Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Meet Musician Kael Janson Weis! Everywhere Danger! The Interview


Well, I've already established a bit of an introduction to Kael and his music here. How I know Kael is through a bunch of amazing people that we have in common. Artists and art appreciators from the State College, PA. (I'm stating the location because in the interview below, there are many places in that town mentioned.) I've had the pleasure of hearing him play acoustic guitar and sing in a few different contexts, one of which was a workshop for a hilarious puppet show with puppeteer Adam Swartz. It probably comes as no surprise that Kael and I also share admiration for a lot of the same music.

I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for the Spotty Blog, and I'm really excited to present the results of that interview, here. His responses are self-reflective, honest and generous and paints a clear picture of what it is like to be a working musician trying to present original material in a small town. This, to me, is heart-breaking and hopeful all at once.

Okay, I'm going to stop gushing all over the screen now.

Read on.

The Interview:

Q: Can you recall the moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
A: Well when I was a child I would sing along to the Monkees and the Beach Boys out loud wearing a walk man during family trips. I remember during one of those trips proclaiming that I wanted to be a musician. My parents sighed and said it's a very rough road to travel.

Years later I was working as a dishwasher at the Bakery downtown (State College, PA) where Herwig's is now, and my friend introduced me to Pavement's first two albums. I was blown away by how catchy and weird they were. It was at that moment I decided to buy a guitar and become a songwriter.

When I picked up the guitar for the first time it was very intimidating.

But even not knowing a single chord or anything, I immediately started putting together songs. Songwriting I feel is one of my biggest strengths as a musician, and my most cherished natural gift.
I have always had a bit of a Brian Wilson-like ability to hear something and know what I feel it is missing to make it better. I first realized this ability in high school, while listening to my favorite bands. Every now and then I'd get it in me to sing a part my way, and after a while I noticed I wanted to listen to those particular songs even more just so I could add my touch. It wasn't until much more recently when I realized people could actually like my music, that I took notice of this trait as to make mention of it now.

I hope I don't come off like a douche. I am very humble,
but it is important for everyone to realize their strengths and weakness', as to better live their lives. And I need to push myself harder to sell my abilities if I am ever gonna make this into the career I dream it to be. So far selling myself as an entertainer is one of my weakest traits. To quote a line from "Walk the Line" (deleted scenes), I "couldn't sell ice water in hell".

Since college I really started to become completely devoted to make music my career. I dropped out because I couldn't concentrate in my classes, no matter how hard I would try, I would start writing out my song titles in various orders, as to arrange an album or make a set list. I figured if that's where my head is at, may as well follow that.

Since then everything else took second or third place.
I have ruined many relationships because they came second to music for me, and missed many opportunities to better connect with my family and friends for the same reason.

Always telling myself, not yet, I am not ready for them to see me, I have nothing to show for myself and what I do yet. I'd always stay behind at home in the hopes of getting work done and therefore haven't gotten to travel much in this last decade. Can't even claim to have left the state for a year or two now.


Q: When did you first begin performing for an audience and how did that come about?
A: I guess it started at my family's Thanksgivings when I was just a teenager. I knew, like, three songs, and regaled my extended family with an awkward and inappropriate cover of the Dead Milkmen's "Jason's Head." Later I recall playing in front of my school at the Delta Program's Retreat. By the time I started college I took to street performing and actually have the first street performers permit as issued by CATA downtown. After I turned 21 I began playing at the Phyrst's open mic, and at the original Webster's location downtown.

I took to playing at Chronic Town before it became such. It was the Tall Shiva Hookah Lounge back then, and the owner liked me because I covered a few Velvet Underground songs.

 I have also been studying acting and theatre slightly longer than music. As a result I feel my ability to get into the character of the guys singing the song helps me take a different approach than musicians who are solely musicians. But while acting was once my career of choice and music the hobby, they have traded priorities in my life since, and music is my chosen craft. The one thing I can't quit even if it kills me, which it very well may someday. No matter how frustrating it can be at times, I know I can't give it up, because without this one thing in my life, I fear I would become a blank void of a human being, with nothing to say for myself, and no way to express myself. But I could be wrong I guess.

It is neat I find, when sometimes after finishing a song, to listen to it and actually understand want it is truly about, and on occasions blow my self away. Sometimes a song seems like a bunch of random poetry when writing, but in the end when it fits, and you can make sense out of it perfectly! it is an amazing feat. Its like your subconscious is narrating your life; an energy force like magic moves through you and makes you create a solid structure, without you even being aware of what you are doing to make it happen.

Music for me is magic. It is the wings for my soul, the puzzle to joyously toil my moldy mind, and the push on my weary bent bones to get out of bed. Simply put, it's my favorite thing. So I wish to become it through my life, and have it carry a piece of me for as long and far as those sounds can muster to manage. Maybe thousands of years from now, some alien will find some stray and barely playable data file of a song, and rock out to it with his extra-terrestrial limbs pulsating to the drums and bass

 Maybe someone someday will do something impossible while listening to something I made, or maybe long after I am gone, I will still always be around, only a button push away, and not really but certainly ever more.

Q:Has prioritizing your creativity been a struggle?
A: Yes and no. I live to do what I can try and do. But it has cost me a lot of happiness through unwittingly sacrificing good times for work.

It was a little over a year ago when I had a life changing moment for myself. As a taxi driver of 5 years at the time, I was completely miserable. I hated myself, my job, and my daily routine. I became stuck at that job because it paid daily and I became addicted to that. There didn't seem a way out anywhere I looked. I was growing increasingly jealous of musicians I would see playing on the street or loading into venues they were about to play, and the bitterness of it was turning me into more of an evil dick day by overly-predictable day. There was this tiny thought that blossomed then from the back of my mind...

There was a lot of talk about the Mayan calendar back then and the end of the world, and while I knew the world really wasn't going to end last year, and to my credit I was right, but if the world was to actually surprise us all and really end, I just couldn't bare of the thought of spending the last year of my life driving that cab and not doing what is pure in my heart, to be making, recording and performing music. I lost my shit that day, half-faking, quit my job and since then have devoted the vast majority of my time to figuring out how I can make a career out of this.

It has been a long and perilous journey of self discovery for me. I have been a great burden on my brother and my father especially, but I have come to terms with a lot of the angst I have been withholding since my mother died almost twenty years ago next month. I've studied myself, learned to live simply and how to manage my productivity and chill out time. I find both are absolutely necessary. But a comfortable balance needs to be maintained. I have only recently begun to become comfortable with myself for "wasting time".

I've done this by trying to set a steady balance for staying on task and getting things done, while keeping in mind rewards for extensive accomplishments for myself and those who helped, and realizing simply that sometimes you just need to chill the fuck out.




 Q: As a songwriter, what, or who, would you say influences you most? Do you have a specific process that works for you?

A: I like music that comes from the heart. I am inspired by people and artists that make it because they need to in order to be happy with themselves. Take classic rock for example, back then they made it from their soul and people ate it up then the record companies started fucking with everything to try and make it more marketable. That greed for more and more money is what destroyed the record companies today.
Bands all over the world are still making music with those amazing "live to see it yourselves " attitudes. (That is what made the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and all those bands so original and great.) It's not something you can fake. It has to be real. It was real back then because it was new. The same music is still being made today, but there is no financial support to back it, and it rarely gets heard. Except by nerds like us.

But if only the Major Labels could realize, having money to spend and a pretty face doesn't make you a great artist.

Some of the best art comes from suffering and prevailing, despite the financial accessibility one may have. But if you have all the money you can ever need, and everything you could ever want comes on a golden platter with a constant "you are so great" thrown in for encouragement, what is your struggle? What do you wish to say in your art? If not just to comment on an emotion or some sort of injustice, what is the meaning behind you making this thing?
While I have no preferred process for writing songs, I do use a few tricks here and there.
First off, every song is different. A song can take five minutes or five decades to finish.
Also I feel a song like a poem is never truly finished, just abandoned.
What I like so much about that idea is when another artist records and lays down a song I love enough to play myself, it is my god-given right as a musician to interpret and finish it however I see fit.

I find this ideal to be another advantage to other acts. Most bands in my area do the cover band thing where they try to emulate the original song verbatim. In my opinion that is pathetic. A Pavement quote I always fancied is "Treat it like a window, not a door," which to me means, take it in and emulate it if you wish, but add in your own voice to really make it shine as a unique interpretation of the original. You want to make people want to hear your version of it, not the version they've heard their entire lives. Keep it familiar, but keep it fresh.

As far as methods for writing songs… A few I like is to start with a hook, or riff and record it on your smart phone or whatever just to remember it. Come back to it later and flesh it out. Sometimes I mumble when recording a melody line, just to get started, then come back and try to understand what I might have been saying from the mumbles, and I usually have at least a few lines from translating the gibberish. Some parts just form without though if you let go enough.

Always write down an idea if its good. You will lie to yourself thinking you can remember it as to keep enjoying the creative spurt. But most likely you won't, and you'll rack your brain for hours trying to remember what you said.

The music is the blank page, so to speak. I believe when approached at the right moment of inspiration, you can see the song and lyrics hidden in it. For me recording quick crappy demos of something that strikes you is key for keeping an extensive and future library of material.

Q: What about collaboration?

I really enjoy writing songs with others as well. Some of my favorite songs I've written have been inspired by others or partially written by my friends. I feel in the end it is up to me to make my vision of said song a reality, and invite the participators to make their own version if they feel the desire too. They are bound to be very different songs in the end. Who am I, or they or them, to say which version deserves existence? When I become attached to a melody or an idea, I am stuck to finish it until it is made. My songs are my children, my legacy, and mean as much to me as does living flesh sometimes. I make sure to try and give credit where ever is due, and there are many exceptions to my rule, that rid me with guilt for having had created something out of someone else's art. But I try to ignore such inhibitions, I strive to create whatever I feel driven to create and screw the consequences. I need way more less reason not to in my life, and a lot more reasons to do. So some songs start as a guitar riff, others start with melody.

I wrote a song I call Exodus,


which was a poem I wrote with my ex so she could use it for homework. We broke up soon after and even without a copy of said poem for my self, I was able to remember it and use it for lyrics, applying it to a empty song I had recorded with friends at Mark Frigo's studio.

Another song, the Dude Abides,


began with an album my friend burned me by a band TAXI TAXI. Ironically, I was driving at the time, and they started playing a waltz number, but they went a completely different way with the melody then I would have. So I took their basic structure and re-wrote it to fit my own whims, and that song was born. A very simple song in the end, but has a few of my most proudest lyrical moments thus far as an artist.  

Q: Favorite on stage moment?

A: My favorite on stage moments come when I am playing to a receptive crowd. I can feel their eyes on me, and in a moment of freedom, dance in the energy that transmits back and forth between us. It is rare for these moments, but for me, it is comparable to sex for me as far as sensations are concerned. Meaning it doesn't cause me to cum in my pants or anything, but it brings me a similar sort of pleasure. Off-stage, it is always nice to hear someone tell me they enjoyed my performance, and especially after a original heavy set. I've had a few people tell me they wake up with my songs stuck in their heads sometimes. Shit like that really helps get me out of bed on bad days.

The best shows I have played were at the Housasaurus Co-op down town west college. It was two shows, with two separate bands, about a year apart, but the crowd there was so receptive and invigorating. I have yet to achieve that sort of connection to a crowd anywhere else yet, but have gotten close a few times. I played at Zeno's once and that was pretty amazing, but it was hard to enjoy because I was so stressed out.

I have written or at least begun the construction of well over 100 songs so far that I care to finish one by one someday. Out of that I'd say I could probably play only about forty of them at the drop of a hat and at the moment. Some of them are instrumentals given to me by close friends to add to, or that I recorded myself with the intent to do so. Some are skeletons, waiting final lyrics, live drums, or a finishing mix, and some of them are just waiting for the right selection of material to go along with on a release.

Q: So what's in the future for Everywhere Danger! ?
A: I have recently been signed to an indie label "Appalachia Burning Records" and with their help and support hope to release a long awaited, god help me, LP or two fallow up to my initial "Terror Unlimited EP" debut, that is available on I-Tunes, at least for the moment. It is my life long dream to release my own properly arranged full length album. If I can finally achieve this in the next year or earlier, I know I can finally relax a little, knowing no matter what happens to me next, a part of me will live on.

Q: Do you prefer the genesis of new material, performance or studio work, or do you find that each of these parts of the process yield different sets of frustrations and rewards?

 A: Each is equally exhilarating in it's own right. It is easy to get excited about something new, because it's fresh and full of possibilities. Performance in front of a receptive crowd is probably the best it gets. But studio work is just as important, because it is the version most people will hear initially, and it's fun to try and fully flesh it out and make it the best you can. Or one of my favorite tricks is to let your friends do their thing on it, and add to that. But letting others add something you wouldn't think to, I find, makes it lasting and fresh, to enjoy for yourself. Also breaks up the sterile, "yeah, that's how I sound", sound.

Q: How do you approach the collaborative aspects of making music?

A: Some of my best work has come from collaborations. My project "the Melodic Plague" (with Damien Page and Jon Spearly.) was all about writing songs as a group.

Also with Jason Britten as the "Electric Kittens",

I've begun some of my favorite work to date.
One of the biggest mistakes I've made in my career, and one I have made far too many times for way too long in my life, was being jealous and intimidated by other musicians I felt were better than myself. I use to run from them, hate on them and hide from the very thought of them. I have grown to learn better though. That is what a coward would do.
I MAN UP, so to speak, now, I would learn from them, taking in what made them upset, and step up to the challenge of doing better themselves as to trump the competition,
but only as a running partner so to speak. As such personal "trumping" is only a single race won, and there are countless yet ahead.
I now embrace this fear, as to over come the envy by pushing myself to get even better, and even encourage and share any knowledge or constructive criticism I may have with them. The better they are doing, well, the better I have to do, if I am gonna keep up.

If I can keep pushing myself this way, I am sure to get somewhere by my honorable efforts, and maybe even by supporting those I would have once ran from. At the end of the day we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, but after a steady diet of self reflection, I, for myself, can honestly say there isn't an artist or group living or dead, that I would be willing to trade my song catalog with. Not even Modest Mouse or the Beatles. I write my songs based on my own given taste, and some of them no matter how shitty it may sound for me to dig the taste of my own shit, some of the songs I have written, are my favorite songs I've heard. I am aware that sounds extremely pretentious. But I write my songs for me foremost at the very least. It is amazing when other people can take pleasure in them as well. But, dude, I made these for me. If you don't like them, whatever, it's not for you then.

Although, to immediately contradict myself at the same time, it is a fantasy of mine to walk by a stranger someday and hear them singing a song I wrote, or to hear a song I recorded playing at a grocery store or on the actual radio or whatnot. Which just goes to show, our wants and desires are not always the same, and we are all whores to our chosen trade.

Q: Artists of all kinds in the internet age have to deal with a certain amount of self-promotion. How do you handle it? Do find any difficulties/rewards in it?

A: In this day in age, artists are expected to be able to do everything themselves. Which raises the question, just what does a major label really have to offer anymore? We, with the aid of the internet, are in a new age of musical freedom. With a proper use of the right programs and websites, an artist is finally able to do everything themselves, thus reaping all the financial gain. It takes a lot of patience, quite a bit of money properly delegated, and above all a pristine level of tact to manage and do right. For myself, I found a few sites that I rely on, and given time and the right amount of effort on my behalf, I believe, by promoting and releasing music, plan to make my own 401K.

 Nobody else is offering it these days, so it's either work a job I hate until I die, or invest in what I love as much as I can muster and hope for the best. But given things remain as is, I think I have a steady plan for my financial future. Although it is going to take the rest of my life most likely, and I do plan to keep working until I simply can't work anymore, then I pray for a swift death. Because my life to me is my work. When I stop creating and making, I hope to soon stop breathing.

 Don't get me wrong, life is a gift to treasure, but to extremely simplify my spiritual beliefs, my god is my craft. I worship my god by playing music. It is the same god you believe in (or don't). But to me he hides in my audiences and lingers hidden in elusive melodies and fraught phrasings.

In the end, I believe I am responsible for eternal bliss, purgatory, or my own personal hell. I have to learn to be proud of my actions and achievements, so when I do die, I am ready to move on to whatever mystery comes after.
It has been a long often extremely frustrating road even just to get to the low level of success that I have managed so far. But I have learned so very much from my constant trails and tribulations. A while back after years of chasing bands, I finally got fed up of the tireless pursuit. Musicians, as artists of any kind ,are naturally flaky, and the talented ones usually have an ego to outmatch their actual ability. So tired of chasing others and forcing them to make music with me on my schedule I decided to try and fill in the blanks myself. I chose to focus on a solo live show, until I felt I didn't need a band to keep people entertained anymore.
While a band is always best, I believe by playing out as much as possible over time I will grow to fill in the empty space. At this time, a band of dedicated like minded friends is sure to find me as opposed to me searching for them. In the meantime. I record freely with friends, and have several chosen musicians, whom to rope in when I am ready to properly maintain them as members of my team and keep our band working as not to lose them.

Q: How did the project title, Everywhere Danger! come about?
A: I got stuck with the title "Everywhere Danger!" as a musician project title actually. Even though it remains one of my favorite project titles to date, as it has a lot of room to play with artistically and musically, it was a failing project at the time  I released an EP under that guise (thinking I had throat cancer, but turned out to be acid reflux) of my most ready sounding songs and the EP sold pretty well. So I decided to stick with it as my own revolving live-band/ recording project. Because, the thought occurred to me, to change band names is to start over from scratch, as far as publicity and band knowledge/ hype is concerned.
I like Everywhere Danger! because it is catchy, unused thus far, and has so much potential for fucking with and making things out of it. I consider Everywhere Danger! my on stage persona, sort of a alter ego, a character that is alive and kicking, but only comes out when summoned by me, on stage and at shows or whatever. To be the me, Kael himself could never allow himself to be.  A scape goat of sorts, to live out my inhibitions through secretly, albeit publicly, too.
I have adopted a sort of comic book style for my music related artwork, and my label itself has encouraged me to ride out the super hero themed mythos, which I was already planning on doing anyway. Because I grew up on Comic books, Marvel based media especially, superheroes are my favorite, I have always wanted to be one. Not just to have special powers, but to use them for the betterment of all.

Q: So would you say that not all of your influences are strictly musical?
A: Throughout my life I have had many influences of every kind imaginable. Some of my material is based on "the Wheel of Time"  by Robert Jordan and the Dark Tower by Stephen King. Other work is influenced by the Final Fantasy Video Game Soundtracks, mostly from 7 back through the first few for Nintendo and Super Nintendo. My favorite are four and five I think. Which ever two came here on Super Nintendo. Other songs are based on failed relationships, dirty wrong doings by frenemies, and experiences had by trying to be an original musician in a town fueled by jukebox cover-bands and dj's.

Q: Do you think location affects your work?

 A: I have longed to move away from State College for a lifetime now, but I also find myself trapped on a fool's errand to stick it out and find acceptance here;  a welcome home and community in my place of birth, in which I'm invited occasionally to play at prime venues, and if not fully appreciated for it, at least welcomed into the club of local mainstay musicians.  

C: It sounds like you have mixed feelings about it.
A: I do see an enormous amount of potential in this burg. But it is very frustrating trying to rebuild bridges a younger more stupid me burnt long ago in a misguided attempt to force the same bridges open, and trying to convince people who still remember me from when I sucked several years ago, to give me five minutes of their time to try and change their opinionated mind.

Q: So what’s next in terms of skills you feel you need to learn in order to continue growing as a DIY artist?

A: I picked up the guitar originally so I could accompany my voice. Although naturally I am a baritone, I was always taken by tenors as a kid, and through much struggle and stern criticism not to even try, have taught myself to sing higher than most girls I've met. A skill that is still challenging to me today, and will most likely take a lifetime to master. I am basically a rhythm guitarist, but am pushing myself to start to take on some modest lead responsibility where I get brave enough to try. I mostly focused on chords and singing in the past, with a special attention put on the lyrics. So my music strengths, in my personal biased opinion start at Songwriting/ Lyrics/ Melody/ Singing/ guitar. Respectively greatest to least. I am teaching myself keyboard and violin slowly. And because studios are expensive, have taught myself the basics of home recording.  I hope to move on to music video production next, as I have always had a strong passion for film as well.  

As a do it yourself artist, I have been responsible for my own promotion, Website construction, marketing, photography, music production, and video recording/ editing. I haven't even scratched the surface of being able to manage everything I need to contend in the music world today.
Q: We’ve already discussed some of your musical influences. What would you say are the major ones?
A: My major musical influences, stem from the Monkees tv show, when I was just a little tyke. Their show and the music of the Beach Boys, and the Beatles made me want to make music. Pavement made me pick up a guitar. Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On made me want to record music.

Q. What did listening to these artists teach you?
A: Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse showed me I wasn't alone in feeling alone, with deeply insightful and honestly felt experiences told with character and by their own unique voices.  Using clever lyrics, strangely of kilter, yet somehow hauntingly familiar and catchy melodies, and an admirable and fitting array of curse words; they became my therapy as a super depressed teenager. After my mom died, my bands became my best friends and my therapy. Somehow by hearing them express their personal and relatable woes  with such earnest and passion, saved my life as a kid, and it was at that moment I realized I wanted to do the same thing for people going through what I went through growing up as a bit of an outcast weirdo.
Q: Outcast weirdo?
A: I mean my name is Kael, in a world of Matts, and Chrissess and Steves, I was fortunately born to be different. If even only by title to boot.

Q: So what would you say makes your work so unique?

A: I was really inspired to make complicated songs that didn't fallow traditional song structure (Verse, chorus, verse, chorus bridge chorus end, or A B A B C B end as songwriting algebra would dictate. I followed more of making my earlier songs an event meant to hook your interests and take to many places then one. But my songs were too long and hard to teach the ever revolving bands I was putting together. So after getting really into the Magnetic Fields, I learned to simplify, and am now, beginning to look back to my initial work for ways to add that progressive, almost classical music based element of build and movement back again.

Q: Your sound is difficult to sort of pin down. I mean, when you hear punk, you know it’s punk without having to think too hard about it, but in your music one can hear a range of influences. What do you think has informed that?
A: Ween taught me never to give in to the limitations of a specific genre. Which is why I choose indie rock as my prime genre, because it is basically every/any genre it chooses to be. More lately I am getting into the classic rock, and learning from what it has to teach. But having grown up an avid indie rocker, and coming lately to appreciate classic rock, I feel a little backwards and late to dinner. 
Johnny Cash and the Pixies are my two most prime influences besides whose already been mentioned, because I relate to them the most, Cash as a person and an artist, and Pixies as a rock and roller. That is a good basic description of why I became who and what I am.