Singer/Songwriter John Haesemeyer is releasing a brand new EP titled "Maybe if I Try". John explains that the meaning of the title track is about perseverance and hard work. "For me personally, it’s about pressing ahead despite the challenges of making independent music year in and year out." This is John's first new material since his highly successful 2014 album "Three Mirrors". The San Francisco Bay Area is a hotbed for talent and John fits right in the whirlpool of creativity there. With help from people like producer Nahuel Bronzini and musicians: Levi Seacer (Prince), Scott Padden (The Dead) and drummer Andrew Laubacher, the EP is worth leaving in anyone's CD player for multiple listens. I recently got a chance to talk to John about the project and his career.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your upcoming EP release "Maybe If I Try". The title track has a great message. What is behind the title?
J.J. - Thanks. Appreciate the opportunity to talk about the record.
The lyric, “Maybe if I try a little harder, I might get what I want" Is about perseverance and hard work
For me personally, it’s about pressing ahead despite the challenges of making independent music year in and year out..
But really, it's for everyone out there who sees the world changing and the cards being stacked against them. I think about all the jobs that are being commoditized by tech companies here in SF, how we’re getting more and more glued to our screens, and how harder and harder it is to get by.
Ultimately, I guess the song is about not giving up on what’s important to you and what makes you human.
R.V.B. - Did you approach the new songs in any different fashion than your previous work?
J.H. - Yeah, I did actually.
I wanted these songs to have real popular appeal -- to make it easy for listeners to open up to the music.So I put a lot of emphasis on melody: the lead vocal, the guitar riffs, the piano fills... I wanted the listener to walk away humming and at the same time be touched by the messages of the songs.
This is different from some of my past projects that have been more lyrically driven, with longer, sadder forms. The last song on the track on the EP (“Theory) is the one example of a more lyrical approach
R.V.B. - How do you find inspiration in writing songs? Do you have a think tank studio or area... or is it from general life experiences?
J.H. - My think tank is the front room of my little Victorian apartment on a weekend afternoon.
For me, inspiration works two ways.
I hear melodies in my head, then later find lyrics to go with them. “Room for Two” is an example of this. I developed melodies by noodling around with arpeggios on my guitar, then later wrote the lyrics about meeting someone on the bus that I often take around San Francisco.
The other way is lyrically driven: I feel a deep emotion (anger, sadness, love) about something happening in my life (a breakup, politics, a death in the family) and am inspired to write a song. These usually start with lyrics. “Theory,” the last track is an example of this: very simple chord structure and an improvised spoken word part at the end.
In either case, the songs end up being driven by general life experiences. The process just starts in a different place
R.V.B. - Being from the Bay area, how as the rich San Francisco arts scene influenced your music?
J.H. - Enormously.I quit my job five years ago to focus full time on music. Part of my rationale was the talent and support of the local music scene.
Early on, I was lucky early on to make a connection with the SF Conservatory of Music, a world-class music school. The producer (Nahuel Bronzini) who I partnered with on my first project was finishing up graduate work there in classical guitar. We spent countless hours in the basement of the Conservatory’s recording studio working with a cadre of talented prodigies for my first record (Come Along Quickly): cellists, violinists, an opera singer who sang soul, a bassist, pianists, etc. Really humbling to a guy like me who is a self-taught guitarist
But then I’ve also made connections with seasoned musicians like Levi Seacer, who played guitar for Prince’s band, and who helped produce a couple of my songs. I’ve worked with the bassist (Scott Padden) who plays with remaining members of the Grateful Dead. I collaborated with a rap artist from the South Bay (Jendor). My drummer (Andrew Laubacher) on this latest project is part of Con Brio, an amazing funk band that is blowing up right now nationally. Andrew’s drum work is really masterful if you listen closely to the end of “Maybe If I Try.”
The EP was mastered by Piper Payne, President of the SF Recording Academy (Grammys) chapter. She did a great job making the songs to punch through while allowing the Americana and classical components to remain authentic.
The Bay Area is a really a cool, supportive environment for independent musicians. If you are committed to your craft and have a story to tell with your music, you will find the right team of musicians to make your vision happen.
R.V.B. - The production work on "Maybe If I try" is rich and deep. What is the process of bringing the color to a piece written from a guitar?
J.H. - After I’m done writing a song – the melodies, chords, lyrics, the rhythmic feel, the structure – I get in the passenger seat and let my producer (Nahuel Bronzini) drive. I give ideas and sing different lines I hear for other instruments but Nahuel really leads this department.
For example, it was Nahuel’s idea to put horns on the song, and so he went ahead scored the parts of the trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone. The result is amazing –they have a cinematic sound that sold the director on the video project.
R.V.B. - Some of the work on this CD was recorded in South America. Did this give you a fresh approach and a different vibe in the recording process?
J.H. - Definitely.
Nahuel, who is Argentinian, goes between Argentina and the US, so he was able to hook us up with some great players from the Mar del Plata Philharmonic Orchestra and jazz artists from the local Buenos Aires music scene. The orchestral instruments, the Hammond organ, and the soul singer all hale from Argentina.
R.V.B. - Can you describe the process of making the video for the title track?
J.H. - Our video director, Andres Gallegos, a grad student at SFSU Film School, had the genius idea of working with an aerialist to bring visuals to the theme of perseverance and hard work. He worked diligently to audition and find the right person, Xochitl Sosa (trained by Cirrque de Soleil and other circus artists). Xochitl’s personal story of commitment to her art really comes through in her performance.
Andres followed a professional film production process. He diligently mapped out the shot list for both Xochitl and the band. He had a film crew of a dozen students on both days of shooting. He built a cool set of hanging LCD lights for the shots of the musicians that we shot at the sound stage of the SFSU Film School.
R.V.B. - What are some of your performance highlights in your career up to this point?
J.H. - Three shows come to mind.
Doing a live recorded concert at Coast Recorders studio here in SF. We crammed 100 people into the live room of the studio and played a full set with exquisite sound … Also had a film crew so there some great clips of the show out on YouTube.
Playing Sweetwater out in Mill Valley. This is a real stepping stone for SF artists so it felt great to get the call from the booking agent.
My all time favorite gig was outdoors in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Will never forget that show – had a great sound crew provided by the city. It was a beautiful crisp sunny summer afternoon. The street car was gliding by us and everyone was really into the music. We started with maybe 20 people there and by the end of the gig there were like over 300.
R.V.B. - How did you originally get started with music?
J.H. - Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I found sanctuary in the music of the singer-songwriters of the 70s, artists like Neil Young, James Taylor, acoustic Springsteen. Their music gave me a way to reflect on all that was happening around me: my parents’ alcoholism and divorce, the closets I found myself in, and the ordinary changes of adolescence.
My brother taught me to play guitar when I was in junior high and I just started to write songs as a way of dealing with my feelings. I later learned how to sing in two different audition choirs, one at church and one in high school. Singing in choirs is where I also learned how to read music..
R.V.B. - What is your message that you try to get across in general with your music and songwriting?
J.H. - My goal is to help listeners process the themes of loss, love, and hope that are common to the human condition. These themes rarely vary, oddly enough. For example, “Maybe If I Try” is a song about hope.
At the end of the day, I just see music as therapeutic. It should help the listener deal with their feelings, gain awareness, and keep growing.
R.V.B. - Do you have any plans on supporting the new EP?
J.H. - There's a radio campaign that's gathering steam on some indie stations, especially on the East Coast, like in the Boston and New Jersey areas. The music video for the single is also slated to play on local stations and Internet TV channels starting in May.
Here in SF, we have a release party coming up later in May and a few gigs in the works. We’ve toyed with the idea of a tour but for now we are focused on an unplugged recording project, with all acoustic instruments.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on John Haesemeyer visit his website www.haesemeyer.com
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