I was recently introduced to Jason Jennings, known for being the bassist of Jon Oliva's Pain, to catch up and find out about his forthcoming side project and album due out early in 2013. He was a pleasure to interview, very eager and informative with his answers. Read on to find out more...
"Predominantly, I'm known for my work as a bassist in a variety of styles and contexts at home in Florida, but I had the pleasure of touring Europe for the first time in the summer of 2012."
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Known for being the bassist in Jon Oliva's Pain I wanted to know what triggered Jason to start on this side project, the influences and what he hoped to gain from this experience.
"Coming back to Florida and hitting the old grind on the club scene playing cover tunes here has a LOT to do with it! Over the years I've accumulated these little licks or pieces of structure, and thus will employ them in my new project. Club gigs are necessary; paying the bills. But they can be stifling as well, so this is my antidote.
"As for experiences and influences that shape the new material: well, we can't let that cat out of the bag beforehand, now can we? What I really hope to regain is the satisfaction and joy of the creative process, and ultimately have a product that I can be proud of. I always try to write from the heart, and that can scary enough—baring my soul, as it were. Yikes!"
This is not Jason's first time working on an album as a side project. The first was with 'Near Life Experience' back in 2004, so I was intrigued to find out why this wasn't completed, what spurred him onto the idea back then and his main influences.
"With NLE I was totally into the idea of making an album that I would've listened to myself in, say, 1977 or 78. I've always been inspired by a wide cross-section of bands, and those favourites stick with me to this day. I still listen to major doses of Zeppelin, Humble Pie, Wishbone Ash, et al—when bass players could step out melodically and still sock it in the pocket.
"Unfortunately money got tight, as is too often the case. I took a gig with a rather crappy cover band that somehow managed to book relentlessly. Now I had the money, but not the time. A year or two went by, and basically 'gigger mortis' set in on the project.
"After my brother passed in 2009, I found myself drawn to the recordings again. And several people who were involved then have prodded me to go back and finish it. So that brings us into the 'now'."
On 'Near Life Experience' Jason used nine musicians for eleven tracks, who performed in a Steely Dan style. I wanted to know if this was something he would be doing again and who he would chose.
"Well, I still think the Steely Dan approach of using players I think fit the songs is the best route to go for me. I don't think they necessarily played in a Steely Dan 'style' but they understood what I was trying to convey.
"Another thing about those core guys — Pat Buffo (vocals, percussion), Sonny Harlan (drums), and Matt LaPorte on lead guitar — is we'd all known each other for eons, played a billion gigs together, and were very much in tune with each other. Pat Buffo and I have been demoing songs together since 1998, and we still perform live together a lot..."
From the press information I received, I read that Jason experienced a very hard time in his life, both during childhood and again in adulthood. I wanted to know if he will be purely drawing from those experiences, if they had 'matured' him musically and as a person.
"I think for every child there are difficult periods, but that's all subjective. We moved around a lot in the metro New York area when I was young, and when my folks split up my brothers and I wound up in Louisville, Kentucky with our mother. She took on secretarial work to raise my brothers and me; my father was still in New York City working as a freelance writer. It's certainly not like I received insufficient nurturing from my parents though we, like many, had our share of lean times. Historically, music has tempered many a similar hardship.
"Now, as for adulthood — well, let's suggest that I'm still trying to discover that in full, since I'm still running around like a teenager. I got married in the late 80s and had two sons by the early 90s; I had a solid graphic art career going and I was playing in a great band. But the party never stopped, the marriage went sour, and ultimately I found myself raising my sons as a single parent. Again, there were some pretty lean times. Somehow, we muddled through those."
Matt LaPorte, a lifelong friend and guitarist who worked with Jason on the last project recently left this world so I asked if his spirit be carried on in this work.
"As for my dear friend, brother, colleague, and music mentor Matt LaPorte, I still reside in the apartment where he lived with me for the last year and a half of his life. His former bedroom is used for rehearsal and recording space, so yes — I still feel his presence very strongly.
"The last tracks he ever recorded were programmed drums on some demos of mine. It took about a year or more for me to even listen to those.
With Jason currently working with Jon Oliva's Pain and then listening to the two key tracks, 'Headspace' and 'Let It Bang', which are so far removed from the Metal style, I was intrigued to know what we can expect from his forthcoming album.
"There certainly won't be any limitations as far as styles. It's a trash or treasure mentality, really — something a little funky perhaps won't appeal to someone who likes the more in-your-face stuff. But at the end of the day, it will be about the song.
"Does it work? Do the lyrics convey the sentiment, and does the music complement that? It's a sonic canvas for me to paint on with sound. I don't want to boondoggle myself by writing in any one preconceived or specific direction."
I asked him about the recording process and how Jason will be personally involved.
"Like most folks, I prefer to work with people I have a strong bond with. I'll be using Jamie Goodman's facility in St Petersburg, Florida for some aspects, and perhaps Jim Fox at Sweet Spot in Largo, Florida for other aspects.
"I take on the role of mock producer, but I wholeheartedly listen to my engineers because those cats have very big ears! I like getting feedback and suggestions from everyone involved, and I think that makes the songs more personal to them as well.
"Beyond writing and arranging, I'll no doubt play rhythm guitar on the tracks as well as bass... the same as the last time."
I asked how he thought fans of Jon Oliva's Pain would react and if any of the members will have any influence or partaking in the recording.
"That's hard to predict about the JOP fans, but no one's slammed me — so far — for anything that's aired, and in fact I've had some very nice things said about my efforts to date.
"I'd love to bring Jon into the studio for a track or three, but Mr Oliva is an incredibly busy man! Ditto for Christopher Kinder, Jerry Outlaw, and Joe Diaz.
"As for influencing the material, there certainly must be an element of that. I mean, from early 2012 till the 'Hall Of The Mountain King' tour wrapped in mid July we were all riding that same vibe. But there's no way anything I write and possibly include JOP members on would ever be mistaken for JOP material. There's only one guy that can write those songs!"
Moving onto to any future plans or tours, Jason had this to say:
"I love the idea of the material generating enough interest to warrant putting together a deadly road band and doing some touring. But that's all way down the road — no pun intended - if it's going to happen at all."
Ending my questions and thanking him for his time, Jason wanted to leave this message for his friends and fans:
"I just want to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone! I was totally blown away by my experiences with JOP in Europe over the summer, and I am still totally in awe of all of the genuine people I met. I plan to come back over as soon as opportunity knocks! Until then, I'll be keeping an ear to the tracks..."
And there I present to you one of the easiest and nicest people that I have had the chance to interview...