Jason Falkner comes to Chicago

By Fauzia Arain
Staff Writer, The DePaulia

Jason Falkner is a self-proclaimed music geek. Not only is he a geek, but one that doesn't work well with others. Sure, he may not be the ideal second grade classmate, but he makes for an excellent solo artist, as he takes exclusive responsibility for every instrument played and each note sung on his albums. One of the most underrated and brilliant musicians knocking on the impenetrable steel doors of the music scene today, Falkner has produced two sparkling albums of pure pop bliss that have gone criminally unnoticed by the general listening public. The reviews are consistently glowing across the journalistic boards, the new album charted at number four in CMJ, and music industry hounds pack venues to capacity to see him play in his home base of Los Angeles. Then why haven't you heard of him, you ask? A valid question, indeed, but also one that you can answer for yourself. It's simply because commercial radio and MTV haven't smashed his latest single off of his recent release "Can You Still Feel?" (Elektra/Lovitt) into your head enough times to make you unconsciously sigh the lyrics. I've never been more thoroughly and continually impressed by a musician as I have been with Jason Falkner, and the vast majority of those lucky enough to be graced with his music are of the same mind. His albums are swollen to their rounded edges with ripe pop goodness, which is a trait that's nearly impossible to find these days, and so it is definitely harvest time for Falkner. Just a little more than a week before his Chicago appearance at Double Door on April 14th, I spoke with Falkner and was greeted with one of the most confident and vivid personalities I've ever encountered, which is every bit what I expected.

Fauzia Arain: The word on the street is that you just dislocated your shoulder...by slipping in the shower.
Jason Falkner: Yes. Your finger is on the pulse. Doesn't it sound like a cover-up? It's not a cover-up, I swear. I was in Hamburg (Germany), and this tub was just vicious (laughs). I don't know, there was a flaw in the design and I stepped on this...I can't even go back, my memory is just so horrible. I slipped and all my weight went to the left and I landed on my elbow and my shoulder came out, and I was lying in the tub with water pouring on me going, "What the f---" because the thing is, see, I've already dislocated this shoulder before. I've already had surgery for it and they've put metal in my arm already. I'm bionic.  You can definitely see when a shoulder is out. It looks very different. I was just yelling at it, like "You can't be out! You've already been sick!" We had to cancel just that show, but I played the next day.

FA: What a trooper. How's the shoulder now?
Falkner: It's fine. Actually, I've been really slacking on my physical therapy, 'cause I've been rehearsing every day, but it's fine.

FA: I've heard you're actually related to the novelist Faulkner. Do you know the exact relation?
Falkner: Yeah, he's my great-grandfather's cousin, which makes me a pretty distant, I guess, nephew. Nephew three times removed, is that how you say it? I don't even know. The original Falkner name is F-A-L-K-N-E-R, like mine. There's a few different reasons why people say his name changed, and I never got to the bottom of it, but one of them is that he, not unlike myself, was constantly being misspelled "F-A-U...."  I still get checks from my own record company, sometimes, that say "F-A-U...." I guess the belief is that that happened to him so much, and his first novel was actually misprinted, and he just was like, "whatever, I guess that'll be my sort of my pen spelling." I have all these books on the family tree, and they do start out spelled like mine. It's kind of mysterious, 'cause there's no real explanation in these books either. It just kind of starts "F-A-L...", and then it goes to "F-A-U..." for a couple of decades, and then it goes back to "F-A-L...."

FA: You've been a part of a number of bands, from high school to some prominent names in music like The Grays and Jellyfish. What prompted the move to a solo career?
Falkner: Just the neurosis that runs rampant in bands. I totally believed, when I was a kid, in the whole dream. I bought the dream of having a group, and being excited about it, and everyone playing together. In my mind, whenever I made my first record I was gonna just look at the drummer and go, "God, the way you hit the snare drum is just brilliant!" and it just didn't work out for me. I just happened to fall into groups with other people who were also very strong-willed, very focused on their own vision, as I was, and we just butted heads all the time. There's politics in groups that I can't stand. Also the fact that I like to play all the instruments. I'm really not doing it to show off. I'm not narcissistic about it at all. It's just easy for me to do that. It's just more fun for me to play all the instruments. I guess I'm just kind of like a music geek, y'know?

FA: What material do you think you'll be covering on this tour?
Falkner: I have a band now, and we haven't actually had a lot of time to rehearse, because the first guitar player, the guy that I had in Europe, couldn't play any more.  The new guitar player has only been playing with me for three days, and we have our first show in four days, so we don't have a lot of time to learn a lot of stuff. We're doing everything off of this new album and we know "I Live," "Miracle Medicine," we're learning "Nobody Knows," and I think "She Goes To Bed," as well. And then, as far as covers, we're doing "A Song From Under The Floorboards" (originally by Magazine), and we're doing this Brian Eno song "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More."

FA: You just released your second solo, and it's getting a lot of attention, but do you have a particular goal that you're working towards in your musical career?
Falkner: Yeah, but it's really personal, I guess. Each time I write and record anything it really is like a catharsis. It's my therapy. I'm much more communicative in my songs than I am in my real personal life. I guess my goal is to just continue feeling like I can be honest, which is how I've been up to now. They're definitely honest things I'm trying to convey, and I think they're universal enough that people understand what I'm talking about, and my search for some kind of truth.  It's just my own truth that I'm looking for, and my own peace, so that's really my goal- achieving that peace. You know what sucks? The double edge of that is that probably if I do achieve that peace, my music will start sucking. It happens to everybody. I mean, look at Stevie Wonder (laughs). From such highs to such lows, it's hard to fathom. 

FA: You've cited some early influences before, but has anyone on the music scene recently given you any inspiration, or is there anyone you'd just consider notably talented these days?
Falkner: Definitely. I like the Lilys a lot. They have a record called "Better Can't Make Your Life Better." It's this guy Kurt Heasley, and I think he's from Boston. They're great. I really like the new Built to Spill record a lot. And, actually a friend of mine here...you'll be the first person to print this band's name, because they're not even signed; they're probably about to get signed. They just made a record with their own money, and it's unbelievable, this record. It's this band called Elgin Park. It's so good. I guess his voice sometimes sounds like Steve Malkmus', from Pavement, but I think they write better songs. You know I love Pavement. I think Robert Pollard, from GBV (Guided By Voices), I think that guy is so amazing. I have a hard time actually selling him to some of my friends, but I think that band is incredible. I love it. I get inspiration from a lot more than just music. In fact, my main inspiration is probably not musical, it's more visual. My other senses inspire me. The music thing, for me, is so engrained in me, it's just a part of me- before I even picked up an instrument I was a musician. I don't really need music to inspire me for my own music.

FA: Who do you dream to work with, either musicians or in production?
Falkner: I think it would be funny to see what would happen if I worked with someone like William Orbit. I think that guy's pretty bad-ass. I'd like to do something with someone like Brian Eno, as far as a producer or just a collaborative mind. Musically, I'd love to write something with Andy Partridge from XTC or see what happens with Elvis Costello. Those are two of my pretty obvious influences when I was younger.

FA: Some musicians have their political or activist side, and I was just wondering if you did.
Falkner: Well, I definitely have my own set of politics, but I'm not a big rallier. I know what I think is right and what I think is wrong. I was instilled at a very young age with a pretty clear idea of what's bogus. I don't really get too into that musically. My music is much more about escapism. I'm against bad things.

FA: Have you read any good books lately?
Falkner: Yeah, I just finished a really entertaining book- it's called "High Fidelity," by Nick Hornby. It's about this English guy that owns a little, tiny record shop, and the whole book is about him dealing with the women who have broken his heart. It's really funny. It's this hilarious book to read. For a while I went through a Gabriel Garcia Marquez phase. I read a lot of- gee, big shock- I read a lot of music stuff, and there's a book by this guy Richard Hell- he had a band called the Voidoid in the late 70s, and his book "Go Now" is pretty entertaining. He was friends with Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine, and all those people.

FA: Are there any plans to release the cover album you did, in the future?
Falkner: I don't know if that'll ever be released in its entirety, but six of those songs have already been released on B-sides in Australia. And then, you know Lovitt's doing the full length, and there's two songs (bonus tracks on vinyl LP available through Lovitt Records- www.lovitt.com) from that, that are off the cover album. As far as it being released in its entirety, I don't think it's going to happen. Especially now, because it's so old to me. I did it five years ago. So, if I did do a cover record, I'd probably redo it and make it more current for me.

FA: What's left, off of the covers album, that hasn't been released?
Falkner: A Soft Boys song. The Soft Boys were Robyn Hitchcock's band in the late 70s. A Tom Waits song, "Johnsburg, Illinois." There was a band from the late 70s called Essential Logic. The Damned, I did a Damned song. There's a band called the Zombies. And, you know, the Left Banke, they did this song, "Just Walk Away, Renee...." Actually, I just did a song for a Left Bank tribute that's coming out on this label in Canada. I did this song called "Pretty Ballerina." I think that's coming out in a month or so.

Music isn't a just a career or a even a hobby for Jason Falkner- it's a way of life, and it has been since he was a child. He eats, sleeps and breathes it, the benefits of which are more than evident through the vast superiority of his music. Both of his solo albums "Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown" and "Can You Still Feel?" are pristine examples of what pop music should strive to be. Falkner's live performances are rumored to be as noteworthy as his studio output. While I find that extremely easy to believe, you can test the theory out yourself at the Double Door on the 14th, where the musical mastermind himself will provide the evidence.

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