Lisa: Define the mission of Razed by Rebels.
Jason: To explore the messy parts of humanity.
To tear down the constructs that confine us.
To find strength in the struggle.
Lisa: Describe the musical frameworks your “Dawn” album explores.
Jason:I worked on these songs mostly when I was in transitional periods in my life. Saying goodbye to people, places or things — either because of failure, choice or necessity. I tend to do a lot of writing at these times. It helps me process change and my own inner turmoil around it. I’m also just fascinated by these moments. If you observe it, you can almost feel your life pivoting on its own fulcrum and it can be really exciting… or really unsettling. When we consider changes that impact us, I think it’s really easy to dwell on the cost of that change — or what we loose. That’s only natural, but change also provide us with our best opportunity to grow. I think these moments are the best test of the human spirit because we have to choose what replaces what we’ve lost. So that’s what Dawn is about — an exploration of endings and beginnings. It’s that moment in-between light and dark where we decide what comes next.
Lisa: Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during your creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed much?
Jason:I try to consciously mix up my writing approach to avoid falling into the same patterns and just writing new versions of the same song over and over again. Sometimes I’ll start with a guitar riff or lyric that talks to me – I think that’s pretty common. But I’ve also done weird things like sketch out a mathematical grid of time signatures and then work within it to find rhythms and melodies that flow. Inspiration can really come from anywhere — an emotion, a piece of gear, a fantasy, a pattern. I think the key part of the creative process is just to find that unique starting point. Then build into it. So, in that sense my process is always the same, but the specific ways I approach each new song continues to evolve. I hope it always will.
Lisa: What types of change do you feel your music can initiate?
Jason:That’s a good question.
I’ve always looked at music more like therapy. Experiencing or playing music gives me a way to release anxiety, and writing music gives me a place where I can workout some of my own shit a little. Real change is something deeply personal and I think the most meaningful changes are the ones you make within yourself. Change that is forced upon you tends to lead to dissent and resentment. RBR speaks to the independent spirit and the writing deals a lot with struggle — both internally and externally, which is the active ingredient in any change.
So I would hope that RBR’s music serves in two ways:
1. To provide a judgment free zone where you can go a little crazy and release some tension
2. To help people reflect a little and focus their energy on the changes they can make to themselves
Lisa: Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a song?
Jason:I try not to. I like to think each song has its own personality. So I take a slightly different approach to composing each time. That being said, if I had to outline a pattern, it might look like this.
1. Find an idea that inspires me — this could be a poem, a guitar riff, a new synth, a piano melody, a topic I want to explore, etc.
2. Build a set of rules around that idea to give it focus — this song will follow this type of verse/chorus structure, it will be in this key, it will use these percussive elements, etc.
3. Start layering instruments, rhythms, melodies and harmonies until the idea transforms — this involves a lot of experimenting. I’ll add a lot of layers and then I’ll kill a lot of them. I keep what works and toss what doesn’t. I go back and forth like this for a while until I feel like the song is alive.
Lisa: I loved your song “New Generation” which has an amazing video. Tell me more about it. What inspired you to write it?
Jason:This is a song that I’ve picked up and put down a few times. I actually wrote some of the guitar riffs and rhythms back when I was in college.
I found myself returning to this song in moments where I felt particularly low. I think this song was a subconscious effort to reframe those feelings and re-establish a sense of control over my own life. As the composition evolved, some of the lyrics started coming to me. I think at a certain point the song was really telling me what it was more than I was writing it. Once I knew it was about fighting for your identity and blowing up the obstacles in your way, I decided to give this idea an enemy. In this case, a controlling power that feeds on dependence and despair. The statement in the song “This is the Dawn of a New Generation” is intended to be dualistic. It serves as a propaganda statement to help subdue society and it also functions as an ironic battle cry for those who have had enough and want something better.
Lisa: Also, the music video got 20+ independent film festivals, congratulations! How important is the visual side of the song nowadays?
Well, I’m sure a lot of people will say that nowadays it is absolutely essential — especially with numerous social platforms to feed and attention spans at an all time low. But honestly, I think it depends. Strong visuals lend themselves to certain genres more than others, and I think it’s also really more about how the artist would like their music to be experienced. For Razed by Rebels, this project was always intended to interweave fantasy and reality, so a strong visual narrative is really integral. If you choose to create a visual experience for your song, just do it with intention. Don’t just do it to do it. I would encourage artists to give the same level of attention to their visuals as the music itself. It’s a party of your story, so don’t rush it. So I guess in that sense, I do think it’s really important.
Lisa: Describe your approach to recording.
Jason:I always start by writing really good sounding scratch tracks in my home studio. That gives me the space and time to really incubate song ideas. It’s pretty common for me to sit with an idea for a while and come back to it 2 or 3 times before I consider it composed. From there, I’ll take the scratch tracks into production and basically re-do everything. There are lots of great studios in Austin, and I like to record in bigger studios whenever I get a chance. I’ll choose the parts I want to perform myself and practice, practice, practice before I go into a session.
For Dawn, I performed vocals, piano and guitar. I also like to bring in other musicians to perform during sessions. I’m never disappointed when I do this. I really love hearing another musician iterate on my scratch tracks. It adds depth and complexity and I also get to learn from them at the same time. In the studio, I work with a recording engineer I trust so I can primarily focus on the creative aspects of the recording. During a session, I think that’s all you really need — a producer, an engineer and a player. I think having those 3 unique perspectives in the studio adds just the right amount of creativity without derailing the process.
Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?
Jason:Well, I’ve always enjoyed stories about famous rebels — Spartacus, Galileo, Harriet Tubman, etc. Or fictional rebels like Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen or Han Solo. Whether real or fictional, these characters are people that challenge convention. They are part troublemaker and part hero. I like this dichotomy. I also like that their stories are complex, messy and very human.
What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else? Be your weird self. Be honest and vulnerable. Expose that raw nerve you usually keep covered. Figure out what music means to you exactly and then use it as a means to explore yourself, a topic you believe in, fantasy worlds, whatever. Just do it with a purpose that resonates with who you are. Also, work with people who are better at stuff than you. They will push you and challenge you in important ways. Last but not least, when you start a new project, make sure it scares you a little. That’s usually a good sign.
Lisa: What is your view on technology in music?
Jason:I think there are few ways to look at this — technologies that define your sound, technologies that improve your sound and technologies that help your workflow. For technologies that define your sound — I look at this much like choosing musical instruments. I mean, finding the right hardware has always been a thing, right? The boards, compressors, eq and effects we use really shapes our sound, and that’s all technology… and physics. Digital workflows have a lot of parallels. There are tons of virtual instruments, soft synths, samples and midi gadgets to choose from and they all have a different vibe. Either way, I think it’s all about experimenting and identifying what combination of gear and software instruments support your sound. For technologies that improve your sound — that brings to mind tools like Autotune, Melodyne, VocalSynth, etc. These can be useful to fine-tune a performance for sure, but it can be tempting to overuse them and loose the humanity in your performance. There’s no substitute for practice and for soul. So make time for that first and then use tools like this to tweak the last 10% if you need it. For workflow technologies, there are tons of great DAWs to choose from. Personally, I find DAWs with good midi workflows helpful when I am writing. In these moments, I think it’s really important for technology to keep up with the speed of creative flow. For me, I like to write and compose in Logic. When I work with studios, we mostly work in Pro Tools. In studio sessions, make sure you work with an Engineer who is really fast in Pro Tools. It’s the industry standard, but can be slower to work with, so having someone at the helm who can keep the session moving is really important. More toys… Well, I’ve also been really impressed with the Kemper Profiler, and the Strymon Iridium. For recording guitar, I think they really get the sounds where they need to be. Live mic’ing your favorite amp/cab combo is still cool and gives you lots of options, but having DI solutions on the same level is helpful. Similarly, I think that mic modeling has gotten really exciting. The Townson Labs Sphere L22 or Slate ML-1 are impressive products, especially for a small home studio. So I guess in summary, I’d say technology is like blood. Its runs through your whole system. Look at how it’s feeding each part of your process, and use the tools that make your sound more interesting and your process more effective.
Lisa: What are your plans for the future?
Jason: In 2021 I’m producing the following:
1. A new LP entitled “Broken Paradigm”
2. A music video for a song called “Hiding Within”
3. A mini-doc to tell the project story
Everything should be in the can by the end of the year and releases will be planned starting in early ’22. In a lot of ways my first project “Dawn” was really a warm up for this. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite proud of it, but I think “Broken Paradigm” will be a really big step forward for RBR and for me personally.
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