JDub: From Singer/Songwriter to Frontman/Turntablist - A Transformation
Apollo X is a new band, but it's not my first. The is the 7th music group that I've fronted as lead singer, in a career spanning multiple decades. As a band leader, I was a singer-songwriter; basically a guy with a guitar. In JDub and the Tease (look us up on Spotify), I worked with a fantastic session and touring bassist, Trevor Soetart (aka Trevor of Doom). He helped me finish several of our songs and made me realize the importance of bass guitar. He was also instrumental in helping Cam Rogers (aka Mixer Rogers), our drummer, arrange his beats.
This focus on arrangement took my dependance on my own guitar down a notch, and gave me a more global view of song construction.
Typically, as a western human, I notice vocals first in a song. Singing is my primary instrument. As a 3 year old boy, I would wake up in the morning, stand up in my crib, and start to sing. This is how my mother would find me each day: a happy boy, singing spiritedly.
In college, underground music became my thing. You had to play an instrument while singing to be cool. I subsequently picked up guitar and joined a band called Identi-kit. This would lay the foundation for my later projects, which began out of passion and developed into a need to share my music with the world.
Lead singers are a rare breed. The job is a strange mix of cultivating your creativity into songs and organizing arrangements that properly support those songs. It is a difficult mix of left and right-brained tasks, which, to me, is the only challenge in life that seems to be invigorating enough for the obnoxious intensity of my mind.
The idea of arrangements being "proper" may seem counterintuitive to creativity, but professional frontmen and women build our sense of structure on arrangers who have come before. As a child, I bought every Beach Boys tape I could get my hands on. Brian Wilson was guiding my sense of composition from an early age. In college, edgy bands like Jawbox and Faith No More introduced me to indie rock arrangers like J Robbins and dynamic frontmen like Mike Patton.
This was a time of iconoclasm, casting off more established, structured forms in favor of innovation. At this time I would never have understood the genius of a singer/songwriter like Paul Simon, or a soul singer like Al Green. Not yet. I had to journey down the rabbit hole of experimentation in order to appreciate the more established, structured results of platinum album sellers.
As songwriters, the expression of the self can remove an artist somewhat from the way music is consumed. Instead of thinking of music in terms of enjoyment, the way fans do, we consider how the music conveys us as a person. Is it cool? Is it authentic? Is it vulnerable enough to be confessional, and therefore uncool, rendering it authentic enough to BE cool?
This is the circle that must be complete. Sometimes music needs to just be for enjoyment, and other times it needs to have meaning. The conundrum would consume my work for years. It would make my work play and my play, work! 10,000 hours of experience are necessary to master the art of playfulness as a career. Even then, it is still an unfolding process of transformation that is INTENDED to challenge and evolve the constructs that make it possible.
It was Trevor, the bass player, and his work with JDub & the Tease that helped me realize that after noticing vocals, the next most vulnerable, authentic part of the arrangement is bass. It requires a sensitivity that, unlike lyrics, is almost entirely heartfelt rather than technical. A bass part's movement, pocket, and choice of rhythm must be technically sound in order to support the arrangement. But the choice of note comes from that Beautiful Dreamer/Brian Wilson side of creativity.
Drums, on the other hand, are COOL! The beat of a song is rich, often fun, and invigorating, structurally supporting the movement of the body (lower chakras) along with the bass. But the relationship between the bass and the vocals became the naked truth of a song's melodic content to me.
Now, when writing a song, I still often work with chords and a melody. I begin some songs on guitar or keys. But the thing that sets me off and guarantees that what I am writing is an Apollo X song is a relationship between the elements of drums, bass, and vocals. I try to leave chords for John Cooper (guitar) to fill in as color. As a DJ, I very quickly learned the fan side of arrangement, how the beat moves the dance floor, and what a vocal must do to captivate attention within that beat.
Now, the turntables bring a fan's perspective to the way I write songs. This is incredibly disarming. Gone are the days of trying to fit a vocal melody over a "cool" chord progression. I work with the bare elements, and fearlessly fill in what other more talented players will play, like James Andretti's bass performance vs my authentically vulnerable bass parts. It requires more heart, more head, more of me, but when we drop the needle on one of our songs live, all of that work allows me to let go and sing, living in my emotions and expression.
My left brain is the functionality of the arrangement, and my right brain is the singer. My production chops are the father, who plans and blazes a trail for the vocalist, a three-year-old happy kid in his crib, singing spiritedly.... :D
5 June 2023
Austin, TX USA