I’m Still Figuring It Out: A Conversation with Jaimee Jakobczak

Self-professed amateur rock star in training Jaimee Jakobczak is nothing short of an indie music powerhouse. As a blogger at Crooked Forest, she aims to “empower and encourage new voices to share their lives and experiences through creative mediums and offer a safe inclusive space for open communication about difficult issues.” As a musician, Jaimee is involved a wide range of projects including making music as Crooked Forest, Jaimee Eat World, Passing Harsher (with KM North), Thoroughfare (again with KM North), and most recently Neither Could Dylan. I could go on (and on and even further on), but none of us have that kind of time, so I’ll just let Jaimee speak for herself!

I know our focus here is to talk about the new Neither Could Dylan tracks, but I feel like that would only tell a tiny part of the story of what you do. How does Neither Could Dylan fit into the bigger picture?

When I started writing and recording my own music again, the initial stages were full of questions. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to present myself or if anyone would like what I had to offer, but knew that I just had to rip the bandaid and start doing it. Somewhere along the way I started to realize that the choices I were making weren’t necessarily the best for what I hoped to accomplish, so I had to think back again to what I was doing and why. Neither Could Dylan was the result of that long-term process. If everything I release is a reflection of myself as a person then Neither Could Dylan is me accepting every part of myself and putting my best foot forward.

You mention in your bio that the name Neither Could Dylan speaks to your insecurity about singing, but I have to say that I love your voice. I’m reminded of Alison Moyet and Siouxsie Sioux. Has your approach to singing—and your comfort level with it—evolved over time?

Thanks! It’s definitely evolved. If anyone were to hear what I sounded like back when I had my first band in my teens I’m sure it resembled a cat painfully screeching more than anything else. When I was younger I was too shy to even practice, so I never really felt like I found any comfort in it and I think it’s largely why I stopped doing it for so long. These days I’m much more willing to try things out of my comfort zone and I’ve accepted that there are just certain tones and styles I’ll never be able to emulate, but I’ve come to enjoy what I’m able to produce. I’m still just figuring it out every day, though.

Your first single from the forthcoming Neither Could Dylan album, Acceptance, is called “To Be Loved.” In a recent blog post, you mentioned that the song asks what it really means to love someone. Do you think there’s anything in popular music or culture in general that gives people a skewed sense of what it means to love someone?

Yeah, I think generally speaking we’re not exactly a society that talks openly and honestly about what it means. We’re brought up on fairy tales and made to conform to a certain ideology and standard for what true love looks like: getting married, a white picket fence, flowers on Friday’s. But there’s a reality that’s often ignored or undermined: many of us grow up in challenging situations and difficult families that automatically put us at odds with that ideology – love looks very different to a child whose parents are always away for work compared to the child with a day-in-day-out doting mother or father and these experiences shape the way we treat ourselves and our partners. You might learn to say the words but that’s only a fraction of it. I think pop culture still leans into the fairy tale side of things; they want you to feel the music swell and the butterflies and all these things that can’t really be explained in a logical sense and I really think we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the other parts of it. I wish we spent more time thinking about what love doesn’t look like as we do what it “should”.

Have you come to any conclusions on the topic yourself?

What love looks and feels like to me is going to be very different than anyone else in this world, even compared to my siblings who grew up in the same home as me. I think it’s really important that all of us take the time to understand ourselves before we commit to any relationships; learn what you need, what you really value and what your boundaries are. I think when we neglect this part of it, we find ourselves in situations that we’d maybe rather avoid and for some of us it can put us in a dangerous situation that is then difficult to get out of. My best example of this is vulnerable people who have grown up in abusive households and on some core level they learn that love looks like fighting – it looks like coming home late slurring, it looks like punching a wall, it looks like yelling. Then they find themselves with a partner who does all these things and they realize that they don’t like it; it feels unsafe and scary and they want out, but that can be really difficult to get away from safely. People don’t like to talk about these realities because they’re uncomfortable but I think we need to put the spotlight on them.

It’s great that your dog is on the cover of the single. What’s the idea there, particularly with respect to what it means to love someone?

When you get a dog you know you’re doing so with the understanding that you’re likely to outlive it, so you have to be prepared for that inevitability and there’s a certain responsibility about making sure those years are worthwhile. I got Dakota about 6 years ago. When he was 2 years old he had some separation anxiety and he’d deal with this by eating, very specifically, worn socks that he’d pull out of the laundry baskets. One day I realized he wasn’t feeling well and took a week off work (something I almost never did) to stay with him; I had no idea at the time that he’d ingested a sock and it was blocking his intestines. Once we got him to the vet for X-Rays and realized the problem, we were told he’d have to have emergency surgery or he was going to die. I didn’t hesitate and I put the bill on multiple credit cards – we didn’t have insurance for him. Decisions like this aren’t easy when you’re already struggling financially but there was no way I could let him go out like that. He of course recovered and if he wasn’t my best friend or biggest support already, he definitely became it. Dakota’s been with me through all of my biggest challenges over the last couple years and usually he’d park himself right next to my amplifier when I was recording guitars for my albums. He might not be able to say so, but that dog shows me more love than anyone I’ve ever known and I try to offer him the same.

A single thread was the culprit in that entire ordeal – love is a lot like that, the smallest things will have you buckled over in knots.

Your latest single is called “Chemical Therapy.” What’s the story behind that one?

It’s about coming to terms with the fact that people will always be who they are and you have to learn when the fight is worth giving up. We have a tendency to always want to see the best version of those we care about, but what if the best version of that person still sucks? I’ve been around my share of people who make you feel like you have to walk on pins and needles around them, careful not to upset them or make them fly off the handle and it’s just not fair to anyone and not really worth putting yourself through. Sometimes the forest has to burn for something bigger and better to grow; that’s “Chemical Therapy”.

I love the production on both tracks. You play a lot with the stereo field, and there’s a lot going on in the mix that belies the apparent simplicity of the sound. How did you learn to produce music, and how would you describe your approach to music production?

I think I learned most just by listening to great records. “This feels like it really uplifts here, what instruments are making me feel that way?”. Prior to working on my own projects I’d worked with bands but that’s a whole different animal than having to put every piece of the puzzle together yourself, so I’d start with a boundary like, “This song is going to be played by a 4-piece rock band, so what are the components of that?” and then I’d start. That seemed simple enough for me; lay some rhythm guitars, add drums and bass, and then some lead guitar for flavour. From there it just grew, “Okay, what if that 4 piece band had a budget for a string quartet?”. I sort of do this all the time now and it helps me not get stuck taking the same approach to every production or getting too bogged down by choice.

Your blog offers a valuable mix of information on mental health and music. What do you see as the relationship between the two?

Well, I’m trying. When I started writing music again in 2020 I was also newly sober. Creating was the thing I’d turn to instead of turning to a drink. And then I was getting divorced and I was falling further into myself because I didn’t have many people to talk to about it all since it was all happening during the worst days of COVID-19 here in Canada. I ended up writing a lot of music that year and a lot of things about myself were changing as a result of my sobriety – the biggest being that I was growing more confident in my music and writing and for the first time really encouraged to share it with the world. I’d started to wonder if I had been sober when began making music in my teens and early 20’s, if things would have been different for me. When I look at a lot of people I used to know who have difficulty managing their stress, what I also recognize is that they don’t have a creative outlet. They have nowhere to spill that energy and instead it bottles up and that manifests itself in all sorts of different ways. To me the two are entirely intertwined and I have to imagine that I’m not alone in that.

You also provide a lot of information to help DIY musicians get their projects going. Why is that important to you?

It’s really important to me. I have a background in studio recording and know that two of the biggest barriers for new artists are money to start and lack of knowledge in what avenues they can or should take. Probably now even more than when I began working in music, there is this perception that you need to spend a ton of money in order to make a great record and this alone can be enough to keep the most talented artists away from the craft. You jump on YouTube and these 12 year old kids have full-blown music production suites where they’re recording these heavy hitter tracks, but there’s a lot they’re not telling you about all that – you don’t need it. One of the things I try to remind other artists of and even myself from time to time is that I discovered The Beatles for the first time on an 8-track recorder. It sounded terrible, but the songs spoke for themselves and I would return to that 8-track recorder often to listen. A great song is a great song; acapella, recorded on an iPhone, or just with an acoustic guitar. Write the song and it will find its audience.

I also wanted to ask about your two tribute projects – Jaimee Eat World and Death Bus for Blondie. Can you describe them and say a word or two about how they came about?

Jaimee Eat World is my Jimmy Eat World cover band project and Death Bus for Blondie is my Death Cab for Cutie project. If Neither Could Dylan was the middle of a venn diagram, those bands would be its wings. At the worst times in my life when I could find comfort in nothing else, I’d find comfort in listening to those records. Without ever knowing it over the years those bands have helped me make positive decisions to move my life forward, they helped me learn how to play instruments and they offered me their backs to lean on.

The projects allow me to appreciate what they’ve given me while also allowing me a creative space to play around with songs that aren’t my own. If I’d been in the studio when those records were made, what might I have done differently? And just in speaking to what I was saying above – when you’re first starting out, maybe you don’t know how to write songs yet. A great way to learn is by performing your own spin on your favourites. My covers aren’t anything like the original recordings and I take a lot of liberty with them – you don’t have to play as well as Slash to cover Guns N’ Roses. Play whatever makes you feel good.

How do you find time for it all?

I’m genuinely not sure what I’d do with my time otherwise.

What’s on the horizon? 

Acceptance will be out on April 7th, 2023 and I’m slowly working towards getting a full band together to perform those songs live. Otherwise it’s business as usual; more covers, more writing, more livestreams.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks very much for your questions!

Making My Own Map: A Chat with Steve Tipton

Steve Tipton is a musician from Hagerstown, Maryland, who makes all of his music using a cell phone and a guitar – and nothing else! In fact, the only instrument he owns is a guitar. His tunes offer a fun mix of rock and hip-hop, as well as both acoustic and electric guitars. You can find his music on YouTube and follow him on Twitter for all of his latest updates.

You take a minimalist approach to making music. What’s behind that decision?

I use my cellphone to make music out of necessity! Because I don’t have a band or the equipment to record. Just a guitar. 

How did you get into music in general?

My mother is a bluegrass musician. There were always instruments around growing up. She showed me a C chord on guitar and piano and after I heard Van Halen 1 it was all it took. Spent my teens in my room learning.

And what led you to start recording music on your phone?

In 2019, I found an app called Bandlab. It has every drum kit you can think of. But it doesn’t do samples or prerecorded beats. It lays the kit out across the phone screen. You play with your fingers and thumbs. But it also has a 12-track recorder in the app. I play drums, so I naturally have timing and knowledge of drumming. I just had to retrain my brain to use my fingers instead of my feet and arms. Same for bass and keyboards. They’re all done on the phone screen too. The guitars and vocals are multi tracked live against the tracks I lay with the app. It takes about 30 hours to make a 4-minute song and video. 

How would you describe your sound – beyond, of course, the idea that it’s all recorded on a cell phone?

I would describe my sound as Van Halen, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Beatles, Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle, all had an orgy and produced a baby!

I’m curious about your collaboration with the rapper Petworth Paul. Can you tell me anything about him?

Ah yes! The Petworth Paul questions! I’m always asked… He and I know each other through the AA, NA recovery community in Maryland. We’re both former users of bad stuff!

How did your collaboration come about?

I recorded all the music and chorus vocals on “Why da Haters,” our collab together. I knew my song topic and song structure, but I don’t write rap verses. I made contact with him, he came to see me in Frederick, Maryland. And in one day, he wrote and recorded the verses after I told him, it’s about the haters! The video was done a month later in Baker Park, Frederick Maryland. 

You actually released two versions of the track you recorded with him. The second was an unplugged version, with you on guitar on Petworth Paul rapping over it. What was the idea there?

The unplugged version of “Why da Haters” was done at a recovery cookout. 

Do you think you’ll ever record with more than your phone?

I would love to play and record with other people, especially in a studio. I found that most local musicians mostly want to play covers and aren’t thrilled about doing already wrote original songs. If you do covers, cool have fun. I feel like I’m not challenged by driving a road someone else drew the map for. I like making my own map!

What’s next?

Keep writing, keep making music, until someone hears it that can further me in the process of a wider fanbase.

I’ve been signed twice as a result of my cellphone songs. Atomic Records, and Clean Artist records. Atomic Records released an EP titled Cellphone Songs from the Stairwell. It’s on iTunes, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and YouTube. 

I love the songs, but I was still learning to make a cellphone song, and I cringe at my production values on them. Since that record in 2020, I have honed my craft at this genre of song production. I call cellphone songs art. I may have made this an artform! Who else can lay down an entire drum track and bass track with their fingers on a phone screen!

We Are All Where We Are Supposed to Be: An Interview with David Budet of Teledeath

I first heard the music of Teledeath when WDNF Philly played one of his tracks on the same night as a tune by my band The Star Crumbles — and I’m quite happy for the coincidence! Despite a slightly foreboding name, Teledeath offers bouncy, 80s-inflected beats and chunky synth riffs that call to mind classic synth-pop acts like the Eurythmics and early Depeche Mode. Floating over it all is the soaring vocal of David Budet, who also happens to have played or programmed all of the instruments on his debut single “The Hunter” and its b-side, “Final Forum.” Curious to learn more, I dropped him a line.

Teledeath is a cool name. It sounds to me like the title of a David Cronenberg movie. How did it come to you, and what does it represent?

I love Cronenberg and never considered that; you’re right! Makes me like the name even more.

I wish this was a more pleasant story… I’ve always played music, but after getting engaged, I became very focused on my IT career. I hardly played for about eight years. I really started to miss being creative during the pandemic, so I decided to pick up and play. I was listening to a lot of electronic music at the time so I decided to work exclusively with synths for the first time in my life. I also play guitar and bass.

I began to consider names for my project. One night, I was reading an article about “telehealth as the future of medicine,” which amused me. I said to myself, “What will they think of next? Teledeath?” And it kind of just hit me – how about that for a name? it was different, catchy. There wasn’t anything death-related going on in my life for me to associate the name to, but the novelty of it stuck with me, so I decided to go with it for the time being.

Now, as insane as this sounds, a few weeks after coming up with the name, my wife was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. The diagnosis came from out of nowhere. She had no signs, symptoms or pains – she merely went for her yearly physical. The doctor was concerned about some of the numbers in the blood work and a scan revealed the cancer. She cooked and ate mostly organic, exercised six days a week, didn’t smoke, no hereditary issues. It made no sense and still doesn’t. Things accelerated very quickly and two months and two days after the diagnosis, we lost her. It was one of the worst horrors you can imagine.

During her illness and afterward, music became my therapy, and in the aftermath of her passing, I tried to balance work with writing and recording music, but after a couple of months, my workload increased dramatically, to the point that there was just no time for music. I struggled with this for over a year and finally broke down. I was overworked in the aftermath of a massive trauma. It was all just too much. I decided to leave my job and pursue music, and just take time to focus on being a dad to my girls. The corporate attitude is anti-human. It’s not something I’m able to fit into anymore.

Changing the name of the project never crossed my mind again. Teledeath literally means “death from a distance” and in hindsight, that all-too perfectly summarizes what I have been through. It’s not possible to come out of something like that as the same person, but you also can’t let it destroy you. I initially steered my life in a specific direction and it did not go as planned, so I think it would be madness to try again. Either way, we are all where we are supposed to be, even when it doesn’t seem like it. I have abandoned myself to that concept and it’s been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

I’m sorry for your loss. I can only imagine your pain, and I admire your strength. I’m also struck by what you said about the therapeutic value of music. Looking at your photo on Bandcamp, I can see you’re wearing a Siouxsie and the Banshees tee shirt. What is it about her music – and, more broadly, music of the post-punk scene – that speaks to you?

Siouxsie is everything! I just adore her. I think the attitude, the clothes, all of it speaks to me. It’s the spirit of defiance in the style and in the music – to hell with what society thinks about how you look! If you’re happy, you’re winning. Even now when I go to goth or industrial night at the club, one of the best parts of the experience is people watching… everybody looks great!

What Siouxsie and the Banshees, specifically, brought to the table was the element of mystery. We typically associate mystery with dark as opposed to light and this is a common theme in many genres of modern music like metal, industrial, punk, etc. This is not the “Shiny, Happy People” crowd for the most part – and I absolutely love that. Are we not as deserving of love and art and wonder? We are all little colors on God’s palette, some of us are just more black and blue than others.

Mystery also plays a large role in the religious experience. That same feeling of transcendence is the most critical element of live performance to me. When I see an artist perform, I want to feel transported. I SHOULD feel transported. Terence McKenna argued that artists have a responsibility to act as modern-day Shaman, and that ultimately, the modern artist is failing spectacularly in that role, which I largely agree with (most of his vitriol was reserved for modern poets).

A side-note regarding the photo you mentioned: it was taken by Michael Benabib, who is a prolific hip-hop photographer. He’s photographed countless classic rap album covers, Tupac, Biggie, Dr. Dre, etc. It was his idea to have the shadowing around my eyes match the photo of Siouxsie in the shirt. He’s pretty brilliant. I found a photo agency on Google and filled out a standard contact form thinking some intern would call me back and it ends up being Michael Benabib who calls me. The next thing I know, we’re on a rooftop taking pictures. It was pretty crazy. 

How does the music you’re making carry on that tradition?

My music is always going to explore the darker and more mysterious side of existence if you will. I love to analyze relationships and emotions through that lens… its just who I am as a person. There’s also a limit to how much of that one can ingest, so its important to me to challenge the listener. I love to bring in elements unexpectedly. I want the flavor to change while you chew on it. I have lots of other influences that have really begun to come out in the newer pieces I’m working on. One in particular feels very much like an 80’s B-52’s song. Cindy Wilson is one of my favorite vocalists and I swear I could hear sing this song. Siouxsie is a big influence on me vocally, but I’d be remiss not to mention that my heroes are Annie Lennox and Jeff Buckley.

I’m curious about “The Hunter.” The lyrics call to mind “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran, but I imagine you’re taking on a persona or writing from a fictional perspective. Assuming that’s a fair assumption, what’s behind the story you’re telling?

It’s very important to me that my music be universally accessible. If you’re a drag queen in L.A. or a married mother of 3 kids in Oklahoma, I want you to be able to take my songs and personalize them. If I’m not creating in that manner, then I’m not communicating universally – which means I’m not doing my job.

Lyrically, “The Hunter” is from the point of view of an aggressor. That said, it’s not an endorsement of such behavior, its an analysis of it… musical criminology, in a sense. Studying crime isn’t an endorsement of crime. It’s an analysis – an attempt to understand. Well, the same can be done with a song. I can examine the world through the eyes of someone most would hold in contempt, but that’s not an endorsement. I want you to look at the protagonist in this song and figure out who they are and why they do what they do – for yourself. It seems to me that people don’t do analysis so much anymore. There’s a preference for emotional reaction and overreaction and righteous indignation, which all leads to really mid and mindless art.

Your Bandcamp bio describes your music as “mediumistic electronic” and also “dark medicine for dark times.” What do those phrases means to you?

My music jumps around a lot of electronic sub-genres… The thing is, I don’t really write songs. I can’t read or write music. I’ve never sat down and written out or planned a song in my life. I am responsible for my lyrics, but the melody and the beats, etc…, they come from somewhere else.

The best way to describe it is that I have a radio in my head that goes on at random… music just appears, usually a beat, melody or phrase, that unfolds over a matter of moments. I always have my phone by me so I can sing, tap, hum, whatever, into my voice recorder. I take that to the studio and build from there. Very little of it is conscious choosing, so I have come to accept that I’m not a composer, but rather, a channel.

There is a phenomenon called “Mediumistic Art.” There has been some research on this – people who can draw these incredible, otherworldly pictures, with no prior or proper training, it just comes to them. I believe I do this with music. I think a lot of musicians do this and don’t know it, but since my music jumps around so many sub-genres of electronic, I call what I’m doing “mediumistic electronic” as a catch-all for my processes and what I produce.

The whole idea of “dark medicine for dark times” goes back to McKenna. I take my responsibility as an artist seriously and believe it to be part of the shamanic tradition. I think I owe it to the listener to offer an experience that will leave them in a state where they feel healed, or stronger or validated or not so alone. The listener is coming to you to feel something. Artists should feel a sense of honor for that and they should seek to reward the listener’s faith.

I believe the world is improving in general, but let’s face it, we’ve just been through a pandemic… a lot of crazy has happened in a short amount of time. So I think there’s a lot of fear and hesitation to get back to life as we knew it. Ultimately, I hope my music can serve as a healing mirror. We’re all going through some nasty stuff, we’ve all been hurt, now let’s sit with it and let it wash over so we can get back up and fight.

You produced “The Hunter” and “Final Forum” on your own. What’s your recording process?

When I record, I typically lay down the music first. I do a lot of editing and looping. There’s a significant amount of sound design that goes on. I sing whenever possible. There are a lot of challenges with that. Despite a ton of help from my wonderful family and friends, I am still a single parent of two young twin girls. I also have a freight train that goes through the backyard 20-30 times a day so, yes, I have some significant hurdles to being able to record vocals; but I make it work. I  finish up with comping. I’ve started to employ less complex vocal arrangements. I initially did a lot of layered, breathy stuff and I think I’m over it now. I’m definitely experimenting with a more dynamic, and aggressive style, like 90’s house music, sort of along those lines. That’s really my vocal wheelhouse so I’m going to hang out there more. I’m not young and time is not on my side so the most important thing for me is to create a body of work. Without the music, there’s nothing. Social media, marketing, whatever, it means nothing if you don’t have songs.

Out of curiosity, what program do you use to make music, and why do you prefer that one?

I use Ableton Live 11 in Windows. It reminds me of MOTU Digital Performer, which is what I used when I first began home recording on a Mac, years ago. I adapted to Live pretty quickly. People crap on it a lot, but I think it’s a great DAW. I can do what I need to without too much trouble.

Is everything “in the box,” or do you use any outboard gear?

I have a ton of VST’s, but my primary synths are Carbon Electra, U-he’s Diva, Arturia’s Analog Lab and the Native Instrument’s Reaktor and Battery series. I rely heavily on Reaktor and Battery for creating my drum kits.

For outboard gear, I have an ASM Hydrasynth… it s a digital wave-shifting synth, kind of like an outboard sound design machine. That’s where that thick synth line for “The Hunter” comes from. It does a great job mimicking analog warmth. A lot of my bass lines are analog via a Moog Minitaur. I use Arturia controllers exclusively – I love them.

I see you’re from New York. Is there an electronic music scene there? Do you get to play out much?

NY always has a pretty vibrant scene. We clearly have not bounced back after the pandemic but I don’t think anyone has. I think what we have now is what it’s going to be for the foreseeable future in terms of attendance at shows and clubs, etc. As for me personally, I ‘m working on concepts for a live show and should start playing out by summer. I’m probably going to do some live stream events first, the first will be in February or March. I’m going to be very busy for Q1 of 2023.

I know you have a new project in the works. Can you talk about it?

Yes, I am releasing a single in early February for a song called “Adore.” I will say tongue-in-cheek that it’s my “Justify My Love.”

I mixed my first release and learned quickly that mixing and mastering are quite literally, sciences. I would never dissuade anyone from experimentation and learning, but the odds are quite low that you are going to create a final product that will sound like what a seasoned professional would do. I have accepted that I’m a producer/musician and that’s good enough for now. I will continue to learn as I go. I’m happy that I came to my senses and got professional help for this release. Jason Corbett from the band Actors is mixing and mastering this track,  which I’m super excited about. 

I’ll be putting out singles throughout 2023 and eventually will release an EP some time this year. I encourage anyone reading this to follow me on whatever music, video and social platforms you use via https://linktr.ee/teledeath.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thank you –  I really appreciate you asking me!