Songwriting, a life pursuit: Q&A with Nick Jaina

Nick will be perform at Empty Sea on Wednesday, January 23rd, with Esme Patterson and Robert Sarazin Blake.  Click here for more information and to purchase advance tickets.

Nick JainaNick Jaina is a musician and writer from Portland, Oregon. He has released several albums on Hush Records while touring North America with his band. He has written several ballets for a group featuring dancers from the New York City Ballet, in addition to writing music for plays and film. His new album Primary Perception will be released on Fluff & Gravy Records this spring.

What does it mean to you to be a musician and songwriter?  How would you describe your musical identity?

Songwriting for me is a life pursuit. It’s a craft that I’m interested in improving as long as I’m still living. I believe in using that craft to also try to improve myself as a person. I think the songwriting and the being a person thing are intertwined and share the same path. I am endlessly interested in how to open myself up more through my writing, challenge myself to do something new, and try to write the best song ever.

What has been your experience in writing music in various different contexts?  How does your process change when working with artists of different backgrounds: in dance, theater, film, etc.?

Recently I’ve been writing music for ballet and film and theater. It’s a very different experience than sitting in a room trying to write a song for myself. It’s nice to have someone come to me asking me to fill a certain role and create music for their project. It makes me feel like a cabinet maker or something, to have someone come to me and say they have a kitchen that’s yea big and they have a specific space and can I make a fine cabinet to fit in it. I like getting into the bricks and mortar of songwriting, of sitting down at the piano with a project that has parameters and a deadline and making it work. I would’ve liked to live in a time where that kind of songwriting was a valued profession, where people worked in buildings creating songs for singers to sing. I mean, people still do that today, but not in the genres that I would have any idea how to write in.

What are you most excited about right now musically?  What are your current goals?

I’m excited about this new album I have coming out called Primary Perception. The title refers to the gut instinct or sincere spontaneous genuine emotions you have in a given moment, versus the calculated thought-out response that comes after. There is this famous study by this scientist in the 60′s who had hooked up some plants to lie detectors to find their stress levels under certain circumstances. He wasn’t getting any responses to his tests and got frustrated and spontaneously thought about burning one of the plants with a match. The plant freaked out and all the sensors went crazy. He tried to recreate the result by consciously thinking about burning the plant, but nothing happened. Basically the only way he could get any response was when he had a true, non-scripted emotion. Which makes sense, when you think about what a plant can actually perceive, it’s not going to be fooled by visual cues or the words someone uses or anything else. If it can respond to anything, it’ll just be able to pick up the “vibe” of a situation, and that can not be faked, it has to be genuine. I took that approach to the recording process, gathering people in the studio who wanted to be there and figuring out what song to play while we were there. Often no one had heard the song before and the four to eight of us would just work out an arrangement right there in the studio, sometimes with three guitarists working at the same time. Almost all the instruments you hear on the songs were done live in the same studio at the same time (not the vocals) and I think it really helped for everyone to be really excited about the song at the moment, and arranging their part while they could simultaneously hear what everyone else was doing.

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