Not just the bass player of Sebadoh, but an amazing songwriter in his own right, having written a sizeable amount of music that continues to astonish the indie, punk and rock worlds.... Jason's first solo record, At Sixes and Sevens, demonstrates his widespread musical and technical capabilities, having done the whole thing himself. And check out his web site, crafted by his own hand, deliriously entertaining and informative, at http:\\www.jakerock.com. Here is the interview Jason Loewenstein gave Gravyzine.
When and how did you first get into music?
Hmm... Was into music early on, my mom had a decent record collection and I really loved the Beatles. I got a drum set from my aunt Jane when I was 9, and played the hell out of it. My mom dated a few musicians, so I got to go to some shows when I was really young. The commotion of the band, the dancing, drinking, yelling, smoky bars and weird people had me hooked right away.
When I was 16, I had a conversation with a friend of my mom's. He encouraged me to take some drum lessons, and I was like "Yeah, I guess..." He got kind of serious and said "What else you got going for you?"
I took a quick look around my life and had a huge paradigm shift right at that moment, and realized that there wasn't much else I cared about or wanted to understand better except playing music.
I wasn't getting anything out of going to school besides having an enemy to work against, and I dropped out when I was 16, and started working crappy jobs and playing whenever I could.
What did you grow up listening to? Main Influences?
Beatles first, then Kiss, Devo, B52's, raiding my friends older sister's collection for Ramones, Police, and The Clash. Then I started listening to college radio and got turned onto Hardcore and punk rock... That was it. I was pissed off, they were pissed off, and the music was powerful without being very complex. It was immensely empowering. Then came Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Ritual Tension, Dead Kennedys, Black Sabbath, Flower (pre Versus) and 1000 other uncompromising bands who were putting out 7 inches in the 80's / 90's.
Later I found the blues by way of Lightnin Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Howlin' wolf. I started to finally "get it" with regard to stuff like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.
Then I found Beefheart. Holy shit. This stuff, at first listen had the most uncompromising and hard to listen to music beat by a long shot... It had blues and jazz and punk rock and African rhythms, creative illusionary lyrics. I just couldn't understand where the hell it was coming from. I knew that stuff was in there, but it had been put together in such a strange way that it was completely unique.
More recently I have been into old time music.. Stuff from or inspired by the fiddle and banjo string bands of the 20's-40's. Clarence Ashley, Hobart Smith, Joe and Odell Thompson, Uncle Dave Macon, The Holy Modal Rounders, Roscoe Holcomb. These folks were farmers and miners by day, and then would all pile into the back of a truck and head out to some holler and drink moonshine and play all night long. These house parties were the first rock clubs, and these musicians were the first punk rockers. The environment they lived in was often deeply religious and to be taking part in these "dances" was to submit fully to the darkside.
Mostly these days I listen to this old time stuff and The Melvins.
Any non-musical influences in what you write from movies, books or other?
I am a huge fan of Harry Crews, Richard Brautigan, Bukowski, and John Muir, who wrote The Idiots guide to Volkswagen repair. Recently I have been pretty inspired by Carl Sagan's stuff.
I am the most well read in the area of software manuals and VW repair guides.
What is your song writing process? Any special Techniques?
Usually I just plug in the four track and go for it, writing the music first and words later, usually having little or no specific musical idea going into it.. Lately I have been doing it the same way, but on the computer, which is a revolution for me, being a pretty scattered person who doesn't read / write music, or understand theory or keep any kind of usable notes...
Digital multi track audio manipulated with a modern software program is an unbelievably valuable tool for composition. The ability to write parts section by section and having virtually unlimited tracks to use as scratchpads for writing parts means there is no excuse not to TRY EVERYTHING. I kind of kept away from it for a long time, but now that I have worked with it and seen what it can do I absolutely love it.
Do you have a different way of writing for Sebadoh as compared to Jason Loewenstien-only songs?
Not really... I just try and "finish" them now... Never really did with Sebadoh.
Are you pleased with the level of success you have achieved so far?
I can say that I am glad to have had any success at all. I only ever wanted to be able to keep playing...
And with Sebadoh I got to work with two of my favorite songwriters (Barlow & Gaffney) did a lot of traveling, recorded in a lot of studios, made a living at it, and can count some of the most amazing people I have ever met as my friends. Hard to complain about that!
What songs are you most proud of and why?
I never get sick of playing "Bird in the hand", I like "Happily Divided" and "Not too Amused" as well.
I'm really most proud of the songs from @6's&7's though... They're my best batch overall and I really like playing them live, probably thanks to my amazing band mates who give the songs a real kick in the ass and give me room to be a better guitar player. They would be Bob D'Amico on drums and Kevin Mazzerelli on the bass. FYI.
Can you tell me about Sparklepsy? What does it sound like?
It was just the name that I gave to my early "solo" four track work.
The 7 inches and cassettes I put together early on were a free for all... Detuned acoustic instruments with pots and pans as percussion, full on electric rock songs with real drums... sound collage, retarded poetry, etc... Some of it is interesting...
Any plans for Sebadoh in the NEAR future?
Not in the NEAR future... Lou and I are still friends, and I hope that we make time to play together again. I think we will be better collaborators for having done all this other stuff outside Sebadoh. I look forward to it.
Where do you get the discipline and focus to manage all the different things you do?
I have 1,000,000,000 passing interests, and no discipline at all. I love my wife, my pets, your pets, music, audio engineering, all kinds of computer stuff, taking photos, driving and repairing Volkswagens, traveling, I have an interest in taoism, reading, hiking, science, history, metrology, geology, electronics, international politics, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nutrition, massage, carpentry, bicycling, skateboarding, juggling, farming, languages, urban planning, ecology, sex, etc....
There's only so many hours in the day, weeks in a year, and years in a lifetime... I have been pretty unfocused for most of my life and gaining a little ground in this dept. is a constant battle.
Just focusing on music would really help me out, because there is a lot to do when you want to write, perform, record, mix, produce, and design the cover of a record. But then you take it on the road and there's tour management, accounting, performing, driving, doing interviews, communicating with the booking agent(s) and label(s), keeping up the web site, taking photos, being a decent husband...
That seems like plenty to keep me busy. Fighting off all the other things I am interested in is pretty hard.
How and when did you get into Photography? What kind of camera(s) do you own?
Pretty amazing bit of technology I think... A little window into the past...
Then there's the whole art of capturing the moment with your own spin on it...
I used to buy tons of those disposable cameras, then my wife Kelli bought me a really nice 35mm manual camera, which really never got used... It was too serious for me, and I didn't really feel like I could experiment with it cause of the cost of developing, and my previous disastrous experiences with nice manual cameras...
I really got into it when I got my first digital camera, suddenly I could shoot with complete impunity, for the cost of batteries for the camera I could try EVERYTHING, and see immediately whether I "got the shot".
The camera I have is several years old and not up to the current standards of resolution and all... Its REALLY far behind a film camera's character and resolution, but I would rather be taking these "primitive" photos than none at all!
When you are doing it a lot, you start looking at the world differently... I really like it.
Any favorite photographers or artists?
I don't really have any favorite photographers. And as far as other artists... I like Frances Bacon... I cant really think of anyone else that I like especially... My wife has a masters degree in art and architectural history and I am completely ignorant about art. I do love museums though. Paintings usually don't make the translation when they are photographed, stuff that doesn't move me in an art book can blow my mind in person. I cant imagine painting! An unbelievable pain in the ass to do, all that attention to detail... I'd lose my mind immediately. Although spending 10+ hours working on a song / recording / etc isn't unusual or painful for me at all...
Was it a big change for you living in Kentucky vs. Massachusetts? How different is it living in Brooklyn?
For years I had been hearing the bitching and complaining from Northampton (where I grew up) locals about wanting to "get out", and slowly noticing that these people NEVER left, and just kept on complaining about it. Northampton is a decent place, but is pretty small. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life complaining about it and scared to leave, so I left.
I love Kentucky. Because of isolation or poverty or satisfaction with the way things are, certain parts of it are a genuine glimpse into the past. This leads to the preservation of a lot of good things like social graces, old-time music, self sufficiency and the simple life. It also provides a place for ignorance, sexism and racism to live though...
Its just SO different than the where I grew up that I relish the southern weirdness and deeply appreciate the ways that it is different down there.
Describe a typical day in the life of Jason Loewenstein…..
Sleep 1/2 the day away... Drink coffee, read email, make a phone call or two... Fart around with songs, play banjo or fiddle or do some mixing... Play with my pet pig, eat dinner with my wife Kelli... Listen to Loveline (my favorite radio show of all time) @ 10PM or go out and see music somewhere in Brooklyn... Stay up until 5AM, go to bed. Repeat.
What would you be like if you were affected by Gamma Ray Radiation?
Is that what happened to Spiderman?
If I was fused with what surrounds me, I would be a blonde potbellied pig / man with a banjo neck for a left arm and a gibson explorer guitar for my right arm, a unicycle for legs and a phone jack in my ass!
My superpower would be to shoot a beam of intense energy from my banjo that inspired wanton creativity and deep true love in whoever I pointed it at.
Are you the actual webmaster (guy who does it all) for your web site?
Yep. I love computers and the internet. In it is the possibility of the whole "global community" and I
really dig that... Not to mention all of the educational and creative possibilities of having an ever expanding and changeable electronic canvas that is accessable wherever there is a phone jack. That's some powerful shit.
Just like a musical instrument, recording device, car, or bicycle I saw the internet as a vehicle for expression, creativity, education, and communication. I want to know how all of these things work and it is my life's passion to understand them better, so that I am better equipped to use them as tools.
Plus, I am a fucking control freak who doesn't know how to ask anyone for help!