By Chloe Pullman
Jack Symes is a singer-songwriter originally from California. His music is personal and sweet; he tells fabulous stories in song form. Jack released his newest album, “Tompkins Park” in March 2021. I hopped on zoom with Jack to ask him a few questions about his musical journey and process.
*The following is a transcript of an interview originally conducted on October 28, 2021. Some questions have been edited for brevity and clarity*
CP: What inspired you to start making music?
JS: I grew up playing a lot of competitive sports as a little kid. I met this kid Milan who transferred to my middle school in 6th grade, and he played guitar. We became really quick friends. He introduced me to a bunch of really cool indie bands that I’d never heard of before like OK Go, the Kaiser Chiefs and Soul Coughing. All these early 2000’s indie bands. And he played guitar, so I was like well if I played drums we could be in a band! So I started playing drums and then just kind of moved on from there. My sister played guitar and wrote songs at the time also, so I probably had a little bit of competitive nature in me there. I probably took one or two guitar lessons in sixth or seventh grade and then got really obsessive about it and played guitar all the time. I think that’s when it started though, just middle school talent shows, a couple battle of the bands.
CP: I also play the drums, rock on! Your songs have a very kind of storytelling quality to them. Is that something really intentional to you, and what kinds of stories do you try to tell in your songs?
JS: Definitely, I don’t know if it was intentional from the get from when I started writing songs, but I think that’s how it’s always kind of naturally come to me when trying to piece a song together. It always to me feels like you have to find something worth singing about for three or four minutes or talking about for three or four minutes. For me a lot of the time that turns into more of a narrative wave. A lot of the artists I grew up listening to were great storytellers. So I love it, especially since I play a lot of shows solo and a big part of the solo show is the banter in between the songs and telling the backstories. Providing some context that didn't make it into the song. I feel like with those story songs, those little pieces of outside context can help make that song ten times more important, or impactful, or interesting. I guess at this point it is kind of intentional because I fucking love telling stories. It feels like that has become my songwriting voice.
CP: That’s what I love about your music, it’s like listening to a little story, I love it.
JS: [laughter] Hell yeah!
CP: You’ve been playing a lot more shows recently, how has coming back to live music been for you?
JS: So good. When the pandemic first started in March 2020, we had a couple shows booked. We had these big prom theme shows in San Francisco and L.A. They were going to be awesome, they got canceled so then we were kind of benched for a while there. But actually, last fall, I was playing some outdoor, very small backyard shows for friends. Playing backyard shows for different bubbles. You know I feel like last fall was kind of like “who’s your bubble?” Then it got cold and Covid became super bad so we couldn't do the outdoor thing anymore. Then I was doing house shows this whole summer also. But, it’s so different playing an outdoor show in a friend's backyard for 20 people, versus being with the band on a real sound system, indoors and there’s 300 people there. The shows have been so, so fun. I missed playing with my band, we got some really fun shows coming up and we're going to get to tour the new album. It's funny dropping an album in the middle of oblivion and just not getting to play those songs. We’re going to do some super delayed album release shows this December.
CP: Love it! So, going back to what we were talking about earlier, you were saying you moved all the way across the country recently. Your last album, “Tompkins Park”, is a lot about New York. Do you think your newest music is going to have a different feel now that you've moved away to a different place?
JS: Yeah! I think so, that’s the plan. I think you always want to be evolving as an artist. Not in an upward trajectory or anything, but just experimenting with new sounds, with new musicians, and with new flavors. There have been some changes in the band in the last 6 months. I have an idea about how I want to record the next album, we’re going on a really long tour in the spring. We’ll be playing Portland! I would very much so like the next sonic chapter to be shaped by either my geographic setting and immediate surroundings, or more so the people. I’m really excited to be back in L.A. playing, and playing with a bunch of new people again. I feel like that’s the best way to find what you want your sound to be next. Especially if you're not someone like me, I have no classical training or formal training, so getting to play with people who are fucking wizards is the most fun ever. I’m just like “oh my god I’ve got so many ideas knowing that I’m around people who can actually do these things because I can’t!” So yeah, we’ll see I just got back here and it’s been a busy time. Last week was five rehearsals with a couple different groups, it’s exciting. I’m not focusing that much on what that sounds going to be, I think it will just strike.
CP: Since you don’t have a lot of classical training, do you think that has helped you figure it all out yourself and create your own unique style?
JS: Yeah, I think so. I’ve been having this conversation so much with some of my friends who either went to CalArts, or Berklee School of Music or studied music in college. Because I think it’s so easy from my perspective to watch someone play and just be like “fuck, they are so good, how are they so good, I don’t think it’s possible for me to be that good at guitar; or at whatever instrument I’m drooling over.” I’ve also talked to people on the other side where they're like yes but sometimes I wish that I could break free from thinking about major 2 into a 5 chord suspended blah blah blah, not be thinking about the theory things as much as I do when I’m playing. I think that’s such a good point, so I think the grass is always greener. I would say that not having any of that formal training has definitely helped me find my own pocket.
CP: Sweet! Well, that’s about all the questions I have for you! Is there anything else you want to say to college musicians that will read this interview?
JS: Yeah! I went to Berkeley in California for college and that was where I started really playing music. I had a band called “Shady Ladies” and we played some co-op and fraternity parties. Then I had another band called “ Midwest Can Company”, and we would play house shows, pizza joints, and coffee shops. But it was those initial events that I played at in college that were the first experiences I had of playing songs and having people be like “that was sick.” You know, not like my parents' friends being like, “good job playing your guitar!” I was like oh wow this is so fun and it seems like people are kind of diggin’ this. So, if there are college kids out there reading, freakin’ get playing college parties!
You can catch Jack performing in Portland in the spring, and listen to his newest album, “Tompkins Park” now! Follow @endjacksymes on Instagram!