“You know, my music kind of dances on a fence. They’re songs, therefore they’re pop. Therefore they have hooks. But the hooks aren’t typical and the songs aren’t typical, so, for a guy who’s working at a radio station with a baseball cap on who just wants to instantly get pulled into the simplicity of pop music … He’s gonna be like, ‘I don’t get it.'”
Jason Falkner at length about his past and future, from the renewed interest in Jellyfish and working with Paul McCartney to the special place in hell for songwriting-app developers. Oh, and also that failed attempt to get Liam Gallagher listening to Leonard Cohen.
* * * * *
PS: Well first off I want to say thank you for doing this. Bit of an honor for me and I really appreciate this.
Jason: My pleasure.
PS: I guess my first question is I got a Japanese copy of All Quiet on the Noise Floor from a few years ago, so what have you been up to since and what’s in the pipeline?
Jason: Well I’ve been busy—I should start by saying I always meant to get that out here, I just really don’t have any avenue to put stuff out. I should have it up digitally, obviously, but I haven’t done that either, so at some point I’m just thinking that I’ll piggyback that with my new record or I’ll get that digitally out maybe a month before my new record so it’s a little bit of a double punch. I mean, most of my fans already paid for the import of that, so …
Jason: But since then, I have produced a bunch of records. Let’s see, it started I think with this guy from Holland called Anne Soldaat, and I did his first solo record. He was in, actually, a really cool band called Daryll-Ann that I was a fan of–SpinART actually put out some stuff and they were kind of like, for lack of a better term, a Holland Pavement.
Jason: You know, ‘cos I end up playing, it’s just the two of us playing everything and he’s basically only playing guitar. And so I’m playing some guitar as well, and then bass, drums. and keyboards. I invest a great deal of my style and playing on all the records I’ve produced because I only take on projects I really like. So it’s natural for me to do this.
PS: And everything that comes with that …
Jason: I just kind of ask these guys to just trust me. I just take the reins like that and it’s usually appreciated by the other guys. Sometimes there’s a little bit like, “Well … I don’t know about that weird synth that you’re playing.” You know, but for the most part, everybody’s really game because I’ve been, for the most part again, very lucky that these people are already big fans. And they kind of want me to just do what I do to their music. So I did his first solo record, which is called In Another Life, and that was 2009. And then I think—I can’t remember when that Daniel Johnston record was, but I think it was the same year.
PS: Yeah, I think that was ’09 too, if I remember.
Jason: Yeah, I think so. And then I did a French band called TV Guests, a cool band that kind of came over here to the little studio which is in my tiny little house. My whole house is basically a recording studio and then there’s a bed in it. [Laughter] So the room with the bed is called a bedroom.
PS: Very nice …
Jason: But it’s got instruments in there as well. So those guys came out here, I think that was 2010. And I did their record and that record is amazing and that is called Franklin 101. And then I produced a guy, and I’m also just really proud of his record, and it’s a guy named Thom Hell from Oslo, Norway. Basically I keep getting these projects from kind of esoteric European countries, with the exception of France. But you know, Norway, Holland, and I just did a record for a guy from Belgium—his first single just went to radio this week and it’s exploding, and his name is Bent Van Looy, and the funny thing is Bent is from a place called Gent. But he’s fantastic—he’s the singer of a band called Das Pop, who I had only heard of, and by the name I kind of thought they were like a Kraftwerk-y thing, but they’re not. They’re a melodic guitar band. So I just did his record, and right now I’m working on kind of the most exciting thing. I’m working on a duo—so it’s not just a record I produced—a duo with one of my heroes, this guy R. Stevie Moore, and he is, for those of us who don’t know him, a tremendous American treasure. He’s just an amazing guy and he’s kind of considered the godfather of the DIY and lo-fi movement and all that stuff, because he was putting out his own records that he was recording on a reel to reel, starting in like ’75. I just saw him a couple nights ago here in L.A. and he came out last November and we did 2 weeks here, because he lives in Nashville. Nobody has money anymore for records, so he was only able to be here for 2 weeks, so I just kind of concentrated on getting as much of him on tape as possible, and then I’m adding my Jason half to it. But it is a duo, it’s not just a record that I’m producing. So that’s very exciting, and I’m working on that right now.
PS: OK, cool.
Jason: And then I have about 5 songs started for my new record, so I’ll have a new record pretty soon this year. I’m hoping sooner rather than later, but I kind of take my time and take it seriously. So I’m thinking it’ll be out in the fall.
PS: When you’re looking at that, like you said, you have about 5 songs right now. Is it just kind of in your mode to go out and say, “OK, I’ve got 5 songs here, let’s start thinking about an album …” or do you think, “OK, well I’ve got an EP’s worth, I can do that”?
Jason: You know, it’s funny, everyone makes a big thing about EPs, and I only did that one EP about 9 years ago or whenever …
PS: Right, “Bliss Descending.”
Jason: Yeah. I basically put that EP together, literally, just to sell on the tour that I was doing with Travis. And you know, I only printed up about 5,000 of those. Yeah, I never really think about, “Oh I’ve got a couple of great things here, let’s just put out a single or EP.” I’m still really album-oriented, because there’s a flow to the whole thing. I make records, at least, with the antiquated concept that you sit down and listen to the entire record.
Jason: You know what I mean? I’m very well aware that it’s an antiquated concept, because everybody seems to think, “Just the song. Let’s just buy that one song.” And I’m like, “But they gotta hear the song before it! And the song after it!” It makes it an experience.
PS: It’s interesting, because I was talking to someone a few weeks ago about how iTunes and that whole online culture has kind of cultivated this “We’re only going to listen to a song now” mindset. And I’m thinking, “OK, well maybe in the great cycle of time, this goes back to the whole 1950s aesthetic” where, you know, at the time, artists were just focusing on singles. The whole idea of a long player still didn’t kind of come in until the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Jason: That’s true. That’s totally true.
PS: And then you’re thinking about that, but then this whole crap with the “Harlem Shake”—they’re only doing 30 seconds!
Jason: I don’t even know what that is.
PS: OK, well that’s good to know and I’ll spare you, but it’s this whole idea where you’re only paying attention to the 30 seconds that you’d be shown on an iTunes preview anyway. So it’s like, “Oh crap, here I was thinking we’ll give it a few years and then people will figure out how to make someone listen to an entire digital album.” But now it’s just regressing further.
Jason: Wow, so just sound bites?
Jason: Intense. Yeah, to me, that’s a complete regression. I mean, I still have this crazy vintage tube hi-fi system, you know, McIntosh—not “Mac,” “Mc”—and I love listening to entire records so I can’t really relate to the lack of attention span, but I know people are just so inundated with content of different things, so most people just don’t sit down and pay attention to an entire record. Some people can’t even make it through an entire TV show.
PS: Unless you’re just going to gorge yourself one weekend. Go through Netflix and get an entire season of a TV show.
Jason: You know, it’s funny that you say that. My girlfriend just noticed this billboard that said, “Watch the entire series in one sitting!” I just thought, “Well that’s weird.” [Laughter] It’s this whole culture of “I want what I want now, and I deserve it because I’m a superstar just like you.” And it’s like “Well, actually, no. Everyone isn’t equal. There are some people who actually have talent.”
PS: Right. “Some of us worked very hard to get here.”
Jason: Exactly! I keep saying this. I’ve been saying it in my head for years and now I’m actually saying it out loud like a crazy guy when I’m walking down the street. I’m going, “Just because you want doesn’t mean that you are.” You know? Just because I want to be a songwriter—there’s a frickin’ new app! There’s a new app to write songs! I haven’t seen this yet, but I heard about it when I was working with Beck and we were all talking about it. I don’t know if this is even out yet, but it’s coming. You tell me if it’s out. But it’s a database of a bunch of loops and stuff. It’s like organic sounding instruments. And you can change the notes, and you can write a damn song! But it’s like, you didn’t really write a song. I mean, you’re just picking and choosing from a library of different things—and the people who are making that library should have a special place in hell. [Laughter] But man, it’s just crazy. I digress. I have strong opinions about that.
PS: Understandable. Well and speaking to what you talk about in terms of listening to an album as a full piece, one of the things that seems to be coming back is that people pay more attention to vinyl again. That’s become a big thing, and actually on Ebay the other day, I was able to snag a copy of Can You Still Feel? on vinyl.
Jason: Oh nice!
PS: Had the CD for a while, and I must say “See You Again” is one of the most beautiful songs out there, and I’m looking forward to hearing it on vinyl.
Jason: That’s really nice to hear, because that song doesn’t get a lot of reaction. I don’t hear about it. When I was recording that, I was in the most blissed-out, euphoric state. I had just started dating a girl, and clearly it’s a love song, but she had just come over and was behind the glass, you know, with the engineer. And I was just kind of performing for her. And that song actually is one of my favorites too. It was just kind of a magical soundscape that was created with that one.
PS: It sounds absolutely incredible. It was the first thing when I first heard it—how it puts you in a state that, you know, the really, really good songs put you in where everything else around just stops and it gets your total attention.
Jason: Right. Well that’s great to hear, ‘cos I never know what people are paying attention to, so that’s great. I will warn you that the vinyl is incredibly cheaply pressed, so I apologize for that in advance. That was a little tiny punk rock label from Arlington, Virginia called Lovitt. And they literally are like a screamcore label. And one of the guys who worked there was a huge fan of mine. He sent me a bunch of their stuff, and I’m like, “It doesn’t totally fit with what you guys are doing at all, but I’m flattered. I love the underground, but dear God …” And he was just like, “Yeah, but these guys can’t write songs and they can’t sing. But you do. And that’s why we fuckin’ love you.” And I remember they put ads in like Maximum Rock N Roll and all these super punk rock publications—which is cool, because I definitely have roots in punk rock, but my records are not punk rock at all.
PS: Well in terms in finding some of the older stuff on vinyl, that’s the fun of finding the few record shops that are left in existence where you can spend a day and really start digging. Because everything else seems to be Ebay and Discogs.com.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. It’s not quite as fun to “Click! Buy it!” It’s cool when you can find what you’ve been looking for, but you know, I have the same experience. Really, all the record shops here have been swallowed up by the behemoth that is Amoeba. Which is great—Amoeba’s great and they have tons of vinyl. I’ll go in for 3 or 4 hours.
PS: Well and talking about that experience of finding something, I actually was able to find one of the Omnivore blue pressings of Bellybutton. You know, Omnivore kind of came out and said after they’d put out those first colored pressings, “They all sold out already.” So when I found that, I was in the record store screaming.
Jason: [Laughter] Right.
PS: And I wanted to ask you about that, with Omnivore’s repressings and with the “Stack-a-Tracks” compilation that’s come out too, you know, it seems to me Jellyfish fans have always kind of been there. Maybe it’s not a huge majority, but the ones that are there are gonna be there forever. Has any of the attention given to the re-releases in the past year or two caught you by surprise at all?
Jason: It has, and I only just kind of found out about it. I remember a few years ago there starting to be a little stirring about the 20-year anniversary of Bellybutton, which still just freaks me out—I’m in denial. I still can’t understand that that was 20 years ago. But yeah, those Omnivore re-releases. They actually contacted me after that and are interested in re-releasing my first two records on vinyl.
PS: Oh. Author Unknown and Can You Still Feel?
Jason: Right, but like proper vinyl with bonus stuff and a lot of pictures.
PS: Oh, awesome.
Jason: And I’m thinking of maybe even doing instrumental tracks of those as well, so that’s exciting. I am talking to them about doing that. But yeah, the Jellyfish stuff, it’s cool. That whole Jellyfish thing, for me, is really bittersweet. Fundamentally bittersweet. It was just such a difficult kind of—you know, I was a kid, and I was so excited and I was working with a guy that just never got excited about anything. I can remember they had rented us a house in the suburbs of L.A. to live in, ‘cos those two guys [Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Andy Sturmer] lived in San Francisco. So it was the three of us. And so we were living in that house and it was the last day, the day we were moving all our stuff and we were starting in the studio. So I said to Andy, “Hey man, this is so cool! This is it! We’re starting the record! It’s gonna be amazing!” And he’s like [adopts dejected tone] “Man, it’s just another hurdle in a series …” You know, it was just kind of a cynical response. You know, he was only 25 years old and he was so cynical. And just kind of that whole experience is one tiny example of what I was up against. When I would get excited, it was, “Keep it to yourself, man. This sucks.”
PS: Well that’s kind of a ‘90s attitude before the ‘90s really came into full swing.
Jason: Yeah, you know, it was prophetic. I don’t know how much that stuff does for me and my stuff. I mean I don’t know. I had dinner with a friend and he was like, “Oh man, I’d never heard Jellyfish.” This girl that works with him—who’s like 22 and is totally into everything happening musically—she was like, “Have you heard Jellyfish?” So that’s cool, because if that’s happening, then that’s great. Because I think that the music that I make currently and all of my solo stuff is not ageist. It’s not just for the people who got into it back in the day. To be honest, a lot of people I see at my shows these days are those kind of people that have been into me for a long time. And not a lot of new fans, young people. It’s a little disheartening, because this music is for—a lot of the stuff I’m playing I made when I was in my mid-20s to late-20s and it’s like, that’s who it’s for. It’s coming from a youthful place. Still! It’s not like Don Henley, or something.
Jason: So if it does get younger people and people who are more ravenous about buying records and going to clubs into what I’m doing, then that’s fantastic.
PS: Well and the good thing about you, and Roger too, because you guys branched into so many different projects after Jellyfish ended. It was a situation where, growing up, I didn’t find out about Jellyfish ‘til like 8 years ago. One of my friends was like, “Have you heard this band? You’d really like them.” And then it was “Holy crap!” But at the time I was huge into what Travis did. And there you are on The Invisible Band and the “Sing” single. I’ve been a Beatles fan since my dad said, “OK, you’re ready for this.” And there you are on [Paul McCartney’s] Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. You’re kind of always there, and so when there’s a solo album it’s like, “Well, OK, let’s listen to this.” And yes, of course it’s great.
Jason: Right. [Laughter]
PS: But an interesting thing about Jellyfish too is that you get a “Shindig!” feature or a little indie magazine writing about it, but other than that it’s like a well-kept secret. And going back to the box set that was released almost 10 years ago now, and I remember it was kind of a big deal because there were a lot of comments from Andy, and that was a big deal because someone got a hold of him. It was kind of the first time he was talking about all these songs and I remember in the liner notes for “The King is Half Undressed” and I think it was “I Wanna Stay Home,” he was actually saying how much you brought to the fold and how you made those songs come alive. And it was, “Whoa, hey, there it is.”
Jason: Yeah, I never even read that. That’s news to me. I have the box set, but I haven’t flipped through all the liner notes. That’s cool. I remember when I quit and they were auditioning people. And their manager called me like 6 months later and said, “You have to come back. You have to come back! When guitar players come in and audition and they’re great and all that stuff, all Andy says is, ‘Well they’re not Jason.’” And I’m thinking that is the most insane irony because that guy was giving me the stink-eye every minute of the day. I mean, I was just flabbergasted by the fact that he would even utter my name after I quit. Still looking for somebody that had some of my musicality or whatever. And that’s flattering. But it’s sort of like when somebody is difficult and difficult and difficult and they make you work really hard to get their respect and then they finally show you a little bit, you’re like, “OH MY GOD, THEY’RE AMAZING!” It’s sort of like when you’re watching reality TV and if there’s one bit of humanity, you’re like, “That person’s not that bad!” Cos there’s so little of that. And in the case of me and Andy, I don’t know. We just didn’t ever click. Which is unfortunate, because it sounds like we did and there are pictures that certainly look like we did.
PS: Yeah …
Jason: That was the funniest thing, the kind of image that definitely came from Andy and Roger. That Brady Bunch/Willy Wonka image, it was in such stark contrast to our reality. It cracks me up, and it took me a long time to be able to laugh at that, but it is funny. The funniest thing is that if we were more honest with the way we portrayed ourselves, we probably would’ve done a lot better. Because I do really think that the image, without a doubt, polarized people. So some people were like, “This is amazing!” I think the majority of people were like, “These goofballs. What is this?” And I just mean the majority of people who never got into us who might’ve had we actually looked like we really looked.
Jason: But I really got into it. At first I was like, “I can’t do this. I cannot fucking put on those clothes. No.”
Jason: Seriously! I was fighting it! Until the day of “The King is Half Undressed” video. I mean, I was fighting it on set, in the desert. It was always that nervous laugh whenever they’d pull out the Salvation Army clothes, you know, “Ha, yeah, well I’m not gonna wear that.” Because I really had my own style. I was really into Bowie. I was really into looking, like, legitimate and not cartoonish. And I just remember Roger. We had to be in places for the first shot of the day in like, 10 minutes, and I was still in my own clothes. Roger’s like, “Jay, you gotta pick something out of these suitcases.” And I was just like, “Oh my God …” And I picked what I thought was the least offensive thing to my own style sensibilities, but man, I was so uncomfortable on that shoot. When I look at it myself, I look clearly uncomfortable.
But see then I started turning it into—by the second video, I had kind of said, “If I can do anything I can at least get a Faces or Stones-y thing happening here. I can get a little bit rock and roll to even out the Peter Brady.” So by the end of it, I was full on into my own vibe. I had to forge something unique to myself in that situation. When we were doing the tour with the Black Crowes, they even asked me to be in the band because I was fitting in with that—at least visually—more than with my own band. Not musically, though.
PS: Well and as you’re explaining it, it makes sense. You’re in this almost Day-Glo stuff and then you know, OK, you leave Jellyfish, we see you in the Grays video and you’re just in a lot more subdued style for that “Very Best Years” video.
Jason: Yeah. The only unfortunate thing about the Grays was the chin strap. I can’t erase all those images. I wish I could just pencil out that dirt on my chin, but yeah.
PS: It looked of the time. And I’ll say the same for the bleached-blonde look on Can You Still Feel? too.
Jason: You know, that was, again, a last-minute decision right before the photo shoot. I cut my own hair. And I had this kind of horrible in between haircut, and it just was bad. I was like, “Oh my God. I have a photo shoot like in 2 days for my album. What am I gonna do?” So I went to my one friend who’s a hairstylist, and I told him I wanted it to be orange.
PS: OK …
Jason: I mean, it’s a Bowie thing. I’m Bowie-obsessed. And I wanted it to be kind of a Low orange.
PS: Fair enough.
Jason: And actually that hair is supposed to be orange, but it didn’t take, so it’s more just bleached. But I also never really had my hair that short. He kind of cut it too short. So that was another thing where I had to be, “This is not really how I roam the Earth.” But I guess it’s better than what I woke up to a couple days ago.
PS: Alright. Well talk to me a little bit about getting hooked up with Nigel Godrich for [Can You Still Feel?]. And it seems like that connection brought you into so many things. I’m assuming that’s what led you to Travis and McCartney as well?
Jason: Uh, it is. Well Travis, especially Dougie the bass player, he was a big fan of mine anyway before the Nigel thing came up. But yeah, I found him because I had bought [Radiohead’s] OK Computer. I think it was on a listening station in the Virgin Megastore or something. I listened to half of that first song, “Airbag,” and I was like, “OK. Yes.” Then I didn’t listen to it for a couple of weeks. At the time I was recently single and I would usually listen to records with headphones in bed. When I’m with a girlfriend, it’s really not that possible. It’s kind of rude. So I put that record on, and of course I didn’t fall asleep. It woke me up. I made it through the whole record and I was like, “What the hell?!” The songs I loved, but it was the sounds. I flipped on the light and I ripped open the book and I’m like, “Who the fuck recorded this thing?” And I was like, “Oh. Cool. I’ve never heard of him. He’ll be cheap.”
Jason: That’s exactly what I thought. Because it’s kind of before that record became what it did. It had just come out …
PS: Yeah, that took a few months before the groundswell happened.
Jason: Exactly. So I had my manager contact him, and we got on the phone. He seemed like a really nice guy, and I just said, “Look. I just want you to know that I produce myself, but I would like you to be the engineer that you are. I’ll give you a co-production credit, but I want to be honest, and basically, the musical choices are mine.” And he did it, but obviously he would never be like that again. So mine was probably the last record where he was in the backseat.
PS: Well and that was the first thing he did after OK Computer as I understand it, wasn’t it?
Jason: Yeah, he had done that horrid Natalie Imbruglia thing.
PS: OK. [Laughter]
Jason: Um, but yeah, I think that was in between. So anyway, he came out to New Orleans. I chose New Orleans because I had been there with Brendan Benson and worked at Daniel Lanois’ studio. It’s this miraculous place in the middle of the French Quarter. So yeah, it was amazing. We did half of it there and half of it here in L.A. And then definitely the McCartney thing happened because of him. He called me one day and was like, “Hey Jay, would you be interested in working with Paul McCartney?” I got the call and I was just like, “Uh…” [Nigel Godrich] was like, “I need an ally. I need people in my corner, because he’s got so many yes men around him.”
Jason: Which is completely understandable.
Jason: And he’s like, “And I don’t like his band. So I’d like to put together my own guys and I’m thinking just you and James Gadson on drums.”
Jason: And basically, he didn’t really explain it to me that well in those phone calls. He basically just wanted me to be there to kind of play on the skeletal tracks and then he was gonna really work at getting Paul to go back and redo most of that stuff himself so he would do another record where he’s playing almost everything like his first solo …
PS: Right, like McCartney and McCartney II.
Jason: Exactly. So, I ended up on two or three things on that record, and that was insane. You know, that was hanging out with Paul McCartney for 2 weeks.
Paul: Yeah. What was that like?
Jason: Let’s put it this way. Paul McCartney has a nickname for me. Paul McCartney calls me [adopts Liverpudlian accent] “Jayce!” No one else calls me Jayce. Just Paul McCartney decided to call me Jayce. And it was unbelievable. I still kind of pinch myself and remember as much of it as I can. It was just a lot of talking to him in the hallway. Talking to him a lot about—you’re scared to bring up anything, you know? It’s more, whatever he wants to reveal, it’s more “OK. I’m listening.” I didn’t want to be like, “Hey, what was John like?” You’re not gonna do that. But I did have an hour-long conversation with him about the Beatles and about the early days. And he was like, “Oh Jayce, you know, the girls, man!” I’m like “Jesus!” And he’s going, “And I got to be in a band with John …” You know, he’s like that. Some people would think false modesty. He definitely has kind of a thing that he does which can seem like that, but he’s an amazing guy. He’s not like “I’m Paul McCartney.” Of course he doesn’t have to do that, and if he was like that, it would be excruciating. We all know who he is.
PS: Of course.
Jason: But I’ll never forget, the first morning I showed up at 11 or something and he was gonna be there at noon. And I’ve got cool gear, but I don’t maintain it. I don’t have a tech and I don’t put my stuff in storage. I don’t have my stuff at a music place that’s being professionally handled. My stuff is just bouncing about in my car with me. And I had a ‘50s Fender amp, and I hadn’t even plugged it in in like a year. I had a bunch of amps, but I brought that one because I thought it would be the right vibe. So I get there, and I don’t have a tuner in my rig, because I just tune to a piano or to my ear. And I was looking around and I’m in this behemoth tracking room. I’m looking around at the vocal booth and where the drums will be, and it starts to dawn on me that the only people making this record are me and Paul McCartney. There’s nobody else there! So it was insane, and it’s dawning on me, he’s gonna be here and I don’t even know if my fucking amp works. So I put everything on, and I quickly tune up to the piano, and I’m looking down at my pedals or something and someone taps me on the shoulder from the front. And I look up and it’s Paul. He goes, “You must be Jason.” And I was like, “Uh …” And I was totally fine. Until I saw him. And then I literally got those wobbly knees and I’m trying to be as cool as possible, but I’m fucking dying. I’m trying to understand what is happening here.
Jason: It was so cool. I mean, we just instantly went to work, and I had played with James because James was in on [Beck’s] Sea Change, and I love James Gadson. He’s not only one of the coolest drummers, but he’s one of the coolest dudes ever.
PS: Oh and Sea Change is such a phenomenal album too.
Jason: Oh my God, the sounds on that! The songs, everything’s great. But anyway, we just instantly started going to work, and Paul’s like, “I’ve got this idea,” and he’d go to the piano and start messing around with other instruments. It was insane. This is funny. I remember we were recording on the first day, and Paul and I were both on acoustic guitars. And I was like playing this very simple song, and I was looking around the studio and I forget every once in a while where I was, because I was just kind of lost in the song. And I look up at Paul and he’s trying to get my attention, and he mouths, “Where are we?”—meaning in the arrangement. Like, what’s coming up? Is it the second chorus or the third? What’s happening? And I knew exactly where I was until he asked me. And just because he was like “Where are we?” I was like “I-I don’t know! Fuck!” We just collapsed. Hilarious! Probably the most satisfying thing for me was I got to give him a copy of my Beatle record. We had finished a take and I was like, “Hey Paul …” The only reason I thought that maybe he had heard this already was because this girl that worked at Sony who put out that first record …
Jason: Yeah. This girl called me and goes, “I have to tell you a story. I was at a party last night and I was just talking to somebody who said, ‘You just put out that Jason Falkner Bedtime with the Beatles.’” So she said yeah, and she didn’t even notice, but Stella McCartney was within an earshot. And she was like, “Oh wait, you guys put that record out? I love that. Now I’m gonna give it to my dad.” And so this girl told me that, and I was just like quaking with excitement. So that was like 2 years earlier or something. So I thought maybe if I say, “Have you heard this Bedtime with the Beatles?” I thought maybe he’d be like “Oh yeah …” But he wasn’t. He’s like, “No, what is it?” So we had finished this take and we were walking and the setup in the studio was we kind of came in together and we’d walk through the doors together into the control room. And he puts his arm around me and he’s like, “Sounds great, Jayce.” And I was just like, “Oh man, this is my time, this is my time,” and I had my CDs in my pocket. So I was like “Have you ever heard this?” And I had a pink one for his new daughter, Beatrice, and a blue one for him. And I said, “It was done here in the same studio we’re in right now and I just wanted you to have it.” And so we’re listening back to what we had done, and he opens it up and there’s that picture of me at the piano holding an apple by the core. And he looks up at me and he’s like, “Cheeky!” [Laughter] So here’s the good part. I think that was like the second day. So I only worked 2 days, and then Nigel was just gonna start drilling Paul to play everything. So over the next few days I had a show at the Troubadour. So I came back to the studio to pick up some of my gear. And I walk down the hallway and I walk into the tracking room. The way the studio’s set up is that people in the tracking room can see you’re approaching like 20 feet before you’re actually in the room. So, Nigel and all the assistants are like “Hey, Jason!” And I’m like, “Hey guys.” Nigel pushes the talkback button because Paul was out in the tracking room and says, “Hey Paul, guess who’s here?” I hear this little voice say, “Is it Jayce?” And the scale of that just hits me instantly. I’m like “OK. Why isn’t he thinking, ‘Is it Eric Clapton?’” or all of these other people that just happen to be stopping by. Like I only saw him for 2 days and it’s been like 4 days since, and he’s going, “Is it Jayce?” I’m like, “Oh my God, man.” I go, “Hey, Paul!” And he’s doing a tambourine overdub and he goes, “Jayce! Bedtime with the Beatles! Nice one!” With his thumb up, you know. And he’s like, “Wait there, wait there, I’ll be right there. Don’t leave.” And everyone’s looking at me like, “Holy mother.” And he comes in and he listens to the tambourine thing and then he turns to me and he’s like, “I listened to your record with my mates. We had a bottle of wine and listened to your record. I’m really flattered that you made this.” And I’m just like, “Uh …” He goes, “That little thing that you did—the little turnaround before calliope on ‘Fool on the Hill,’ that’s like Bill Evans!” And I’m just like “Ah!” Because when I recorded it I said to myself, “It’s kind of a Bill Evans thing,” before I changed the chords right there at the [sings] “Sees the world spinning round …” I’m just like, “God. Exactamundo.” And it just went on and on. It was like 10 minutes of him complimenting me about this record, and I was just dumbfounded. I don’t even think I responded adequately at all. I wasn’t comfortable enough to have a conversation with him about it. I was so floored.
PS: Right. Unbelievable.
Jason: I worked with him for another week after that, and every time he’d pass me in the hall, he’d be, “Bedtime with the Beatles! Check him out!” Then it was about 4 months later or something, and I went in for a listening gathering with the people who had worked on [Chaos and Creation in the Backyard]. There were six of us and the president of Capitol was there. So we listen to the album and the Capitol guy’s blowing sunshine everywhere and the assistant Darrell [Thorp], who was my assistant on Bedtime with the Beatles, he goes, “Hey Paul! Did you tell Jason about last time you were in New York?” And Paul gets all excited and he goes, “Oh that’s right, Jayce! I was in New York and I was with my wife. And we went into a friend’s little boutique shop. And guess what was playing! Bedtime with the Beatles!” And he points up at like the speakers in the ceiling and he goes, “I ran up to my friend and I said, ‘I know him!’” And I’m just sitting there and the president of Capitol, who I knew, is just looking at me like, “Whoa.” Like, Paul’s excited that he knows me. That just blows your head off.
PS: Well and that’s gotta be a situation where you look at everything and you think, “Yeah, you know what? It’s been worth it.” I mean I would imagine. Kind of one of those “Hell yeah, I made the right choice.”
Jason: Yeah, exactly. Well I mean the reality is that I was in a position that’s the envy of every rock musician alive for the rest of time. And I had that experience and made an impression on Paul McCartney. And of course he made a huge impression on me, but I would not have had to meet him for him to do that. It’s just really satisfying. People I tell this story to and people who know he was at the studio with me are just like, “You know, you can just fold your arms and be lowered into the dirt. I mean you’ve done it. You have the endorsement of Paul McCartney.”
PS: Yeah. I don’t know where to go next with the interview. That is so cool. I know Nigel’s plan with that album was to kind of have him doing everything, make it a very self-propelled album. And I wanted to ask you about your process when you do that, because obviously, you’re working in that process right now, even with other artists, you’re building up around them. How long does it take you to do that kind of album? Because the thing that blew me away when I first heard Can You Still Feel?, you know, I’m going through it and I hadn’t opened the book or looked at the liner notes. I’m just thinking “Oh that’s a good bass part right there,” “God, that drummer’s really good,” and I’m thinking, “Who does he have on this?” And I look at the liner notes and they’re not that extensive because it’s Jason Falkner: Everything. How long does that take to build that up?
Jason: It’s funny because I’m very, very quick, but I’m very slow with lyrics. Lyrics are probably the reason that I put out so few records, you know. Every three or so years. I would love put out one or two a year. But as far as music, I think one of the reasons that I’m able to make it so that it doesn’t sound like it’s one brain is my process. I record drums first. I usually do the drums to no click. Just playing the song. If there were gonna be long breaks without drums in a song, then I will do it to a click, but generally I just kind of sit down and bash it out. And then I just kind of start pretending that I’m someone else. When I’m playing the drums, I have my list of drummer ghosts that I love that are in attendance, you know, watching me and inspiring me. And then the same thing with bass and so on, I’m trying not to be the same guy that plays the drums. So it’s kind of this mental exercise that seems to work, but I record pretty quickly. Like I would do all the instrumentation on a song in a day, which is quick. I don’t work quite that quick anymore. I’m a little more painstaking in my process. I consider all the options a bit more than I used to, which I think might have something to do with being wiser, but it’s really a burden. You know? Because when you just thought that your way was the only way, it was so much easier. Now that I have a tiny bit of wisdom … Ignorance or tenacity really is bliss.
PS: You can start overthinking things.
Jason: Yeah! I start thinking of things in a hundred different ways. Like maybe I shouldn’t do what I’m naturally doing and convince myself to do something else. That’s a whole other level of a deeper quandary. But it’s still pretty quick. I just keep adding and then I end up subtracting stuff that maybe didn’t work. But I try to make it so that my production style is pretty wall of sound. When I listen to certain records like Velvet Underground or cool new bands that have a sparse thing like Tame Impala where there’s this thing going on over here and there’s only one other thing vying for your attention, I like that. But it’s not really how I hear music. Just because I can kind of differentiate all the things, and I really enjoy hearing them rubbing and fighting and vying for your attention. I enjoy that struggle, it’s kind of a psychological thing that I have. It’s not even really a musical choice. I’m trying to do things very sparse, but it never really stays that way. I think my last two solo records have a bit more of that, where it’s a bit more direct and there’s not so many things fighting for your attention.
PS: It’s interesting that you talked about how the lyrics can be the real time drain, because you want to—well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I would assume—get it right or say just want you want to say.
Jason: I have a very high standard for lyrics, so I want them to be amazing.
PS: But I mean on the last record, All Quiet on the Noise Floor, there was that track “Y.E.S.” And it’s a really nice instrumental piece, and you’ve done some soundtrack work haven’t you? I mean I think I saw you credited on the “Scott Pilgrim” soundtrack and I think you’ve worked with David Holmes too, right?
Jason: I work with David Holmes a lot. Probably more than anybody else.
PS: And when you’ve got that kind of thing, does that become a good outlet for a good musical idea? Like “I can plug that into this project?” I mean if you look at your old Grays collaborator Jon Brion really going down the film soundtrack road, is that something you want to consider more heavily in the future?
Jason: Oh for sure. Yeah, for sure. I have done a lot of work with people in film who call me basically because I come in and can come up with parts. They have the idea, but they don’t physically sit down and play them and so I’ve been trying to cut out that middle man for a while now, but it’s a very flooded market, to be honest. Every second person is like, “Wait, soundtracks I don’t have to stick a knife in my stomach to write. It’s not so painful. Oh and it pays like a hundred times more than making your own record.” So everybody is trying to do that. And it was like 4 years ago that I was working with David on something and he was so happy with what I was doing, and I was like, “Well, Dave, I want to do this myself. I want to get a film.” He’s like, “OK, I’m gonna hook you up with my guy.” So I meet his guy, and his guy’s like, “Well have you done a soundtrack yet on your own?” I said, “No, that’s why I’m here.” He’s like, “You gotta do a soundtrack before I get you a soundtrack.” So I see. It’s like S.A.G., you know? You can’t work as an actor unless you’re in S.A.G. and you can’t get into S.A.G. unless you’re working as an actor. It’s fucking insanity. So that’s kind of where it was left off. This guy didn’t take me on. He goes, “Well who do you know?” So I said, “Well I have some film supervisors that I hang out with …” He goes, “Well hang out with them!” That was his advice for me. So nothing’s happened.
PS: Just another game of who you know, basically.
Jason: Yeah, and I have friends who make films and they love my records, but they haven’t asked me to score their films—yet. And I’m not exactly beating down that door to be honest. You know, when it happens, it happens, and I do look forward to it. It is very satisfying work, and you can be actually more creative and experimental in film than most people are if you’re trying to write songs. And I love that. Because all of my production has a real experimental nature to it, even if it’s some of the things that are kind of subdued in the mix. There’s still kind of a blanket of weirdness that’s going on even within a pretty straightforward sounding song. And that’s what I’d be bringing to the forefront if I was doing soundtracks. It’s like the song then gets subdued, and the kind of experimental thing gets more pulled to the forefront.
PS: Right, right. OK. I also wanted to ask you about this. I’ve read in past interviews that you’ve done, your time with Elektra. I know you’ve said in this past at the time of Author Unknown in particular, that was the moment where you’d come into your own, firing on all cylinders and probably doing what you’d wanted to have been doing for the past 6 or so years. But at the same time you’ve got a major label now who’s not putting the effort into that perhaps you feel they should’ve. But living in that time and looking at it now, all these years detached from it, what are your thoughts of that?
Jason: Uh, well that was probably my best years as far as enthusiasm and output. But of course my Elektra experience really couldn’t have been much worse as far as promotion and doing the job of a record company, which is making the records that they sign succeed. Of course, they’re not solely responsible for the fate of records that they sign, but you know, when you overextend yourself like pretty much every business does and you sign too many things, then you hope a couple of them make the money to fund everything else. Once the “Eh, I’m not sure” response comes from the radio, they’re like, “OK! Sorry! Sorry! Here’s another one! Try these guys.” And that’s what happened with me. You know, my music kind of dances on a fence. They’re songs, therefore they’re pop. Therefore they have hooks. But the hooks aren’t typical and the songs aren’t typical, so, for a guy who’s working at a radio station with a baseball cap on who just wants to instantly get pulled into the simplicity of pop music …
PS: Hootie and the Blowfish and such …
Jason: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. He’s gonna be like, “I don’t get it.” And that guy is fucking powerful, which is a shame. I always thought that like what I did—and I still think this, so I have hope about it—I always thought that being a little askew was my goal. Being a little bit off the chart, being unique, to me, was something that I appreciated in records that I was a fan of. I appreciated it in Andy Partridge, Elvis Costello. If Elvis Costello were to break out now, his voice would’ve been a deterrent for probably most people. It’s a polarizing voice.
PS: Yeah, well even in America, you think about it. I don’t know how many people paid much attention, because he’d had My Aim is True and This Year’s Model out already around the time he did the thing on “Saturday Night Live,” and that’s where everyone kind of went, “Wait, who is this guy?”
Jason: Exactly. And that brings up another point. I wanted to be on TV. I thought, “Get me on TV.” People will get it. Fucking somebody will. And it just never happened. I made one fairly bad move, which was I thought I was being cool by saying, “I’m not making a video.” It was like “OK, Jason, let’s do a video.” And I say, “No video.” Around that time MTV had pretty much stopped playing music videos.
PS: Going toward “The Real World” and all that …
Jason: Exactly. And I was like, “There’s no reason to make a video.” They were like, “Oh, OK. Cool.” And I’m thinking that money will be spent on my promotion in some other capacity. But it doesn’t. I thought that money would be used to like help tour support or something. I’m telling them, “Let’s spend that money elsewhere.” It wasn’t like [adopts haughty tone], “No video , I don’t want to be promoted!” No. It was “Let’s use that money more wisely.” But if you don’t use that money, it doesn’t come to you. I also had a show in New York. I think it was Irving Plaza and this was another fateful thing that happened. I had a solo show there, and it was probably like a lot of the big people at Elektra. Because I was the little Great White Hope for what felt like about 6 months. I ran into Seymour Stein at a restaurant on the street and he says, “Jason Falkner! Our new star!” to the whole table. God knows who he was with. So I kind of had that experience at Elektra which felt really amazing. And then I had the solo show, and it went over very well. My A&R woman, who was the head of A&R, she was like, “This is amazing! He doesn’t need a band! He’s got the audience right here.” She’s pointing at her palm. So she’s saying I don’t need a band and it’ll be cheaper to tour, and I was like “Wait, wait, wait, what did you just say? No, I uh, need a band. I made a record that sounds like a band. It doesn’t matter that it’s me playing everything. It needs to be presented like a band.” And she’s like, “No, it’s great. You don’t need a band.” So that haunted me. They never gave me enough tour support to pay a band. And so that was my experience at Elektra.
PS: Do you look back on it now, and think that at the time, being on fire like that and having that catalog of songs at the time, do you wish you’d done with a different label? Do you regret it now or is it more a case of being glad you had the experience?
Jason: Well I’m glad I had the experience in some ways, but I absolutely wish that it had been at a place that was more sympathetic. And I wish I had done a couple things differently as well. Because I wish that I could friggin’ buy a house. I’m renting a house in my 40s and it sucks. That definitely shouldn’t be misconstrued as being a money-obsessed person, which clearly I’m not. Or I would have those things. But you know, I wish that those records had done better so that I was a little more set up as the artist I am. I feel like right now I’m going to have to start all over, which is just terrifying. It’s beyond daunting. To have to start all over, it’s just terrifying because there’s a whole different kind of crowd. It might never happen, let’s put it that way. It might just continue to be me putting these records out, kind of under the radar. I don’t know if I’m going to try, you know, to tour for 6 months. I’d like to do it a little more intelligently and just do kind of choice cities. I’m not going to be going to Branson, Missouri, let’s put it that way.
PS: Branson’s getting a lot of TV time right now, that might be the place to go.
Jason: Oh. Well, maybe that’s the only place.
PS: Yeah, then you’ll get on TV, man. Well and then what’s next. I mean if Omnivore’s talking with you, even loosely about reissuing Author Unknown and Can You Still Feel? and get that back out there. You know, do you look at that as bringing any new listeners in or having any kind of effect that the Jellyfish resurgence has had?
Jason: That would be the goal. I certainly hope so. I don’t know enough about what Omnivore’s doing, I mean I know they’re a reissue house. I even said, “Hey, I have a new record,” and they said, “Well, that’s awesome, but we don’t really deal with new records.” You know, to me things like that are for record collectors. I just think that however I decide to get my new record, I think that that will be the thing that gets some new fans and I’m gonna make sure that it has a real release, unlike the last thing that I put out. That I’m OK, You’re OK American release—that was only by a distribution company. They had no promotion. It was just all of the sudden, “Here it is.” It’s on Amazon, it’s on iTunes and it’s all over Ebay. So it wasn’t like, “Everybody listen to this masterpiece.” It’s like what happened with the last record where most of my fans already had it. So it was a little, you know, wah-wah. The vinyl didn’t sell nearly as well as I thought it would. The CD sold like 5,000 copies, but the 10,000 Japanese copies that were printed sold out. So, you know, crazily enough, that’s a good amount of records to sell these days if it’s all consolidated into one label. You know, selling 15 or 20,000 copies, a small label would be stoked. So that’s my goal, to have a proper released and get back on the tree. Because I kind of gave up, man. I kind of gave up after Can You Still Feel? That’s when I started doing other stuff, like Air, which was supposed to be 6 months of my life. It turned into 3 years. And then I did the EP just for that tour like I mentioned, and then it was 3 more years before I’m OK, You’re OK. It was just like (sigh). I never gave up writing and recording, but I definitely gave up the fights with the powers that be.
Paul: Final question I have to ask you, because I’ve seen this picture floating around on the Internet for years. I don’t know where you are, but it’s you, Rolan Bolan and Liam Gallagher.
Jason: Yeah … [Laughter]
PS: What was going on?
Jason: It’s a great picture isn’t it? It’s amazing that you know Rolan Bolan. It was really, clearly a fun night. That was in a hotel, like the one nice hotel in the Coachella area where that festival is. That was the night of that festival. Oasis had played. It’s an amazing story, actually. I was with my ex-girlfriend and we drove down there and hung out and I think there might’ve been some mushrooms involved? But we ended up deciding it would be a bad idea to drive home. Because it’s a long drive. And we were messed up. So we ran into some friends, and they invited us to an after party in the bar of this hotel. Basically, it stayed open ‘til 2. So we went to this hotel, and basically it happened to be the hotel where all the bigger bands were staying. It’s like the only kind of nice hotel. We were all hanging out downstairs and there’s this huge open atrium with the biggest American flag you’ve ever seen hanging down. This was maybe 2002? 2003? There were still a lot of flags around, you know? And we were all sitting there and all of the sudden there was a scream and glass exploded in the middle of this atrium. Nobody was sitting there, but it was still a place where people could be walking. And we look up and it’s fucking Liam Gallagher, of course. [Laughter] He’s up on like, the 20th floor, and he had thrown a glass against the flag, and we’re all just like, “Oh my God, the monkey is just never gonna stop.” So the bar closed, we invite a few of our friends up, so there’s like six of us in our room, and Rolan was of them.
Jason: So then, I said to my ex-girlfriend, “Hey, see if Liam is still kicking about.” He was just kind of hanging out, like just showing up and being obnoxious. He’d just like jump out of a bush and shout “Fuck off!” So I say, “See if Liam is still out there and invite him up.” And I will never forget the expression on her face when she came back into the room. Two people behind her was the gorilla himself, Liam Gallagher! So we’ve got Liam in our room now and there’s only like seven of us, and he’s going [adopts Manchester accent] “Alright, who’s got the drugs?” There are no drugs. There are 4 little minibar bottles. Then he ended up just hanging out. And he wouldn’t leave. We all just had an amazing conversation. And he turned off the public persona and actually was just the coolest dude ever. I fucking loved him. And that picture was pretty early on, but yeah. I remember it was getting light out and we’re in our room. There’s only a queen-size bed and a little bit of area for people to hang out. And Liam’s just talking and talking. And I remember I get into bed. I was like, “OK, guys. It’s over.” And I took my shirt off and got into bed, and he just kept talking! And it was like people are sleeping now. But I was trying to go to sleep and I was overhearing my poor friend trying to talk to him. This was the funniest conversation. He’s like, “Liam, have you ever checked out Leonard Cohen, man?” And Liam’s like, “Never heard of him.” So my friend’s like, “Oh, man, he’s amazing. He’s like a Buddhist, he writes these great lyrics.” And I can hear him. My eyes are closed and I’m kind of cracking up under the covers, thinking, “Oh man, this is gonna be good.” And Liam’s like, “Listen.” [Laughter] He’s like, “Fuckin’ what? A Buddhist? When we started Oasis, all we wanted to do was to have as many chicks around as we could and do as many drugs and drink and that’s what it’s about, man. It’s not about being a fuckin’ Buddhist!” Just crushing my friend. He’s going “That’s fucking stupid.” I think I just started laughing out loud under the covers. It was awesome.