A Conversation with Jack Symes
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Melanie sent me a song and said "I think this is your style." She was very right. The song is called "Roll Me Away" by Jack Symes that is the perfect combination of cheerful, folksy and cozy.
Jack Symes is a California native inspired by his friendships and his humble beginnings playing at a summer camp in the Sierra Nevadas. He weaves stories through his acoustic ballads. We hopped on the phone recently, where he graciously shared tidbits of his music background and life while simultaneously ordering an ice cream cone on the record.
ET: Tell me about you. What got you into music?
JS: So music for me started when I asked for a drum set for birthday in 6th grade I think. I got an electric guitar and I was pretty pissed about it. I took some lessons, and I hated it so I stopped playing. Then I played drums for about 8 years, and eventually I got more into guitar as my sister knew how to play. In high school, I finally got a drum kit and a band started called The Beefcakes. I went on to Berkeley for college in Northern California. I went to work as a music director at a summer camp playing my original songs. People started noticing, and I felt like there I started growing as a writer and musician.
ET: I know you collaborate with really talented musicians like Nat Lekhoff and Brittany Hanson. Tell me more about those relationships and how they've impacted your music.
JS: Nat and Brittany I met during college. I played about 40 shows with Nat recently. We play a lot of breweries and living rooms along the west coast. Basically anywhere they'd let us play. After that I moved back to the Bay and then more recently to LA in October. So Brittany and I met at that camp, where we had to put on a concert. It was this classic American summer camp and basically anyone with musical talent and decent singing voices had to perform in the concert. Brittany and I sang "Dearly Departed" by Shakey Graves and wrote our own version of "Danny's Song" by Kenny Loggins. She's got a rasp and twang to her voice. She also has a twin sister, and when they sing it sounds like a choir of angels that look exactly alike or like the twins of The Shining. One second I'm ordering an ice cream cone.
ET: (Laughs) Where's the ice cream cone from?
JS: McDonalds! Is the ordering of the ice cream going to be on the record?
ET: Oh absolutely!
JS: (Laughs) Anyways back to Nat. We were both music directors at neighboring camps. He at the time was dating one of my really good friends. He lived in my house senior year of college, and we played around Berkeley in a band. When it was time for my first tour, I invited Nat and he was down and hopped in the mini van. I'd play a set solo at the beginning and then Nat would hop up and play. We got comfortable collaborating and being constructive together. Writing harmonies with someone else is a true test, and it's such a visual thing. Like looking at each other and sweating and you don't even realize where time has gone. It's crazy.
ET: What about artists that you enjoy? Which ones have impacted your life and your music?
JS: Mason Jennings is my favorite songwriter of all time. As someone who played exclusively as a solo artist, there's a norm for your set for playing live. I think he is one of the most incredible storytellers out there. I've also been really into Ryan Adams' album (live at Carnegie Hall) record. I'm just inspired by this one guy singing stripped back versions of his songs.
ET: I'm super curious to know where your title for the new album came from, "Songs for Moms"?
JS: I wish I had more of an explanation. I came up with that title for an album and thought "what an intriguing title for an album." I had about 3-4 songs written for this album and played those songs at a few shows recently. I really love playing for an older demographic. I love the tidbits of wisdom they have. This album has a lot of songs-- one song called "Childhood Bed" is about growing up and being a child to someone always. Something that regardless of your age you deal with for the rest of your life. There's a song called "Maureen, Maureen" which is an ode to my godmother, Maureen. Once it all come together, the title happened to make sense with the tracks and where I'm in my life right now.
ET: What do you hope people feel or gain from listening to your music?
JS: A few people lately have reached out on Instagram and said that my songs and helped get them through a really hard time. Those little experiences of having people express that to me has made me express that to other people. That is one of the most gratifying experiences. Mason Jennings has done that for me. I've probably obsessed over each and every one of his songs in my life. That is one of the most gratifying experiences.
ET: What else are you up to beyond music?
JS: Honestly I've been so busy planning this tour in June. Hang on, now I'm paying for the cone.
Anyways at Berkeley, I studied Energy and Climate Policy. I was really set on doing some environmental work after graduation. But I try to tie it in with my music. My music caters to a cozy audience in an intimate setting. But yeah I try and use this music to create a comfortable atmosphere to invite Surfrider Foundation chapter or invite other companies to do super rad things.
Jack's upcoming EP, "Songs for Moms" is set to release this July. Keep in touch with Jack on Instagram and check him out on Spotify.