About a month ago, by sheer accident I turned up three and a half hours early to a gig. That accident turned into one of the luckiest breaks I’ve had on this blog.
After waiting at the venue for a bit, I noticed Slaughter Beach, Dog’s van had pulled up and was driven by someone I vaguely knew. I went to say hey, and without even really having to ask, she offered to see if Jake would be up for an interview. He was kind enough to agree, and I had about an hour to prepare. Throughout the interview he was kind and understanding, and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to sit down and chat with me.
I’ve written about Slaughter Beach, Dog’s second album, Birdie, here last year. Their first album, Welcome, and the following EP, Motorcycle.jpg represent very different points in Jake Ewald’s career, and this is shown through his different songwriting sounds and styles. Each one is an amazing listen.
Ronan: How are you doing?
Jake: Good, very good!
R: How’s your tour going?
J: It’s been good, shows are good, nothing bad has happened yet. It’s been nice.
R: Nice! So, in my blog I try to lift the voices of people that don’t often get heard in music, and so that focusses a lot on LGBT issues, and I know that’s something you’ve been quite vocal about. I don’t want to talk much about Modern Baseball, because that’s not fair on you but I remember you always used to have gender neutral toilets at your shows.
R: Could you tell me a bit about how that came about?
J: We got the idea from some other bands that were doing it, but it was this thing where we realised that a big part of our audience was queer kids, people who didn’t feel comfortable using specifically binary toilets. And it was one of those things where the shows that we were playing were big enough, and we had enough pull at the venues to say, ‘wait a minute, we can make some rules here!’ So, it was kind of just realising that we had that power, and then doing it.
R: That’s really cool. Is that something you’re trying to keep up with Slaughter Beach, Dog or do you feel like you’re not quite there in terms of power over the venues?
J: With where we are right now, it’s kind of tough. With Modern Baseball it was like a lot of things were taken care of for us, and so we could say ‘OK, cool, could we get gender neutral bathrooms?’ but with Slaughter Beach, Dog there’s a lot more on my plate personally. But it’s definitely something I’d love to implement soon. Modern Baseball used to do a hotline at shows, where if anything weird was going on you could text this number, and that would also work because we had a dedicated tour manager. But yeah, once we get our feet on the ground a bit more, I’d love to implement those things again because it just makes shows feel so much more welcoming. And it feels like ‘oh, why haven’t we been doing these things the whole time?’
R: It’s really great that this is becoming more of a mainstream thing in music. Not all the shows I go to, but a good 50% of the shows I go to now have gender neutral toilets, which makes me feel more comfortable and makes a lot of my friends feel more comfortable.
R: You released Birdie six months ago, or so? And then Motorcycle.jpg a few months before that. I think one of my favourite songs from Motorcycle is 104 Degrees, which is an amazing song.
R: Could you tell me more about how that song came about?
J: So, I wrote most of the songs from those releases when I was living in a new house in West Philly which is a neighbourhood I hadn’t really lived in before, and I was living in my friend’s basement, I was between tours, and I didn’t have anything to do every day. And I didn’t have anything to do all day, so I would just get coffee and walk around and in a really corny way try to notice things that inspired me, because I had so much time that all I did was write. And that song in particular, there’s this one particular part of West Philly where there are bookstores everywhere and cafes everywhere and there’s a lot going on and people outside and I was getting this rush of noticing everything all at one time. I got the bookstore line down in the beginning because I noticed the bookstore, and then I just got in the zone and I sat down and just wrote all the verses. It was a special little moment.
R: It was a really cool style of song too, I don’t think I’d heard anything like it before and it definitely inspired some of my songwriting.
J: That’s awesome!
R: Do you find that there are particular musicians or artists that you listen to when you’re writing that help you out?
J: A little while ago, it was more so that I would start writing if I found something new that I really liked, but I think right now, one of my biggest returning inspirations while writing is Elliott Smith. Specifically, because there are a lot of bands that I really love who tend to recycle the melodies that they use. Not super obviously, but it’s very easy to get into a cycle into writing the same kind of melody all the time, where you feel comfortable and it just comes out. But all those Elliott Smith records, he just does something completely different and completely amazing in every song. So listening to that, not even as a copying thing, but just listening to how different he can be melodically from song to song really inspires me to think, ‘OK, when I’m writing my next song, how do I make this completely unique from the last one?’
R: Do you find that playing shows is something that’s daunting, or have you got used to it now?
J: Well it’s kind of just second nature at this point, particularly right now with the live band that Slaughter Beach, Dog has, it’s been really fun to play with the guys because it’s still a pretty fresh band and we’re still getting used to kind of vibing off each other, and that’s been a really unique experience. We even wrote a couple of new songs before this tour, and we’ve been trying them out in front of people which feels really visceral and good.
R: Awesome. So, there’s a big difference between Welcome, Motorcycle.jpg, and Birdie. They’re all very different pieces in their own right.
R: Is there a particular kind of mood that you were trying to get with each of them?
J: I think they each kind of happened naturally based on where I was with songwriting. Welcome. I recorded it over such a long period of time and by myself, so it was kind of all over the place, and with Motorcycle, I also did it by myself, so there are a lot of layers because there was no one to tell me to put less layers in it. But I did it over a shorter period of time, so it was a little more cohesive. But then with Birdie, which Ian produced, I really liked the stuff he’d been working on and the way his records sounded, so I specifically wanted him to record it because I wanted this set of songs to behave that way and be a little more minimal and quiet. It’s neat that you think they all sounded different, that’s awesome, I would love to make every record sound different.
R: Yeah, I guess that’s what you were saying about Elliott Smith too.
R: Maybe this is a question for Ian, but I really like how Birdie sounds. What kind of other stuff has he produced?
J: One of my favourite things Ian has done, in tandem with our other friend Evan, they made a record for our friend Greg Mendez, which I think is out on Bandcamp. It’s just two guitars and drums and bass, but what every instrument is doing is so particular and simple and each instrument is particularly in between the spaces that the other instruments leave. So, that was a big thing that he did that he really loved.
R: I’ll check it out! Are there any other bands you’ve been listening to whilst in the tour bus that are particularly pertinent at the moment, or have you mostly been trying to sleep?
J: Sleep is important! It’s not so bad in the UK though, because the drives are pretty short. This band from Philly called Hop Along just released a new album and it’s really good. And they also produced and recorded it themselves, because their guitar player is an engineer who runs a studio in Philly. So that’s really great, and we all like Elliott Smith a lot.
R: Actually, the most recent interview I did was with a band called Hora Douse, and Tom was saying that Elliott Smith was a huge inspiration for him as well, so maybe that’s something I should pick up on!
J: For sure. He’s so good at so many different things, that you can listen to one of his songs and, like I was saying, I was drawn to his melodies, but there are other people who are drawn to his guitar playing, and there’s even drums on the record so you could be all about his drumming, but there’s something for everyone.
R: I think that’s it! Thank you so, so much for taking the time to sit down with me, I do run a very small music blog and it means a lot.