You know those friends who were awesome musicians back when you were a carefree college kid, who played your parties and maybe even tolerated you playing in every now and then, but years later you run into them and they say they haven’t picked up an instrument in years?
Well thank bejeezus that’s not Jason Ewald.
As easy as it is to hate on Facebook, if it weren’t for this evil medium I would have missed out on a ton of Jason’s music over the years. I met him many moons ago in Madison, Wisconsin, while living with his sister LT (a legendary roommate and friend in her own right). It was always good times when LT’s little bro came over with friends, congas and beers, and it was obvious back then that Jason was the real deal as a musician. Back then it was mostly all about drums. Years later we both ended up in San Francisco, and happily for me and our friends, he was still playing music.
The cool thing about Jason is that it’s always a toss-up whether the best thing about him is his talent or just his overall loveliness of spirit. He’s got more of both than any one person should have, and he uses them very, very well.
It has been great to watch his music career evolve, which is now happening in New York City. By the same token, it’s a bummer to see his events on Facebook and not be able to go see him play, so to give myself a little Jason fix I figured I’d ask him, What’s Your Deal?
1. What’s your act?
I have a few projects going on at the moment but my baby is my solo project Ewald. At the moment it’s Jim Saxa on bass, the young-but-talented Kevin Bernstein on keys, and me playing the drums and singing my heart out. We play all my original compositions.
I didn’t start singing until my mid-20s. I’ve always had a strong desire to sing but was very scared by it so I didn’t do it too much.
I think most of the music I write ends up having a kind of ’70s vibe and color to it. I can’t say that I do this on purpose; it just comes out that way on its own. Most of the stuff I listen to is from that decade, so go figure. I’m not one to follow musical trends, and though most of my stuff may not sound up to date, most people seem to be able to connect with it on some level—or so they tell me. Having a solid groove is pretty important to me so even if you’re not listening to the lyrics you can bob your head.
A few years back I tried to be more honest in my songwriting. The first tune I wrote after this declaration, when I sang it live, really sparked a connection with me and my audience—a nice back and forth energy exchange. I like that. Here’s to honesty. Not always easy.
2. Tell me about your background as an artist/performer.
I grew up in a pretty musical household. My mom is a great classical pianist. She’s not professional but could have been if she had wanted to. I’ve always been impressed with her musical time and feel. My dad is a drummer. He played more when he was younger, but off and on he would have drums around the house. I started playing saxophone when I was 10 and played until high school.
My dad had a drum set around the house when I was really young—then it disappeared. He brought another one home when I was 11. The day it arrived he made some crazy declaration that it was going to be for my brother Josh (who was playing vibraphone at the time) and himself only. Then I sat down and it started to play me, and I was pretty much the only one who played it after that.
I didn’t start singing until my mid-20s. I always had a strong desire to sing but was very scared by it. As I slowly started getting more comfortable in my own skin I started singing more. Along with it came my songwriting.
The vibe was pretty cool and low-key. Not sleazy at all. But still, it was a sex party.
In 2005 I took a trip to Spain with this funk group. The trip pushed me to focus on my singing and writing. In my opinion, the level of music appreciation in Europe is far greater than here in the States. The people there really dug my stuff and gave me lots of encouragement. This gave me the confidence to step it up and believe in my music and fed my need to share it.
3. What was the worst gig you ever played? Dish all the juicy bits.
I’ve had some crappy gigs over the years, though none that would qualify as really awful. Luckily. But I have played many interesting gigs, including a fundraiser at the Hell’s Angels clubhouse to raise lawyer fees for one of their members who had recently been put in jail. Fun gig!
Another was when I was living in Oakland and got hired to play a sex party in Berkeley. The vibe was pretty cool and low-key. Not sleazy at all. But still, it was a sex party. I happened to be wearing a cowboy shirt, the kind with the shiny snap buttons. At one point in the middle of a song, someone came up and ripped it open, then smiled and walked away. I snapped it back up when we finished that song, but people had seen how much fun it was to rip open my shirt so this little routine continued throughout the night.
4. Who are your favorite performers at the moment?
Some of my favorite performers at the moment, hmmm…Faye Carol. She is the real deal. She’s one of these singers who’s able to open up a portal to the universe, have it come through her and out to her audience.
And I’ve had the pleasure of doing some gigs lately with Erik Deutsch. He’s a pianist and a real treat to hear play.
5. What’s the most helpful tip you could share with aspiring performers?
If it’s in your heart, stay with it. If you’ve got balls to not give up, it will pay off. The world needs the healing power of good soulful music right now. Also, practice your craft. The more you do the easier it is to reach that magic.
On May 23 Jason Ewald is playing with Activation Trio at the Anyway Cafe, 34 E 2nd St. in NYC, 9pm to 1am. Activation Trio is Jason on drums and vocals, Gillian Harwin on upright bass and vocals, and Brian Lazarus on guitar and vocals. You can also find Jason on Bandcamp and ReverbNation.
Photo by Brian Lazarus.