Interview with J.M. Faupel
SBS: Josh! Brother-man! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us all. I’ve been checking out your tracks from the Still Breathing EP and your latest release, The Smiles You’ll Never See Again – and I’ve definitely got a ton of questions on what’s happening with those. Before I grill you on the two records, I’ll get you to fill in the blanks for the people out there…what would you say sets your music apart from the rest of what’s out there right now…how would you describe your sound to the people?
J.M.: Thanks! I’m glad to be talking to you guys, you’ve got quite the reputation.
Right, now! The music: It probably hurts me more than helps me, but I think what makes me different is that I’ve never planned on commercial success. What I mean by that is, I’m making the music that I’ve dreamed of creating without a second thought of who would listen. Obviously, I hope people would, but I never really held any sort of expectation. I’ve got a heavy alternative rock song on the EP, a ballad, a duet. I made what I wanted and had great people helping me do that.
SBS: Even in a written interview situation, I’m positive whatever answer you’ve given to the first question is going to quickly bleed into the rest of my questions to follow…so I better get this crackin.’ Obviously we’ve gotta discuss the drastic change of direction and sound between the two EPs…they’re spread nearly two years apart…with time often comes a lot of self-reflection, change and new ideas – with The Smiles You’ll Never See Again, this was like an entirely new dimension of your music that it seemed like, from what I’ve read, the world has yet to hear or experience yet in what you’ve done so far from your time in Against The Edge or solo. So what inspired the change in direction?
J.M.: Pain, mostly. You’re right in saying a lot happens in two years and these past two have been the host of some of the best and probably the worst times in my life. I’ve grown a lot, learned a lot, and that’s gonna be reflected, the good and the bad, in the music.
The Smiles You’ll Never See Again is just an element of my songwriting and, honestly, probably not one that’ll come out too often. I think the tone of the EP really sets up the next step though. My next album coming up is gonna be darker, heavier and while ‘Olive Branch’ may not give off that impression, I think the overall tone of the EP (the album cover, the title, etc.), it lets people know that something is coming.
SBS: Two questions I’ve gotta ask ya brother…they’re fairly quick and smart-assed, so I’ll combine it into one slick one here. First of all – considering where you’ve come from in the alternative-rock world – do the tunes on The Smiles You’ll Never See Again ROCK hard enough for YOU? If so…how on earth is that possible? You get what I mean…this is decidedly lower-key and subtle than your previous record…so…I suppose what I’m asking is…how did these gentle melodies end up satisfying the rock guy in you? What did you find in creating songs like these that you might not have expected? Secondly…I just wanna know how we go about justifying the whole two songs in two years thing…what went into these songs that would explain the distance & space between the two EPs?
J.M.: A world of excuses, mostly! To your second question. I think it’s an evolution in just general songwriting. See, I grew up a rocker, a rock musician, but I’m classically trained as well. I had to write orchestral pieces and piano arrangements in college. I like to think of myself as a songwriter, primarily, and Olive Branch was a song written using elements that I saw used by artists of Candy Rat Records: percussive guitars, alternate tunings, etc.. I never want to limit myself in my songwriting, so I think that’s what “rocked” most for me. The fact that I could do this when I set out to do it. An added bonus is that, if you see me perform Olive Branch live, it’s very obviously something that not everyone can play, which is kind of a boost to my ego, ha.
SBS: For the record, I quite enjoyed both EPs…but of course, for entirely different reasons. What do you think the potential advantages might be in changing up your sound this drastically early on in your solo career…and conversely, what do you think the disadvantages might be? Is it safe to assume that fans of the Still Breathing EP will just naturally go along with the ideas on display through the new tunes on The Smiles You’ll Never See Again? What would you say are the qualities in the music that will pull the fans along with you on your journey into this next evolution of your sound – or when it comes right down to it, is that something you even feel like you ever need to factor-in or consider when it comes to your music?
J.M.: I think it’s super dangerous, on my part, to assume fans of Still Breathing will just listen to The Smiles You’ll Never See Again and not do a double take. I get that it’s SUPER different, but it’s just as “me” as ‘Blinding Eyes’ is. I wouldn’t call it a change of direction, but like I mentioned before and what you hinted at, an evolution in songwriting and my sound. There’s gonna be more of the ‘Blinding Eyes’ kinda songs, but I can’t promise there won’t be more of the second EP along the way. I already want to incorporate strings and electronics into my writing. I just hope people will stick around, but I really do this for my inner self, as cheesy as that sounds.
SBS: Wide open question for you – when it comes to what you write about on a lyrical level, what kind of subjects & themes interest you and why?
J.M.: This is an area I’m super proud of! I think I’m a thoughtful lyricist. I like perspectives a lot. I write pieces off a combination of my experiences and the experiences of people around me. One quirk that I’ve been super into ever since I started writing music is writing about fictional beings. My first one was about zombies. After that, it turned into vampires, werewolves. You wouldn’t be able to tell what they’re about just from listening the first time. If you didn’t know, you might not ever know. I think I generally like to do that, too. I like to write pretty cryptically, let people interpret songs how THEY interpret them, rather than having it be obvious.
SBS: Pretty much all the listed influences on your page at Facebook seem like they might apply to the first record or previous music you made in Against The Edge. The intricate guitar work you’ve got on The Smiles You’ll Never See Again totally reminded me of the complex melodies & smooth sounds of Mimicking Birds. Would you say your influences have changed along with your sound, or had an effect on the change of your sound between records? Who are you listening to right now…or better yet, who’s making music that you find inspiring in ways that get YOU excited to get right back into the studio to make your own?
J.M.: Breaking Benjamin has always been my biggest influence, you’re right on that. Jon Gomm, Antoine Darfur, and Andy McKee showed the things that formulated The Smiles You’ll Never See Again.
Believe it or not, Taylor Swift was the first one that got me excited to get started on something new. Her and then the band RED. Keep in mind, most of the music for the next album is already written, so I’m talking about after that. When T-Swizzle’s Look What You Made Me Do came out, I was super digging on how the electronics fit into her sound. It was new but didn’t seem to compromise what she had been building. Same with RED. Their last three albums have been super interesting. Electronics, then heavy strings, more electronics AND strings. I love the sound. Breaking Benjamin is getting heavier, too. I imagine that’ll have some influence as well.
SBS: Both the title of the new record and the cover of The Smiles You’ll Never See Again have a mix of haunting melancholy & heavy emotion. And of course, the songs are instrumentals…which means some people will ‘get it’ and others will just hear a great couple tunes. Now, you chose not to sing on these songs…so presumably, you might not want to exactly spell out what you’re ultimately trying to express or say with this EP – but with that being said, I should at the very least ask if we can get some insight into the concepts that drive this particular record or what inspired the title & cover at least! So I’m doing that…I’m asking ya, officially…what can you share with us about all that?
J.M.: I actually put a lot of thought into what I would say if people asked about this, talked to a few people. I’m gonna give you as much as I can while maintaining what I mentioned about letting people interpret it for themselves.
I’m a HUGE fan of titles. Titles have so much power and I think they are THE most underutilized, misused, and underrated tools in art. A title has the power to change the meaning of an entire art piece. That said, I think the title, The Smiles You’ll Never See Again, is vital to the cover art. I don’t know how in depth any given person is looking at the cover art, but it’s a picture of me NOT smiling, obviously. It’s a photo mosaic, tho, made up of pictures of girls. Another key element of it is that each girl is smiling. So, there’s a key contrast in me smiling and them not smiling. Put that together with the title and I think you can gather something.
The second thing is, the song has a subtitle, Death of Mind. When I wrote the song, I wrote it either for or it was inspired by a friend I was very close to. At the time, the subtitle was Peace of Mind. Years later, said friend and I have a mostly severed relationship, so I changed the subtitle.
I really hope that helps illustrate where my head was at, ha. I’ll add that I was super bitter. This whole EP was stemmed from spite and bitterness.
SBS: Indie bands/artists all over the world essentially all ask the same question – ‘what can we do to get our music noticed?’ As we all know, the struggle is real. In my opinion, the only way the scene can break out of having to focus on that question, is to eventually overcome it, which I think takes all of us on the same page somewhat in order for that to happen…for that change to occur. We could all hide our best practices and aces up our sleeves…but at the end of the day, it’s the music that always speaks loudest anyway – so I figure there’s no reason not for us all to share what’s working for us. How do you go about getting your music out there in such a way that people will notice it? What are the main obstacles & how do you get around them to get the music to the people in today’s world?
J.M.: I think indie artists are looking at the music world the same as they believed it worked when they were growing up. With ‘in the box’ mixing, today, anyone can record. You don’t have to be able to afford to record in a studio, an engineer, etc.. People don’t need labels, anymore, to back their projects but that’s what people are chasing after, hoping for. You don’t get what you pay for anymore. You can get a GREAT product for a fraction of what it would have cost, even a decade ago.
Indy artists need to focus on how much accessibility they have, stop trying to be the big shot and embrace the underdog status. What’s a viable living off of this? $30,000? $40,000? Let’s break it down. 40,000 divided by 100 is 400. 400 fans. That’s what you need. 400 people on a planet of 7 billion, that’ll spend $100 a year on a given artist or a little over $8 a month. With Patreon, merch, album sales, shows, YouTube Revenue, Amazon affiliate links, that’s a lot of revenue streams. It’s not hard, it just takes work and confidence.
SBS: What would you say are three indisputable truths about being an independent musician?
J.M.: I’m at a complete loss, honestly, ha. I’ll try tho,
It can be super discouraging.
If you’re looking for monetary success, you have to think like a business, not an artist.
Collaborate! It’s a newish thing, but crossing over audiences is a great way to get more people listening. I’m always open for collaborations.
SBS: How political does it get for you Josh? I’d imagine being from down south in the USA that it’s likely nearly impossible to escape their creeping influence into daily life. Does it affect your art, your music or your mindset? All three? None? Should it? As a musician, do you feel like there’s any added responsibility to perhaps speak out on something that other people can’t or wouldn’t without a microphone or platform to do it from? How is the current state of the USA affecting the creative process – and I suppose ultimately, can that be a good thing? Is there a way to keep politics separate from the music…and is that something you’d personally want to ensure happens with yours, or not?
J.M.: I’m pretty apolitical in general, publicly. I vote, I call my congressman, I have discussions at times and places. I’m not an activist tho, by any means and I don’t feel any sort of responsibility to be. If I feel like I really want to write about something in particular, I will, but I’ve never thought or felt pressured to because I have a platform. People annoy me with social issues. There’s a tiny bit of value in posting about it on social media, but nobody ever looked on facebook looking to have their mind changed about something. They log on to have their opinion supported and possibly try to tear down opinions that conflict.
Until the political sphere starts to really get into my head, I’m gonna keep it separate from my music. Everybody thinks they have the right answer. I think the most important thing is to open discussion though, but nobody wants to listen. I’m not creative enough to force subject matter on myself, so it’s probably not even something I could do even if I wanted to. And for the sake of clarity, I don’t want to.
SBS: So…what does the future hold for you my friend? Where do you take the music from where you’ve gone on The Smiles You’ll Never See Again – where do you go from here? What would you like to do next ideally, if you could do anything you wanted to. As far as I know, you’re over there in your own studio over there in Plainview, TX…or at the very least that you’re moonlighting as a recording engineer…so presumably, you CAN do whatever you’d wanna do…so what’s that gonna be?
J.M.: Close! I’m in Lubbock, which is only about a half hour from Plainview. I’m gonna be recording The Still Of Our Dreams, my album I’ve been working on, with a new producer I’ve been wanting to work with for quite a bit of time. He’s a metal guy and while this album isn’t gonna be full metal, his specialty is definitely gonna help me get to the heavier sound I’m looking toward. After this album, I’d be super interested in incorporating the elements I talked about before, electronics, strings, etc.. I’m also working on some collaborations with some old bandmates, and always looking for more, keep myself busy. I’m in love with the music world, in love with the idea of having my music out there, a finished product. That’s what it’s about for me, the finished product. Once my ideas go from my head to that download button, that’s good enough for me.
SBS: We’ve got LOTS of stuff planned for you brother…full reviews on the records you’ve put out there and a video-interview on SBS Live This Week set to be prepared…I’m stoked for it all and stoked to see what you have to say to us all here through this interview. It’s customary for us to extend the invitation to our guests at the end of our interviews to take advantage of our ‘open floor’ – because we could talk about so much in an interview & it’s impossible to get to it all. In this final space, you get full-control brother-man…it’s all up to you now…say anything you like or shout-out people you love, website addresses on where to find your music…really, it’s completely up to you – there are no rules or guidelines J.M. – leave the people out there on a high-note with a final something-something and thank-you again for your time dude!
J.M.: Thanks for reading! Check out The Smiles You’ll Never See Again, available on all major digital retailers. Keep an eye out for The Still Of Our Dreams, releasing later this year. The best way to support me and my music is to become a patron on my Patreon page. Pledging $1 a month gets you access to both the latest EP and my first one Still Breathing.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to artist Rachel E. Owens; I legitimately would have quit music years ago if she didn’t make me promise not to. I’m good now, but at the time, things got so infuriating, I was so stuck in my own head that I wanted to just walk away from my music.
She kept me in the game. I think I’m a good songwriter, but she is 50x more talented than I could hope to be. She’s a great lyricist, be sure to check out her music too.
Be sure to find out more and support the music of J.M. Faupel at his official sites below!
Official Website: https://jmfaupel.wixsite.com/faupelmusic