Jake Walden might be the most extroverted, self-proclaimed introvert I have every met. But it is this contradiction, similar to his latest album title Same Something Different, that makes Walden the type of artist you really want to get to know.
In only the first few minutes of meeting him, I instantly feel that this stranger is a man with something to say, while equally feeling as if I’ve known him for years. And perhaps, this is exactly what he intends. For an artist, who only learned to play piano five years ago, Walden’s career is certainly off to a quick a rise.
Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a singer?
A: Well, I have an interesting trajectory for that. I’ve always been an artist, my whole life. I did sing and I did some musicals as a teenager but I always thought I wanted to be an actor. I went to college to be an actor and then I came here and I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card and I did that for a couple of years. During that time, I wrote too. I’ve also always been a writer. First and foremost, I consider myself a singer-songwriter, that’s how I really started. I had written plays and screenplays and what have you but not music. Long story short, I went through the first big love and first breakup of my life and after that I had this weird inclination that I wanted to learn to play the piano. I was in a very dark space in my life but that also meant I felt I had a lot to say, you know? And it was kind of just a miracle in the sense that I started to teach myself how to play the piano. I discovered this voice that I didn’t even know I had in me. I spent about a year literally just holed up by myself writing some songs. Randomly, as life works, I met someone that was going to an open mic night and I decided to go along. And then I decided to sing and it was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ A month later, I scheduled a show for the very first time. I was working at a local restaurant at the time so all the people came from my work and it was just one of those experiences. I mean the whole room was crying by the end and it was just the most profound experience of my life. I decided then that this is my purpose and I never looked back. That was five years ago. It was like my whole life I knew I was going to be an artist but I finally found what it is that I could be really great at. For me, it’s not about being famous. I just really have something I want to say and this seems to be the best way for me to do it and it’s grown ever since.
Q: On your website, you mention that you consider yourself an introvert but obviously being a performer you’re bearing your soul on stage. How do you manage those two opposing identities?
A: Yeah, it’s not always easy. It used to be that for days before I would have to perform I wouldn’t go anywhere or speak to anyone. I would be in an anxiety ridden space because it was very draining emotionally for me to perform. But for me, the actual act of performing is introspective and I guess that’s the best parts of what I do. It’s the gift of what I do, being able to feel that I can draw people into my world. I share a very true part of myself and I am not trying to put on a show or a performance as much as just open myself up in that moment. So now, I have no fear. I feel that…as strange as it sounds, I really believe that I can make a difference and I’ve seen what my music can do and it’s changed me. It’s allowed me to open myself up and be as honest as I can because people need that and people respect that. I guess I don’t know how to quite succinctly answer your question because I truly am an introverted person in the sense of what that means- in that interacting with people is quite draining and I am absolutely exhausted when I get off the stage. I can barely move or speak because I’ve given every ounce that I could give but you can’t let that stop you.
Q: Over the last five years, how has your career grown?
A: Well, I got a break right away. At that time and even now, Hotel Cafe in Hollywood is like the place to play as an emerging artist and it’s not easy to get booked there. What happened is someone that I knew, a friend of a friend, played there regularly and they got me in. So about six months into me doing this, I got my first Hotel Cafe gig and at that point, I had met other musicians and that’s when I met my manager. My manager came to that show and he had heard my songs previously on Myspace. From there, it was about six more months and then we recorded my first album Alive and Screaming. I suppose it’s funny because this whole thing, if I think about it, its just come together. I’m such a dreamer, you know, I just reach for the stars. But this world, this business, it is a marathon and you have to look at it that way. You have people that can help you understand all the seeds that you need to plant but still it’s so much faith. You just have to create, create, create, and make your connections the best way you can, in the most authentic way you can. All the relationships and this big team that I have around me now, that has grown over time from people that authentically believe in what I’m doing. It’s not that they want something from me, my music just means something to them. What I’m creating actually means something to them and I think that’s how I’ve gotten as far as I have thus far. I think that’s what will take me to the levels that I really want to get to because it’s all about the people that you have in your corner.
Q: Was your first album released traditionally in stores or on the radio, how did you spread the word about your work?
A: Nope…it was an independent release and Alive and Screaming was the kind of record that was so raw and honest that if it hit people, it hit people in that place where it changed their lives. It’s that kind of record. The fan base that I started to grow was through social media and interacting with people constantly one on one. I’m someone who is genuinely curious about how people are doing and just simply cares and in return they have supported my music. We got some breaks and we had songs played on different TV shows like Scrubs, Cougartown, One Tree Hill, The Real World and a couple of independent films and things of that nature. We have a big break coming up. My single is going to be featured in the return of Beavis and Butt-Head which is actually a great story. So last January, I was in Las Vegas getting ready to play a show at a theater there and I get a call from my manager saying, ‘I got the most strange request today. They are bringing back the show Beavis and Butt-Head and they want to buy the rights to your music video for your songFor Someone.’ This song made for a strange single but it was the song that has really defined my career and given me so much. Anyhow, they wanted permission to lampoon the video of that song on Beavis and Butt-Head and of course I know what that means! I know the honor that is and gladly agreed. So here we are ten months later now… actually it will be a year because it’s scheduled to air in January. You have to sign away your rights stating that they can basically say whatever they want but I’m like, ‘Please do! I’m just praying they make it funny and just absolutely say the most hideous things they can when you see the video. That would be amazing!’ I think that if you watch the video you’ll see where they’re going to go with it.
Q: It’s one of the only places where you want to be mocked. Were you a fan of the show growing up?
A: You want so badly to be mocked by a hit show like that. Of course I was a fan, I think I was in junior high or whatever. It’s not my cup of tea necessarily today but you just never know where something like this could lead and we’re very excited about it. It could be a fresh, new fan base and to have that many new eyes and ears on my work is the most important thing. It really is just an exciting, exciting time. Another possibility is that one of my songs may be used in an upcoming Zales campaign, the diamond store. It’s a romantic song and it would be a great fit but I don’t want to say too much. Nothing is definite yet.
Q: You just released your second CD this past summer? Tell me about how Same Something Different, well differs from Alive and Screaming.
A: Same Something Different came out at the end of July on iTunes. It’s actually just coming out now on hard copy but iTunes featured the album so we put it out early through them. This album is a whole other ball-game. I worked on the record for three years. It was completely different that how I approached my first album. Part of the story is that we decided not to try to pursue any sort of label deal. We wanted to make it independently but I also wanted to make my dream record. I wanted to make the most fully produced album I could. I made this raw, no back-up vocals, sort of pure emotion first record and I wanted to make this something more epic. When I write, I envision my music. Even though I do it on the piano, I hear so much more. It’s like a wall of sound. In fact, when I perform, I have to perform a lot of times at venues where it is literally just me and the piano on stage for logistical reasons. But I move my body so much while performing that someone once thought I was having a seizure. I tell people that in concert a lot of times when you’re seeing me move, it’s because of the other instruments in my head. It’s the feeling of their sounds coming through me that I hear and that I want you to hear and to be expressed. So what we decided to do on this album was use modern day technology. We raised the money to produce the entire album through Kick-starter. The album is completely, 100% fan-funded. We raised 25,000 dollars to make the record in one month of fundraising.
Q: How did that feel to know you could raise that much money through the support of your fans?
A: It was (still almost speechless)… it changed everything for me. I think it gave me… it reaffirmed who I wanted to be as an artist because I always wanted it, but everyone has their doubts. We call ourselves ‘The Dreamers’, those that listen to my music and myself. I get letters every day from fans, and raising that money made me realize that my music meant so much to people and that I had people that cared enough to really want to be patrons of the arts. People long to be creative, people long to be a part of something they can believe in and with this, they did. It was just the most incredible feeling ever and it led to me being able to pursue that dream that I had which was to make the record as I wanted to make it. So we went on this big producer search and ended up making the album with Christopher Thorn, a very established producer… he is famous for that No Rain song by Blind Melon with the video of the girl in the bumblebee costume. Anyway, I had these musicians that I had met along the way and I spent two months just rehearsing and arranging the music and making it a full band sound. Then we recorded it. The songs are very different (than Alive and Screaming) but yet they are the same…hence the title. I wanted to make a record that was more about who I was as a person, not just trying to find the light through heartbreak because that’s always going to be a theme for me. I’m naturally the type of person that can be depressed or can be a bit dark and I embrace that. It comes from taking risks and my whole life I’ve been the person that just leaps into love. I mean, to try to be an entertainer or have this type of career you have to have a willingness to face how challenging that can be and that you might fail or get hurt. I think that translates to anybody’s life and that’s why it’s relatable. I just happen to choose to live my life in really heightened situations so there is a common theme in the music about hope and about keeping your dreams alive even though life can be fucking hard. That’s sort of my view on life and I want people to walk away from my work feeling that someone acknowledges and understands how difficult it can be, but still says- it’s worth it. I think Same Something Different really captures that. It’s about my family and it’s about my sister having a baby and getting married, and it’s about my struggles with depression and finding love again in my life… and what it’s like for me to walk down the street, and what I think about the world and people I meet, and about how brave it is for people to get out of bed in the morning. It’s all those things. So, I’m proud of it and it’s only just begun to get out into the world. It’s a long process. This is not Coldplay- it’s not going to be heard by a million people the first week. It’s about building and growing and that’s what I hope for with this record.
Q: In all your live performances, are there any funny stories or moments that stand out in your mind?
A: That’s interesting… nothing has gone terribly wrong or been overly humorous, but I’ve performed in a lot of different situations. Hotel Cafe is my home base in LA and I will always play there and I’ve played in half the cities in the country. I play in New York a lot. I’ve played in places ranging from Rockwood Music Hall to the Zipper Factory to the Bowery Ballroom. I have a House of Blues show coming up in Dallas in January. I perform regularly in Vegas at the Rio Hotel. My biggest performance in terms of crowd was in front of 10,000 people at the Las Vegas Aids Walk. I did this song that I have called We Are Not Broken which is a very signature song of mine that I end every show with. I really believe in Human Rights Equality and we are in talks right now with HRC to do a whole campaign that features that song. It’s still in the works, but it looks like it will happen and I hope it does.
Q: I hear you do private shows. Can you tell me a bit about how that works and some of your experiences?
A: The year before last, I performed at South by Southwest in Austin and after that show we had this idea. Since I had to drive all the way there, we thought, ‘Why don’t we schedule some house concerts?’ because, at that time, it was something that other performers had started doing. The thing about performing in live venues is that people aren’t going to see live music as much anymore be it the economy or whatever. When you’re an emerging artist, that makes it even harder to get booked. There are really not that many people in this industry now that are willing to stick their neck out and develop an artist. It’s just about the money and so we had this concept to play these house concerts. We didn’t know how it would turn out, but we put the word out and we had eight people or groups say ‘yes’. They each paid me about five hundred bucks and I would go to their house and play a private concert for them whether it be for five of your best friends or if you had fifty people in the backyard and they all chipped in ten bucks. It didn’t matter. Long story short, I’ve done that now, probably, about three times a year. I actually just came back from a month on the road through about nine states and those are always an interesting experience for me because each one is so different. They are very intimate and they allow me to tell stories and ask questions and take questions. It’s so amazing and it really is the wave of the future. I’m not the only artist who does this, it’s not just some great idea I had, but it really allows you to be a story teller. It allows people to have a special experience with you without having to go out to a club or a stadium or some place sterile. Instead, I’m in their living room, and often times I even stay with these people. As an artist you may think to yourself, ‘Oh, I’ve come so far, I’m playing in someone’s living room’ (sarcastically), but it’s actually more profitable because you have the opportunity to create real long-lasting fans and that’s what really matters.
Q: People will forget shows they go to, but they certainly won’t forget if someone played a private concert in their home. Could you?
A: That’s exactly right. It’s amazing because instantly they don’t feel like strangers. You are really putting yourself out there, especially if you’re introverted like me. It’s a risk, but it’s an incredible bond. Those are genuinely my favorite and most interesting shows; the shows that no one else will ever really see I guess.
Q: So you just performed at The Viper Room with Willa Ford. Tell me about that show and about your working relationship with her.
A: It was incredible. I’m a huge fan of Willa Ford and people, for good reason, have no idea what she is doing now. She was known as the pop synthetic princess about ten years ago and then vanished from the music scene. She has been mainly considered an actress for the last nine years, but what most people don’t know, but I know, is that this last year she has been working with some great friends on new material. She is actually an amazing singer-songwriter and an incredible performer. She came over to my apartment once, like six months ago, and we kind of just got to know each other as artists. We sat at the piano and worked on maybe doing a duet together. I had a show coming up and on the record, the title track Same Something Different has a young female performer on it. One of my favorite singers named Andrea May. It’s best as a duet so I asked Willa to come on stage for the first time in nine years and sing the female role of that song with me. She did and it was a beautiful experience. Some time passed and then I got a call from her, like a month ago, saying that her agents were planning to put her on the road and they had booked a first show for her starting off in LA at The Viper Room. She wanted to know if I would come and sing with her and show my support. I did and let me tell you, The Viper was packed! It was a huge success. Willa had this song called I Wanna Be Bad from her earlier career which she re-did in a completely new light at that show and it was featured on Perez Hilton the next day. I thought that was pretty cool and so now she is going to do a big show at the House of Blues in Dallas and I’m going to go sing with her there. I will also be opening for her and for Ryan Cabrera who is performing that night. I hope to continue to perform with Willa.
Q: Are there any other artists or bands that you admire or that you hope to work with one day?
A: Well, I like all sorts of music. My parents are hippies and I come from Northern California so that has some influence. I grew up with singer-songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s and I’d say my greatest influence is really Joni Mitchell. In fact, I recorded one of her songs; it’s a cover on Same Something Different and my dream is for her to just hear it. I mean, I love and respect her so much and she has so inspired me as an artist that my greatest dream is to perform for Joni Mitchell and to meet her. The first songs I started to play were Neil Young songs and Simon and Garfunkel. I love that whole era of music- Janis Joplin and what have you. But I do also love current artists and big bands like Coldplay, Brandi Carlile, Damien Rice. God, I have so many people I love. I’m not a big pop person, although there are some things I like. Snow Patrol is a great band that I really love. I really look up to how they take songs that are based as singer-songwriter songs and they make them super epic and dramatic. I don’t want to just be a coffee shop style singer. I want to be a wall of sound sometimes. I also like music from Glee and I listen to Top 40. But I know too much sometimes to be able to just enjoy it.
Q: When you’re not writing or singing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
A: Well I love sports. I’m a big sports guy! I am a big tennis player; love rock climbing. I’m on a softball team which is pretty cool. It’s called the LA Spartans. I kind of like to counteract my dark artist persona- the guy who smokes cigarettes and plays piano in the corner of the room. In an effort to make myself more active, I try to play sports as much as possible and I love watching them on TV. Nobody can be defined in a box. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you can’t also be a jock. Of course, I also love movies and my family and just sitting and thinking. I’m a big trivia person too; I love knowledge. Traveling is big for me, obviously, and I enjoy it which is good because it’s a big component of what I do.
Q: Where can your fans keep up with you?
A: Well the best place is Facebook and of course, Twitter and my personal website which I try to write on every day. I’m big on that. I had this thing for years which was called my ‘thought of the day’ on the site, but I’m always putting out new content and taking photographs and parlaying them into interesting thoughts for people. I try to open up conversations and create projects for people to be involved in through my site because I know people want to use their own creativity. A lot of people don’t know how to do it, you know, so I’ve done some video projects where I ask what are you inspired by, what do you think of when you hear this song? Send me a photograph or tell me how you feel when you listen to the words. Then we make these montage sort of things; the fans and I, together.
Q: Where do you hope to see your career going and what advice do you have for other up and coming artists?
A: My dream really is to get to a point in my career where I am known enough to be able to play five hundred seat theaters for the rest of my life on a regular basis. Sure, I would love to play the Hollywood Bowl one day, but ultimately, I think that what I do is most conducive to a smaller theater sort of environment. I really dream of my songs being attached to a great film or films, something that people identify with. There’s nothing better than when a song matches perfectly to a moment in a film. Everything that I create is very cinematic and I picture it in my mind that way. So, I am also looking for and waiting for that great TV or film opportunity for my music.
Q: Are you involved in the direction of your own music videos? Do you ever find the actor side of you taking over?
A: I am involved, although I just try to find the perfect people to work with and let them do their job. I’m a solo artist, but nothing I do is alone except when I sit and compose the songs. I think any advice that I can give is going to sound cliché, but this career has to be the only thing you can see yourself doing. You have to understand that it’s not going to happen overnight and you have to really want it, I think. When I was twenty, my purpose was to be a star. But in the long-term that can’t be it. It has to be that you actually think that you have something to say and that you have a message that people will connect with and believe in. I think there’s nothing more important then being as authentic as you possibly can and be willing to work for free. I’d say 95% of everything I do, I don’t get paid for but, I do it because I know that it could lead to something better. You just have to have an open mind, and the thing about advice that is so interesting is that it’s the same thing I tell myself. You have to stay true to yourself and you have to keep dreaming and to understand that a dream, or to be a dreamer, doesn’t mean that you to have a specific vision in mind. You never know where things are going to take you in life and so you have to be open where life goes and be flexible to go with it. Just be prepared to get out of your own way.
So far, Walden seems to be doing a good job at just that.
To buy his latest album, please visit his website or iTunes.