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Pushing Boundaries with Jacob King

(Editor's Note — With his third album, 'Healers,' Jacob King examines the act of creating art while continuing to test and defy the traditional limitations of today's current musical landscape. We recently sat down with him for an interesting conversation. We hope you enjoy it. — Photos by Matt Smith/1120 Press)

1120 Press: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, and congratulations on your new album — your third — which is titled ‘Healers.’ We’ve had it in heavy rotation and it’s a very cool, unique work. How would you describe the album, its sound, and what your aim was?


JACOB KING: I wanted to do something that was maybe a little weird and freaky, I guess. And also noisy in a way. I don’t know if it’s off-putting or what, but it is unique. I also think about it as my first attempt at recording on cassette, a four-track. So the idea of just like, being in a little room somewhere and controlling this whole world of sound. I felt like I was just steering the ship and controlling everything. And I wanted it to be very close-sounding. So yeah, I don’t know. It’s different (laughing) but I’m pleased with how it came out.


1120: You play all the instruments on the album too. How long did the process

take you — from playing everything and recording it not only yourself, but in a way that was new to you, using a four track?


JK: I started it last June. And it was cool because it was all on my own time. It wasn’t like I had only a week to get it done. So I would work on songs and then let them breathe and listen to them later with fresh ears. So it was pretty randomly spread throughout the summer. I had this little room; My parents had finished their basement and for whatever reason they installed this weirdo door — like in this little room under the stairs — so I set up a comically small studio in there. And that was part of the concept for me: The music is in ‘there.’ And I think it changed how I sang because the sound kind of bounced off the walls in there. It wasn’t like a vocal booth where there’s a dead sound. If you made any sound in there, you could hear it bounce off the walls. I liked it so I went with it.


1120: This new album is pretty different than your first album, ‘Wired.’ But it feels like a continuation of your second album, Hiders — but a continuation that you took and pushed even further. Are we on the right track with that assessment?


JK: In a way — totally. I think probably as a songwriter you stay in a certain mode. I think about ‘Healers’ as the positive face… there’s multiple faces of an idea, and ‘Hiders’ is very sad. ‘Healers’ is totally happy.


1120: So, then, what was the inspiration?


JK: On ‘Healers,’ I was thinking a lot about art and the creation of art. So I wanted to make something about how I was making it (laughs). There were a bunch of stories I had read about how the act of making things is healing, and I believe that. I’ve read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and his whole thing is, ‘Do as much as you can to construct, otherwise you’ll just destruct and that’s war. That’s when people die.’


1120: We want to resist slapping the tag “experimental” on you because so much is experimental that the word is almost meaningless. But you definitely push boundaries. Are you aware of that? And if so, do you reach a point where you have to stop yourself or do you instead say, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to go with it.’


JK: I’m totally aware of it. You can work on something that’s super clean and professional, in a studio and it’s all heartfelt. And that’s a craft, totally. But I feel like there’s enough of that, that if one guy maybe does something that’s unlistenable, well, that’s fine. And a lot of it is self-serving too. It’s totally for me (laughs).


1120: Continuing on this theme, the song ‘A Philomel,’ is definitely challenging. The song is almost eight minutes including more than a minute of this element of noise, but then you follow it up on the album with ‘Sway To and Fro,’ which is this lovely and digestible acoustic song. And you did that on ‘Hiders,’ too with ‘Ruggedly An Elf’ – a similarly challenging song – and then followed that up with ‘Tomorrow,’ another really nice acoustic tune. Where did ‘A Philomel’ come from? And, what were you aiming for with that minute-plus segment of noise in the song?


JK: There’s a Greek story in which there’s a female character whose name is Philomela. It’s pretty much this story of trauma and being victim to the wills of a God, or the world or universe. But in the story she uses that trauma to turn things back around and take control and become an individual. So I was just thinking about it a lot and thinking about it in stages. So the noise part was a transition; I was thinking about this forest where it’s just wild and you’re being torn apart, but also in a weird way I was thinking about ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun,’ by The Beatles, where it’s just three different songs pretty much. And then I thought: what if it isn’t even songs but blips, and in the middle — (the noise element) — was just part of the whole scenario. Without it, I don’t think the message of the song would be there.


1120: But was it intentional then to follow it up with ‘Sway To and Fro,’ to kind of bring things back down a bit?


JK: Totally. I always try to think about it as ‘sides.’ I’m really into cassettes. So, ‘A Philomel’ is the closer to side A. So you can take a break, or flip it around to side B and keep listening. So yeah, I think of it as a reset.


1120: It’s ballsy. Whenever an artist creates and puts something out there, inevitably they will get judged on what they create. It’s part of the deal. So, you’re coming from a place where you are challenging the listener in a way.


JK: In high school, I was in a band with a really close friend, and we made an album and put it out and it was like, ‘There’s no one at school who gives a shit.’ (laughs) And then you go and play shows and you’re like, ‘Check out our album!’ It doesn't work. But then I got to Fredonia and it’s like,’ Check out this album I made!’ and you get people who are like, ‘Yeah, I’ll listen to that.’ And so, I feel like I’ve just been part of a community at Fredonia, and here too now that I’m freshly back in Buffalo (after graduating college in May), where people give things a chance. But I’m also never trying to persuade someone to listen to my stuff. I don’t know if it’s ballsy (laughs). I’m just not trying to be anything more than I am.


1120: So, you have this album out on the streams, but also on cassette, as well. In fact, you’ve put all your albums out on cassette. What’s the fascination there, especially at a time when most people no longer even have cassette players.


JK: I think at the beginning, it was like, ‘What am I going to sell? I’m not going to sell a shirt with my name on it (laughs). So, if I’m making a cassette, I want it to be its own object, whether or not someone can play it. I mean, at this point, music is free. So the cassette is like this relic — an object you can just have and keep... So, at the ground level, I think it’s just honest in what it is. I’m not shooting for something more professional than what I am.


1120: What’s next for you?


JK: So, I’m in a band, T.T.T.T. I’m recording some material that I’m going to put out under that name.


1120: Anything else you want to add that we haven’t covered?


JK: (Pause) No, I don’t think so. Just… thank you.








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