Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Jason Ager

Funky.  Soulful.  Rocking.  Just a few words that popped into my mind when Jason Ager's new CD, Jason Ager & the C.O.P.O.,Lunchdate,  dropped across the Ripple desk.  After one song I knew we were gonna have to chat with this dude and learn what makes him tick.  With that, we suddenly found Jason sitting on our red interview couch, popping open a cold one and telling tales.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

I think one of my epiphanies has to do with my father.  He is the type of guy that wore tapes out in the stereo of his truck when we would drive, and we drove everywhere.  Favorite tapes of his were Creedence, Willie Nelson, and Nat King Cole (both his stripped down jazz stuff and his big band/ orchestra stuff).  Anyways, my dad always dabbled with music, and had an organ that played beats along with the  melody you were hammering out on the keys, and he used to love to jam out in the afternoons (he has been retired longer than I can remember since he was considerably older when I was born).  On one particular afternoon, myself and some buddies from around the way were fooling around with a four-track recorder I had at the time, and were recording live, when in walks my dad.  He fires the organ up and starts wiling away.  Needles to say, I reacted strongly, his retort simply being "It's my  f@$%#*& organ time!!! "  I think that was pretty formative in my musical life, it taught me to keep songs short as well as to shrug off crazy people in the crowd.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

The idea is usually always first.  I'll have an idea about something I wanna say, and I'll try and match some chords and melodies to it.  I just wrote a song about not being able to surf, called "Born to Surf" (it will be the title track of the next album we are working on, slated for a Spring release) because I saw a bumper sticker of a dude riding on the front of a board with a huge wave behind him.  All my songs have to come from experiences or concepts I grapple with, otherwise I can't make the song sound genuine.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

I look at relationships around me for inspiration...different people get on differently, and I think that makes things interesting.  I always have to have my own thoughts about it though, otherwise it won't come off right.

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

I have been thinkin ' about this for a while, and without getting in trouble with anybody or their management, I like to describe my music as "Chuck Berry rappin' as the frontman of the Chili Peppers." I hope I didn't piss anybody off, especially not Mr. Chuck Berry.  Genre's are tough, but I think I am a modern blues artist with R&B tinges.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

That's a hard question, which I don't know if I can even answer.  I will think about it though.

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

We really strive to be simple, which is reflected by our live setup, bass drums and guitar.  I think there's a lot to be said for grittiness and raw emotion, and for me, that works just fine. I also don't ever wanna take myself too seriously, and try to include funny stories or witty thoughts that detract from people taking my music too seriously.  Music for me is cathartic, and should be a release, anything too complex and demanding would take away from that aspect.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Our plan is to continue making songs we love, and to get them to our fans as quick as possible.  We are planning on releasing an album a year  for as long as we can keep it up.  I have also just started a videoblog that will hopefully let folks know what we're up to, as well as give them a taste of some of the new tunes coming their way, like a sneak peek.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

My favorite story about rock and roll happened when I was just starting out.  At that time, my band had a horrible name, we thought it was clever, but people thought it sounded like "three, four eights" or "deformed face" or "tree stormed gates" (the name was really "Three Formed Fates," so you can see how easy it was for folks to mess it up...)  We were young and somewhat naive, when we were put in contact with a dude whose name shall remain unmentioned, although it was a name like "Buddy Mann."  He managed a bunch of bands that played around the area, cover bands to be more precise, and he immediately loved our music and wanted to use us as the rhythm section for another band he was forming, and we would get a set whenever this larger band performed.  This guy was a proven entity and had made every band he touched a success, partly because the names he chose were cool, that and he hand-picked the musicians and whatnot.  Needless to say he hated the name we had at the time, and wanted to give us a new one.  Naturally, I was really stoked and thought he would come up with the coolest thing I had ever heard...I did mention previously that I was naive.  He sat back after one meeting we had with him (he actually invested a lot of time and effort with us, recording a demo and having photos taken and the whole nine yards) and I'll never forget how earnest he was when he informed us that he'd come up with a brilliant name for the group... "Slow Butta." First of all, I didn't know butter had any speed to it, let alone slow, and secondly, I was pretty sure he had lost his mind.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel somehow dirty hearing the name even today.  It was at this point that I knew we were better off pursuing our own course...then again, who knows, "Slow Butta" could be the next big thing.

 What makes a great song?

Songs that are true, or convey a truth that someone has felt or known.  I don't go for contrived things, especially not in the artistic realm.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

It's called "The Girlfriend Song" and I have promised a friend that we will redo it for the next album.  It tells the story about my girlfriend at the time breaking my heart, my pride, and my balls to be completely honest.  Now that I think of it, it is probably one of the truer things I have ever written.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

I really like the "Sing-along Jawn" off our debut CD "Lunchdate."  I love the guitar solo, not because it is intricate, but because it is gritty and nasty.  Overall, i think that song captures what we are about.  It gets the crowd participating, it has some whimsical ideas in it, and it allows us to cut loose.

Who today, writes great songs? Why?

The Avett Brothers, The Hold Steady, Alexi Murdoch and Citizen Cope are just a few of the albums sitting on my desk right now.  I think they all write some pretty awesome songs.  Funny thing is, I am never sure what their songs are actually about, but it doesn't matter since they convey a truth to me that I cherish, and play over and over again.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

CD I think.  I was always too scared to rummage through my brother's vinyl collection (he's got some amazing ones) and it steered me to CD's.  I remember listening to Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever album on my first CD player.  On that album, he stops in the middle and says something to the effect that "We're gonna take a short pause while our vinyl and tape listeners switch sides."  I just always thought that was cool.  I also think having stacks and stacks of CD's around my house is awesome, and Spoon said it the best in the liner notes of their most recent platter, "Buying records in record stores is cool."

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Main Street Music in Manayunk, PA. (Philadelphia)

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

I just would like to encourage people to support music whenever they can.  It means the world to the musicians, and that's not an overstatement.

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