Talking shop with Jason Spooner. This multi award-winning New England-based singer-songwriter has a list of accomplishments the length of the Maine coast and back. He’s been compared to the likes of Paul Simon and Dave Matthews with a songwriting prowess to rival them both. Accomplished and well traveled, yet hard working and unpretentious, he’s just a regular guy whose band is making a killer new album dropping in summer ’14.
D: You tour nationally. Where do your tours take you?
JS: We tend to gear tours around where the records are resonating with radio. Music industry pundits seem to be constantly prophesizing about the impending death of radio nationwide but we’ve seen nothing but advancement and opportunity from it.
We had some luck early on in the northwest with radio and just started working the region on a regular basis seeing crowds grow upon each return. Before long, we were getting offers from festivals out west and it all started to coalesce. We’ve replicated this methodology to develop several other regions of the country since.
D: With all that northwest travel, it must be nice to come back “home” to Maine.
JS: I’ve lived in Maine since 1991 and my mother was born in Maine so it’s definitely the place I can most accurately think of as “home.” There’s just such an identifiable spirit to the state that is evident everywhere you look. It’s a challenging place to make a go of anything (artistic or otherwise) and you need to push and juggle a little bit more to make things work, but that challenge makes you appreciate the good things when they come. I think that informs the character of the people here: scrappy, creative, open-minded, adventurous, witty. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve been.
D: After performing solo for some years, you decided to join Adam Fredrick (bass) and Reed Chambers (drums) in the early 2000s to form the Jason Spooner Trio. How did this collaboration alter or add to your established sound?
JS: I always half-joked that I never really wanted to form a “band” as it risked equating to coordination, legwork, and management of personalities. I liked the simplicity of the solo thing early on but it became clear that a good band was the only way to move forward not only musically, but in terms of getting out there—recording, touring, growth. Reed and Adam are very talented players and great people. It’s far more fun to have your best friends out there with you, guys you trust implicitly rowing in the same direction toward a shared goal.
D: And now you’re the Jason Spooner Band, essentially a quartet?
JS: Yes. Warren Mcpherson (piano/keyboards) has been on board for almost two years and he’s been a stellar addition. Our previous albums were all essentially trio records. A four-piece band is really a different animal, especially when piano and keyboard are the addition. I think the fourth musician let the rest of us really focus more on parts and composition versus feeling like we needed to fill space. We all changed our approaches to some extent and grew significantly through the process. It’s all developed in a reasonably natural way from a fairly diverse range of musical tastes and ideologies. Our individual influences just seemed to seep into the mix organically, and things got more interesting as we grew.
D: You’re working on your newest album at Hearstudios in Camden, you’re also one of their first clients, why did you choose to record there?
JS: As a band, we’ve always talked about how great it would be to hole up at a studio in the Berkshires or in Woodstock, NY, and do the “full-immersion” record where you live and breathe the creative process for weeks at a time and are free from the day-to-day minutia.
We knew that the vibe of the room and the quality of the facility and gear was exactly what we’d been daydreaming about for years. Jason (Hearst) was actually a friend of mine in college and was amazingly gracious and positive about having us come up. He’s an extremely talented engineer/producer with a very creative outlook. It just seemed like the stars aligned on the situation in every possible way. Bob Thompson (business manager/creative director) was also fabulous—great ears, musicality and enthusiasm.
D: So it was the right call?
JS: I’ve had nothing but incredibly positive experiences working at the studios in and around Portland over the years and I’m proud of all of the previous recordings. The only downside to recording in Portland is the proximity to the mundane distractions of your own daily life.
Recording (in Camden) was amazing—being there 24/7 and living in the studio’s band house (right next door) made it very seamless and cohesive. We could experiment in the studio, track late, talk about the tunes as a group after the sessions over dinner and then get up early, talk more over breakfast and start fresh in the studio, fully focused on the songs and the project.
D: What did it allow you to do differently on this album that you hadn’t tried before?
JS: Tracking the core tracks of the band live. It’s something that we’d wanted to do for years but had always moved away from for one reason or another. Once we saw the layout of the room, the options for instrument isolation, the overall feel of the place, we knew that we could easily and comfortably track everything together in the room and the results gave the tunes an energy that we’d failed to truly capture in previous albums. The core performances were four guys on the floor. The difference is night and day.
D: You’ve been criticized for having an energetic on-stage presence that isn’t always reflected in your recorded albums. Is this the change that was needed?
JS: We’ve probably criticized ourselves more than anyone else formally. I think all musicians struggle with it—translating the live thing to the studio thing.
When you decide to layer songs versus performing them live, you’re sacrificing a good chunk of the human energy that happens when people perform as an ensemble in a room. When you layer, you’re looking at a wall with headphones on doing your eleventh take, wanting to strangle yourself instead of watching the bass player dance around and the drummer smack the drums when the song starts to feel good.
We definitely moved beyond the antiseptic quality of the layered approach with the way that we recorded this album. I think we’ve finally delivered a much better representation of what we sound like onstage.
D: What’s the best advice you’ve been given in the music industry?
JS: The two best pieces of music industry advice that were ever passed on to me over the years were deceptively simple, but have served me well:
1. No one cares about your music career more than you do.
2. Never be above or below any opportunity.
Those two bits of advice have become mantras of sorts.
D: You totally have a day job as a web designer. You’re a web designer who just played Sundance, jammed with B.B. King, and whose music is piped into Starbucks across the country. Why keep it?
JS: Any musician who has done a bit of traveling will tell you that there is a lot of “hanging” involved—in the car, backstage, after your set—a lot of idling in neutral until the next bit of time on stage or until you need to be “on” again for an interview or something. A lot of time where you sort of revert to your reptilian brain to deal with it. I get antsy doing too much of that. I’m the kind of person who needs balance and counterpoints. The web gig is a good counterpoint for me that keeps me sharp and current with new technologies and helps me to think analytically while staying creative with the visual stuff.
JS: We’re very fired up and will be prominently featuring a large batch of tunes from the new album!