Jake Ewald gets out of his house — and head — with current band
When Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog starts writing a song, he'll typically begin by picking up a guitar in the spare room of his Philadelphia home, spending 20 or 30 minutes homing in on a melody. Once that musical foundation is established, he'll grab a notebook and leave the house, walking to a nearby coffee shop or taking the train downtown — a minor shakeup that has had major ramifications, allowing him to escape his head early in the creative process.
As a result, the songs populating a pair of Slaughter Beach, Dog full-lengths — Welcome, from 2016, and Birdie, from 2017 — are increasingly outward-focused, filled with characters exploring their connections to humanity rather than the kinds of tortured, anxious, ultra-personal diary scribbles Ewald had become known for in the on-hiatus Modern Baseball. The songs are similarly relaxed musically, built on jangling guitar, minimal drums and Ewald's conversational vocals, which he applies to observational lyrics that fall perfectly in-line with his newly developed approach to writing.
“I like to walk around the city, or go window shopping, or anything, really, and just find inspiration. … Walking around and seeing different buildings, or different people, or even hearing different snippets of conversation became a really helpful thing in reminding me there's more going on around me,” said Ewald, who will perform solo at Big Room Bar on Tuesday, March 19. “I guess it makes sense that the songs are more relaxed, since they're coming from these relaxed activities as opposed to getting home from a really long tour and saying, ‘Oh, I'm so stressed out,' and putting all of those feelings into the next song I write.”
Though Slaughter Beach, Dog songs are less personal, in a sense, there is an element of the writing that is more emotionally honest now. Recently, after finishing a new song, Ewald welled up as he played it for his parents. “The song isn't about me, but it had so much of my own emotion and experience hiding under the actual context that I started crying when we were listening to it,” he said. “It's a strange experience I never had when I was writing directly about my life. But for some reason when I apply my emotions to another story, I get this big, ooey-gooey, universal spirit in my gut, and it's just a whole different crazy thing.”
The idea of a universal spirit has long intrigued Ewald, who has increasingly explored the bonds uniting humankind both in the art he consumes — “My ideal book … is deeply focused on the complexities of the interactions between two people,” he said — as well as in his own writing.
“It's like a bottomless ocean,” Ewald said. “You don't even need a location, or a universal event. You just need two people in the room together, or on the phone, and there are so many crushing and beautiful and unbelievable things that can happen when the emotions from two different people collide.”