LAist Interview: Jason Reeves
Although you might not realize it, chances are you’ve hummed a Jason Reeves song at some point in the last year. For example, he co-wrote 10 songs, including the ubiquitous “Bubbly,” on Colbie Caillat’s debut album, and he also shares writing credits on Lenka’s current single, “The Show,” which was recently a free featured download on iTunes.
Last month, Reeves struck out on his own with The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache (and Other Frightening Tales), his first album on the Warner Brothers label. He definitely knows his way around a love—as well as a breakup—song, and if these “tales” are any indication, this singer/songwriter will be around for a long while. LAist recently met Reeves for lunch at the Aroma Cafe to discuss the new album, robot pianos and Reeves’ current tour with Tyrone Wells.
LAist: You’ve mentioned that your music is heavily informed by literature. Do you feel that the album sort of reflects the natural progression of a novel?
Jason Reeves: I hope so, though I’d rather call it a fairytale than a novel.
“The Fragrant Taste of Rain” covers a lot of ground. It goes from spoken word to singing, intimate to orchestral, and robot-like to a whisper. Can you tell me a little more about it?
That was just something I wrote down with no intention of it being a song. We were in the studio just messing around and playing this really old piano from the 1800s. I had brought a whole bunch of stuff that I had written, and Mikal Blue, the producer, said I had to sing—and in some places, speak—those words. It was just a freestyle, one-take thing that we did. We added the layers to it afterwards, but initially it was just me on that piano with a microphone.
I love the piano in “Reaching.” It seems to shift the mood along with your voice. What was the process of writing that one?
The piano part was Mikal doing a take on that same really old piano. And the guitar I used to record that song on is from the 60s, so we had these two older instruments, and I think they gather energy over time. It just seems like the older they are, if they’re kept up well, they’re so much better than new instruments. So that’s really all we needed.
How does “Sunbeam Lights” fit into the story of the album? It’s so short and sweet.
You’re the first person who has asked about this song. It sort of is the line in the middle of the album. It’s actually the bridge of “Gasoline” but happy, with the words turned around. I was really just wanting to make a really blissed-out bridge of “Gasoline” as a precursor that would add weight to it when it came around later.
You wrote “New Hampshire” without ever before visiting the state. Have you toured there yet?
No, I haven’t. We’ve been to almost every state, but we haven’t been there. It’s crazy!
If you could write about a place you’ve never visited overseas, what would that be?
New Zealand. I love New Zealand but I’ve never been there. (laughs)
I know you play both piano and guitar. Which one do you write with most often?
Guitar. Just because I can’t have a piano everywhere—it’s not easy to carry. And I hate keyboards cause they’re just, like, robot pianos and they feel fake.
This album really covers an emotional gamut. At the beginning it has this unabashed happiness, then it ends with an almost bittersweet hope. Your last lines are “Don’t know where to go from here.” Where do you think your next album will take it?
Oh wow, I don’t know yet. I’ve written a lot of it but I haven’t finished, so I think I’ll keep that a secret.
You collaborated with Colbie Caillat on her hit album. What’s the songwriting process like for you when you’re writing with someone else—does it speed up the process or make it slower?
Well, it’s like a multiplication of two people’s imaginations and experiences rather than just one. So it’s not addition. When you put two people together, it seems like the potential just opens up completely—into a different place than you would expect. It’s not just like “Oh, there are two people, so it’s going to be twice as good.” I think it’s insanely larger than that. So that’s my favorite part about writing with somebody—there’s this limitless possibility and that’s why it’s exciting. You would never get that song if you were writing by yourself. It just wouldn’t exist.
It seems like you’ve worked with a lot of Hotel Cafe regulars. Have you ever played there?
Yeah, we used to play there all the time. It used to be our spot, but we’ve been gone so long that we haven’t had a chance to go back there yet. But I love it. It’s my favorite—there’s something really magical happening in that room every day.
How did your collaboration with Tyrone Wells happen? Are you planning to release that song you co-wrote (“Give Me One Reason”)?
Tyrone’s amazing. I love that guy. We’re definitely planning on recording the song; we just don’t know when. It just gets really complicated when you have two really different, busy schedules. We actually met in order to write together. I guess he wanted to write with me and we just became really good friends after that. We’ve toured a couple times together and now we’re on tour again.
I know you just played the Glass House in Pomona. Any upcoming gigs in LA?
I don’t think we have anything set up yet, but we may play one in the fall sometime, maybe November. We’ll see.
Jason Reeves - "You in a Song"
You were the number one unsigned folk artist on myspace last year, and they gave you a bunch of other titles as well. Do you feel that the current music model makes it easier or harder for artists today?
I think it makes it a lot harder, actually. Well, in terms of getting out to people, it’s a lot easier. But at the same time it makes it so much harder because of how many people there are. You’d think it’d be perfect that you can reach a million people in one second, but now there are a million people trying to reach a million people. So it kind of works both ways.
I know that when you were young, you took lessons from a blind piano teacher. Do you think that changed the way you approached music since it was more of a sensory experience?
Sure, I play by ear because of that and I don’t pay attention to notes or care what the chords are called. She taught me how to feel the music instead of thinking about it. Once again, going back to the robot thing, I think that reading music and getting too deep into the theory of things can turn you into more of a robot programmed to play certain things, instead of just being a human trying to express yourself through music.
You really have a California sound even though you didn’t grow up in Southern California. Are you a big fan of 60s surf music?
Yeah, for sure, I think that’s one of the reasons my music has that feel. Another reason is the fact that I got changed by California—just by the beauty of it. Immediately. I don’t think anybody can come here without being completely transformed just by the “golden-ness” of this place or something.
I don’t know how to explain it, but I think that has a lot to do with the way people make music, too. It’s all about where you live.
In one of her interviews, Colbie said that you love photography. Have you had much time to pursue that hobby since the music thing has taken off?
Actually, I take my camera with me on tour and I’ve been taking thousands of pictures. I have way too many to even deal with right now. I need more hard drive space!
What do you shoot with?
I have a Canon 40D. I’m still learning a lot about it but I love it.
Now that you’ve been living in LA for a little while, do you have any favorite hangouts?
This is one of them [Aroma Cafe]. I mean, I don’t even know if we should tell people that. Maybe we should keep it a secret—but I guess it’s obviously not a secret judging by the crowd! (laughs)
Thanks for speaking with LAist, Jason!
In addition to his new album, Reeves will soon be releasing a live iTunes Originals session. More information will be available soon via his myspace page.
Photos by Josh Newton