Jack Kovacs is set to bring his intimate style of storytelling to the stage at The Hotel Café to celebrate the release of his debut EP, “The State Line,” on October 19th, 2014. Born and raised in Chicago, Jack left his hometown to study guitar performance at the prestigious University of Southern California. His dedication and unyielding passion led him to discover his affinity for songwriting; a talent that encouraged him to explore the art of music even further. Along with Tim Kobza, Jack self-produced each dynamic track on “The State Line,” layering arrangements and crafting eclectic walls of sound. But it’s his storytelling that really elevates the music. An intimate reflection of his own soul, he writes stories that take you on an emotional journey of the human experience.
On the eve of his album release, Jack will celebrate the hard work and determination that aided in the completion of his debut EP with a night of live music on October 19th. We had a chance to catch up with him days before he takes the stage at Los Angeles’ The Hotel Cafe to chat about his musical beginnings, “The State Line,” and all the influences and incidents that have brought him to this point.
To help you get to know Jack Kovacs and his music a little better, we’re offering up a free download of “The Empty House” featuring Huxlee, ahead of the album release. Be sure to download the track now and check out the EP on iTunes on October 21st!
Jack Kovacs – EP Release Show @ The Hotel Cafe
When: October 19th, 2014 @ 8PM
Where: The Hotel Café – 1623 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 21+ – $10 https://www.hotelcafe.com/tickets/?s=events_view&id=3315
When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue music?
I wish I had a good Peter-Gabriel-On-Solsbury-Hill epic moment for this, but it was pretty innocuous. The way I got into it is the same reason I keep doing it. I heard a sound, and felt that urge that can only be described as “I have to learn how to do that.” The first instance was at a friend’s house when I was 8, and he showed me that he could play “Zelda’s Lullaby” on the piano. I went home that night and asked my parents for piano lessons, and the rest is history.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar? Do you play any other instruments?
I used to rock around in my room as a kid playing air guitar to this one 5-second riff in the title track from “Man With The Golden Gun.” Actually, I owe a ton of my musical inspiration to the James Bond movie soundtracks. I would think “Gee, it’d be cool to have an actual guitar in my hand if I’m gonna jump around this much.” I play lots of other instruments. I play electric bass, banjo, and mandolin. I’ll take a stab at anything with frets on it. Piano was the first instrument I started on, and I use it for writing and arranging a lot.
At what point did you get involved with songwriting?
While studying music at USC, I met a lot of really incredible songwriters. I spent my early days there playing guitar for them and helping to arrange their songs. I didn’t start actually getting my hands dirty in the writing process until I met Derik Nelson, a standout talent as a writer and performer. As a band, we recorded an album that has my first credits as a writer. Through that project, I fell in love with the process of organically creating music, and began my endeavor into solo-writing. The end product is this debut EP.
There are a lot of different themes on “The State Line,” when it comes to writing, what experiences or themes tend to inspire you the most?
I’d say the most prevalent theme on the album is change. Songwriting is storytelling, and the journeys that come from life changes are rich with plot and details that we can all connect to in some way. The words in these songs all began with a memory, and the stories that unfold are my own way of revisiting the transformative experiences that occurred between then and now. Some of them are linear, even cinematic, like “State Line” and “The Empty House”, and others, like “Song of the Summer” are hundreds of images and moments from the past brought together into one essential idea. In the end it’s all about Then vs. Now, and the change that happens in between.
Of the songs on the album, are there any that stand out as more personal to you? Why?
The title track, “State Line”, is the most personal to me. Whenever I play it, or listen to it, I’m instantly tied back to people and places that I’ve had to leave behind. There are dozens of people who I haven’t spoken a word to in years, and others I have caught up with only to discover that we are far from the people we used to be. State Line allows me to get back in touch with those times gone by, but also to meditate on the separate paths our lives have taken, and question how much of that distance was placed by choice, and how much was just a product of “time and fate collided.”
What artists have inspired your sound and songwriting style?
Paul Simon is without a doubt my greatest songwriting influence. After poring over his body of work, from the early Simon & Garfunkel days, to 2011’s “So Beautiful or So What?”, I’ve been enthralled by how many styles and genres he has managed to explore, while his poetry and ideas are the lynchpins holding it all together. No artist has had more lyrics that are tattoo-worthy to me than him. For the record, I have no lyric tattoos.
Sufjan Stevens has also influenced my writing immensely, particularly in its technical aspects. His song forms are atypical when compared to standard AABA, or Verse-Chorus forms, and this opens up a whole world of possibilities when trying to tell a story through songwriting. His arrangements also vary wildly, from stripped down bare acoustics to full fledged orchestras, to electronically programmed soundscapes. I admire how he uses these elements to underscore his unique voice and ideas.
What are some of your favorite songs and what is it about those songs that you love?
Sufjan Stevens “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” This song would have to be absolutely brilliant to be on this list while simultaneously encouraging the mispronunciation of my home state. It is a suite, which is a classical music form that exists as a whole composition with a number of movements, each with distinctly different themes. Sufjan uses this device to tell a unique story. The first movement captures the bustling energy of the World’s Columbian Exposition, progress and innovation, science and technology, how it compares to the way the world is moving today. The second movement throws aside that subject, like a frustrated writer at his typewriter ripping away the paper, and suddenly we’re outside the song and inside his headspace. It reveals a scene every writer has experienced before. He is alone, crying himself to sleep, unsure if what he’s doing is any good. In a dream he is visited by the ghost of poet Carl Sandberg, who asks him the simple question every writer needs to ask themselves: “Are you writing from the heart?” It’s a really beautiful and personal moment and there’s a deep catharsis when the movements change over, and I feel that frustration and eventual triumph over and over each time I listen.
The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset”- If change is my favorite subject to write about, it’s partly because in some ways I’m deathly afraid of it. The opening line of this song perfectly captures that feeling: “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling? Flowing into the night…” The song is from the perspective of an introvert who watches the world from his window while the it passes him by, and how he’s just fine with that on the surface. But I can’t help but infer a pained loneliness in Ray Davies’ vocal delivery, and with that inference I can hear the duality of the song, that this character is trying to convince himself he’s just fine watching the sun set from his window, when really it’s fear and doubt that keep him inside. And yet, that second tier doesn’t exist explicitly anywhere in the lyrics, revealing something about my own views on loneliness. That’s the power of great songwriting: The listener’s story fills in the gaps left by the songwriter. It’s especially beautiful when it shows you something you may not have consciously been aware of.
Antonio Carlos Jobim- Aguas De Marcos (The waters of march) This is the be all end all song about seasons and change. Each verse is a metaphor for what the Waters of March could also be, “It is wood, It is stone, it is the end of the way…” and the song continues to use this lyrical framing device throughout. It’s rich with beautiful imagery, but what really makes the song stand out is the chords that support it, which give the illusion that they are endlessly cascading, because the harmony rarely, if ever comes to a solid resolution. Instead they cycle, just like the titular water, until the song’s final moment.
Have you performed at the Hotel Café before? If so, what is different about this show for you?
I’ve performed at the Hotel Cafe numerous times as a sideman on guitar and bass, so without a doubt the biggest difference is that it’s my ass on the line! I can’t wait to take the stage as a frontman for the first time, and I’m armed with the baddest musicians around. It’s going to be a great show.
What performers have you seen that stand out in your memory? What was it about them that stayed with you?
So, so, so many come to mind. I’ll keep each one brief.
Jeff Beck- Never heard anybody make their guitar speak like that.
Derek Trucks- Never heard anybody make their guitar SING like that.
The Arcade Fire- First time I heard any of their music was live, and I could physically feel their energy. Chills all night long.
Nine Inch Nails- Trent Reznor is just the most intense dude ever in concert, and the light show was top notch. Also Josh Freese on drums!!
RH Factor- You’d think I’m biased because the piano player from my record, Brian “Theory” Hargrove, was in the band killing it that night, but it might have been the best concert I’ve seen. Roy Hargrove is somebody whose soul is truly front and center when he plays. It’s really beautiful.
Paul Simon- I mean…just seeing him in person…but what really makes him stand out is the musicians he surrounds himself with. His live concert showcases each an every one of them, and it’s something I aspire to make an integral part of my own live shows.
Now that the EP is out, are there any new projects in the works? What’s up next for you?
I’m already a few songs deep into my next recording project. My aim is to release a full length LP, and find opportunities to tie these new stories with film projects in the same spirit of the music video for “The Empty House” from this EP. This next endeavor will explore new narrative and storytelling possibilities, while simultaneously allowing me to explore different sonic territories. However, I don’t want to stray too far from the acoustic nature of this EP, which I don’t believe I’ve explored to its fullest potential. There will be at least one fatty synth breakdown. It’ll be tasteful, I promise.
Check out the video for lead single “The Empty House” below!