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Interview: Landon Jacobs of Sir Sly

 

Sir Sly has never been a band of convention. Since its inception in 2012, the alternative trio consisting of Landon Jacobs, Jason Suwito, and Hayden Coplen, has defied traditional musical formulas. Gaining initial attention through Hype Machine and releasing their debut album nearly a year and a half later, Sir Sly have consistently and methodically stayed true to their creative process, fostering a sound that is equal parts haunting, triumphant, and undeniably cool.

Sir Sly has found continued success throughout its tenure, opening for acts like The 1975, KONGOS, and Cold War Kids. Early hits “Ghost” and “Gold” from their album “You Haunt Me” solidified their unique and brooding sound, full of creeping bass and surging synth, drawing on electronic, hip-hop, and rock elements for a style that is truly alternative. Sophomore album “Don’t You Worry Honey” was released in 2017, following a tumultuous year of lead singer Landon Jacobs, including the loss of his mother to brain cancer. Such personal tragedies were fuel for an album full of emotionally and musically powerful songs, like “Oh Mama” and “Altar“, as well as feel-good radio hits like “High“.

Landon Jacobs sat down for a phone chat with Music Existence to talk touring with K. Flay and The 1975, podcasts, and, naturally, trading places with the Backstreet Boys. Jacobs sat in his hotel room ahead of the band’s Edmonton show, taking press calls and watching The Ellen Show to pass the time.

Music Existence: So who’s on Ellen right now?

Landon Jacobs: You know, he didn’t look familiar. He looked like maybe somebody who had done something memorable. Not a famous person, like he had done something kind of heroic.  He was just an everyday hero who had made his way onto Ellen. That’s what’s so great about her show, right? It’s a mixture of fame and celebrity and also everyday folks who do amazing things.

ME: It really is. So you’ve been on the road with K. Flay on her “Everywhere is Somewhere” tour. What have been some of the highlights so far?

LJ: I think anytime you get to go on tour with people who are just good folks, who are kind to you and treat you well, that’s always lovely. And I think that’s the first thing we noticed right off the bat was that they’re just a great group of people and she’s amazing and brings out cool people in her band and crew members, and all that. And I think like her fans have been great. It’s been good to see some familiar faces of some of our fans, but she’s packing out rooms full of people who are really music fans. And they’re coming out early and catching our set, which is always great as an opener, when you’re playing to a full room.

ME: How do you guys keep yourself entertained during the travel days?

LJ: I probably keep myself in entertained in the most dorky way. I just bought a Nintendo Switch before I left for tour. I’ve been playing the new Zelda game. And Zelda is easily my favorite video game franchise of all time. I think otherwise you just listen to podcasts, music, chat about whatever. I think Hayden loves planning out where we’re going to stop for lunch.

ME: What are some of the podcast you listen to?

LJ: I think the one that everybody was talking about listening to yesterday was Macaulay Culkin on WTF with Marc Maron, which I which I definitely want to give a listen to. I mostly listen To This American Life and Radiolab. And then there’s the one about the-I’m not going to remember the name…They talk about psychology type stuff, like human psychology and sociology stories.

ME: Invisibilia?

LJ: Yeah! That’s the shit. Invisibilia is truly the shit. Those are my three big podcasts. I’ll occasionally drop in on on [Marc] Maron or a little bit of Rogan here and there depending on who his guests are. I really don’t like when he talks to his comedian friends and they just sound like a good old boys club and they’re like talking about stuff where I’m like ‘Damn, this conversation went really dark and south really quick, y’all don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But when he has like Neil deGrasse [Tyson] on there that’s good stuff.

ME: For sure. So is there any city you are especially excited to visit next?

LJ: I think it’s always good to be back in Canada. This is fun. I’m staring out of my hotel over the frozen river right now, which is not my everyday situation. So Edmonton is looking beautiful. Excited to go up to Calgary. I think that the few days in Chicago are going to be fun. We’re between playing Milwaukee and Chicago and being able to stay at the same place for a few nights in a row. We have some family dinners not actual family, but tour family, to have. I think Chicago will be fun and when we end in Nashville we’re going to be staying there for a few days to write and try to work on the album a little bit more, the new stuff, and then I think we have like two more radio shows so it’ll be cool to go back to Minneapolis for the first time in a while. I think any time you get to return to somewhere that you haven’t been for a while is always fun. Like we hadn’t been to Vancouver in like four years, we hadn’t been in Portland for three of four years. So it’s good to be able to go back and play like club shows in places where we’ve done outdoor amphitheater stuff

ME: So speaking of songwriting, for this past album you drew from some pretty intense emotional experiences in your life. Has songwriting always been an outlet for you to process your emotions and experiences?

LJ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I started writing poetry when I was eight or nine out of the blue, for no reason. And I think the reason was just because I had a lot inside that I didn’t know how to get out. And so that was the way that I chose to, I suppose. I don’t really remember it super vividly, but I know that’s when I started writing my own kind of creative stuff. Then at 13 when I started writing songs it was just like journaling. It was like a slightly more expressive or little moments of fantasy maybe sprinkled in or over dramaticizing certain things, turning it into a metaphor. I think that was always very helpful to me, it was like journaling with a twist. And I think I’ve been writing songs since I was 13 and at least a song a month, probably a song every other week since then. And then obviously since we started this band it’s been a lot more concentrated. That’s always been my-I had kind of felt like there was some kind of blockage if I wasn’t writing. Like if I went through a season of not writing, it always felt like I was missing out on something or there was something inside of me that needed to get out. I think Bjork put it a lot better than I’ll ever be able to put and she said it’s kind of like exorcising demons.

ME: So how does it feel to perform those songs live and see so many people connecting with deeply personal lyrics?

LJ: I think that’s kind of the magic of the human experience. There’s this kind of bizarre paradox between feeling very alone in kind of a world unto yourself and nobody’s quite like you and you’re your own unique snowflake. At the other end of the spectrum it’s like well that’s not entirely true, there’s a lot of people who have very similar experiences. And although they might not be the same person as you, the things that you that you’ve gone through resonate with them. Especially I think with songwriting, like I was saying it’s not all 100% autobiographical like I’m trying to write a history. It’s also a bit more like a fantastical kind of memoir where there’s little bits of you, you take your creative license with certain things and dramaticize certain things a certain way or turn into a metaphor and that’s never going to be an exact science.  And so I think in that you find spaces where it resonates even closer with a lot more people. But there are definitely moments where it’s like ‘nobody probably has had that exact experience.’ But yeah I think it’s incredible to see that support and especially like with the song “Oh Mama”. I found a lot of people saying that they have lost loved ones and they had dealt with death in the family or friends or whatever, and that was a song that resonated with them and that they have similar feelings, that it was helpful in some way. And I think that’s an amazing thing. I write first and foremost for myself. It’s some pretty sweet icing on top of the cake for people to find some solace in anything that I’ve written.

ME: What’s been your favorite song to perform on this tour?

LJ: On this tour, I mean “High” is always an easy one to say because people know it so well, it kind of brings a different level of energy. I think probably “&Run”. It’s been really fun. I think like we already had a whole tour of playing “High” and people knowing that, and “&Run” was maybe one that people knew a little bit less. There’s a little bit more recognition for “&Run” and we do some things that are pretty different with it live. I think we play a nine minute version live instead of the original three and a half. So that’s been really fun. I think to end the set with that every night has been has been a lot of fun.

ME: So I’m from the Bay Area, so I’m pretty much obligated to ask you about the lyrics about Oakland from “High”. What’s the story behind that?

LJ: Well we were on tour with The 1975, it was 4/20 so, you know, we had to smoke weed. And I hadn’t smoked in years-I hadn’t gotten high in years. I did, finally, that day and I got way too high and had kind of a panic attack and thought that I could feel a brain aneurysm coming on and I thought I was going to die. We were just at a hotel in Oakland with some friends and I was laying on the bathroom floor thinking that I was going to die. And I’m sending out all my love into the universe because all of a sudden like my priorities kind of like snapped into line. I was like, “I love my family, I love my friends, I love music, that’s pretty much all matters to me.” And so I was sending out my love to all the people that I cared about and I didn’t die, which is the pleasant ending to this story.

ME: You were recently in San Francisco at The Fillmore. How was that stop?

LJ: The Fillmore is fantastic. I love that venue. The chandeliers are amazing. We were talking with Aaron Axelsen and while were there, and he said they used to bring out a basketball hoop and people would play on those wood floors until somebody hit one of the chandeliers, which is a huge bummer because I think those wood floors are basically perfect for playing basketball. But they make for a great venue as well. I think this was our fourth time playing The Fillmore as an opener and it was as lovely as it’s always been to us.

ME: So you guys have some festivals coming up. What are some acts at those festivals that you’re most excited to see?

LJ: Yeah, I mean 12 year old me is super excited to see Eminem at Coachella. I have to say, in all honesty, I really hope that he only plays old stuff but that’s not going to happen. I’m excited to see Jack White at Gov Ball, really excited to see that. I’ve seen him once or twice before but I’m excited to see what he’s cooking up with new music. I honestly have not really looked at the lineups all that much, so outside of that, I don’t really have a good angle on who I’m excited to see.

ME: In general, what artists are you digging right now?

LJ: I’ve been kind of going through a kick listening to a lot of older stuff, like not way older but stuff that I’ve been listening to for a long time. It’s not really anything new. I’ve been into a lot of Radiohead again. Some Arcade Fire sprinkled in there. I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory a bit. I think other than that, mostly hip hop. I’ve been listening to the Lil Uzi Vert record a lot since it came out, Young Thug is a staple. I think “Beautiful Thugger Girls” is the best album of 2017 and I listened to that a shitload. And then Sufjan [Stevens], a lot of Sufjan. I was really stoked about that Tonya Harding song that he put out. I’m excited to see what else is on the horizon. Those tracks that were on the movie soundtrack “Call Me By Your Name”, his tracks on that they were amazing. I think since “Carrie & Lowell” came out I’ve listened to that once a month, at least. So that’s still a regular rotation at Landon Radio…’Landon Radio’? I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said!

ME: Hah! So I like to end with some more out of the box questions. Imagine that Sir Sly is going to have a freaky Friday experience where you guys switch places with any other band. What group are you going to choose?

LJ: We get to switch with any other band? Am I allowed to include time travel or does it have to be a band from nowadays?

ME: Sure, any band.

LJ: I think I’d have to choose something like way different than what it is that we experience, like the Backstreet Boys situation. Like if you’re going to get to have a Freaky Friday situation, why switch with another alternative band when you could be the Backstreet Boys for a night? Or like A Tribe Called Quest in their heyday. That would be an amazing experience. But the thing is I don’t know enough of those people’s lyrics to pull off a show. I’d kind of be screwed. I think their fans would all be extremely disappointed to come to a show and have three people who know nothing up onstage. If the Freaky Friday experience was like us doing interviews that be fun, I would love to be in an interview as one of the Backstreet Boys answering questions about their lives that I just don’t know.

ME: If Morgan Freeman were to do a dramatic reading of any of your songs which one would you pick?

LJ: I think “Astronaut” would make the most sense. I would love to hear Morgan Freeman talking about doing acid. I think that might be the funniest thing you know, that’s what I would like to hear Morgan Freeman say. I think “Oh Mama” would be pretty touching to hear. There’s a little bit of that psychedelic, kind of dreamy nature to the song. I don’t think I’d want to hear Morgan Freeman do the transcript of my mom’s voicemail though. That’d be weird. Morgan Freeman talking to me as if he is my mother, no thank you.

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Check out Sir Sly’s website for tickets to their upcoming shows:

January 31 – The Rave – Milwaukee, WI

February 02 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL

February 03 – Cannery Ballroom – Nashville, TN

February 08 – Fine Line Music Cafe – Minneapolis, MN

February 10 – recordBar – Kansas City, MO

April 14, 21 – Coachella – Indio, CA

May 4-6 – Shaky Knees Music Festival – Atlanta, GA

June 1 – The Governors Ball Music Festival – New York,  NY

June 2, 3 – Bunbury Music Festival – Cincinnati, OH

June 8-10 – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival – Manchester, TN

About Dana Jacobs

I write about music and live shows and other fun things. Strong feelings about pugs, Halloween, and burritos. Currently zooming around northern California, with frequent stops in LA.

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