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!