By Kelly Harrass
I don’t know where Jared Whittaker finds time to sleep. With two podcasts to record and produce, a comic shop to help run, columns to write for Panels on Pages, and two musical projects, I just don’t know how he does it. In this interview Whittaker and I discuss the music he releases under the name JFX316. On Halloween, JFX316 will release his new album Don’t Get Killed. Let’s get into the interview where I do my best Marc Maron impression and make things all conversational.
Kelly Harrass: First off I want to say congrats on getting the album out there. We’re doing this interview before it’s actually released and I’m wondering what you’re feeling about the upcoming release?
Jared Whittaker: Thanks. I don’t know how to feel about really. After 8 years, I’m just glad I have enough songs that I like to make an album happen. I’m always my own harshest critic. I’m never really satisfied with anything I do. But I do really dig these songs that are going to be on the record. On a lot of them, I’m doing things that I’ve never done before, production and performing-wise. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out.
KH: Being happy with your own stuff is really all you can ask for.
What’s the song writing process like for you? Writing lyrics has always been something that I can’t wrap my head around. I can write other stuff just fine, but I’ve tried to write songs before and I can’t do it.
JW: I’ve been putting together songs the whole time I’ve been making music, but this is first time I’ve ever arranged words on music I’ve done. I’ve done remixes that involve vocals before, so it’s not really new to me. My writing style is more stream of consciousness and less hook oriented. While there are some songs that have some hooks, but for the most part, I just write pretty straight off the top of my head. The main issue with me is getting over how I sound on record. I’ve have a little complex about my voice, having gotten hassled about it in school and beyond. Just concentrating on the words rather than the delivery.
The artists, music and otherwise, that I like the best are less song formula oriented. Kool Keith is a pretty big example. While he has hooks in most songs, some songs he just goes off without a hook. It’s kind of like free style beat poetry. I like just saying whatever I want without worrying about the confines of a “song”.
KH: I’m sure being on a popular podcast, the Superfly Comics Podcast on the Panels on Pages PoP!-Cast Network (plugs, hell yeah), has helped you with your voice issues a bit. So, do you prefer to have the words in front of you when you record or do you like to just go in with a general idea of what you’re going to say?
JW: I’ve actually found recently that transferring from notebooks and scraps of paper to computer is a lot harder and time-consuming than I thought. I usually have the words on screen while I’m recording vocals. There are songs on the record where I had words written ahead of time, but after trying to record, found that the words weren’t working and changed them. It’s also the benefit of recording yourself. You don’t really have wait very long if you have an idea or you want to change something and try to work on something else. I’ve never paid to record in a studio in my musical life.
KH: How does recording process go for you? I know these are completely different, but when I used to record for Last Week in PoP I could only record my bits when the house was empty. It was kind of a stressful process for me. The smallest screw-up would ruin everything and I’d have to start over. I’m guessing it’s the same for you, but I noticed little things my voice would do that nobody else would notice and they drove me insane.
JW: That’s kind of the same. I suffer from over-analyze everything I do, music-wise. It’s a big reason that it took so long to do another record is that I wasn’t really sure if I could do it. And adding vocals to the mix has been making it more difficult. But once you separate the perception of what you think people are going to think the music should sound like and what it sounds like. It’s the hardest thing to do. Everyone wants to be liked, but not at the expense of the music. I know how to make a hit record: Swag, swag, swag, talk about how many expensive cars I have that I don’t have and how rich I am and how other people want to be me. I get it and people like that stuff, but it’s boring and everyone does it. It’s easy. It’s hard to be honest that I’m a 34 year old nerd that plays video games and works at a comic book store and likes Aphex Twin, Kool Keith and Henry Rollins.
KH: I just saw that you released your first track from Don’t Get Killed, The Red Ring. Not to kiss the interviewee’s ass or anything, but it was a really solid song. I dug it a lot. From reading your tweets leading up to it, it seems like it was just a bit stressful. Is it surreal to put something that you made out there and have people tell you that it’s actually good?
JW: Again, this is the first time I’ve done any real vocals on any JFX316 stuff I’ve done. While I dig the song a lot, it’s a very different to have that song you like out on the internet, where any and everyone can completely destroy what you’ve created. Everyone’s been on message boards and read comments. It’s tough to put that out of your mind. I’m glad you’re into it.
KH: I just remembered (fantastic interviewing here) that not only are you doing the JFX316 stuff, you’re also in a metal band, Dr. Meat. Is it Dr. Meat or Doctor Meat? Are you as conscious of your voice when you’re on stage or is it an entirely different kind of beast?
JW: Yeah, it’s Doctor Meat. I’m more comfortable singing with the band because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve been in bands of and on for 14 years, so even though I’ve never been the singer, I’m comfortable and very familiar with the structure. The solo thing is different. Even though I’ve been a fan of hip hop, I’ve never thought of adding vocals to the music I’m doing until last year. So many interesting artists have popped up on my radar in the last year that have really gotten me thinking about doing music differently. It’s been pretty fun and refreshing.
KH: Speaking of different music, I should really thank you for introducing me to a bunch of good music over the past year or so. I probably wouldn’t have checked out Adam WarRock, the Odd Future crew, and BADBADNOTGOOD if it wasn’t for your recommendations on Twitter. What have you been listening to lately?
JW: I been listening to most of the artists you mentioned. I love Eugene’s [Adam WarRock’s] music and he was a big inspiration when I met him. Here’s a dude that had a straight job, wasn’t feeling it and decided to take a chance and do what he always wanted to do. Awesome. Same with the Odd Future crew. A year ago, these cats were giving their music away. Doing it just because they dug it. They weren’t trying to “make it”. It just happened due to persistence. Every independent artist needed to watch them, whether or not you like them or not. Thug Friends and Das Racist are a few other newer groups I’ve been enjoying. Other than that, I’ve been listening to a lot of the same music that I’ve always listened to: Public Enemy, Aphex Twin, Slayer, Mos Def, Nine Inch Nails, James Brown and the Motown back catalog and old punk and hardcore music. A little bit of everything. You have to have open ears as a producer and an artist in general. You can get ideas from music you don’t listen to or even like. Even if it’s what you don’t want to do.
I notice that I tend to find out about artists and bands from Twitter and YouTube. Both are more relevant than MTV or any other music outlet currently.
KH: We’re in an age where the best promotion really seems to be the free promotion. A couple weeks ago I decided to check out a band called The Like because they had a guest appearance in, I think it was, the third issue of The Lil Depressed Boy and now I’ve been listening to their album, Release Me, nonstop. I’ve found way more music through Twitter than any other website and over the past year or so most of the music that I bought I did because I downloaded something the artist gave away for free. It seems like musicians are better off being their own marketers and relying on word of mouth these days. Am I right on this or do I not know what I’m talking about?
JW: We’re in a different age for sure. As an unknown artist, the best way to get your music around to enough people to gain a following is giving people some amount of your music away. At this point, if people really what your music, they will most likely find a way to get it for free. The hook is to give people music to pass around. I am a firm believer in if people like you, they will want to support you and give you money. You can’t believe that you’re going to make millions in the business of music just starting out. You HAVE to be mentally ready to work hard, play show, promote anyway you can without getting much exposure or money. It’s a grind. I’ve been making music for the south end of 13 years and I’ve been pretty successful at it to a certain extent. But I quit thinking that I was going to be famous years ago. As long as I was making the music I wanted to, I’m fine with whoever comes to my shows. You have to play for yourself first and be satisfied with it before anyone else will.
KH: Alright, we just passed by 1500 words and I think this is a good point to wrap up the interview. Do you have anything else to say about the album or your music or really anything?
JW: Check out the record. It’s a pretty big departure from what I’ve done before but it’s some of the best music I’ve ever done and I can’t wait for people to check it out. I get the last thing in general is to support what you like, independent or otherwise. Cool stuff gets canceled and forgotten about just because people weren’t behind it. That’s all I’m hoping for with JFX316. That people listen and dig what I’m doing because I’m so about this right now. I hope to get out there and see some cats and play some shows. Shout out to PanelsOnPages.com for the support and check out SuperFlyComics.com. It’s my day job and it helps me pay bills when I’m not making music. Thanks.
Thanks for your time, man. I appreciate it.
KH: No problem, thanks for doing this.
Go to Jfx316’s bandcamp page on Monday, October 31st, to buy Don’t Get Killed for only five dollars.