Jake Huffman: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young McLovin
RR: You have material that didn’t fit on the album, which is out there, as well. I’ve caught some tracks, such as one fine piece where you are playing acoustic guitar and supplying the vocals.
JH: Yeah, I’m always writing little folk-y songs. I like to do that. It’s not like a hobby, but I always like to write a lot of songs. I feel the more songs you write, the better you get
at it. I’m always putting songs out there on YouTube. Not all of that is McLovins stuff, but I did put “Love is Purple” on Who Knows, which is the last track on the album.
RR: That’s a memorable song and a really good coda to the album.
JH: That was one of the first guitar songs that I actually really ever played out to anyone.
RR: (laughs) Which you note in the lyric.
JH: Yeah. I really don’t play much guitar. I don’t even call myself a guitar player. I taught myself, and I won’t call myself a guitar player until I have properly taken lessons, and learned how to hold it the right way. But, yeah, that song…I came home one day and I was in a really weird mood. I took a permanent marker and a blank sheet of paper, and I had a chord progression that I was working on in my head, and I wrote down the lyrics in one go. I didn’t even have any cross outs or anything. I still have the sheet of paper that has the lyrics on it. I just wrote it out with permanent marker, and I picked up the guitar, pressed record on my phone, and just played it out. It’s the same way on the album as when I recorded it—it’s the same structure, same length, same words. We added more stuff on the album.
RR: There’s a particularly unique keyboard-like sound on there.
JH: Jeffrey has a Freeze pedal. He played a bunch of different notes, and we mixed those in. It was almost like violin swells. It sounds like a synth, but it’s actually Jeffrey’s guitar, so it is kind of cool.
RR: How did you get the involvement of the legendary Tom Marshall and his formidable guitarist/bandmate/co-producer Anthony Krizan, while also getting to record at Krizan’s Sonic Boom Studios in New Jersey? On Who Knows, three songs are co-written with Tom—“Hesitate,” “Cohesive,” and “Subdivision 2”—and feature that heavy Marshall vibe on the lyrics.
JH: Definitely. Tom has always stayed connected with us since we first posted the “YEM” video when we first started. When we wrote “Cohesive,” which was a year before we really recorded the whole album, we kept in touch afterwards because we all—Anthony, Tom, Jason, Jeff, and myself—loved “Cohesive” so much, and it was getting such good response that we thought we really needed to write a couple more tunes. We had more that we wanted to say, and we had more that we wanted to put out there, and Tom was really excited about “Hesitate” and “Subdivision 2” and he sent me the lyrics, and we got together a bunch of times over the year, last year, and we just talked about life, and being a musician, being a person, and we went to shows together, and we hung out and got to know each other as people.
The last song we wrote together was “Hesitate.” He wrote that one through my perspective, even though he wrote it. It’s really cool because he figured me out very well from the time that we got to know each other and hung out and talked. He did a really incredible job with the lyrics, and it definitely shows. And when I sing the song, it feels like it is coming from my heart and head, even though it is his words. It worked out great.
We have a great relationship with Anthony. He’s an amazing guitar player, and he sat in with us at a couple shows. We have really great chemistry with him. Personality-wise, he’s such an awesome, funny, loving, caring guy, so he really put in a lot of time when he was mixing the album and producing it to a mixture we thought sounded really good. He put so much effort into the album, and it really shows.
RR: How much input did Anthony have on the album, and, to clarify, did he play guitar on those three tracks?
JH: We wanted him to play guitar on “Cohesive,” “Subdivision 2,” and “Hesitate.” We made sure that he was on there because we thought, well, he helped write the chords, and it would be really awesome if we could play with him. It’s cool to tell people that—we played with [Anthony Krizan] on the album. We have a really awesome recording of it. He helped us more production-wise, and how we record our songs. Every once in a while, he’d say, “Hey, Jeff or Jason, how about you try a different chord,” and to me he’d say, “How about you try playing the snare on a different…”—he’d give us more ideas and coach us along, and more than just tell us what to do. We definitely took a lot of what he said in consideration, and both Tom and Anthony have changed the way that we write music and the way that we write lyrics and to really play together live.
RR: I think the permanent marker story is apt; it’s almost like a rite of passage for a writer to be able to believe in the words. I think Tom and Anthony have instilled some confidence in you, and I am wondering where that is going to take you as an individual. I’m not necessarily saying you didn’t have it before.
JH: (laughs) I don’t think I did have it before. They definitely…especially Tom…after reading his lyrics, and going through Phish’s lyrics and Amfibian’s lyrics, and reading them all, and getting how he writes, just really inspired me as an artist and really as a human to think of what I say and what I sing—that’s my words and that’s what is going out to the world—and I think of it as something very, very important. Everything that you say is very important because no one can say something exactly how you can say it because no one can feel exactly how you can feel.
When I write lyrics, personally, I try to write them exactly how I think to myself in my head, like how I self-narrate. When I think of hooks, I try to think of the most concise way to get my idea, and the most catchy way of phrasing it. I try to get maybe three hooks in a song, really memorable things where you’ll be walking down the street the next day and they’ll randomly pop into your head. Even something like calling our previous album Good Catch. We did that because if someone throws something at you, and you catch it—or, it drops—and someone says, “Good catch,” you’ll think of our McLovins album. I mean, something like if someone says, “Oh, man, that was really cohesive,” normally that doesn’t happen, but you could say it, and then think, “Oh, yeah, that’s a McLovins song.” We try to be creative with the words and use a lot of wordplay and try to have fun with it.
RR: Same line of thinking—where did the title Who Knows come from?
JH: Who Knows is really just that. We were always talking about when we finally record an album with a lot put into it like production-wise and stuff like that that it stands out. Like this album, it is almost like it is our first album in a way, stepping through the doors, and having a really highly -produced album, mixed by a Grammy Award-winning mixer, and sent off and mastered in New York City, so we really put Who Knows like we are saying, “We’re going to go out there. We’re going to become musicians. We’re going to start touring and playing. Who knows what happens, but we’re going to do it anyway.”
RR: Let’s follow that thread. One wouldn’t have thought that the McLovins would be able to write such a song like track two, “Close to the Line” in the past.
JH: Jason came to practice one day, and he said, “Man, I’ve got this really cool thing, and it’s really fun to play.” He just played that opening riff, and we were just like “WHOA.” It just really stuck, and we thought it was really cool, and we made the next hook into each other, but that was actually along the same time when we were listening to a lot of electronic music, and listening to a lot of dub step, too, so, especially in that middle jam where Jason takes that solo, it’s almost like a dub step influence, and jazz fusion mixed with a lot of electronic noises. We were trying to get that electronic sound with our instruments without actually having to go to electronic music.
RR: Joining that together with track five, you’ve got a little disco going on there, and I really dug that whole vibe.
JH: “Tetop” is one of our favorite ones. Going back to what you said about the hook, I remember writing that hook to “Tetop” a couple months after “Cohesive.” I told everybody, “That song’s my baby. I love that song. That hook is so much fun to sing.” It always stuck in my head. I was really proud of that. That was my first really, really catchy hook that I would tell people that I wrote. (laughs)
RR: Did the song come together on its own? You didn’t have any shaping, or producing. of its form later on? I was impressed with the feel, and originally thought that Anthony was a primary influence, but I am assuming that may not be the case.
JH: We had already come in the idea of recording it that way, but Anthony did change one chord. His input on that song was that he changed one chord, and it’s the last chord in the chorus. It’s a really soulful, R&B chord, and it really shapes the whole song in the end. He did have that influence on it. Even like with the background vocals and drum track outro in the end with the final breath at the end, we really tried to whip out all the bells and whistles on that one. (laughs)