In March 1995, I caught the first of a three-night, sold-out solo acoustic Bob Mould stint at Metro. It was my first time seeing Mould solo, so I was brimming with anticipation for how he would swing to acoustic from the last time I saw him, which was with Sugar at Aragon Ballroom the year before, still the absolute loudest concert I have ever attended. The humming in that room made you feel like players on an electric football game board, buzzing about with no control.
Who knew what this night would bring?
When the opening act came out with two chairs, an acoustic guitar and a cello, it seemed a tad odd. Was Bob going Starbucks on us? The act, named Jason & Allison, with Jason Narducy on guitar and lead vocals and Allison Chesley on cello, simply surprised every person, including me, in that room. They rocked. The next day, I bought their debut CD Woodshed and became a fan.
Since that time, it has been fun to follow Jason’s career, from Verbow (Chronicles and White Out, both of which remain in my regular rotation), Rockets Over Sweden, Telekenisis and Superchunk, to touring with and supporting a veritable who’s-who in rock, including Mould, Robert Pollard and Liz Phair.
In April, Jason released his first album of original music in almost a decade with his new band Split Single (@SplitSingleBand). Collaborating with friends Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats, Bob Mould, Ben Gibbard, Robert Pollard) and Britt Daniel (Spoon, Divine Fits), in Fragmented World, Jason has compiled a 10-song album of upbeat alt-pop songs which spotlights his full breadth of musical experiences and showcases his strong music-writing and lyrics.
From the dreamy “Waiting for the Sun” and “Last Goodbye” to the kick-down-the-doors “Monolith” and the ready-for-FM-radio pop jams of “Fragmented World” and “Never Look Back,” Fragmented World is just a solid rock album you can listen to for its individual offerings or in its entirety as your soundtrack for the day. It has quickly moved into regular play for me and is an album I highly recommend (and you can buy here).
I was excited when Jason offered some time to me, 19 years after I first saw and heard him on stage, to talk about Fragmented World, writing music, how the music industry has changed, his most memorable shows and overcoming the stigma of sexy elbows.
Just announced: Catch Split Single at Double Door on May 17. Ticket information here.
Fragmented World really is an awesome album. How fun was it to take something so close to you and create it with friends like Britt and Jon?
We had four days in LA to record Jon and Britt's parts, which isn't very long to capture basic tracks for 13 songs. There was an immediate musical chemistry, so we were able to work efficiently. Those two are so talented that even on the first takes they sounded fantastic. But they each pushed hard, trying to create parts for the songs that would help present the story in the best way possible. The songs evolved rapidly as we each contributed arrangement ideas. There were a lot of laughs, too. Everyone felt comfortable.
After the basic tracks were completed, I recorded my vocals, guitars and keyboards in Chicago. I did this tracking with Matt Allison at Atlas Recording. We also mixed the record there.
The album came off of an eight-year hiatus of writing material. Then you come up with 10 songs. How fast did those songs come to you? Is there a process to how songs come to you until you reach the final product? How often is it the lyrics driving the music, and vice-versa?
I always write music first. If I like an idea for a verse and chorus, I write lyrics and start thinking about arrangement. Does the song need a bridge? A solo? A breakdown? I try different ideas out on my own, but sometimes they aren't clear to me until I'm playing them with other musicians, in a band setting.
A lot has changed in the music industry since you released Woodshed as Jason & Allison. Between going from albums and CDs to online distribution and how you market your records, how have you adjusted in support of Fragmented World? Are there things you miss about the more traditional ways of getting an album to market and reaching and building fans?
I like the current state of the music industry except for the streaming sites, which don't pay artists nearly enough for their songs, and piracy which is just stealing. But it's great that a musician can record a song on a computer and immediately post it for friends and fans. The barrier of entry is gone, which allows artists a clear path to their audience.
I released Fragmented World from my basement. That would have been too difficult for me to pull off 15 years ago.
How is balancing family life with the life of a successful and demanded musician better or worse than that of a typical 9-5 life?
I don't tour as much as people think I do. 2013 was the busiest tour year of my career, but I was only away from home 27% of the time. When I'm home, I'm more available to my family than most dads I know.
You have played, toured and collaborated with some pretty big names in rock. Now, with a new band in Split Single, you are back in the forefront, yet still touring and playing with others. Is there a role you prefer more, or do you just simply enjoy the opportunity to play music, be it your own or someone else's?
I like both.
Has Sexiest Elbows in Rock Music done anything to create more awareness for "Hey, my eyes are up here," or have you just received more fan mail?
Since the documentary was released, I've received nothing but messages of support. I think many people have felt objectified at one time or another, so there seems to be a healthy amount of empathy for my situation.
When you're driving around with the windows rolled up, what is cranked on your stereo?
Windows up, it's Low. Windows down, it's The Clash.
What is the most memorable show you played?
Too many to narrow down to one. Verbow opening for Morrissey at Metro in 2000; Jason & Allison opening for Bob Mould in 1995; Bob Mould Band in São Paulo in 2013; Superchunk at Bowery Ballroom in 2013; Split Single record release show in Chicago in April 2014; Bob Mould Band at First Ave in 2012; Robert Pollard at Schubas in 2006 to name a few off the top of my head.
If you had a bucket list of five people you'd like to jam with, who are they?
John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer, Bob Mould, Jon Wurster
What's next for Split Single?
I would like to keep writing, recording and performing. I just released Fragmented World three weeks ago, so most of my focus is on getting the word out.
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