I was nervous about my outfit.
I woke up that morning jittery before even getting to the coffee shop. It took me an hour to pick out black pants, black sandals, and a red jacket, but something about that red jacket gave me an edge of confidence that carried me to the meeting. The anxiety I felt in the corner of Portland Brew was real, and it only was calmed by the bit of sun shining down on my curated clothing and old laptop. I sipped my vanilla latte, looked over my questions, and waited until his tousled dirty blonde hair and soft smile entered the room.
We both went in for the hug. It was a good start.
He was dressed in green “boy scout shorts” (as he called them) and a white tuxedo shirt; I knew it was going to be a good interview. Easily, conversation flowed about more than just his new EP. We discussed everything from the strength of sensitivity to the pleasantry of sitting in a park. Of course, we talked outfits for his upcoming Nashville show and he showed me pictures. But most importantly, we appreciated and shared in the beauty of his most recent release of music, the life-giving, honest, aching project called “Spiritual.”
Every song clearly conveys Jake Wesley Rogers breathtaking musical ability; he sings melodies that melt the soul and belts truths unabashedly. There is soft power to his music. This EP is Rogers’s breakout moment that shows his songwriting strengths and gives his story to the world. He says himself, “it has been authentically me this past year,” and any listener can hear that as they journey through the intimate, show-stopping, and intensely spiritual five songs that make up this EP.
I am so grateful I got to share an hour with Jake Wesley Rogers. I left in my red jacket feeling inspired and listened to, despite the interview being about “Spiritual” and him. He feels like a friend now – a very kind, sensitively strong friend who just gifted stellar music to the world. And praise God, ya’ll get to listen to it, and even more, you can read all about it. Below, you’ll find the story of our afternoon in which Jake Wesley Rogers walks through his heartbreak, his writing process, his spirituality, his influences, and his upcoming shows.
Also, you should follow him on
to make sure you don’t miss anything. And here’s his website.
Your EP has such a strong theme and the title captures that super well. Where did the idea to write about spirituality come from?
I was in this place where I was writing about past traumas and experiences that I have never written about, a lot of heavy things and hard things. In the end, when I looked at these songs–because I didn’t name the project until after–it all felt spiritually connected. I felt at one with those times and those younger parts of me. It felt very peaceful. It really reinforced the idea that there is some higher power, some master. It is moving through all of us and it got me to where I am. I have become a very spiritual person.
And you weren’t before, per se? Were you raised a religion?
Yeah, I was raised pretty methodist. Then, I came to Belmont University and I didn’t go to church for a long time. I didn’t leave it, but I had to kind of redefine what it meant to be spiritual in my mind. What is my spirituality? What does it mean for me to pray? I found that I love to pray and I love to meditate. Those things are how I feel connected.
Is song a form of prayer for you?
Yeah… in it’s truest form.
I was raised Catholic and they have this saying that singing is praying twice.
Yeah. I’ve heard that. Song is so powerful. When I wrote a lot of the songs on this project, I felt so connected to things beyond me. That’s magic. Ya know?
So…do you have a favorite song off of the EP? I love all of them, but I want to talk about “The Pretender” today.
Aww yeah. “The Pretender” feels very special to me. It’s so funny because I never thought that story was worthy of a song. As I was writing it, it kind of revealed that this 15-year-old me actually has a lot to say and a lot to process. And it was really, really beautiful. It kind of started the process of healing in a way.
Honestly, the song is painful. It hurts me and I didn’t even experience it.
I feel like everyone has that unrequited love with someone. It made me stop laughing at younger me for being such a hopeless romantic or lover. I was a real person with real feelings who really loved this person, or thought I did. And it hurt a lot. The story is painful, but now when I sing it, it is like giving a big ol’ hug to younger me. It was really cathartic.
I know that writing each song is different, whether the lyrics come first, or the melody, or they come together, but do you remember the writing process for “The Pretender?”
Yeah, I was feeling very existential. I just sat down at the piano and I was just playing. I think I wrote the champagne line first because he was so extra. He had this car that was gold, and he would be like, “no, it’s champagne.”
That sparked something. I remembered that. And I don’t usually sit down and write a song in one sitting. Usually it’s weeks brewing an idea. But in this instance, I wrote the first verse and the chorus. I was ready to get up and let it sit for a bit. That was me being scared to finish it. But my roommate came out of her room to go somewhere and said, “I’m gonna go, but you need to finish this song.” And then I finished it in a couple of hours.
I tried to pick out a favorite lyric from the song. But my favorite part of the song is the piano riff that most notably bookends the song. It’s beautiful. Where did that come from? It feels inspired by some other artist or song. Do you have influences that have similar sounds to you?
That piano part feels a little like Joni Mitchell or maybe like Rufus Wainwright-y. I was listening to Brandi Carlile’s new album and “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves, and I feel like “The Pretender” in general is pretty inspired by the magnificent stories these artists tell. Before this song, I don’t think I had written a song that had such a linear beginning, middle, and end to it.
I feel like I would shy away from that at times because of how straightforward it is. But the way you wrote it probably lent itself well to the catharsis you experienced. You were walking through it and letting yourself experience it.
Yeah! In a therapy sense, that’s how you start, ya know? You just confront what it is and talk about it. For me, songwriting is part of the healing process, but it’s not healing. People mix up catharsis with being cured of an affliction. So I just viewed “The Pretender” as the song that opened up that healing process. I am very grateful for that.
Then, there’s time.
Yeah, exactly. And then you have to do the things. You have to go to therapy, and meditate, and be vulnerable with the people you love.
Are you ever meditating and then lyrics pop into your head?
It’s interesting that you say that. I was watching an interview with Joni Mitchell and she said, “songwriting is anti-meditative.” When you are songwriting, your mind is going everywhere. Or when you’re writing a poem, you are searching for that idea to hold onto. When you are meditating, thoughts come and go, and you just kind of watch them go by. And when you start thinking of one, you bring yourself back to your breathe. So I think for artists and writers, it’s a really useful skill. If you’re spending your whole day frantically trying to find the words to say, you have to have the time to do the opposite.
That is very true. You have to find that balance. And you manage well it seems. You found the words for “The Pretender” so well. Do you have a favorite lyric from the song?
I love the line,
Heavenly Father, if I sin, will you ever look at me the same again?
The way we are taught what is bad and good is backwards. It took me a long time to realize a lot of the primal instincts I have are not bad. But in the beginning I remember realizing that God is watching me do this. Is he ever going to think of me the same way? Like the way you would a human, like when you disappoint your parents. I remember thinking that and not being able to put it into words.
That lyric, too, and a portion at the end when you say,
Hallelujah, he loves me. Hallelujah, he wants me.
Reminds me of going to church. The way you worded it changed the way I viewed it.
It’s this mixture of sacred holiness and infatuation with a person. It’s about this person, but I also feel like I am singing about a higher power. Like “he loves me, he wants me” are things you sing about God too.
Yes! I feel like in a lot of your songs you could replace the pronoun “he” with God. The sentiment is similar. It is crazy. I don’t often see that connection because I can replace God with love or a father. But you parallel a lover with God.
Love is so holy and sacred and special. At least the way I see it now.
You seemed inspired by this newfound spirituality and peace. Where do you get your inspiration from usually? I know that is a big question. Like for me, it’s a line thing. I could be doing anything, talking or running or falling asleep, and I will have to stop to write down a random sentence that pops in my head or I know I will forget it. And then I will write based off of that line.
Sometimes lines pop in my head. I used to ask my mom about my name and she would say, “Jacob, like Jacob from the Bible” and that is where that line came from. And last year, I spent a lot of time deep journaling. It was very free-flowing. I would write about an experience and it just opened me up. I also love reading. Reading other people’s work and listening to other people’s music inspires me.
Who (or what) inspires/influences you?
More recently, as I mentioned, I have been inspired by Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves. Also, I am big fan of the artist Perfume Genius. He makes left-of-center pop and he really influenced the sonic space of the album. All time influences are like Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Joni Mitchell.
Your imagery for this album is very Elton John inspired.
You’re welcome! I appreciate that you can see how these people shape your songwriting. What advice would you give to other songwriters?
Be authentic! It is important to replicate and appreciate the people you love. But there has to come a point where it is you now and it is your story. You are doing such a disservice to yourself and everyone by not sharing your own experience in my opinion.
That is powerful and so encouraging.
Alright, I have one last, tough question. What makes a song good?
When I write a song, what makes it good is the feeling of it being an extension of my soul. I think, in general, authenticity makes a song good. Like, only you could’ve made that. That’s really beautiful.
I agree. That makes me think of what makes people good. I am not one to know that or be the judge of that. But the things that make me love people more are them being fully and comfortably themselves. That makes me happy. And then, when I am lucky enough to see that and know that. That is what makes people good.
I love that.
Okay. I lied. Are you touring soon?
Well, I am playing a show in Nashville next week.
I know!! I think I might go.
Aww, you should. I would love that. And then we are working on the tour front. I am touring in Germany this September. I am playing in London too. It is all kind of lined up.
That is so exciting. Is that what you want to do? Do you want to perform?
Yeah. Yeah, that is my favorite part.
When you perform, are you aware of the people that are there to see a performance? Or are you more in your mind, in your song?
I think my goal for every performance is to be very present. When I am present and it is a great audience, we feed into one another. I always forget the power of live music. When you feel that presence, it is powerful.That is how music is supposed to be.
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