Big Stories

POZ Contributor Blog: JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Jul 20, 2012

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It’s been months, but we’re so glad to have JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake back to do a new Contributor Blog for PropertyOfZack. In his new blog, JR discusses the true toll life on the road can take on any musician regardless of how well they’re living the dream, friends wanting to trade places and not realizing the downsides of tour life, loss of sleep, and much more. Check it out below and enjoy!

It’s inevitable. I always have a few days on tour where I go to bed at 4 am, only to wake up (for no apparent reason) around 8 am and can’t fall back to sleep. I’m not sure exactly why it is that this happens: too much coffee, not enough beer, too much beer, it’s hot in the bunks, the driver is doing his best impersonation of Dale Earnhardt? I just decided that I must be a person with poor sleeping habits.

I have always had a battle with slumber. Its never ending. When I lay down, I can’t quiet my mind. Its like my brain says ‘GET UP ASSHOLE! ITS MY TIME NOW!’ Every little thing I could possibly think of has a full on bumper car session in my brain for what seems like hours. Because of this I have a nearly impossible time falling asleep in a quiet room. I need the sound of something. But NO MUSIC. Music makes my brain work even faster. A lot of people say ‘Oh! Just turn on some classical music! So easy to fall asleep to.’ Not for me. While it’s playing along I actually see the composer’s score in my head. My arm wants to conduct the piece so I sometimes actually start doing it. My tour roommate usually tends to think I’m insane, and I am, but sometimes I think this self-diagnosed insomnia is like some sort of punishment.

The worst part is when I have an idea that causes me to get out of bed to start pursuing it. The most common “offenders” are a lyric idea, chord progression or a melody that pops into my head. I lay there and try to convince myself that the idea is shit and to go to sleep. Then my brain says ‘…but what if you don’t record it and you forget it?’ In life, I always would rather have a shitty idea than no idea at all, so I always get up and then “the game” starts:

The game is called: Sleep or No Sleep.

There are no winners at this game. It’s the lesser of two evils, frankly. As I continue to stay up and watch the hours dwindle away to the witching hour where I actually have to do something of consequence, I start the conversation with myself:

"Maybe I should just stay up until I have to go."

"Dude, that is a STUPID idea."

"But if I sleep now it’s like…what…2 hours? I’ll feel like shit."

"You’ll feel worse if you don’t and you know it."

"Just have some coffee…"

It’s always something like that. The internal conversation between the 16 year old version of me and the 36 year old version of me. Basically, The Kid wants to stay up all night. The Adult knows that is a stupid idea. Yet, The Kid idea seems to always win out in this argument. Sadly, The Adult body of mine has to pay the price.

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PropertyOfZack Contributor Blog : : JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Feb 21, 2012

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JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake is back to do a new Contributor Blog for PropertyOfZack, and it’s one of the best he’s ever written. In his new blog, JR discusses the challenge musicians and artists face when releasing new material after a band has already gained notoriety from fans. Bands often find themselves struggling to make music that they think their fans would like to hear instead of continuing to make the music they were made to, which brought them their fans in the first place. JR faces the topic head on and we’re beyond happy that he chose this subject to write about. Check it out below and enjoy!

I don’t have enough tattoos to fit the mold of what many would picture as a true punk rocker. I grew up a little too middle class to say I can fully relate to the plight of the working class. I have, at one time or another, spoke my mind and thusly altered what people think of me. My closest friends think I’m kind of an asshole, but I never say anything behind someones back that I wouldn’t say to their face. Good or bad, right or wrong; I am who I am and no matter how hard I try, I can not be something I am not.

In the same way we can’t be something we’re not, as musicians, we can’t try to make our music something that it’s not supposed to be. I realize this may sound very Yoda-like but seeing that little green muppet isn’t the one saying it, let me try to explain.

I had a great conversation with a young man who fronts a popular rock band while in Australia for the Soundwave Festival in 2011. It’s fun to talk to someone when there is a mutual level of respect for each others work. It makes conversation easy and honest. We talked about mutual friends, the deals they signed, the records they wrote, the career choices they made and their inevitable consequences. When I asked him how things were with his band’s new material, he seemed oddly stressed. I could understand why based on my own experiences, but in my opinion, his band has already done the hardest work: they built a strong, loyal fan base.

Eventually, he said “When we’re writing, I keep asking myself ‘Well, what do they (our fans) want?” My response was, “Have you done anything differently (with your writing style) up to this point?” He replied, “No.” My response?

"Afraid to change, right?"

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PropertyOfZack Contributor Blog : : JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Nov 7, 2011

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It’s been far too long since we’ve featured JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake with a new Contributor Blog, and we’re thrilled to have him back on PropertyOfZack. In his new blog, titled “Occupy Your Street,” JR puts the music industry aside to discuss the current financial situation and how many individuals lack the “accountability” needed to fix their own problems, among many other things. It may not be his usual type of blog, but be sure to read up below!

"What have I done wrong and how do I fix it?"

When was the last time you heard that? Do you know what that is called? It’s called ACCOUNTABILITY. Its a word maybe you’ve heard before but perhaps aren’t aware of the meaning. I downloaded the webster’s dictionary app because I actually wasn’t sure either. Here’s what I got:

noun: the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions (public officials lacking accountability)

Not discounting how ironic it is that webster’s uses public officials as an example of lacking in it, accountability has become a popular word these days. If your job is that of an elected official, it is not only expected, it is demanded. John and Joan Q. Citizen pay their taxes and enough is enough. They want to know who they can blame for the mess.

John and Joan can start by looking at themselves. Accountability starts at home with how they run their house, how they raise their children, how they do or do not pay their bills on time, how they have a job or are on unemployment or welfare, if they are adding to society or taking away from it. Basically, it’s the old question: are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably realizing this isn’t my usually blog about music and/or the music industry. To be honest, fuck that shit. The entertainment industry’s losses are just a spec in the eye of the real problem. A problem we are ALL accountable for. 

I think it’s easy for people to call other people names for standing up for what they believe in. Protests are nothing new and neither is the concept of government collapsing; the major difference is that now when it happens, within seconds we are all exposed to it and form opinions just as quickly. Blackberrys and iPhones buzz with twitter feeds from CNN, Reuters and other news sources that tell us about the divisions in the house and senate, the response from the president, the global economic decline all in a convenient 140 character or less package. How do a majority of us react? We sit  back and go, ’ Fuck those hippies at occupy wall street. I have to go to work tomorrow cause my bills still need to get paid.’

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PropertyOfZack Contributor Blog : : JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Apr 18, 2011

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PropertyOfZack could not be more thrilled to welcome JR Wasilewski for his third Contributor Blog. JR kicked off the feature for us a few months back, so it is always a pleasure to have him dedicate some time to write for us! In his new blog, JR passionately discusses how festivals like SXSW are essentially out of date trade shows for label workers to have an excuse to enjoy their time on the company dime and how fans should support their local music scene instead. It’s truly a blistering read, so make sure to read the whole entry below!

I feel guilty typing this. Not so much for the topic as much as I am for typing this on a new iPad. Seems such a frivolous waste of money in this hardened economy, but when I saw the line of 50 people ahead of me, all with a ‘spare’ 500 bones laying around to purchase the same thing at 8:50 AM on a Tuesday, I didn’t feel so bad.
 
My shock at the queue ahead of me sparked a conversation with the 3 gentlemen who were standing behind me. All of us were roughly the same age and we all went through what we did for a living: investment banker, Verizon technician, some corporate VP of some company no one has heard of and me - the musician. As the questions went back and forth the investment banker says, “So, I hear the music business is tanking. How the hell are you making money?”
 
I give him a shortened version of the long story: how we’ve toured for years and are lucky enough to have an amazing fan base that supports us and ergo allows me to stand in line to buy this frivolous, yet enchanting, piece of technology. Then the Verizon technician asks, “So, did you go to South By Southwest?”

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PropertyOfZack Contributor Blog : : JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Feb 7, 2011

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PropertyOfZack welcomes back JR Wasilewski for his second Contributor Blog! JR had some time while on the road with Less Than Jake to type up a fantastic blog regarding how working with producers and profesional songwriters to craft a band’s new song or record has become the norm and the kind of effects that this process can have on these individual bands. JR will keep sending posts in in the future as he gets the spark to, so always make sure to check back. Click “Read More” to read the full post, and be sure to enjoy it!

"So, are you writing with anyone?”

I have asked that question more in the last decade than I ever thought I would when I started playing in 1992. I listen back to songs now I recorded at that time and after the initial squeamishness, I can honestly say they aren’t that bad. They are no smash hits, mind you, but they are what they are: songs written by a bunch of 16 year olds. We wrote them in our drummer’s basement, we made a lot of “musical mistakes” and played a lot of wrong notes. It was recorded to 2-inch tape so there was no note replacement. We had to try to get it right and did a lot of punches. It cost a lot to be in the studio and we could only afford to pay for a week of tracking. We mixed everything in one day. It was an imperfect process that resulted in an imperfect product, which ended up being perfect for what it was.

A few years later I joined Spring Heeled Jack and we were signed to a label. Part of the recording process for our 1998 release, Songs From Suburbia, was to work with a producer. We had never done that before so it was new and exciting. Unfortunately it quickly turned stressful and annoying. Personally speaking, our producer was very pleasant to be around and genuinely seemed to like the music. It was distressing because here was this stranger the label hired to give us opinions on songs; some of which we had been working on and playing for well over a year. What did he know? Every suggestion he made we tried, hated and shot down. He felt the songs were “pretty close” so he didn’t push for too many changes. The end result is a record that I am very proud of but in retrospect I’m not sure our producer was much of a “producer”.

When I joined Less Than Jake, my first recording experience was in 2002 for Anthem. Our producer on that record was great. He never suggested form changes; his approach was very melodic and ornamental, meaning he’d add to what was already there. He had great ideas and was a great producer. The end results were songs, formulaically speaking, that were no different than the demos we made of them. Again, a record I am very proud of. But the producer never wrote any music with us. To me, a producer added to the song you already had or helped arrange it.

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PropertyOfZack Contributor Blog : : JR Wasilewski

by Zack Zarrillo - Jan 14, 2011

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PropertyOfZack is thrilled to be debuting our brand new feature, Contributor Blogs. Contributor Blogs are blogs authored by musicians, label employees, producers, or other professionals that discuss the music industry and their thoughts on it, whether about record labels, downloading issues, or anything else that may be on their mind. 
We are glad to be debuting the feature with our first Contributor, JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake. JR is one of the most respected musicians within our scene, so it was an easy choice to ask him to be involved in the feature. In the blog that you’ll read below, JR addresses music label employees and outlines his beliefs of what needs to change if we want to move forward and once again have a thriving music industry. It’s one hell of a read, and JR will continue to write his thoughts for us every few months. Click “Read More” to read the full post, and enjoy it— it’s truly informative!

I am never really sure of a good way to start these things. I’m actually not even sure why anyone would want to see what I have to say. Let’s be brutally honest: I play saxophone in a ska band. I’m not an accomplished songwriter, someone who’s sold millions of records, or even someone whose opinion matters in the grand scheme of things. I’m not recognizable and what I think or say bears no weight on anyone. I’m just some jack-off who was literally in the right place at the right time. For those reasons I am very thankful of what I have. The opportunities that have been given to me are my dreams come true; literally.

The question has been asked more than once: any regrets? The honest answer to that question is there are no regrets, but there sure were a lot of things they didn’t warn me about. They didn’t tell you about the loneliness, the frustrations, the fear of failure, how that fear makes you do things that go against every instinct you have, and how to deal with their repercussions. I was always attracted to the management side of the business and it was about 10 years ago when I really started to pay attention to the inner workings of the music industry. I saw the people who made the machine run. I realized that the true power lay in their hands. It’s not the presidents and A&R’s. It’s the interns and assistants. Those are the ones that are the future of this industry. These people have the real power.

And you are the ones I am writing to.

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Ernie Ball