Interview: J. Alan Schneider

Following the release of J. Alan Schneider’s debut solo album ‘Lo & Behold’, we managed to ask him a few questions about his music and how he feels about it:

Mytacism Music: As an introduction to new listeners, how would you describe yourself and your music?

J. Alan Schneider: On the surface, I’m a folk artist — influences ranging from classics like Simon & Garfunkel to modern artists like the Tallest Man on Earth. But I also spent my formative years (like, high school) listening to pop/punk like Alkaline Trio and Saves the Day. Somehow that all blends into my sound.

What first got you into music – was there one moment that you can recall when it finally dawned on you that this was what you wanted to do?

I have to thank my Mom for that — she pushed me and my brothers into taking piano lessons. I started when I was five, and I experienced within those first few years both the frustration of plunking away at a new piece for weeks on end, and the tidal wave of accomplishment you feel when you finally nail it in your sleep. I still feel that way whenever I get a new song just right. That’s really it. When a song clicks, it’s the biggest rush you can get.

Everybody has a different way that they approach the song writing process, so what’s it like for you personally?

Well, I’m an ad copywriter by day, so I spend my 9–5 coming up with taglines, email copy, etc. When I sit down to write a song, it weirdly comes from a completely separate part of my brain. Sometimes I start with a melody that’s been stuck in my head, sometimes it’s a full structure & chord progression, other times I pull from this running bank of cool phrases I carry around with me. If I catch some moment on the subway, or some instance of human decency on the street, I’ll jot down how it makes me feel.

What is your biggest fear when it comes to your work and music?

Hmmm, I think I read somewhere that the #1 biggest fear for humans, in general, isn’t death — it’s public speaking. And whether it’s my album on Spotify, or me singing my songs to a bunch of strangers in a bar, I think releasing music is the ultimate form of public speaking. You’re pouring your heart, soul, and technical musical abilities out in front of people. So I think any fear I have sort of comes from that. But, like I said, we’re all human so I like to think we’re all together in that.

Is there a main idea you want to deliver to your audience through your album?

I’ve been playing in an indie rock band for the past five years (more on them in a sec), but the songs for this album have been slowly coming to life for a while now. For this record, I want people to hear me. I’m from NH, but I went to school in Boston, and now I live in NYC. And the shock to your system from changes like that (even though some happened gradually) really comes through in the songs. I want people to feel a sense of personal growth, like I have. Most of the themes on this record — whether aimed at myself or someone in my life, in some cases — all have to do with a life change. And I want people to relate to that message, because we’re all growing, every day.

Where do you taken your main inspiration from? Was it your own personal life and experiences or life in a more general sense?

I guess I sort of just touched on that, but I think I inadvertently have always surrounded myself with people over who trigger passion in me, or at least some reaction. I’m not a very religious person, so my moments of reflection come when I’m sitting alone on some Wednesday evening in my tiny NY apartment, writing songs and thinking about my life. The choices I’ve made, the choices my loved ones have made, and how we’re all connected. I know that all sounds really fluffy, but that’s where most of my music comes from.

What’s your favourite track off of the album?

“Arkansas” is a really important song for me. My mother’s family is from Arkansas, and I visited the state for the first time a few years ago, and that happened to coincide with a really trying time in my life. And this song is a literal means of getting past that moment. The organ, guitar, and vocals on the album are all the first take I did, too… so it definitely is one of those songs that came very naturally.

What was it that made you want to break into solo work rather than working with Jet Black Sunrise?

I wouldn’t say I “broke” into solo work. Watching Jet Black Sunrise grow from a small band in a college dorm to a moderately successful regional act was really awesome, but it’s only half the story. Those guys are my absolute best friends from college, and are probably the best songwriters I’ll ever have the privilege of writing with. We’re actually still working on new stuff as the band. This solo project is something that just felt very natural, based on the writing that I’ve been doing. But I’d be crazy if I told you those guys didn’t indirectly affect my sound on this record.

Do you think that it has been easier working as a solo artist or did enjoy the ‘togetherness’ and support of having a band alongside you?

There are pros and cons for sure. Things like press photos and songwriting decisions, when left to a consensus, can get watered down (try having five goofy dudes all look good in ONE photo. It’s hard). Doing it alone gives you a clearer vision, and more importantly, a clearer execution. But then, there are also the moments of pushing each other to be better musicians. Those shared experiences on-stage. Those kinds of things will always be missed when you’re up there alone.

How would you say your musical style has changed now that you’re working on your own?

As I said, I think my writing will forever be affected by working with those guys, so some of that style has definitely come through. But, this is a folk record, first and foremost. And there are so many decisions I made when producing it that the band would never have made — I did all the writing, performing, mixing, and mastering of all the instruments on all the tracks. Track one, “Lo” for example, has all of these sort of ethereal, ambient layers to set a tone for the record. And that transitions right into “Behold”, my single, and that’s just me and my guitar, recorded in an apartment. Those are two songs that would probably never be on a JBS record. It’s been a really fun journey, making this record, and I’m super excited to see where it takes me.

J. Alan Schneider’s debut solo album ‘Lo & Behold’ is out now.

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