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  • Interview: Jason Reeves

    Wed, 13 Aug 2008 11:33:55

    Interview: Jason Reeves - A new kind of fiction

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    Singer-songwriter Jason Reeves didn't set out to simply "write a record" with his Warner debut, The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache (And Other Frightening Tales) [Due out August 12 digitally]. He wanted to create something more akin to his favorite novels and short stories. What results is a poignant collection of catchy, acoustic ruminations on love and life. He channels John Mayer's pop sensibility, while maintaining a folk integrity a la Bob Dylan. There's a certain intrigue inherent in Jason's style. Like his favorite authors, he explores heartache intimately and eloquently. Sitting on a plush couch and clad in a faded AC/DC cap and button-up shirt, Jason exudes a friendly and welcoming vibe. His warmth is characteristic of his small town upbringing in Iowa. Staring out a large window towards a lush garden in Burbank, CA, he smiles, "This isn't a record to me. It's more of a fairy tale. That's why I gave it the title it has."

    The title definitely speaks volumes about Jason's character. He wants to give the audience more than just the norm, and he definitely does on tape and on stage. He sat down with ARTISTdirect and discussed his debut, Jack Kerouac and much more.

    Where do the songs usually start for you?

    Usually songs start with a few guitar chords. I'll sit down and start playing. A lot of the time, the songs come out from somewhere beyond me. I don't know how to explain it. I'll just start singing something, and, at that point, I have to remember what I did, record it or write it down. A lot of it is opening myself up to the song and letting out whatever needs to come out at the time. When I sit down to really write a song, it's usually because I have to. It's because I feel like I have to get something out or something's messing with me. In that way, there's not a lot of planning. There's not even a stage where I sit and think about what I want to write about. It's not, "Do I want to write a love song?" or "Do I want to write a mad song?" I just know exactly what I have to write at that moment. For me, writing is a pretty random game to play. I don't think there are any rules, and that's my favorite part about it. There's no set way for how it goes.

    You let your emotions speak to you and then you try to channel them.

    That's what I try to do. I don't try to mask it or build it up to be anything that it's not really. That's my goal. Everything's so powerful and beautiful on its own. You don't have to put makeup on it. You don't have to fix up reality and make it into some unreal dream. A lot of songs seem like they have glitter spread all over them, or they have neon lights behind them. The point becomes more about the distractions, overlooking what the song is really about.

    Oftentimes, music gets a gloss over it to make it more appealing to audiences and sell it. Great music can stand on its own though. Led Zeppelin kept the mistakes on their records because those idiosyncrasies gave the songs character.

    For sure. Speaking of Zeppelin, I was pretty much obsessed with them over the course of learning how to play guitar. Jimmy Page was amazing. There are so many raw, imperfect moments on their records, and you can tell Jimmy Page was super crazy about getting it all right. He worked really hard on getting all of the layers right, but there's a point at which you have to leave them. I think they did a good job of that. The music feels real. It feels like rock music.

    On your album, it seems like you're cataloging a lot of different moments.

    I'm trying. I think it's an accurate portrayal of what was going on with me when I was writing it. That seemed to lend to all the stages being covered because I guess I wrote it throughout all of that. It was something.

    The title sounds like it could be a short story anthology. It doesn't sound like a record title, but it works because each song is like its own story.

    That's the point of choosing that title. This is more of a fairy tale for me, so I had to give it a fairy tale title. I wanted to give it a title that would at least hint at that. I wanted people to have the idea that this wasn't just a bunch of songs put next to each other. There's a purpose for them.

    Was there a certain experience in the state that inspired "New Hampshire?"

    The funny thing about that song is I've never been to New Hampshire [Laughs]. I've been to Vermont, and I've been very close to the New Hampshire border. I get the sense that it's obviously super gorgeous up there. On the map, it looks like Vermont and New Hampshire are one state cut in half. In a way, I've kind of been there, but I haven't. There's a weird story behind the song. I met these twin girls from New Hampshire that lived in L.A. I was living there too. We were hanging out and playing guitar. They had this idea that I should write a song about New Hampshire. When people find out you're a songwriter, they'll come up to you with ideas for songs about them or where they're from. Very rarely do you say, "Ok, cool" and write it. I sat down right there and started that song though. I was just using New Hampshire as a metaphor for wherever you needed it to be—a place away from the big city madness. For me, it was probably Iowa or somewhere in Pennsylvania. It's really those girls saying, "Hey, write us a song about New Hampshire" and then me using New Hampshire as an anywhere land. I think there's something really strange about that song. I need to go find that street that I'm writing about literally before I can understand it. There's got to be some place that I'll go to in New Hampshire and say, "This is what that song's about."

    New Hampshire is an escape for a lot of people in the Northeast. It's beautiful, but it's not that far away.

    The coolest part about the East Coast is how condensed it is. You can be in a completely different state in not much time. Here, you can drive for hours, and you're still in California. That's not bad though because California's gorgeous.

    Life is simpler in places like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. A lot of people stay there forever and just do their thing.

    The main character in that song is one of those types of people. His girl is leaving the state, and he's staying. There's that balance between the people that want to stay somewhere calm and the people that have to go on some wild adventure. Sometimes that hurts when you love one of the people that's on the wild adventure. I think, unfortunately, I'm that type of person. The song is probably more about me. In the song, I'm the one that's leaving to pursue the dream. It's sad in some ways.

    Well as an artist, you have a responsibility to yourself to pursue your dream and utilize your talents.

    Yeah, you have to go for it, definitely. You have that responsibility to yourself and to your parents, in a way, if they've been behind you. You can be like, "Here, look I'm not a giant waste of your time" [Laughs]. My parents were incredibly supportive. Everything they've done for me has meant something. The most important responsibility is to yourself, and then everyone that's helped you is right behind.

    Where did your live intro come from?

    There's a really cool story behind that. My drummer, Billy, made a record of just percussion, and that intro is one of his songs. On the record, he has a complete array of different moods and tones. There's something super mysterious about that song in particular. There's a mystique to it, when you hear it and the lights go off before we play. My favorite part is just killing the lights and letting that play. You can have some hyped up rock anthem going right before you play and you can run on stage and hop around, but I think there's something really cool that might set people off guard about our intro. It gets me in a strange mood just hearing it. I think it's cool that Billy made it too. It's not something we found. We'll always make our own intro songs, if we ever decide to make a new one later on.

    What's the story behind "Photographs & Memories?"

    That song is pretty unique. I started writing it a long time ago. It was easily over three years ago because I was still living in Iowa. It was pretty unique. The guitar part, the first verse and the chorus were written in Iowa. For a year or two, I put it away. That song would still be just a portion of a song, if it weren't for my roommates and my producer. One day I got a call from Michael Blue, who produced my album. He had gotten a new microphone, and he was really excited about it. Nobody had tried it yet, so he called me. I lived a mile from the studio, and he asked if I wanted to come test out his new microphone. So when you realize you're going to record something on a cool vintage microphone from the '40s, there's a lot of pressure. I was like, "I can't put something horrible on this. It's the first time I'm using his new mic." Anyway, I was freaking out and going through all these song portions I had. I started playing "Photographs & Memories," and my roommates were like, "You have to do that one. You have to record that." I was still unsure of it at that point, so I literally finished the song right there in about ten minutes. I went to the studio, and I recorded it. It just came out of me. There was some sort of magic in it. It's a real moment that we caught. I think it's strange because I might've never finished that song otherwise. I've never had to go that deep into that story before, so I'm kind of astounded myself at it.

    What's that piece you wrote on your MySpace titled "Beyond?" Is that like a mantra for you?

    That's just something that I wrote. I write a lot. I wanted to be a writer before I even started trying to write songs. I write stuff like that all the time. When I made my MySpace page, I needed to write something in the "Bio" section. I didn't know what to say about myself, so I just wrote that. It stuck, and it's stayed there for quite some time now. I'd rather have that than just words about myself. A lot of times, I like to just let go while I'm typing. It's like my subconscious takes over and writes for me. I'm in a fit of rage or fury typing as fast as I can to get it out. Sometimes, for me, it's the best way to do it. Sometimes if you go back to edit and think about it, that can kill some of the purity of it.

    Do you feel like you and Colbie Caillat have a solid creative chemistry?

    There's something different that goes on when we sing together. There's something that really works about our voices when they're paired. I think we're on the same page with music, writing and singing. We got along really well in the first place. It seems like it's meant to be. It was kind of an absurd, random meeting in the first place. She was the first person I met out here. I came out to record with Michael. My intention was to come out for a week and record. It was the first time that I was out here by myself. I had initially planned on going back to Iowa. After a day or so, I made the decision that I wasn't leaving. I fell in love with the West Coast. Everything about this place is pretty amazing to me, coming from Iowa. The first thing you've got to do when you move somewhere is make friends. Colbie was the first one I met. I pretty much lived at her house because I didn't have a place to stay. We hung out all the time and wrote music. Maybe there's a great deal of luck meeting somebody so real because there are a lot of people out here that aren't anywhere near as real as she is. I think something else had to do with it, but I didn't do it [Laughs].

    Did you know "The End" would be the album closer instantly after you wrote it?

    That's a strange song. All I needed was the first line, and then I knew what I wanted to do. The end is such a scary place to start, but it seems perfect. I wanted it to be a circle. Once you're at that point, I wanted you to be able to go back to the beginning. I wanted there to be a hopeful, but, at the same time, sad ending to the album. Also, I think "You In A Song" is a really sad song. For me, it was the first time that I had to confront the idea that I was never going to be in one place for more than an absurdly small amount of time. That was a song to a girl that had to stay in one place like most people do. I was the one that could never do that. It's sort of hardcore really [Laughs]. I'm saying, "I can't be with you, so let me take you with me in a song." It's all you can do at that point. That's what that song is about.

    There was something about the '50s. It seems like people back then cared so much about what they were doing and they spent more time on it.

    Your vision is much bigger than the songs. The record is not about one "single."

    That was certainly what I was thinking about when I made it. There are so many albums these days that are a single, and then a bunch of filler that takes up the rest of the space. I never want to do that for sure. I want to do something even more. I wanted to protest that. I wanted people to have a reason to have the whole record instead of just downloading a song to the computer. How long will it take for that song to get boring? I think if you have a whole album with a story to dig into and get lost in, there's more of a reason to pay attention.

    Good art lasts because you can come back to it.

    Most of my favorite writing comes from the '50s and the '60s. There's something to be said about that. It's from a long time ago. Some of my favorite authors are Kerouac, Herman Hess, J.D. Salinger and Goethe. It's funny because, I have a stack of books in my room, but I can only think of those [Laughs]. I just love the writing from back in the '50s. There was something about the '50s. It seems like people back then cared so much about what they were doing and they spent more time on it. They pretty much gave all of themselves to it. I think you can tell. That's why it's still being read and being paid attention to. Everyone these days is in such a rush. They have to get everything done immediately, and then they have to move on to something else. I think a lot of the art nowadays is suffering because we don't have patience, and we think every second is our last to get something done. I'm trying to get back to that place artists where at in the '50s. I care, and I want to take care of my art. I don't want to just slop around.

    It's not easy to stand out with how saturated music is these days.

    You have to realize there are a million people trying to do the same thing you are, but then you have to completely push that out of your mind. Why would you think of all those people doing that? It can't be a competition. You should only be concerned with your art. I'm writing what I write, and that's what matters to me.

    It's a lot of work, too.

    People see just the tip of the iceberg. They don't see what's drowned underwater—all the suffocating work that finally gets you up above the surface as a musician. That's a good way to think about becoming a musician. You're building your iceberg from the bottom of the sea. The closer you get to the top, the lighter it gets. Sunlight pours through the top, but you'd better hope the water level doesn't rise.

    —Rick Florino

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