This week's fresh Fresh from the Post is New York based musician, Jacob Vanags, whose songs aim to bring back the oomph in piano music and let you know that fun stuff can actually come from the boring old piano lessons you had as a kid.
Read on as Jacob answers some of our questions and talks to us about his newly released EP, Pulses are Pluses -
To start off, when did you start making music and how did it evolve into you being a performance artist (performing live, having a band and the new EP) ?
Well my earliest recollection would have to be when I started frustrating my 3rd grade piano teacher by coming to my lesson playing what I just made up that week rather than what I was supposed to practice. I did, however, get to play an extremely amateur “piece” at my last recital in 6th grade…. From there, I started playing open mics through middle school and high school and gained a little more confidence on stage, but I think it all culminated in one song I wrote for my high school’s favorite show of the year, the POPs Concert. It involved piano, drums, bass, a strings section, and all of the school’s choirs together… and that’s when I think I realized that writing music was too inspiring, satisfying, and fun to give up. I moved from Ohio to New York “for school” and began meeting the right people to make things work. I went from solo to having band last year when I borrowed Zach Periharos and Nick Cantatore from their respective bands to create a unique live show and also put together a 9-day tour. My roommate, Ryan, began managing me, booking me, promoting the crap out of me and things have taken off from there. It only cost 300 bucks to create my first solo EP, which lead to some meager profit to buy T-shirts, which built more profit to at least cut the cost for a legit full band recording, “Pulses are Pluses,” in half. Long story short, Good people and musicians + a little ambition and diligence + a lot of love = where I am right now (which is a happy broke man).
I love piano-driven music. There's a lot of guitar acts out there compared to piano acts (and there's rarely a bad acoustic piano act) so I find it refreshing to hear artists like you. Why did you choose the piano as your main instrument of choice?
Oh the piano…. I didn’t choose it, my parents did. I just happened to stick with it and it turned out to be a true blessing in disguise. Mom and Pops said the piano would give the best musical foundation for myself and my brother and sister. We all quit our lessons in less than 4 years and I seriously contemplated giving up writing on the piano in middle school because cool kids didn’t care about pianos, only guitars and effect pedals. Plus, no one at the time had piano-heavy music on the radio. Then Ben Folds flooded my ears and it opened my eyes. Ben Folds could rock you with piano… unheard of, I know. So I continued down the road (almost) never traveled and was a boy that played piano… and not guitar. After learning a lot on my own and also away at school, my techniques and styles have expanded greatly. I can sense people frowning when I go on stage in the middle of a guitar-heavy line-up with a piano, bass, and drums… and all the while the sound guy is severely confused that a) I’m playing in this line-up and that b) he doesn’t need to sound check any guitars (I had a guy ask three times about my guitars once)… but I love it, because the effect is greater when I surprise the hell out of people by entertaining them with such a poorly stereotyped instrument. It’s good fun.
With the release of your new album Pulses are Pluses, what can people expect when they listen to your music?
If my solo EP, “The Come On! Collection” was more “mellow” then “Pulses are Pluses” is a whole new world. The music centralizes around the theme of positivity and knowing that, even on our worst days, we have so much to be positive about, we have so much to use in helping others be positive. Negativity brews hate and hate tears this world apart. The music supports the theme with piano-heavy anthems coupled with steady beats and truly masterful basslines. But if typical pop rock is was your looking for, you might be surprised to hear songs like “Antarctica,” “All That You Have,” and “Jonah’s Dream” that utilize real strings, horns, and a full choir… no midi included. Together, they create an epic feeling I hope listeners just can’t ignore. They also display the true musicianship of the players involved, which is something to be proud of. Essentially, “Pulses are Pluses,” will lift you up (then get stuck in your head) and keep you there.
Can you tell us more about the two songs that we're sharing here for indiemusicdb.com readers?
All That You Have
“All That You Have” is the first track on the EP and for good reason. We all complain and hate on stuff day in and day out when it’s usually about things that wouldn’t matter in five minutes time, yet it still truly brings people down. Although I try my best not to, I am as much to blame as anyone else. So the song is about getting out of that “hole” and realizing that we all have a lot to live for. It is a song of subtle sarcasm, but it also offers a way out of a negative mindset. The second half of the song is that release of trivial drama from your life; an epiphany of understanding all of the good there is around you.
“Antarctica” was the product of being alone in a room with a piano with the lights off… you might be able to tell? I am extremely proud of this song mostly because it was something I couldn’t explain to my bandmates before we recorded it. I explained how I would get string players to play the bulk of the sound and incorporate a choir at the end to bring it to a new level. They played along, and I think they now understand what I meant. I got the idea of writing about Antarctica after watching that amazing show called “Planet Earth.” It is somewhere I’m dying to go… a place to seclude you from your worries and the world’s worries. It’s an epic landscape with very little human interference. Imagine a cloudless night on the bottom of the world with the whole universe laid out above you. But the main point is that although it can open your eyes and free you from your stresses, it means nothing unless it’s shared with someone else.
I always ask this to everyone I feature - how do you define indie music?
Besides the financial definition of being independent, I feel that indie music is music with no strings attached—hence, “independent.” These strings can be people or labels directing your music to satisfy their musical need, but it can also be strings that psychologically pull you into believing that “I need to sound ‘this’ way or ‘that’ way in order to be heard,” thereby altering what and how you play. Indie music has no limits on what is right and what is wrong, no limits on time, no limits on instrumentation. Its purely raw inspiration from the soul that finishes as it first began.
What Jacob Vanags has, is the unique talent to create songs with great musicality. His choice of instrumentation adds fullness to his tunes, bringing to them a quality that makes his songs so easy to like. His is the sort of music that falls somewhere between the rock-out pianos of Ben Folds and Regina Spektor's mellow-pop sound. And with EPs like Pulses are Pluses, I'd imagine, it won't be too long until a whole lot of other people will discover what Jacob Vanags has to offer.
His new EP is out now and is available at eMusic.