Jacob Metcalf is a member of local groups, Fox and the Bird and the Dallas Family Band, but over the last few years, he’s been working with some of the areas top musicians to put together his solo debut record, Fjord, which dropped back in January. The sweeping cinematic sound of his indie-folk record placed it atop my list of local releases for 2016 so far, and I hastily got him in for this interview. He’s fresh off of the tour supporting the record, so look for him out and about near you.
Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?
JM: I knew a decade ago, but I didn’t want to give into it. I resisted. My father told me that I would have to learn to sleep on the floor of a van if I was going to romanticize my life about being a musician. I think he was trying to galvanize me or talk some sense into me (!), but if that was the case, it had the opposite effect. In 2010, I quit my job, sold my belongings, and moved into my 4-door sedan. I lived inside my car off and on for years. It was a visceral experience. In the winters, I wore every article I had and layered sleeping bag inside of sleeping bag. One night, I shuddered awake in Hot Springs, AR to find six inches of snow on top of my aging silver Honda. Every extremity was numb and rolled back over and prayed for daybreak. Summer nights were even more exciting– sweltering saunas with the window up or mosquito-bitten and sleepless with the window cracked. In the peak heat, I eventually learned I could use door codes from friends and I slept on the rooftops of some of the surrounding loft buildings. It wasn’t easy, but I got pretty good at living like that. Early on, I got some help sewing magnets into curtains and blacked out the windows from the inside for privacy from the city. I stocked up on canned food that could be eaten without access to any kitchen equipment. I took ‘five point’ showers in the restrooms of big supermarkets so I could make appearances and not offend away any of my old friends. I learned how to park around the city so as not to arouse suspicion. I thought back to the discussion my dad and I had– why was I doing this? He was right: preparation is essential for the tough conditions ahead. I also appreciated that continuing work while opting out of rent payments afforded the chance to save more toward album costs.
Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
JM: I like the term “modern western” because it’s a blend of occidental acoustics informed by the age of internet and easy air travel to other continents. Or maybe, it’s like a folk band ran dry on fuel outside a desert symphony hall. Or maybe the two word answer? Cinematic folk. One word? Music.
Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?
JM: I had trouble with my ears as a school age child. There was a period where I couldn’t hear anything, I’m told. My mom would be shouting to get my attention and there I was still running toward the blistering hot oven. Visits to the doctor revealed that tubes were needed to clear the passageways. Months later, I healed up just fine, but it later gave me pause thinking about Beethoven’s woe in life, losing his first love, his love of sound. I’ve always been drawn toward Beethoven for that reason. His second movement of Pathetique– I remember hearing that on the old nighttime AM radio as a boy and marveling that he was wringing magic out of the same 12 notes we had on our dusty old family piano.
Samuel Barber played a large role early on. His music had a weight and splendor that seemed unfathomable to me. Is it possible to have nostalgia for memories we haven’t created yet? I tend to think so. Then there was Debussy. His is the kind of music that I’ll never achieve, but I’ll always want to write. It’s asymmetrical and unpredictable and emotive and nuanced and leaves you wanting, all the same things I want for my own music. Danny Elfman, Thomas Newman, Jon Barry, Jon Brion. Decorative and imaginative and makes the hair stand on my neck.
I have to mention M. Ward. Some pretty dramatic changes occurred when I was first introduced to Post War and Transistor Radio back around 2006. Holy smokes! Midlake too. They’ve been an influence, especially the earlier albums like Bamnan and Silvercork. “Balloon Maker”, “Kingfish Pies”, and “the Jungler” are all incredible songs to me. Doug Burr has also been a frequent inspiration, beginning with his gospel album Sickle and the Sheaves and On Promenade and everything following. You can’t find a more imaginative and exquisite songwriter in town, or anywhere. Robert Gomez was always underrated in my eyes. He brought a kind of savant-level understanding of orchestration and song structures and penned these dark tunes, right in line with my aesthetic.
Me: Which of your songs means the most to you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?
JM: “Ein Berliner”, because it deals with an imagined future in which I become a father figure and wrestle with my children’s growing questions. That or “Correspondence”, which has evolved for me to be about great love between any two friends.
Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
JM: Hmm, I’d put together a traveling event with Bjork and Beck touring across the country and the globe with our fair band. I imagine that eventually I might get to see behind the curtain at how the mystics work. I might get to join them on stage at some point. That would be eye-popping fun.
Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?
JM: Siamese. Some of the folks that play in our band play in another band called Siamese. I’m infatuated with their sound and their demeanor. They’re so risqué and otherworldly, the ideas so fresh and so exciting. Can’t wait to see what they get into.
Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?
JM: If I knew I was about to be banished onto an island, I’d put together a playlist of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. If that wasn’t possible, I’d probably go with something instrumental and inspirational like Yanni or Josh Groban. Haha, that is not a joke.
Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?
JM: I love the DFW arts scene. The creative spirit running through DFW is cooperative. In my experience, everyone has been helpful and willing to share their knowledge, time and resources. I hope to reciprocate as I am able. The thing I like the least is when someone we hold dear moves to another city.
Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?
JM: There are lots of venues I love in town. Dan’s Silverleaf has always been a favorite to play and to see shows. The format’s wider than it is long and narrow, and that’s appealing when you want to get up-close to the artist. I love AllGood Café for really close events. At the end of the day, though, the Kessler Theater takes the cake. It brings St Vincent, Dylan LeBlanc, Robert Ellis, Chris Thile, Bela Fleck, and hundreds more world-class acts and still somehow rivals the feel of the smallest, most intimate rooms. Plus, it’s two blocks away from home and feels like it’s in my back yard. Plus, I know and love everyone who makes a home there.
Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?
JM: Garrett Owen. Google him. Hares on the Mountain. Google them. Doug Burr, Daniel Markham, RTB2. Again, Siamese. Remarkable music. Google them.
Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
JM: I have never lost a dance-off. I have a secret move that dismantles the competition every single time.
(Editor’s note: I, too, have never lost a dance-off. However, I have never been a part of a dance-off. My wife would suggest this is a positive thing.)
Many thanks to Jacob Metcalf for taking the time to be a part of our series here, and for dropping one of the most beautiful records the area’s seen in a while. Catch him around when you can, and check out some music below. Thanks for reading, and as always, Support Local Music.