The pieces all just fell into place for Jack Waldheim
A back porch and a tree-bordered yard with an evening summer thunder-and-lightning storm rolling in from the distance. It seemed just the right setting to interview local singer-songwriter-producer Jack Waldheim.
(Full disclosure: Waldheim and I went to Wahconah Regional High School together.)
Since then, he's gone on to study English, learn to cut records and work with dozens of regional and nationally touring musicians.
This month, he released his third studio album, a 30-track, double-disc set called "After the Revolution." It includes songs about love, and the deconstruction of thereof, mixed with lyrics about headlines, rivers, riots, zombies, werewolves, wine and stars. The sounds weave through rock, country, blues, folk, even pop and spoken word.
During this interview at his home and studio, Waldheim talked with The Eagle about the new album, a penchant for poetry, and why you can't go wrong playing a Prince cover tune.
Q: Good to see you, Jack, and congrats on the new album that came out this month. How many albums have you recorded?
A: This is my third official album on the record label (Crazy Jane Records), but I've also done a couple of live ones and homemade demos.
Q: Neat. Where did you record "After the Revolution"?
A: In my basement. Well, we actually recorded it in my whole home, with mics and feeds going throughout the house. We did all the basic tracks in two weeks. Then I did all the subsequent layering.
Bobby Sweet mastered the whole album, which was something. It was so great to work with such a professional to help me.
Q: Who's "we"? You sometimes appear on posters as Jack Waldheim and the Criminal Hearts, right?
A: The band is really me and Chris Mattoon, the drummer.
For this album, I had a lot of collaborators, all listed in the album: Pete Adams (pedal steel), Ben Kohn (piano, keys), Shaun Mattoon (bass), Dave Pickard (brass), Aaron Dean (saxophone), Suzanne Hoch (piano).
For vocals: Becky Cachat, Megan Bates, Ted Granger, Jim Kupernick, Tammy Kupernick, Christine Carlson, James Kupernick, Joanne Williams, Jim O'Brien, Eve M. Bannish, John Engels, Jason Cuddihy, Elisabeth Heisner, Patty Nock, Eileen Lynch, John Allgood and Susie Farrell.
Q: How long did it take you to make this record?
A: A couple years. We recorded 42 songs and took 30 out of it that fit together.
Q: You do it all on your own, from the music to the album art to distribution. When did you decide that you were going to do this with your records?
A: When I knew no one else was going to do it for me and do it well. It's all about creative control.
When I needed a website, I learned how to make one. I made a block press and pressed all the ink into the CDs for my second album. I wanted to be organically making [music] and take a slower approach. It's always cool to learn new things.
Q: Have you always been musically inclined? Do you come from a family of musicians?
A: Some songs on my first record came from me taking piano lessons at age 11 or 12.
My family is not musical in the player sense. My mother loves music and played records all the time when we were little, and I would dance to them. She played good music too: Waylon Jennings, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Cobble Mountain Band.
It was pretty cool to later find myself playing with someone from Cobble Mountain Band, Pete Adams, who does pedal steel for my album.
Q: So what happened with piano? I usually see you out playing guitar.
A: I really wanted to play sax, but we had a piano at home, so that's what I played. I stopped when we sold the piano, and my parents bought me a guitar.
That kind of gave me the bug to do more music. I haven't really played piano since, until this album, I played some.
Q: How old were you when you got the guitar?
A: I was 14. I got the guitar and my first job in the same week.
Q: What was your job?
A: Wood Brothers [a music shop in Pittsfield]. I'm coming up on 17 years working there. [Laughs]
Q: How has working there affected your music?
A: It was great. As a teen, I was surrounded by used CDs and tapes, I got good tickets for shows and learned about every concert in the area.
To land a sales job at 14 was really good. It teaches you to be outgoing and to be up front.
Q: How did you develop yourself as a songwriter?
A: By the time I finished high school I had about 20 songs. Some were a really good start, some were crap. When I look back, I see the little pieces falling into place.
There wasn't enough life experience to really come at it as a songwriter. So I decided to get an English degree [at Westfield State]. That was a turning point for me. I didn't play much music, just immersed myself in writing, though I did some poetry slams in college.
Q: What changed your writing?
A: Girls. There are always girls. [Laughs] And there's life.
Q: Your lyrics are very poetic and you have actual poems written for some of your albums. Any works of poetry or writing that influenced you?
A: Don DeLillo. He wrote "White Noise." The poetry of Charles Bukowski. It's just vulgar, aggressive, honest. Also Ralph Ellison's book, "Invisible Man."
Q: Any poetry or spoken word on the new album?
A: There's music behind everything. On the first record ["Jane: or All I Could Remember"], there were spoken poems, but it was too arresting. This time with the music, we trick listeners into the poetry bit. You've got to just listen to it. It says what I wanted to say.
Q: You have such a range of sounds, especially between a studio record and a live show. What's the deal?
A: When I play solo, some songs from the album I just can't pull off live without a full band. I'll use delay pedals and loops, phasers and flangers to create textures when I'm on my own.
There are bars that I play where people love to hear cover tunes, and know me for that. You never know what it could be that I'll play, from an old weird folk tune to Nine Inch Nails to Miley Cyrus. For some reason, it's always a hit when I do a Prince song.
But in a perfect world, I would play all original songs.
For me, the carrot on the end of the stick is not people loving me, being famous, selling thousands of pieces of plastic, it's about one CD, a picture and art to make the cover and my name to it to keep.
I grew up loving records and all I wanted to do was make them.
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
Who: Jack Waldheim.
Genre: Crosses through rock, folk, blues, country, funk, pop.
Record label: Crazy Jane Records.
Upcoming gigs: Friday, 8 p.m., The Freight Yard Pub, North Adams. Saturday, 10 p.m., Purple Pub, Williamstown. Full nine-piece band show Aug. 24 at Dream Away Lodge, Becket.
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