December 01, 2009

Killer Songwriting

words by Edan Dover, interview by Lavinia Jones Wright

Jason Karaban

Jason Karaban

In his sophomore release Sobriety Kills, singer-songwriter Jason Karaban returns with an engaging and remarkable record filled with compelling melodies, prodding lyrics and his memorable voice. In addition to Jason's catchy and dexterous songwriting, which has landed him placements across television and films, Sobriety Kills features contributions from Ani DiFranco, Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips, drummer Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello's band The Attractions, and Counting Crows MVP David Immerglück. Jason took a moment to speak with Playback about his experiences writing and recording Sobriety Kills.

When was the release of Sobriety Kills?
It came out on the 6 th [of January], just a couple weeks ago, and it's doing pretty well. This album has more momentum behind it than anything else I've done. It's charting on a couple of sites. It's been on the cover of iTunes, which is cool, on the home page for the last couple of weeks, getting some exposure there. Press is just starting to roll in on it, and it's doing its thing. I just completed an EP that I'm going to release in April, so Sobriety Kills is new in the sense that everyone else is discovering it, but it's been awhile for me. I finished it over a year and a half ago.

How did Ani DiFranco become a contributor to the record?
She has lent her talents to a bunch of songs actually, and one of them ended up on this record. She was great, she didn't only sing–she played guitar, she played bass, she played keyboards on stuff, of course she sang on stuff. I think she even played the Stylophone on a track, which is an interesting instrument. We also worked on stuff that came out on Doomed to Make Choices, which happened before Sobriety Kills. She's on half of that record. So she contributed a bunch, which was very generous of her. She's a cool person, good to work with, and very talented.

How did you connect with Glen Phillips? What was it like writing with him?
Tom DeSavia hooked us up. It was the craziest thing because I was always a crazy Toad the Wet Sprocket fan and I'm probably an even bigger Glen Philips fan as a solo artist. He [DeSavia] hooked us up, I reached out to Glen, I got his email address, I sent him some stuff. He was receptive to the idea as far as getting together was concerned, and he just drove over to my house one day. We hung out, we started writing some stuff, and then he came over a couple more times, and at the end of the whole ordeal we ended up cinching up a couple songs that ended up on the record. One was "Because I Love You," and the other one was "Not Afraid to Die." It was very cool, it was an honor to work with him–another just great guy to work with, super-easy, super-humble and talented. He was a good find.

You also worked with Barrie Maguire on Sobriety Kills. Did you work with him before?
And I'll never work with him again. No I'm kidding. [Laughing] I've known Barrie for a long time and we've done a lot of work together in the past, but we never did an actual record together. I would cut on stuff he was working on, or he would help with mixes, but this was the first time I joined forces with him on an entire record. Which, you know, I almost committed suicide over, but we managed to finish it. [Laughing]

Did it take a while to finish Sobriety Kills?
The recording process happened pretty quickly. In one aspect it may have seemed like it took a little long just because we weren't able to consistently work on it. It was kind of done in bits and pieces, but if you were to put all those pieces together, it was probably only about a month.

Have you had placements for Sobriety Kills already?
I licensed it, but it's too early to say whether or not anything has been placed. I just signed a publishing deal a year-and-a-half ago, so I know they're servicing the record, and a few of my contacts have reached out and offered to license it, and now all of that stuff gets forwarded to my publishing company. So I think it's still too early to say whether or not it's been– actually there's a song on it that was on a record I put out a couple years ago that they remastered and put on this record that was placed a bunch.

Are you going to tour behind it?
I'm not a big touring kind of guy. I've definitely played my fair share of shows in the past, because I've been doing this for a little while. I'm not going to say no, but if something makes sense, and an opportunity presents itself that seems like it's worth pursuing, then I'm definitely not opposed to it. But I'm not proactively trying to make anything happen on the touring front.

Would you consider yourself more of a studio rat?
Yeah, I'm a studio rat, and to be honest with you, I make my living off of placing music. It doesn't really happen on the album sales end-of- things, so I've been fortunate enough to have an income for the past couple years from just placing music in film and television.

You had a few good placements on your last record, right? Which ones did you have?
I did; I placed half of that record. And then I put out a record called Leftovers, which was a bunch of stuff I cut years ago that the label put out and sort of just threw together, and I think I had the most success with that, and that was stuff I cut ten years ago. Pretty funny. Between all the records I've been involved with, I have 50 or so placements.

That's pretty great. What do you attribute that to?
I think it's timing and luck. I guess it's more complicated than that… I got into it at a time where people were definitely aware that placement was one of the key things to try to achieve, but I don't think as many people were really going for it as strongly as they are now. I had a weird connection over at MTV, and I ended up licensing a bunch of stuff to them, and one thing led to another and that spread to a whole crapload of shows that MTV Networks and Viacomm owned, and then I ended up getting some stuff as a result of that on primetime television, and then I got a couple movie things. Everything just branched out from that one thing. I also think I got in the game when people were looking for stuff that wasn't super-expensive to license.

Do you think there's anything about the type of music you make that makes it really sync-able?
Well it's very cheesy. I think people tend to like the safeness of it. [Laughing] I think it's accessible music. There are elements to it that are appealing to people; it definitely has some pop elements in there, but I think there are just enough interesting things going on with it, outside of the standard pop realm of things, that kind of broadens my horizons a little bit–not as much as I'd like it to though. There's only so much you can do within those confines. So that's the one thing with Sobriety Kills; it was a bit more of a straightforward record than the last record, which I didn't intend to be that way. When I cut the initial tracks, that dictated where it was going, so it was a pretty straightforward pop-rock record.

Have you ever written songs for other people?
Yes, my alter ego. All the songs are written-- no… [Laughing] you know what, I have, actually. I haven't done it as much as I'd like to, but I wrote some music with this actress named Taylor Momsen, who you might now from Gossip Girl, and she was in Paranoid Park. She's the little girl in the Grinch with Jim Carrey. I wrote with her and for her, if that makes any sense. I met her through this director named Bill McAdams, and he had a sister who knew her and was working with her in some capacity or another, I forget how or why, but they called me to see if I could help her with some writing, which I did. She was just getting started with a writing and recording career and I helped her out a little bit. As far as writing specifically for people, that's probably the closest that I've come to doing that.

What's the name of your new EP? When is it slated for release?
The EP is entitled Mayfly, and it is a three-song EP. It's funny, I never really wrote with a concept in mind before, but Mayfly was based on a letter that a general in the Civil War named Sullivan Blue wrote to his wife before he went out to fight in a famous battle called "The Battle of Bull Run." I read this letter and it had a profound effect on me, and for some reason, I just spewed out these three songs and recorded them at my house. They're very stark and stripped-down; it's just piano, vocals, and I think there's a flugelhorn on a track. That's slated for release in April, and I'm actually very proud of it. It came out great; it was a totally, completely different departure from anything I've ever done.