Jake Sherman is a soft-spoken multi-instrumentalist and singer out of Boston, Massachusetts. He’s toured with Bilal and is a Berklee Conservatory grad. I was able to catch up with him ahead of the release of his second studio album, Jake Sherman Returns. We covered everything from early Major League dreams to bad Chinese food favorites. Of course, we talked about music in between.
Vince Wilson: Tell me about your story
Jake Sherman: Well I started playing piano when I was 5 years old. Both of my parents are musicians; my dad plays harpsichord and my mom plays flute. For a long time, I really hated practicing and my parents forced me to do it because they saw that I had some talent, but between 5 and 13, I just wanted to be a baseball player. I’d throw temper tantrums when I was practicing and they’d make me keep doing it by bribing me with baseball cards and stuff. That continued to happen and when I was around 13, I started to have to miss baseball practice for gigs and then it became clear that maybe I should do that instead. When I started playing in a band, I realized it was actually fun, and that was that.
VW: I wanted to ask when you brought up baseball, who was your favorite player coming up?
JS: Nomar! Nomar Garciaparra. I got a bunch of his cards, some autographs, pictures. He’s the one.
VW: Nomar was NICE.
JS: Especially at the beginning. How about you? Who was your favorite?
VW: Ken Griffey, Jr., all day. Favorite player ever.
JS: Classic swing.
VW: Best swing ever. So let’s go back to your parents kinda forcing you to practice. At what point did you start to enjoy making music?
JS: I always enjoyed it to a certain extent when I was little, when I would just mess around, but I really hated practicing. I was never good at reading music and that was always a point of contention because my parents pushed me to do that and I hated it. But I really caught the bug and started to enjoy it when I started playing in a band. There were no parents there, you know?
JS: …there were no older people there to say what was supposed to happen. That’s when I started making great progress, because I was making music with my friends. That was around the age of 12 or 13 when it started taking off.
VW: That’s really interesting, because when I listen to your songs, there is a very strong sense of childhood there. My favorite song of yours is When It Was Summer and to me that song has a good bit of childlike energy. I’ve been noticing a trend of childlike energy in a lot of up-and-comers’ music. What are your thoughts on that?
JS: I love it! That’s a good observation. It’s something that I try to keep in my writing and playing, you know, try to keep that joy where you’re not overanalyzing things and just letting it happen. That’s something I think about a lot and I can tell when it’s there and when it’s not. When that energy isn’t there, it’s time to go and do something else for a minute until it comes back.
I think a lot of it also comes from playing instruments that I’m not that good at on my records and just fooling around because when you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, that’s when the magic happens, you know? So I do a lot of takes on instruments I don’t play that well and then edit them down to the golden moments where I was just fooling around and something came out with way more swag than it would’ve if it was planned. So recording-wise, I think a lot of the childlike energy is because of that method.
VW: So, tell me about you’re new release.
JS: So, It’s been 4 years now since I’ve released something. My first record came out in 2012 and I had already starting writing songs for this album while that one was being finished. It’s exciting that these songs are finally gonna see the light of day! The album is called Jake Sherman Returns and it’s coming out on October 14th. The two singles are Let’s Be Friends, which I wrote maybe a year ago and the oldest song on the record is the second single, Say & Mean.
VW: Your song titles tend to be simple and profound. Even Let’s Be Friends. It’s a phrase that feels like we use it a lot, but I don’t think folks actually say it that often.
JS: Yeah. It goes back to the childlike concepts we discussed, using simple language to talk about important concepts. No need to use big words if you can express it with small words.
VW: Could you tell us about other things you’ve been doing between albums, musical or otherwise?
JS: Sure. The project I’m most excited about outside of my own is DMNEJU with Solo Woods. I met him while attending Berklee and we’ve been working together for about 5 years now. He was learning guitar while I was learning bass and we would just jam together. We made a lot of great progress because we would just spend hours playing the same song until all of a sudden we looked up and he became a great guitarist and I became a solid bassist. We’ve got one song out called Used To Her. We both sing in unison most of the time and he plays keys/guitar and I play bass. That also has the childlike sound because we’re playing instruments that aren’t our normal things. We’ve got about 30 songs that are finished being written and a bunch of songs already recorded, so expect more from us, we have a lot of stuff. It’s just about finding the time to get them done, because we both have our solo projects.
VW: Let’s talk a bit about your tour experience with Bilal. I had heard about you before through my partner. Then I was at a show in Philly and there you were. How’d you get connected to that gig?
JS: The first time I’d even heard of Bilal was through a neo-soul ensemble at Berklee. It was run by a great bass player named Gizmo and we were doing a show at the end of the semester that was all Bilal songs. Bilal was gonna come and play two of the songs with us. So basically I spent the whole semester learning Bilal songs, which is also how I got started on bass because I learned them all on bass, too, which was cool. That was GOOD education. So we did the show, he came, we played the songs and that was it. Maybe a year later, I got a call that they were looking for a keys player for some upcoming shows and I had two days to learn a ton of songs. So I showed up to pretty much audition and I was pretty nervous because it was not the greatest. Afterward though, we chilled and hung out into the night and we played in a more informal way after, and he could tell that I cared and that I was gonna do it right. So then there were two gigs, one in North Carolina and the other in Atlanta. There was no rehearsal beforehand. I was basically told that I had two opportunities to show and prove, and if it went well then I’d be in. So I worked really hard for the couple of weeks leading up to it, got my sounds together and we did the gigs and it went well. Right after that, they called me for a European tour and I was the guy.
VW: Wow. That’s pretty intense.
JS: Yea, it was like “real life” all of a sudden. It was like, “You have this much time to learn this many songs and do it better than anyone else can. So…do what you can.”
VW: Awesome story. That’s like the stuff that musician dreams are made of.
JS: Yea, for sure! It was definitely exciting and scary.
VW: Bilal is my favorite male singer of all time and he influences a lot of my singing style. I’m curious to know about your musical influence both instrumental and singing-wise. I’ve noticed how you’ve grown vocally between When It Was Summer and Let’s Be Friends. It was already pretty good vocal work with more emphasis on the instrumental side of things, but your more recent work really shows how much you’ve worked on your voice.
JS: Thanks man! Well, let’s start with instrumental. So, around 13 years old, I started getting into jazz pretty heavily, so there’s like a whole world of jazz that has a pretty intense influence. In terms of direct influence especially on When It Was Summer, I’ve gotta say Errol Garner. He’s sort of the perfect marriage between dirty, soulful playing and jazz language. He’s someone my dad has always loved and listened to. When I was younger, I just thought it was old school, but as I grew I realized that that is where everything is. So yea, Errol Garner is someone I strive to be like. On top of that: McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett…those are the people I studied a lot.
Singing-wise, around the same time I got into jazz is when I started to listen to the radio more. That’s where I learned of Ben Folds and John Mayer. I think thats where the singing came from, because for a while there I wanted to quit piano and be a guitarist and sing songs like that.
VW: I hear you on the Ben Folds and John Mayer influence, but I really haven’t heard a tone like yours. You make a lot of similar choices that Ben or John would, but your voice is unique.
JS: I just try to be natural in my approach to singing and not force it or try to sound like someone else, and I think they have that quality in their singing, especially Ben Folds.
VW: In terms of artistry, I’m a firm believer that if you are really vested in music and performance that you continue to be a fan of musicians. Do you have dream collaborations or folks that you are looking to work with?
JS: For me, collaborating is something that is really hard because there’s give and take and you have to really trust the other person. So far, the only person I’ve been able to really do that with is Solo Woods, the other half of DMNEJU. I definitely want to collaborate more, but I wouldn’t say I’m the best at it! I think I’m maybe too much of a control freak. But, I’ve been really into Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I’d love to work with them. Also, Chuckii Booker, he was popular in the late 80s-early 90s. He’s one of the founders of new jack swing. That’d be sort of a weird collaboration but he’s definitely a hero of mine.
VW: I think it could be dope. Jake Sherman New Jack Swing.
JS: Yea. Chuckii is actually friends with Pastor Jason Hendrickson who’s church I play at and he’s liked some of my Instagram posts, so that’s cool and exciting. A weird connection though.
VW: So wait, you’re a church musician?
JS: Sort of. Yea.
VW: Tell me more about that, please.
JS: Ok. So around the age of 18, I discovered gospel on YouTube. I’m sure you know there is a huge scene of it on YouTube. So I was playing jazz organ and I became sort of obsessed with everything Hammond organ related. Then one day I came across these gospel clips and they were playing chords I had never heard, you know? So, that was the next step for me, figuring out these chords.
I transcribed some stuff from a singer/organist out of Columbus, OH named Trina Trine Washington. So I checked her out a lot to figure out some chords. Then I went on to New School before I went to Berklee and I had a friend who would take me to church with him in Brooklyn (where he was playing organ) to sit and watch. Pretty soon after
Real church musicians grew up in church. I didn’t, because I didn’t start until I was 18, so I feel like I’ll never quite have it in my blood. I feel that I’ve learned a lot about music from church and I enjoy it, but…I’m trying to figure out exactly how to say it…I don’talways feel “real”. I don’t think it’s a solid part of me, but I’m honored that I’m allowed to play in church space.
VW: Thanks for sharing that. That seems like a really personal thing for you.
JS: Yea it is. I feel that way about jazz too. I feel that I’m almost a real jazz player. Maybe I started a little late or didn’t get quite deep enough to really live that life. But when I play my own music, I feel that every choice I make is exactly how it should be. I feel like that’s the language I want to be playing.
VW: It’s dope that you found a sweet spot. Those are the makings of creating new and niche genres, when you are sure about the choices you’re making. Ok. Totally unrelated question. What is your favorite guilty pleasure food?
JS: General Tso’s Chicken and fried dumplings. When I just wanna eat something that taste good and isn’t so healthy, I go with bad Chinese food, haha. What about you?
VW: I’m a sucker for a greasy pepperoni pizza. Chicago deep dish style, Domino’s, whatever.
***Be sure to grab Jake Sherman Returns, OUT NOW!***
Follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jakeshermanwoo0