Retro: Quick Q and A with Jake Armerding

Jake himself describes himself: “Violinist-composer Jake Armerding creates an unholy racket of 80’s pop, Suzuki classical and New England bluegrass.”  I’d have to say that the word “unholy” could be replaced with a number of synonyms that mean “splendid, fabulous, magical, etc.”

The interview below took place in October 2006. There’s a lot of catching up to do with Jake since that time, but first a little back history: Jake first came into my consciousness as a member of Northern Lights, an extremely popular Northeast bluegrass band who took that musical form to a new level.  Jake has released at least solo CDs and has been a member of an eclectic mix of musical bands and collectives: Barnstar!, The Fretful Porcupine, Rosin, and the Sheffield Sessions.  Jake’s raw energy and proficient fiddle and mandolin playing make him a much in-demand side musician as well.

You can find out a lot more about Jake on this website.

Here’s a video of Jake playing “Musicland” from his album Sweet Octave.

And here’s a pretty cool video of Barnstar! recording in the studio.

From my 2006 archives:

Do you have a favorite memory of growing up in Ipswich?

I didn’t recognize what a blessing it is to grow up in small town New England until I moved away from it (started college out in the Chicago suburbs . . . a bit of a wasteland). I think one of my favorite memories was meeting some friends down at Chipper’s, this absolutely charming breakfast joint that has since closed down, on a snow-delayed school day our junior year of high school. Delays were best because you got to miss at least two of those killer morning classes, yet the school system didn’t count the day against you and tack it on to the end of the year like they do with a full-fledged snow day. It was a real win-win. The funny thing is, we met up to study — we were all in this wicked hard Advanced Placement Biology class and we had a test coming up that day, or maybe the next, I don’t remember. But it was cold and snowy and we were warm and downtown on a school day, learning about aerobic respiration with muffins and coffee. The odd juxtaposition of schoolwork with a “morning off” actually made the schoolwork fun. It was a pretty excellent experience.

What’s life like for you as a full-time musician?

Hard. It’s like working two jobs and only enjoying one of them, and the one you love has to make up for the one you don’t. But this is what I do, and I keep doing it, and there are enough moments in there to make it all good.

How do you structure your time on a daily or weekly basis?

Ha. The real answer to this is, I don’t. Everything floats around inside my week: gotta meet this guy here, go for a run there, hit the post office, write some lyrics. The blessing and curse of this life is that there’s no routine. I should probably try to create one, but I don’t have the heart to … I think my brain would really feel betrayed.

Do you practice after all these years? Are you still learning new things about your instruments?

Yes and no. I find the time to maintain the skills I’ve got, and that’s enough to put on a show I feel good about. But I’m not making strides on my instruments because I’ve chosen to try to make strides on my songwriting, and you can only make strides, real strides, on so many things in life.

Tell us about your forthcoming CD. Does it have a name yet? Is it similar to or different than your last CD (which is spectacular!)?

It does have a name; it’s called Walking On The World It’s essentially finished. I hope it doesn’t sound stuck-up to say I think the CD is pretty great. It’s similar to the last in its melodic content, but different in that I took a great deal more chances with it. And the few that have heard it, that’s also what they’ve said, that it takes chances. Which is gratifying, because that always needs to be the case if you expect to grow as an artist. You can’t just keep making the same CD, you keep the things that are good enough to be a part of every CD, and you take the other stuff and mix it around, stomp on it, dice it up, keep it fresh. Like keeping the entrée and varying the side dishes.

Any special guest musicians on the new CD?

Many … local heroes include Richard Gates on bass, Mark Erelli and Taylor Armerding on vocals, and Rushad Eggleston on cello. There’s also a bunch of Nashville-based musicians on there. Everyone does an amazing job, I can tell you that.

What’s been your most exhilarating on stage moment?

Last year at Somerville Theatre, playing with Crooked Still and Halali. We encored with Graceland, my favorite song, and the energy that happened was just unreal. Crooked Still’s got a show coming up there soon, by the way, don’t miss it.

What do you see yourself doing in ten years? twenty years? Still in the music biz?

Oh yeah. Same career, hopefully the only difference will be a wife, kids and a mortgage.

If you couldn’t be a musician, what do you think you’d like to do?

Either write or act. Or I’ve really toyed with the thought of being a minister, but that would be a lot of seminary, I don’t know if I’m up for that. Also I’m not sure anyone would come to my church.

What kind of music do you listen to these days? Any favorite songs or CDs?

The latest guy who’s impressed me is Rufus Wainwright, that song “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” There are moments in that song that I really admire as a songwriter, a singer, an arranger and a producer.

Do you recommend any new performers who we should book at the me & thee?

Crooked Still is great, they’re the best young band going these days. I would also look into having Hanneke Cassel do her own show there — Hanneke is the best tunewriter of my generation, that I’ve heard anyway. And her presence is unbelievable; you just get drawn in watching her. I didn’t know I liked Celtic/Americana music until I heard her.

My favorite question to ask: Beatles or Stones?

Ha. Well, Beatles early, Stones now. I think most of us start out with Beatles, and some of us move on to Stones, some don’t. Early on I was just about craft and creativity, and the Beatles reign with those things. But then I started to recognize the raw power of acts like the Stones. Once you get a taste of that, it’s all over.


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