Nate Smith interviews Jacob Vanags
Enoch Magazine ) When I first heard your cd I was impressed with the quality of musicianship and lyrical poetry. Can you please tell me about the writing and recording process?
Jacob ) Each song I write seems to have its own unique process. I am often influenced to write a song when I see or hear an amazing story or performance in music and film, and also by the consequential (good or bad) actions of people. But a lot depends on my mood and I where I’m located at the moment. If I can get to a piano I sit down and just play whatever seems to match what I’m thinking… If I am energized it tends to be upbeat… If I am feeling reflective and emotional, you’ll probably hear something that matches that feeling. I take my love and frustration out on the piano and when something sounds right then I’ll start figuring out the key, where I can go from there, and ask questions like, should it sound simple… or “big” next? I then start singing nonsense words over it to create a vocal melody (which is always fun for the neighbors to hear). Once the song is in place, I dig deep to find lyrics that relate to what is happening in my life at the moment. I enjoy writing words that require a little thinking to fathom, yet are not entirely abstract to where the meaning seems completely skewed… it’s like a teacher leading his students to find the answer on their own.
The recording process is where the envisioned final piece starts revealing itself. In songs like “All That You Have,” “Antarctica,” and “Jonah’s Dream,” I gathered singers and musicians to practice ideas I had written out. When the recording was finished, it was a huge victory for me, my band, my manager, and my recording engineer. It always seems great on paper, but when the final project comes together like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, the satisfaction can’t be beat (as well as the relief!).
Enoch Magazine ) Who was an influential person in your life that exposed you to music or playing music?
Jacob ) Hmm… well I can tell you that as a child, I, nor my siblings, couldn’t shut our mouths to stop singing… not even real songs, but sort of like a improv musicals where we would just sing whatever…I don’t even know…. I guess singing in church, and also the fact that my parents forced us all to take piano lessons as kids, planted a seed that actually grew into something for me. I didn’t really ever practice my pieces, because I just liked making up my own stuff. In terms of musical influences, Ben Folds’ music saved me from giving into the peer pressure of quitting piano and picking up guitar so that I could be cool again. He showed me that you can really rock out on a piano but also play it with great sensitivity.
Enoch Magazine ) As we take a closer look at many of the cities in America you realize that we have a huge homeless population. What can we do to help the homeless and have you had any experiences with the homeless.
Jacob ) I’m intrigued by the homeless. I feel compassion for them, but I am also interested in their story. What led them to this point? Have they gotten a second chance? And what could I do to help them, but KNOW that it will help them get out of the hole they’re stuck in? I’m pretty sure I have given more food to the homeless than money… while I would love to aid their escape from poverty by handing them cash, I also don’t want to help them dig deeper into it by having them use it for the wrong things. This where organizations like the “Jonah Project” and missions trips I have been on seem to work best… I KNOW the money and service will surely be used for their good. Essentially, give food/clothing on the street; give donations to projects which will do even more when at home.
Enoch Magazine ) Often in America we have religion pushed upon us but these are the very same people aren’t living what they preach. Jesus often spoke about this in the Bible. What’s your perception of Jesus and how did you arrive at it.
Jacob ) Well, I grew up in a loving and Christian family. I was raised knowing Jesus at age 5 when I had little knowledge of any other perceptions. But as I am sure many people like myself know, teenage years can bring an abundance of questions that can only be answered by faith. Currently, I struggle with my faith, but believe that the Christian ideals I was brought up with have shaped who I am today. But, honestly, it’s hard for me to appreciate those who force feed Christianity to others (although this may be the minority… many unbelievers don’t see it this way). I have even been on the receiving end of it many times in New York, and it also frustrates me that some people think that condemning others is the key to showing them “the way.” Who are we to judge anyone, right? So it’s hard. My perception of Jesus is twofold… Psychologically, I understand what it’s like to be on both sides… It seems that love would only prevail when there are no sides at all.
Enoch Magazine ) I’m always hearing about the power of prayer and I believe in it? Do you believe that prayer actually is a means to communicate with God why or why not?
Jacob ) I’m not sure of any other way. It all comes back to faith. If one’s faith is strong, the belief that prayer is a means to communicate with God will be strong as well. In my 22 years time, my strongest moments of faith have come during amazing acts of love between people and prayer.
Enoch Magazine ) I love the imagery painted in Jonah’s Dream. Can you share with Enoch Magazine the inspiration and story behind this song?
Jacob ) I call “Jonah’s Dream” my U2 song for world peace… sort of. One night I just stared into the blackness of my room and imagined if we all spent our time and resources on giving instead of taking. We are bred with opinions on other nations without formulating our own. We are all human, we are all living on the same planet, and we all feel love and pain. What is keeping us from eliminating the hate? Our own stubborn and misinformed opinions and the seemingly unchallenged belief that the human-invented idea of humans owning the world is what is right and natural. Now I’m not promoting anarchy, just the idea that it is possible for all of us to love each other since we’re really not different at all. I wrote it from the perspective of a child because, before a certain age, children wouldn’t understand the reasons behind hating another nation… they just know love and how to avoid the feeling of hurt. The less we “know” the more we would love.
Enoch Magazine ) You’re a young musician, what are your plans for the future.
Jacob ) The only thing I have set in stone is going to the World Cup in South Africa when I graduate from school in May. I honestly don’t plan on getting a 9-5 job. I can’t really handle the same routine day-in and day-out. As my brother defined it, I’d rather live my life in projects. So for the time being, those projects will entail taking the musical leap when I graduate school and we’ll see what happens. I’m in the middle of solidifying some new band members right now so that when May comes around we can be on our feet and ready to do the whole shebang. Talk about faith, huh?
Enoch Magazine ) Every Musician has a favorite line of lyrics they have written. Can you please share these lyrics with us and explain what they mean.
Jacob ) Oh man. Although I love several of lines in “Jonah’s Dream,” I’d have to say my favorite line is tucked within “Antarctica.” Right before the chorus I say, “I stand upright and upside down / at the same time to shake my thoughts out.” Sometimes it just blows over a listener’s head, but a few people have caught what I meant. The whole song is about going to Antarctica to escape the troubles of one’s life and the troubles of the world itself… it’s about erasing stresses and hate and finding clarity on one of the most desolate places on Earth… Antarctica. So if you think of Antarctica as being the “bottom of the world” you would be standing “upside down” per se and also upright at the same time. All the thoughts that need clearing out filter “down” through the top of your head as if you were “standing upside down.” Coincidentally, it was the first line I wrote for that song.
Enoch Magazine ) What’s an up and coming band that you’re currently listening to and why do you like them?
Jacob ) I’m currently listening to a few songs from three different up-and-coming bands, which are Phoenix, Passion Pit, and Kings of Leon. I know that they are almost to the point of being past up-and-coming, but they are at least newer to national attention. I dig all of them because each one has a fresh and unique sound that you don’t hear much of these days, but they all still grab you with their hooks. More and more musicians and bands are finding new ways to portray “pop rock” in their own unique styles.
Enoch Magazine ) If you were stuck on a Desert Island and could only have 5 cds or records what would they be.
This is really unfair to the rest of my music (and some classics), but these are the ones that I don’t really get sick of too quickly….
Ben Folds Live – Ben Folds.
Come On Feel The Illinoise – Sufjan Stevens.
Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie.
Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind.
Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay.