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Jake Newton Interview : Part I

"It’s an incredible feeling to have an audience’s attention. It’s an incredible gift people are giving you. They’re giving you a piece of their life, their valuable time, to listen to you sing songs you made up in your bedroom. " - Jake Newton

This interview with Jake Newton has been taken in two parts. 

I was expecting to publish the first part of the interview earlier this year, but Jake soon managed to secure funds and slipped into the studio to record his first ever full length album ‘Kill the Past’  - and it seemed to me like the timing to put it out wasn't right,  just yet.

The result of the delay has resulted in a two part feature that captures Jake from the days of his struggle to what it felt like to finally make his first record and put it out into the world.

Part I explores the making of the two EP's and how Jake's personal struggles found release in his music.

The Jake Newton Interview
The music of Jake Newton takes personal to an all new level. Discovering his website completely by accident in late 2007, I found myself very intrigued by the six songs I was able to stream - something quite different I thought, at a time when Independent music was just about breaking onto the internet scene,  and a refreshing change!

Jake Newton's 'I'm a Bird EP' was released almost five years ago and as of yesterday Jake's debut record 'Kill the Past' has officially been released on the internet. 

There's a transparency that make Jake's lyrics so honest and his tunes so intricate - you almost wonder where all the magic comes from.  Jake Newton lets Downright Fiction in on his song making process, personal struggles and the solitude that lies behind the melodies.

Your music (of what I've heard from the two EP’s) paints a beautiful picture in terms of your evolution as an Artist. Where did this "Jake" sound come from?

Well I never really set out to have a specific sound, I’m sure some people do. They craft the way in which they approach music. I’ve always written songs out of a need to create them.

At first I really only played guitar, I wasn’t in a band, so that probably had a lot to do with what came out. I don’t really know how the song is going to sound until it’s written.

Were you afraid of what people would say about the melodies or the sometimes-spoken-nuances that make up your songs?

I think everyone is afraid of sharing songs with other people at first. Many songs, especially when you first start writing them, come from such a personal place. I cared a lot about how people reacted. Some people conquer their fears early.

Unfortunately it took me far too long to get over it. I never blanched at the nuances, they still feel like an inside joke, stretching the ears of the listener.

Was there a point while writing a particular song (or maybe during its recording) that you felt you had exhausted yourself emotionally? Did you wish you hadn’t gone there?

I think I did feel as though, during the sessions for “Soldier of the Heart” that I’d spent too much time in the mire.

My brain has a natural proclivity towards the morose and the macabre. I don’t have a song on that record that makes you want to get up and shake your groove thang. But as far as revisiting the words, many times I wrote them out of pain, or jealousy, or of the feeling of mortality.

More often than not when I go back to them I find I can sing them with more emotion, because I’m not neck deep in it I can get perspective on how it should be related.

And the stinging slows as the years go.

Jake Newton: Captured by Aaron Redfield

Of all the songs you've done, which one still feels fresh to your heart? Like you can still feel all that you put into the song?

I think the song that has me the most right now is called “Your Eyes Have Circles”, I wrote it almost as a letter to my teenage self. (Your Eyes Have Circles features on the new Kill the Past record!)

See when I was a kid, growing up in a small mountain town on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park, my father was (and still is) the pastor of a prominent church there. As a result I was held to a much higher standard than the other kids. It wasn’t fair but now that I’m older I understand how some people could hold the misconception that for some reason I had more Holiness.

At the time though it felt like hell trying to be this shining example to everyone, I’d grind my teeth in my sleep. I’d obsess over the smallest things. If I thought someone didn’t like me I wouldn’t be able to rest until I felt they did.

One night when I was about 16, making out with my High School girlfriend in her Dad’s car, a cop pulled alongside and tapped on the fogged windows and said, “You’re the pastor’s son right? I would’ve expected better from you!”

Better than what?! My friends were smoking cigarettes and getting girls pregnant, experimenting with drugs. I was playing kissy face. I felt such guilt as soon as he said it. Now that I’m older it just makes me mad.


I first heard you when I stumbled upon your website in late 2007 (I'm a Bird EP) - and I found that you experimented with a mix of sounds. However I find listening to Soldier of the Heart, that you took that feeling to a completely different level. Was that intentional? It felt like the second EP, you had a very introspective approach to how you really felt for someone or something.

Jake Newton : I'm a Bird EP (2007)

For ‘I’m a Bird’ I was still coming up with what felt good to sing. I worked with Brian Irwin on a lot of that record, but didn’t really get the opportunity to hunker down and approach the songs from a critical view. I was just desperate to get them made.

At the time I had temporarily moved back to my hometown from a hard 4 years in Los Angeles. I was working as a plumbers helper in a small town about an hour and a half outside of Bakersfield. I left at 5 in the morning and would get back at 5 at night. At night I would record, and on the weekends I would work as a busboy in a hotel dining room. I was in personal hell.

A few of the songs for Soldier of the Heart came from the “I’m a Bird” sessions. I simply didn’t have the money or time to record  them.

After the release and moderate success of “I’m a Bird” I moved back down to Los Angeles with money from a licensing deal. I moved into a small studio apartment in Los Feliz. I’d always wanted to live in that part of town ever since my friend Cory Becker (Guitarist from the band Living Things) showed me about. And it was the first time I’d lived by myself. I wanted to try it.

I think that during this time I was able to get the right amount of perspective on where my life was going and the turmoil I had just been through. So my songs began to focus on the heavier side of things. I felt at the time that Rock and Roll was about not caring, and my problem was that I cared too much. I felt too much.

I woke up without skin on and the world was raining salt.

I'm a Bird felt like such a release of music, and then Soldier of the Heart was so contrasting in theme, almost trapping the former. There seemed to be a change in sound and in the depth of your words. Was it more that you were starting to get comfortable in your sound - or did you now have a mission to have this really hard hitting album? 

I couldn’t say it was a mission more than an obsession.
Soldier of the Heart EP (2009)

Like I said before I’m naturally over sensitive. And I’m a terrible critic of myself. I think as I got older, as I learned about the nature of things the downside to Hollywood’s golden dream, the things it takes to just get by, it all weighed upon me. So all I could think about were these themes of mortality, of lost love, and a feeling of being apart from everyone else.

I’d love to write a rock song, or a dance number that makes people high-Five each other. Maybe for this next record?

"I'll be alright" was the first tune that I really enjoyed, and I think that some of that flavour rubbed off into the second EP. Would it be safe to say that you discovered yourself (sound-wise) in that song - and decided to manifest a body of work to take this sound higher?

Completely fair, that song came as I was in the mixing process. I knew it had to be on the record as it just caps the whole thing with a bow. I wrote that song in ten minutes.

Sometimes when you’re writing songs it does feel like your role was just to be holding the pen. When they’re really good they write themselves.

Divine intervention on that one, for sure.

Are Soldier of the Heart and Burn in my cage different takes on the same concept of your song? I don't mean to make it sound so technical, but I can see there's that thread that flows between the two.

I did have a turbulent time in a relationship. But it didn’t end. It very nearly did though.

I can only give credit to her for sticking with me, because I was (and sometimes still am) a nightmare to live with. I pace the floor, I brood, I sulk. Many friends only know me as a funny guy. I keep a lot bottled up. That might account for the intensity of it.

Your Ex-Mas duet with Leila Broussard, which I featured on our homepage, did you guys just come up with that while jamming? Who wrote the song?

That was one of the very few times I sat down with someone with the expressed intension of writing a song. We wrote it together in a couple of hours then recorded it the following week!

You have another album coming out – the sound of which will be really intriguing because your lyric just keeps evolving into this, umm, transparency and there's such a bareness that you feel coming through those tunes you work out - what's in store?

Electric guitar. Hand claps. No I kid. Maybe? But there will be more pop on this record. I love how certain bands make you want to sing along.

For this next one I’ll still be dipping my toe in the ennui that made up a lot of my last two records, but I still have an abiding desire to bring hope and life with my music. I guess that means more guitar solos!

You record and produce your own music - didn't you consider getting an agent and sending out demos to the industry?

I did actually send demos out to a few industry people. I took meetings over at a few of the majors, believe me being an indie artist was not my original intention.

When I was looking for a deal it was during a great bloodletting in the record industry. Nearly everyone I met with was fired within 3 weeks of meeting me.

I thought for a while that a meeting with me was the kiss of death to the A&R world.

What's your favourite song of all time and why?

I think that changes daily for me, I may not have a favorite song of all time but I have a sound track of my life song a lot. Right now it’s “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron and Wine.

I love it because it’s dripping with longing, it’s a 9 minute long song but I never feel it. It might be one of the best story songs of all time.

It’s pure poetry.

Who would you consider as influences to your music style?

Well my dad was a studio musician at RCA in the 70’s. He went to college on a guitar scholarship, so ever since I could remember we always had music in the house.

My earliest musical influences were what my parents were listening to, which I’m sure is the case for most people. My parents were dug deep into the folk/rock Laurel Canyon scene of Crosby Stills and Nash, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul, and Mary. But we also had Conway Twitty, the Judds, and a ton of Amy Grant and other Christian artists.

I first started playing guitar seriously when I turned 10. I began to become isolated right before junior high. I stayed that way till the latter half of high school. So the guitar gave me an outlet.

Jake Newton : Live at the Canal Room, NYC

What's your musical process? Does your tune come first or the lyric? Do you sit down with an idea and work on a song - or are you at the mercy of your genius?

Usually with a song it comes in a tidy one sentence melody that floats to my brain from some recess of the subconscious. The trick is to capture it before it floats away, and they do float away believe me. I then grab a guitar or sit at the piano and try to build off of this one phrase that came. Right now I’ve got a phrase that won’t leave.

Sometimes I wrestle the ideas onto the page, other days my hand can’t keep up with the song it comes so fast.

I've seen most live performance videos of you, and something tells me you really enjoy being amongst the people , and their energy.

I think given all choices I like the stage. I still get nerves before I go on. But most of the time they leave when you hit the stage.

It’s an incredible feeling to have an audience’s attention. It’s an incredible gift people are giving you. They’re giving you a piece of their life, their valuable time, to listen to you sing songs you made up in your bedroom.

Stay tuned for Part II coming out very soon!

Want to sample some of Jake's songs? Use the music player on the top of this page to hear songs from Soldier of the Heart.

For information on how you can win a signed copy of Jake Newton EP's - keep an eye on our contests section.

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