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INTERVIEW | Jared Weiss Talks Nineteen to The Dozen

A discussion about "solipsistic self-examination."

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Meet Jared Weiss. Singer-songwriter and actor.

Weiss recently dropped his debut album, entitled Isolated Thunderstorms, a vibrant collection of indie-rock and folk-rock songs. His music, along with his acting ability – he played the role of Bob Dylan in the Off-B'way premiere of Search: Paul Clayton – serve to make Weiss fascinating, and complex.

Popdust sat down with Weiss to try and ascertain the source of his creativity and to find out what he's been up to lately.

How would you describe yourself?

I'm an artist. I like to create. I'm an actor, writer, singer with songs to sing, axes to grind, and stories to tell. I can be the most outgoing person, and conversely, the most reclusive person in the world, depending on the day. I like Star Trek, baseball, skiing, and watching movies while it rains.

What is the most trouble you've ever gotten into?

How long do you have? I've been in some pretty unbelievably fubar situations. I was in a pretty terrible car accident that I detail in a song on the record, called "Almost All Of Me." The summer before we started college, my girlfriend and I drove up to Maine to see Phish play a weekend long festival. I had the bright idea of heading out early to beat the traffic. Now, this was truly a stupid idea, because there were 60,000 people at that festival, making it one of the biggest towns in the state of Maine for that weekend. We're in gridlock in my mother's green 1994 Ford Explorer. My girlfriend is asleep, and I remember saying to myself "I can drive while I sleep."

I wake up to a blaring horn and see trees in front of me where a road should have been. I jerk the wheel to the right flipping the car over 3 times, depositing us upside down and backwards on the other side of a decomposing bridge on route 1. Before that first car flip, I was convinced I was about to die in a car crash, taking my girlfriend with me. Somehow, we survived this wreck without a scratch. That's the short version of a long story I've been trying to express, and get clarity on for fifteen years.

Who is your favorite music artist?

Joe Iconis. Hands down. He's also my favorite person with whom to perform. Then of course there's David Bowie, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, The Who, Oasis, Fiona Apple, Simon & Garfunkel, Prince etc. It's hard to pin down, depending on how I'm feeling.

How did you get started in music? What's the backstory there?

I've been singing since I was a kid. My mother used to perform a lot in the '80s playing the classic Musical Theatre ingénue in shows like Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, The Music Man etc. I always performed in the school musicals, and never thought I would do anything other than perform or create in some capacity. I've been working in the theatre and cabaret scenes, as well as performing my own music since I graduated from NYU. I've always loved music. It's been my lifeline to the world – a way to communicate when all hope seems lost. And, I have no other marketable skills.

What musicians influenced you the most?

Lyrically, Bob Dylan. Dylan showed me that I could take a rhyme scheme anywhere I wanted as long as I knew where I was going. Dylan also revealed that you can do whatever you want at a live show while accompanying yourself on guitar and harmonica, as long as it's in service of telling the story. That's how we end up with 14-minute versions of "Desolation Row." When I picked up the acoustic guitar again as a teenager, it was Dylan's strum patterns and lyrical phrasing that stuck with me more than anyone else. I learned electric guitar by playing Oasis songs in high school, and I've always been a huge classic rock fan – The Beatles, The Who, Cream. Ben Folds and Fiona Apple taught me how to play piano, sort of. I love them both. I love The Velvet Underground, and the solo work of Lou Reed and John Cale. I listened to Lou Reed's Berlin and David Bowie's Blackstar constantly while writing this record. And of course, Joe Iconis.

How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?

I think they give me a bigger musical vocabulary to work with. At some point we all say "I wanna be like that artist" or "I wish I had written [insert song here]." I lovingly borrow ideas from all my influences, consciously or not. The most impactful artists are the ones that make me want to go home and write a song. That's a very general statement, but the truth is, my influences are always informing how I not only shape my music, but live my life. Here's a random example. I learned how to play piano by listening to Ben Folds. I couldn't read instrumental sheet music, but I knew how to form triads from my voice teacher, and read a chord chart from playing guitar. I'd listen to Whatever And Ever Amen with a chord chart in front of me, and begin to figure it out. I'm not a terrific piano player by any means, but there's a direct example of one of my biggest influences shaping the way I play. Now that I've got some distance on it, I'm realizing this 'Folk Record' I set out to write, is greatly influenced by the way Noel Gallagher writes songs.

What kind of guitar do you play? And why?

I play a Martin HD-28 Acoustic most of the time. It's got a wonderfully deep sound. I'm actually finding that the body is a bit too wide for my taste when I stand up. But I used it on the record, and when I'm sitting down it's a wonderful instrument. I pulled my busted Taylor 110-CE out of the case a while ago. I'm slowly repairing it. Don't play ball in the house, kids. It's incredibly light compared to the Martin. Completely different sound, but a hell of a lot easier to carry on the subway.

What inspired your recent album Isolated Thunderstorms?

Everything. It's inspired by pain, hope, women, pills, rain, alcohol, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Joe Iconis and Bob Dylan. It started with a girl. I broke up with her because I was too fucked up – and somehow thought it was the right thing to do. I couldn't feel anything anymore. Months later, I realized the gravity of what I had done. I had thrown away the love of my life because, why? Because I was too lazy to change? Too afraid to examine myself? The record is pure solipsistic self-examination. In order to explain to Reni what went wrong, I first had to figure it out for myself. I've had entirely far too many tragic moments for it all to be coincidence. Or maybe that's just life, I'm not sure. Everyone has tragedy. But, for me to move on with my life, I needed to examine it. I don't know if I found one glorious answer to everything, but I did learn to start forgiving myself for the past. I had to write or die. I had been talking with my friend/producer about making a record for years. He finally convinced me to come down to Nashville, away from the craziness of New York, and make the record.

You're also an actor. You played the role of Bob Dylan in the Off-B'way premiere of Larry Mollin's 60's folk musical SEARCH: PAUL CLAYTON. How did you prepare for the role?

I feel like I've been preparing to play Bob Dylan my whole life. I've loved and revered the man since I was an adolescent. I re-learned (basically) his whole catalogue. I listened to and watched everything on Dylan from 1960-1967. I studied his mannerisms, his voice, how his playing evolved (or devolved) throughout the years. I practiced acoustic guitar a ton. Every day the cast would get together and discover a "new" song that Dylan had "stolen" from an older more experienced folk musician. I'd examine what Dylan did with it, and go from there. I got fairly good at playing harmonica, and decided to incorporate that into whatever I did next. We did the Off B'Way premiere in 2015 following a lovely 6-week summer 2014 run at Martha's Vineyard Playhouse. That's where I met my producer, the playwright's brother, Fred Mollin, and it's where I fell in love with my co-star, Reni (who played Dylan's girlfriend Suze Rotollo and Joan Baez) sitting around a picnic table, listening to her sing Diamonds and Rust. If my friend hadn't told me to 'crash the EPA' (show up for an audition without an appointment) for PAUL CLAYTON, I probably never would have met Fred, or fallen in love with Reni, or even made this record.

What's next for you musically?

Next up, I've got some concerts and shows in NYC with my friend/composer Joe Iconis. We always do a huge blowout for Halloween and Christmas that helps keep us all sane – and I'm looking to book a couple more solo shows before the end of the year. I've been writing a lot in anticipation of making another album in 2019. Not sure where or how yet, but it'll happen. Maybe I'll finally write that folk record I was talking about.

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Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.

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