Jonathan Marshall Hape's self-analytical streak drives the band's most recent EP
Jonathan Marshall Hape's songs can be filled with coded confessions, self-flagellating asides, snippets of accrued wisdom and deep expressions of faith, nearly all of which emerge from a self-analytical streak the Room & Board singer/guitarist described in almost comic terms during a late-March interview.
“It's to a point where I had hernia surgery over the summer, and the day afterwards I was talking about how this makes me realize all these things,” said Hape, 32, flanked by bandmates Nick Baker and Andy Foster (the trio, which has been playing together for six years, visits Used Kids Records for a vinyl-release show on Saturday, April 1). “And my wife is like, ‘Really? You're taking something as simple as this [medical] procedure and make it this whole reflective, move-forward statement?' But that's kind of my M.O.”
Hape said he inherited this trait from both of his parents, but especially his mother, who would occasionally turn grade-school homework assignments into deep-thinking exercises. “When I did word problems, she wouldn't care if I was getting the answers right,” Hape said, and laughed. “Instead it was like, ‘Who are these people in the word problem? What's their situation? How can we help them?'”
Indeed, the title of Room & Board's new seven-track EP, which the bandmates recorded nearly two years ago at Hape's Newark studio, dubbed the National Audio Preservation Society, is almost lengthy enough to pass for a word problem: There's No One Else That You'll Ever Be (And If You Can Hang With That You'll Do Fine). It's a fitting moniker for the release, since Hape isn't shy about injecting the group's twisting, three-minute art-rock tunes with wordy diatribes. “And I have forgiven/My future self/For having so much anger/For who I am now,” he sings on the opening track “Distraction.”
While a majority of the songs on the EP are inward looking, with Hape exploring his growth as a person and attempting to make sense of some of life's bigger questions, the hyper-political “Magazine of the Universe,” written in the weeks following the election of President Donald Trump and tacked onto the EP as one of two vinyl-only cuts, is more explicitly directed outward. (“I had to say something,” Hape said.)
Elsewhere, the musician returns to more familiar ground, wrestling with his human failings and charting the slow-but-incremental progress toward some kind of enlightenment.
“I try to change myself daily to get more to a root of who I am and who I've always wanted to be,” Hape said. “In my younger years, I was very fiery and opinionated. I thought it was weird if people smoked or drank — things like that — because I didn't understand it, because I was young. As I've grown, I've tried to keep an open mind because of my natural tendency to be more judgmental. I'm always looking for an opportunity to grow in some facet.”