Last week I visited with Sacramento independent artist Jay Shaner to do a series of video interviews about the indie music revolution of the 21st century, comparing it with the old music world of the 20th century. These videos can now all be seen on SacTV.com. I chose Jay Shaner for this series because he impresses me as someone who is like the Bob Dylan of Sacramento. I say "like" because there will always only be one Bob Dylan, the songwriter who influenced almost every artist since the sixties in some shape or form, whether they realize it or not, unless they are completely manufactured by corporations. Musicologists will instantly agree about Dylan’s place in history, whereas the less informed people who think this week’s assembly line autotune "hits" that will burn out in a matter of weeks are all that matter.
Although Bob Dylan is thought of as a sixties artist that still makes music, the fact that he opened the door for the rest of the world to express themselves in music however they feel makes him a legend. He influenced the Beatles, Steve Jobs, folk music, blues music, pop music, the peace movement, rap music and local singer-songwriters who can’t afford $100k to record elaborate high end studio albums with all the fancy tricks that hide artistic flaws. What Dylan represents is really a mix of tradition and revolution, the elements that inspired not just one generation, but multiple generations. His popularity in the sixites allowed artists to follow his lead, breaking music industry rules with honest and creative expression as opposed to learning narrowly defined industry marketing formulas.
There are other artists in Sacramento who fit the authentic singer-songwriter description that only requires a creative songwriter who can sing and play a portable acoustic instrument. Another such artist who I’ll have to catch up with sometime is James Israel, who has written very impressive social commentary songs. For now I did the video series with Jay Shaner because I found his music on ReverbNation.com and enjoy the melodic storyteller aspect of his compositions. His songs tell vivid stories and don’t require all the fancy studio tricks that replace authentic raw sounds with slick, polished over-produced layers of bells and whistles. He is also very knowledgeable about the history of music and can share tips on improving musical performance.
Jay also has his own home recording studio, which allows him to have control of the recording process, instead of compromising with an expensive producer that might not hear what he is trying to accomplish. The main problem of working with a technically perfect producer who has state of the art fancy equipment is that there’s a tendency to treat the art of songwriting as secondary and the scientific frequencies of the audio spectrum and the limitations of techonological tools as primary. Although it took Jay over a year to record his current album Ruth, it was worth the time and effort because it came out the way he wanted and it didn’t cost him any money, just time. Compare that with bands who somehow come up with $20k to finance a studio project that doesn’t come out the way they want due to studio time and budget constraints.
He did some acoustic performances for this video series but it’s important to point out that he still likes to explore the creative aspects of electric guitar and electronics, but more for subtle flavor that doesn’t drown out the lyrics and melody of his songwriting. His four albums are all currently available on iTunes.
Last week Jay joined other local indie artists and performed Christmas songs for a Toys For Tots charity at the Naked Lounge in Downtown Sacramento. It’s these kind of events that demonstrate how local performers are more into helping society than just trying to make money for themselves. Jay writes songs from the heart such as "Young and In Love" and "Talk Me to Sleep" and he isn’t trying to jump on bandwagons that will accelerate his music career just to make a quick buck. His unique songs and his acoustic guitar playing project his own personal spirit, offering an eclectic blend of poetic pop, rock, country, folk and blues.
We recorded six video interviews at his home studio on December 5 last week and we covered an amazing amount of musical territory in less than an hour. From home recording tips to musician tips and an analysis of how indie music has evolved the past few decades, there is a wealth of knowledge in these interviews that is inspiring for both indie artists and indie fans. These videos are the type of interviews I enjoy doing as I continue my search for local artists who have great musical contributions to offer that elevate the intellect and integrity of the Sacramento music scene.