more liberal is definitely, in a lot of ways, based on me and is very much largely written from my vantage point. But I had five, six, seven songs that I had written that were definitely not from that same perspective. I guess I was always kind of was fascinated by this idea of living in a past America, or having nostalgia for this 1950s era of America as being perfect and idyllic when it clearly was not as perfect or idyllic as anybody wants to make it out to be. I wanted to explore that, and the only way I really knew how to do that respectfully was to write songs and to try to create a character that I identified with on some level that shared that perspective. So when songs grew out of that and once I realized that I had the equal number of songs, having them alternate just became the coolest way to organize the tracks on the record.
It sounds like it came really naturally.
Jake: I was surprised at how quickly it came together. The record that really got me thinking about doing music professionally was Green Day‘s American Idiot. I was in high school when that came out. I’m from the Bay Area, they’re from the Bay Area. My first show ever was seeing them performing to 47,000 people outdoor on that tour. There was just something about that record that really resonated with me. Obviously there’s a lot of political themes discussed on that record, but there’s also a lot of very personal, universal experiences and thoughts happening on that album too. I think in a lot of ways, I always knew that I wanted to write some sort of record along those lines like American Idiot, and when it finally popped in my head I just knew that I had to chase it.
And you did! I mean, there’s a reason why American Idiot is still a beloved, well-known album. It keeps coming back in certain situations because it hits on, like you said, so many different universal topics while having an overall main politically based theme.
Jake: Yeah. And the other thing that I think was really cool about that record was that Green Day was famous for writing three-minute, three-chord punk rock songs for a decade and a half up until then. That album was such a huge musical step forward for them because they took a lot of big risks and delved into other genres and styles that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from them. Although, I’m not sure that all of the political stuff they’re saying truly holds up now. I think it ends up being kind of vague and a little bit wishy washy as much as I love that album. What’s powerful about it though is these nine-minute suites that they were writing and all of the experimentation that they were incorporating. I think that a big part of The Loudest Wars is that there’s a lot of really unexpected genre-matching and jumping from theme to theme and style to style that I really enjoy.
You’ve gotta take those risks. If you don’t take risks then where are you doing with your life?
Jake: Absolutely! And when things seem this desperate in particular, I feel like you’ve got to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
Totally! So how was this recording process similar or different than that of your previous work?
Jake: Completely different, which was really cool. For the previous two albums, we had pretty much a set lineup of five people in the studio. We chose three or four days to track as much as we possibly could, and then we left. That was basically all we did, so it was a very short, high pressure environment because of how little time we had. While we had a nice, close-knit group of musicians playing on the record, it also meant that it was just the same five people for every song. I mean, it was definitely great for creating a voice and a tone for that kind of album because everybody was there for the whole time, but I was looking for more with this new record. In the year before we started recording this album, the live lineup that had been the rock of this band kind of started to dissolve a little bit because people had other interests and things that they were doing. However, I’m proud to say that pretty much everybody who’s ever played on a Drunken Logic record played on this new album. We had a total of twenty different people play on it over the course of eleven songs, and we took a total of nine months to record it as opposed to trying to track everything in two, which is what we did previously. So this time was much more relaxed, much more experimental, and it gave me the opportunity to mix and match the musical elements of people that I really respect with each other. I also got the chance to put in a horn section and a pedal steel player on this record, which I’d never gotten to do before either. So definitely some new sonic textures and all sorts of cool stuff came from this album.
Sounds like you got the chance to really take advantage of having more time. Like you said, you incorporated a few things that you hadn’t been able to yet.
Jake: I think it just kind of appeared in the writing process. I went to Bonnaroo in 2011, and saw My Morning Jacket live. They had guys from the preservation hall jazz bands in New Orleans come on stage with them, and there’s just nothing quite like the energy of a rock n roll band with a horn section on stage. Man, it’s just intoxicating! So I wanted to write something that incorporated that because the pedal steel, at least to me, is the sound of yearning. There’s a really powerful longing sound to that instrument that you just can’t get anywhere else. When I was at music school, I really gained an appreciation for country songwriting, and the emotion and storytelling involved with that. I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by that sound too and wanted to experiment with both, and I finally got the chance to.
And it turned out awesome! Which song would song would you say was your favorite to write and record?
Jake: “What A Beautiful Morning” stands out because I basically wrote the song and the music video at the same time, which has never happened before, or since for that matter. *laughs* I was writing this song specifically for that sense of nostalgia for the 1950s and what bullshit it is, but while I writing it, I had one of those nights where I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and then suddenly as clear as day, I got this vision of a music video. I wanted to use some of that old, cheesy, footage you see in newsreels and PSA videos that they’d show back in the day about what being a ‘good American’ is. But almost all of those videos ignored the fact that segregation was an American institution and that the role of women at that time was very structurally and culturally constrained. But anyways, I got this idea that I’m going to use existing footage in a music video to disprove the entire concept of ‘Making America Great Again,’ which was kind of the idea for that song as well. I wanted to write with the idea of a false narrator, or an unreliable narrator, where he’s clearly explaining his point of view and why he thinks that he’s ‘right,’ but then the music starts to contradict him over time and it becomes clear that things are not nearly as stable as he thinks they are. I spent that night not sleeping a wink because I was so charged by the idea, so I started combing through all of the public domain video libraries to find material. I think it took me another month or so to do the research and put that all together, but that was the most inspired to write that I had felt in a long time.
The most fun song to record though is a song called “White Noise,” which is about seven or eight minutes long on the album. Again, it’s from the perspective of the conservative older guy. Our characters names are The Cuck and The Hick, and they both appear in the music video for “Alone In America.” It’s a song about this person’s point of view that I don’t agree with, but trying to find a way into understanding him while also trying to make music that showed just how anxious he feels in this day and age because of these things going on. The day before we recorded it, I had a band set to go and the drummer who was supposed to come in got hospitalized because of the flu, so I had to call somebody last minute. I brought in Gustavo, who just played in a musical I’d written that summer, at the last minute to come in and record, and it was just absolute magic in the studio because we had recorded it in three different sections and pieced it together. I had four of the best musicians in all of Boston in the room with me, and we were experimenting and soloing together for a couple hours for the night and it was blast. And then after that I got to add a horn section to it, which took the song to an entirely different, theatrical, operatic, level. It was just really cool to put that song together.
So you kind of already starting going into this, but you just released a music video for “Alone In America,” in which your two characters that are incorporated in the album are featured. How did you decide on the visual concept and story line for that music video?
Jake: Actually, I originally had a very different concept for the video. *laughs* The song “Alone in America” is another favorite of mine from the record because I wanted it to very much be an acknowledgement that America is a dream. While it may not be the ideal that any of us want it to be, that doesn’t mean that you can’t wake up and try to work towards that dream every day. You should feel inspired despite the failures along the way and despite the mistakes you make, all while trying to make this country a better place. It’s actually a really inspirational song, and when I started thinking about a music video idea, I was trying to take that concept of having a constant struggle much more literally. But then when we were putting the album artwork together, we came up specially with the idea for The Cuck and The Hick, who are depicted as action figures of the political ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ in the United States. They’re on the album artwork and in the album teaser video, and even though I found those characters to be so funny, they were not immediately what I had in mind when I was writing the album. But playing with those stereotypes and the uncomfortable laughter I got from satirizing those ideas really resonated with me, and I now work in comedy here at Second City! I worked at an improv theatre back in Boston too and got to experiment with satire a little bit because I was really intrigued by it. So when I started shopping around for an idea for a music video, people seemed to be latching onto a video with them included. I think as somebody who is constantly consuming news media, I kind of started to realize how much these companies, and all these news outlets that I haven’t even heard of two years ago, are really profiting off of this moment of division and polarization, and in a lot of ways, poking at it. They might not be doing it consciously, although in some cases they’re definitely conscious about what they’re doing. They realize that the way that they keep their audience returning is to use a profit model that says that everybody else is ‘wrong,’ and that they are the only people who are ‘right,’ even if they are making corporate deals with the same devils they’re demonizing on air behind closed doors. The idea to create a music video about a cable news network that was doing just that pretty explicitly with these characters quickly became an idea that I really liked, and from there, Jacob [Emery] and I began developing it. Honestly, without Jacob it would not have been the video that I had a concept for, but I also had no idea how to pull off something like that. He was just an absolute visionary and what he’s done with it is just truly amazing!
It was definitely a fun video to watch, and it was very clear what you were trying to do. And these characters are so recognizable where you’re like, ‘Oh yeah I know that person!’ *laughs*
Jake: Or you have argued with probably each of these characters on Facebook at some point. *laughs* However, I don’t think anywhere near the majority of Americans fit into either of those specific boxes. We might identify with one character more than another, but the idea that you are all exactly like this cardboard cutout of this punching bag that Fox News or MSNBC wants to be depict as the people that are against you is what I wanted to make clear was bullshit as much as I could. But yes, I think there are really a lot of strong reactions to this video which I think is cool. A lot of people like it, a lot people are very uncomfortable with it, which I’m ok with because I think people retreat to escapism a little too often these days.
I definitely believe that.
Jake: There have been some music blogs who had been too afraid to touch that video because it’s a little too controversial. We shot the video within that video on October 16th, I think that was the day, and within a week and a half within that shoot there had been pipe bombs sent to CNN and two racially motivated mass shootings, so there was very much an element of, ‘Wow, we’ve really hit the nail on the head with this.’ We have to be sensitive to people who have been placed in danger as a result of this stuff, so we were trying to balance this concept of making fun of something as sensitive and dangerous as political violence in this country as well as the violent rhetoric that leads to it. But at the same time, if you wait three weeks after a mass shooting to be sensitive then you’d be waiting for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, that’s just how our world is right now. Once you kind of get into a little bit of balance some other shit happens.
Jake: And if this video makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably because it probably hits a too close to home.
Or they just don’t want to admit that this is what’s going on. They don’t want to open their eyes.
Jake: Exactly. And I’ve had people from both the left and the right tell me that this makes them feel uncomfortable. And that’s good because this particular video was trying to make a non-partisan statement. I’ve made plenty of other partisan statements, but this was not one of them.
It’s better to have some kind of reaction than nothing, right?
Jake: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the previous two videos that we’ve put out won awards at film festivals and stuff, but I think that everyone who has watched this video has told me that they have had to re-watch this video multiple times. There’s lots of Easter eggs in it, there’s a lot of metaphors and allegories used that you don’t immediately get the first time you watch it. And certain things we had happened to find out were the missing piece that we were looking for, like that Newton’s cradle. That actually just happened to be on the table of the room location that we rented, and Jacob got the idea of using it to represent the metaphor of bouncing back and forth between left and right.
It was a sign!
Jake: Exactly! It was one of those happy accidents that you crave when you’re making art! *laughs*
And you’re pretty open with your stances on what’s going on in the world and how it flows into your social media and releases and stuff like that. How important do you think it is to strive to be able to showcase your perspectives and opinions on these types of topics instead of, like you said, retreating because it makes you feel uncomfortable?
Jake: It is absolutely exhausting to put your words out in this day and age just because everybody else is doing the same thing. There are always going to be people that pick apart what you say and disagree with it, or they’ll just try and troll you to try to get a reaction out of you. I think, I hope, that there is a way for people who are actually trying to say something of substance in their music, whether it’s about politics, or personal experiences, or even just a really well written love song, I don’t care, I just want to hear more people speaking honestly and genuinely. And while it’s easier than ever to get your music out there and to make your opinions known on social media, I think the number of times of people speaking out honestly has probably decreased over time. It’s exhausting, but I try my best to make a point to do be open in my music.
I definitely agree, it’s almost like you’re afraid to say what you’re actually on your mind because you’re afraid that you’re going to piss someone off.
Jake: I probably should be more afraid of that than I have historically been in the past. *both laugh* I come from a family of lawyers and public speakers, so we were always expected to come to the dinner table with some sort of political opinion. For example, my parents are attorneys who are probably more well-versed in the Robert Mueller investigation than I am, but they call me up and expect me to have an opinion and to take some insight into this crazy world of news that’s happening every week. When they call me up, they want to hear what I have to say, and I sort of always grew up with that expectation. I often have ideas that I want to express, and sometimes they can only be expressed musically, sometimes I can just write a paragraph, or three on an Instagram post, but I’m never short on things I want to say.
Yeah! Opinions are healthy, and that’s good that your parents were wanting to instill that in you in a young age.
Jake: I was very fortunate in that. Very, very fortunate.
I feel like sometimes kids nowadays are kind of screwed up in that aspect, which is sad.
Jake: It’s interesting, because they can be screwed up one way or another, right? You can be screwed into thinking that your opinions are always important, which they’re not. Or you can be screwed into thinking that your opinion is totally unimportant, and so you never express them. I think you react to the sheer volume to communication happening these days either way. And both are not illogical reactions, it’s just trying to find a healthy medium.
Definitely need the balance in life, which we don’t have.
Jake: No. And certainly not for creatives in L.A. *both laugh*
Definitely not. Do you think that social media puts on pressures on artists to constantly to have something to say in order to retain the audience’s attention?
Jake: I think it puts pressure on artists to have something to release, but I think it actually lessens the pressure on artists to have something to say in regards to that release, if that makes sense. I think the expectation that we’re supposed to be constantly producing content makes for an environment where it’s just impossible to take your time in-between works and actually have something new and fresh to say. For artists like, I don’t know, The Chainsmokers, that works out fine I guess because they can put out a new single every six months or so and it’ll be a club hit. Even though most of their songs are about really wanting to really hook up with that girl at the club, you know? And that’s fine, they’re very good at that.
One of the rare talents. *laughs*
Jake: Hey, if you can write that type of song forever and ever, then by all means go for it! *laughs* I’ve got no issues with people who want to do that. I have a good time listening to that when I’m out at the club, or when I’m doing a dueling piano show, or a wedding, or something like that because it’s great music for those opportunities. It’s not the kind of music that I want to hear when I’m going home, or doing work, or driving in my car because there’s nothing in that, that makes me want to do some deep thinking or concentration.
It just makes you think about sex. *laughs*
Jake: Sure! But I’m thinking about that all the time anyways! *laughs*
Going back to that honesty!
Jake: Oh yes! *laughs* Although, maybe I should be a little more honest with that in my music. I mean, I write my fair share of love songs, but I always feel like they have been done so many times, and many of them have been done extremely well, that I don’t want to release a love song until I know for damn sure that it’s good. I want it to have an original take on the idea somehow, but then that means that I have to wait until I have that ‘right’ idea, and in this day and age there’s a hundred other artists out there working just as hard as you. So yeah, there’s a lot of pressure to be constantly putting something out and I think that endangers the overall quality of the music being released. It’s the neverending quality vs. quantity dilemma.
Do you feel like there’s an unspoken competition between the independent artists releasing music? Or even just in the live performance sense?
Jake: I think that there is way too much music out there right now to actually feel competitive towards anybody. There’s multiple festivals in pretty much every major market in the United States, there’s radio stations, there’s Spotify and other streaming services, just more ways to get your music out there. There are more TV shows, web series, and podcasts than ever for your music to get placed in. Oh, and more wonderful blogs like yours to be featured in. I don’t feel competitive towards people. I’m not like, ‘Oh, so and so just got booked for Coachella, that could have been me. That was a missed opportunity.’ There’s always a hundred opportunities out there! But I do find it overwhelming sometimes though. There’s just so many artists out there! I keep a running list of stuff I’m supposed to listen to and it’s almost a month long at this point.
I’m still trying to catch up to last year. *both laugh*
Jake: Yeah man! Gosh, it took my like three or four months, but I finally went through the entire discography of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and Phil Collins, because the two of them were in Genesis, and that band’s first album came out in 1969.
Better late than never! Phil Collins is amazing!
Jake: Oh my god, yes! I’m craving the next time I get to sing karaoke, so I get the chance to sing “Against All Odds.” *laughs* I totally rediscovered how brilliant that song is. I mean, that was music I’ve been listening to since I was a kid, but I only just got through thirty years of that music in the last couple months.
It’s still impressive. *laughs*
Jake: Thanks! But I still have this whole list of artists going back to the sixties, seventies, even the fifties that I haven’t had the chance to listen to. I really want to, but I can’t because there’s so much else to listen to now! TV is getting the same way too!
Oh, I know right!?
Jake: I’ve got such a long list of stuff to watch! I just watched Little Drummer Girl, which is the new John le Carré spy novel mini-series that just came out. It’s wonderful! Really, really good. But then because I was focused on that show it means that I’m behind on The Good Place now! So what am I gonna do? *laughs*
The Good Place is easy to catch up on though.
Jake: That’s true. *laughs* But then I have Homecoming I have to watch, and also The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Just all of the Amazon shows and I don’t even have Amazon. *both laugh*
There’s so much stuff to get into! I’m at the point where I’m like, ‘Ok, I’m gonna wait until it’s done and over with.’ Like Game of Thrones. I just don’t have an hour and half to dedicate to watching an episode right now with all the other shows I’m watching. *laughs*
Jake: Well you’ve got until April to catch up on Game of Thrones! You could totally pull that off! It’s the final season so you could watch the previous seasons and get there to experience it with everybody else. *laughs* What’s cool about Thrones though is that it’s one of those shows where you feel like you’re watching a sports season with other people.
I’ve heard that analogy a few times. *laughs*
Jake: Yeah! It’s just this old thing of anticipating the next episode, seeing how your friends are gonna react to it, and then being able to talk about it with somebody. I think the last time I really experienced that was with the finale of The Jinx, which completely blew my mind and I had to find somebody to talk to about it afterwards.
To the internet!
Jake: Yes! Exactly!
There’s at least one person out there that likes the same thing you do! *both laugh*
Jake: Oh definitely. But yeah, so as far as competitiveness goes, I’m a naturally competitive person, so if somebody else has something else that I don’t have I typically want it. And I don’t think that’s at the expense of the other person, it’s more of like, ‘Damn, how hard do I have to work to get that next step?’ I’m always constantly wondering what the ‘next thing’ is, but I don’t think that there’s competitiveness from the standpoint of there being a limited number of spots for something. I think there’s room out there for everybody, and I certainly don’t think that there’s only a certain number of bands that can be popular at any one time anymore.
So going along the lines of what we’re talking about attention span and how we just don’t have it, *both laugh* the modern music industry seems to be very focused on singles’ based releases, maybe even with EPs as opposed to full length albums. Do you feel that the music industry is eventually going to be only singles and EPs, or do you think that there’s always going to be that market for people that do want to a full album to digest?
Jake: I think you’re going to see EPs and singles become just as common as the LP in all likelihood. I don’t think that’s a bad thing depending on the genre. Like I think The Chainsmokers just put out singles as opposed to albums because who honestly wants to listen to a full Chainsmoker album? *laughs*
I don’t. *laughs*
Jake: I don’t either! And you can say that for just about any major pop artist out there today. I hear 1989 by Taylor Swift was a wonderful album, but I don’t want to hear a full album of Taylor Swift. I want to hear the bangers in the club and that’s about it. *laughs*
And those always tend to be the worst songs in the album in my opinion.
Jake: It often can be, but I feel like a lot of times the album is literally just window dressing for the three singles that the artist is trying to put out. That’s definitely how Backstreet Boys or *Nsync albums felt to me back in the 90s. There were a lot of really crappy songs on there, but then there was also “I Want It That Way.”
Jake: *laughs* Sorry. Don’t get me wrong those songs have staying power, but I don’t think anyone actually wants to sit down and listen to 45 minutes of Backstreet Boys.
I may know someone who’s still a hardcore BSB fan that’s not me. *laughs*
Jake: Oh really? *laughs* But yeah, for a lot of pop artists I think that releasing their work in smaller doses is a great thing! But I think for people who want to tell a story, they might want to lean more towards larger pieces of work. There’s plenty of hip-hop artists that want to do just that. Kendrick Lamar wants to do that. Kanye West, for better or worse, seems to want to do that. I still think that you can put out the LP, but my hope is that there’s not any pressure to do one thing or the other. I mean, if you’ve got four songs that really speak to each other and that’s the complete thought, then put out those four songs.
A thought, is a thought, is a thought…
Jake: Exactly! It doesn’t matter to me how long the thought is so long as it’s a quality thought.
And cohesive too, instead of just a mishmash of everything you’re thinking about within that moment in time.
Jake: Exactly. A lot of pop artists nowadays seem to record eleven songs they think could be singles, and then they put those songs on a record together and release the three the deem ‘the best.’ There’s no real cohesiveness to the thought process there, and I hope that that type of album mindset dies. Sure, it may mean that you’re gonna get fewer albums, but I’m ok with that because it can force you into a more creative space.
Why do you think that there’s such a small attention span for modern music listeners?
Jake: Because there’s just so much music out there that there ends up being more music you could be listening to. We live in such a multi-task oriented society, which I almost feel like attention deficit disorder is really more of a survival skill than it is a disorder. To a certain extent, you need to be able to multitask and have multiple things going on. Even when I’m watching some of the best TV or movies out there, I might be writing an email while I’m doing it, or swiping on Bumble, or something like that. And with music, there’s a lot of other things that you can do while you’re listening to music, it’s not a bad thing. I’ve got a playlist for when I go running. I have music on when I’m driving or when I’m getting work done. And sometimes music is at its most powerful when it’s placed just right in an episode of a TV episode or a movie.
Jake: Right! Even that is multitasking in its own way, right? You’re not just listening to music, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this song speaks to me because of the themes that interplay with what’s happening right now on screen!’ *both laugh* But I am still very much a guy who loves, when I have time, to just lay back on my bed, put on a big pair of headphones, close my eyes, and just listen to an album. I will always be that guy. And there’s certain albums that I’ll return to, there’s certain new albums that I feel are the time and give little attention to. But again, I don’t think artists like Bruno Mars are asking that of you. No, he wants you to be dancing and flirting with the girls around you,when you’re listening to “24K Magic.” And that’s ok! Some music is just meant for an ADD era. While I think it can be tough to cut through the noise, I don’t think that that’s the worst thing in the world because it’s a natural progression for what’s going on in music and in the world you live in.
And then you have those days of, ‘I don’t know what I want to listen to. I’m just gonna play this, this, this, and this!’ *laughs*
Jake: Right! Just jump all over the place! Why not? *laughs* Remember those old ‘On The Go’ playlists you used to put on your iPod?
Jake: So I still make those every couple of months, with stuff that’s been stuck in my head. It’s my equivalent of making the old mixtape that you give to the girl you thought was cute in homeroom. *laughs*
Or if your me, something to sit in your car and cry to. *laughs*
Jake: Yes! That’s true too! I have a separate playlist for that. *laughs*
I think everybody does.
Jake: That’s where “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins goes.
Of course! I feel like everybody has ‘I feel very happy’ songs. Or even rainy day songs. Or even just music to rage to and like *scream*
Jake: Oh yeah! Rage Against the Machine for when I go to the gym! It’s perfect.
There’s this really good pop-punk workout playlist on Spotify that’s my favorite!
Jake: That’s awesome! There was a time at my old YMCA in Boston, like, I went in for a workout in the morning and they played “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars! That is literally the worst possible song to play at a gym! It’s like, all I wanna do is go back and lay in my bed and now you’re tempting me!
It’s un-motivational! *both laugh* I don’t that I’ve ever heard that song at my gym, but then again I have my out workout mixes that I put on instead.
Jake: Hopefully your gym knows better.
Eh, they play a lot of crappy pop songs that they think are going to motivate me. Like, Taylor Swift doesn’t motivate me to get my butt kicked during boot camp.
Jake: But it’s also the lowest common denominator thing, they’re trying to appeal to the greatest number of people.
Yeah, I am kind of an oddball so obviously they’re not going to appeal for me. *laughs*
Jake: That’s what headphones are for!
Exactly! So how do you balance your professional life and your personal life?
Jake: Not very well. *laughs*
Going back to multi-tasking!
Jake: Definitely. So I’ve been gigging for a living since I left school, which I’m really thankful for because it helped kill any stage fright that I had. I’ve gotten to meet some really great people and do some really cool things, but it also means that you’re working on the nights that everybody else is playing, which is tough from a social standpoint. That’s one of the reasons why I moved to L.A., apart from having a lot of family here, because a large portion of this city is on that same kind of creative schedule. Pretty much every night in L.A. is like a Thursday night in any other major city, where it’s kind of half-full at the bars so you can still go out and have a good time, but you don’t have to go all nuts. I’m still very much working on balancing my home and professional life. I was staying with family over by LAX for the first eight months I lived here in L.A., and that meant that I was driving 200 miles a week on average. I had no time for personal life stuff. All of the gigs and all of my friends lived across town, so by the time I got home I was just so exhausted and I had to recover. But I wouldn’t call that personal time, it’s more just necessary R and R.
We all need that sometimes, but easier said than done. *laughs*
Jake: I know right? *laughs* Well now I’ve moved to East Hollywood so I think I can finally start working on balancing that a bit more. But one thing I always have to do is exercise, because I find that in terms of both professional and personal life that the way I often get out of whack is when my mind is exhausted and my body is not. I actually used to do a summer program where I’d teach and supervise high school kids for eleven hours a day.
You poor guy!
Jake: It was a lot, but it was a lot of fun. It required you to be upbeat and on top of your game the whole time mentally. However, at the same time you may not get actual exercise while you’re doing it because you’re busy teaching. I realized that pretty quickly there because I would get kind of cranky and out of sorts. *laughs* I have to make sure that I go to the gym or go for a run or even go play frisbee in the park just to go break a sweat at some point so that my body feels tired enough to go to sleep at the end of the day. So yeah, trying to get mind and body balanced is where I try and focus on because it’s so important. Hopefully the personal life stuff will come too. *laughs* But luckily, because I’m working in music I am fortunate enough to get to work with friends, so a lot of your down time hanging with friends is really just playing and vice-versa.
So if you could give your younger self some advice in terms of life, where you are in your music career, and other things, what advice would you give him?
Jake: Finding a balance towards the personal life more is probably the biggest thing. In Boston it was very tough for me to maintain that, but I should have made that more of a priority. I’m definitely trying to make that more of a priority here. I also think I would tell myself to be a little bit more open to suggestions from other people, and from the world and just life in general, and what I should be doing. I went to Berkeley College of Music with a very strict mindset of what I thought was ‘good music’ and what wasn’t, what I thought could ‘help’ me and what couldn’t. If you had told me that by the end of school that I would have changed my major to take more business classes and that I would be happily co-writing country songs with people, I would have laughed you out of the room, but within three years I was doing both of those things. *laughs* I think country music is great at telling a story over a course of a song and the stuff they teach you in music business are things that you have to know in order to be a self-managed artist. You have to know how to file your taxes in that way. You have to know how to book your own tours. You have to know what venues are looking for when you’re trying to book those tours. And also try to be a little more open to the opportunities that come across your desk, even if they don’t seem like they’re the ones that will push you forward because in some ways, they are a step forward.
Yeah, and it’s interesting that you bring up music education, because unfortunately those kinds of programs are very much lacking in the public aspect. Sure, people still view music schools as the place to go if you want to make a serious career in music, but sometimes you forget the importance that you do need to know at least some stuff about the industry before you try to get into it.
Jake: Oh definitely. And there’s actually very few schools that offer classes that focus on preparing you on being a professional in the music industry. I think Berkeley does a good job and I hear that Musician’s Institute does a good job too, there’s also a school in Nashville with a great song-writing program, and then both UCLA and USC seem to be beefing up their Contemporary Music Departments. I think that there’s a school or two in New York as well that have good music related classes, but I would say that’s about it. I tried doing the Liberal Arts thing for a while,as a music and political science student, and quickly realized that I have all of these musical ideas and no way to put them out or organize them correctly let alone pursue a career doing it. That’s why I transferred to Berkeley, and I was fortunate to learn a lot of things from them.
Well it looks like it worked out for you! So a fun little question for you, if you could go on a world tour with three artists, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Jake: Oh man, there were so many options! I immediately think of The Who, because they were the band that kind of formed my expectations of what rock n roll music is supposed to be and they were on the radio a lot when I was a kid. There’s just a certain beauty and depth to their music that I absolutely love. I mentioned My Morning jacket earlier, so they would probably be on that list because they share a lot of common DNA with what I’m trying to do. They have some amazing songs and they are seriously one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen in my life. And I guess Green Day’s gotta be on there too because they taught me how to write ‘pop’ songs. Billie Joe Armstrong is just a masterful pop writer. He had a huge impact on me and made me want to go into music. I think that would be a hell of a tour! I think all of these bands, including mine, have played with the idea of commercialism and selling out in some major ways, so maybe we can do one big sell out tour! *laughs*
The ‘Everybody Sells Out’ Tour! *laughs* And what one word would you say defines you as an artist?
Jake: Hopefully ‘empathy,’ because even though I make fun of a lot of people and sometimes I have bad things to say about exes, like most songwriters, I do try my best to not to turn people into caricatures in my music. That’s actually the theme that I’m largely satirizing in this album and in the music video for “Alone In America,” this idea of how we often turn other people into straw men versions of themselves so it’s easier for us to dismiss them. The last thing I want to do in my art is dismiss people. I want to make it clear that, you know, “I think I heard you, but this is why I disagree.” I hope that every single song that I’ve written comes from a place of empathy and makes a little bit of an attempt to put yourself into every character’s shoes.
And lastly, apart from riding the excitement for the recent release for your album as well as the music video for “Alone In America,” what other big things should we be looking forward from you?
Jake: We are still in the very early planning stages, but at some point you should expect a live studio session on video. We’re probably gonna do, hopefully, a combined concert studio session somewhere here in L.A., and then we’ll put that up video for people to see. There will be a lot more touring for sure, I’m trying to go on tour every six weeks or so whether it’s just me or with the band. And then we’re talking about putting out another EP too because I’ve got a lot of other songs that remain un-recorded so far. I recorded The Loudest Wars in Boston with a bunch of people and I just loved that model of, ‘Hey, let’s bring in this guy, and let’s see what happens on this track!’ So I’m trying to continue that with a new group of people here in L.A. and I think it’ll be a lot of fun! I have no specific dates for any of those at the moment, but those are all in the works so keep your ear to the ground!
About Rise N Grind:
Located on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox Avenue, Rise N Grind found a perfect home that allows them to serve every tourist, local, musician, filmmaker or comedian that walks into their spacious, naturally lit shop. An exterior color palette of black accents amongst white bricks is replicated in its interior with the use of warm brown wooden tables giving a tasteful pop of color to what could’ve been another modern-styled coffeeshop. What really catches the eye though is their choice of decoration. Large chalkboard style artwork with quirky coffee sayings line the highest points of the walls while coffee sacks are used as accent wall artwork at the back of the shop. However, the incorporation of skateboard decks to showcase their shop offerings and logo mural really steals the show as it adds a fun playfulness to the overall vibe of the shop. No matter what the reason for your visit is, you absolutely will not be disappointed with spending your valuable time here.
Now, since you’re admiring their skateboard deck menu you might as well order something right? If you’re ready to spend a fair amount of time there working (yay for outlets!), there is plenty of food options for you to choose from. Breakfast is served all day, so all your favorite baked goods (including the unofficial favorite food of Angelinos – avocado toast) as well as egg sandwiches and fruit dishes are readily available to you at any point of your stay. Looking for more of a lunch-type meal? An array of delectable sandwiches and salads make it hard to choose between carbs or a healthier option. Once you’ve chosen something to munch on, it’s now time to turn your attention to the drink menu to pick between an invigorating caffeinated beverage or a fruit-infused smoothie. They’ve got your go-to coffees and classic teas, but you can’t help but be intrigued with the lattes on their specialty menu, which includes flavors such as horchata, charcoal, turmeric and beet. I went for a Hair Bender Drip Coffee paired with a cream cheese danish for a perfect amount of zing for an early afternoon visit, but I will definitely be making another visit when I’m back tromping through the Hollywood area again.