INTERVIEW: J.W. Schuller

Hi JW, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Things are good. Feels great to be releasing new music again. It’s been way too long since my last record.

Can you talk to us more about your song “Caterpillars”?

This one took some time to come together. I’d had the guitar riff rattling around in my head for awhile but had trouble working it up into a full arrangement. Usually, that’s a bad sign and I take it to mean the idea just isn’t working. But I stuck with it and was really happy with how it evolved in the studio. The trumpet parts still make me smile. They just add so much drama and color.

Did any event inspire you to write this song?

No event in particular. Just getting older, I guess and looking back on my younger days. The lyrics sprang from a random thought that came to me: “Do caterpillars know they’re going to be butterflies?” So I jotted that down and the rest of the lyrics grew from there. I was a bit of a late bloomer and didn’t know what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. Still don’t, to some extent. So it deals with those age-old existential questions. Why are we here? Are we making the most of our time on earth? Are we focused on what’s really important or just kind of frittering our lives away?

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Yes, there is a video for it (link: My wife and I shot it on my iPhone6. One of the benefits of living in the foothills of the Rockies is there’s no shortage of gorgeous locations to shoot in. So we just grabbed my phone, went for a little hike and shot it in a couple hours one Sunday afternoon. I wanted to keep this one pretty simple and just let the music, lyrics and scenery do the talking.

The single comes off your new album No Mud In Joyville – what’s the story behind the title?

On the surface, it’s just a smart-ass twist on the line from the “no joy in Mudville” line in the old “Casey at The Bat” poem. But the lyrics take off from there and try to imagine a more perfect existence, a heaven of sorts without politicians, bigots, deer ticks, drugs and a long list of grievances big and small.

How was the recording and writing process?

For this record, I worked with someone new – Mark Stockert at Underwood Studios in Minneapolis. He’s got a really cozy space in the basement of this big old duplex stuffed with vintage guitars, amps and recording gear. He was great. Very laid back but really thoughtful about what brings out the best in each song. We tracked it to a 24-track tape machine over the course of a few weekends and did overdubs from there. The bare bones of the songs were already figured out but we did a little experimentation with some of the overdubs. For example, we tried a bunch of things for the “woo hoo hoo” bridge of “No Mud in Joyville”. In my head, I was hearing a tuba. So we tried to make a guitar sound like a tuba and, not surprisingly, that sucked. But before we went out and hired a tuba player I suggested I just try humming the part in a beatbox-like fashion and it added a weird sonic layer. Maybe cooler than a real tuba would’ve sounded.

What role does Minneapolis play in your writing?

Until I moved to Boulder a year and a half ago, I had lived my whole life in Minneapolis. So I feel like everything I do is pretty directly informed by my time there. There are all the great local bands I’ve gotten to hear, some that are famous and some that aren’t but should be. There’s the cold and the snow and the gray winter skies that you have to persevere against. But there’s also all the natural beauty and gorgeous springs, summers and falls that make it all seem worth it. That hopeful kind of struggle works its way into a lot of my lyrics and song ideas.

How has The Kinks and Bob Dylan influenced your music?

I feel like every songwriter who picks up an acoustic guitar is influenced by Dylan to some extent. So it’s hard to say exactly how he shows up in my stuff. For one, I guess I strive for a certain amount of poetry to my lyrics. I’ve always thought lyrics should stand on their own without the music. And Bob’s words definitely pass that test. The thing I love about the Kinks is that as big as they are, they struck me as a band that never took itself too seriously. They cared about their art and crafted a rich catalog of absolutely stellar pop rock tunes. But they had a nice “fuck it” attitude that I like to embrace.

What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?

As per usual, there’s a certain amount of life and death questions on this record. “Uncle Norm & The Ash Tree” is about how the day I found out my dad’s beloved brother wouldn’t pull out of a coma, I came home to also find they were going to cut down the huge, beautiful tree in our front yard due to disease. It was a pretty cosmic metaphor. The song wrote itself in about 15 minutes, just came pouring out.

Any plans to hit the road?

I’d love to. I feel like I’m still kind of getting my feet under me in Boulder and taking a little tour around Colorado (and maybe beyond) would be a great way to explore our new surroundings. For now, I’m just looking forward to the big release shows I’ve got lined up in Denver and Boulder. Can’t hardly wait.

What else is happening next in J.W. Schuller´s world?

Just trying to keep writing good songs and hopefully not take so long before putting out another record. And I’ve been playing as a duo with my nephew Jens Larsen on drums which has been an absolute blast. Such a talented, life-loving free spirit. And we’re in the works to add a bass player so we can fatten these tunes up live. So stay tuned.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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