At 21 years old, Jake Jeanson seems wise well beyond his years. The soon-to-graduate Westmont senior — and winner of our 2012 Downtown Sound Battle of the Bands — speaks thoughtfully when asked about his songwriting, carefully describing his style as something that’s still in bloom. But even in its infant stages, Jeanson’s sweet and folksy take on harmonic pop seems to be striking a chord. During last month’s Downtown Sound finals at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, he and his mostly newfound bandmates rallied a packed house around their gently plucked jams. This weekend, they’ll take to the SOhO stage again as the opening act for Tyrone Wells.
Raised on a strict diet of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles, Jeanson has an admittedly soft spot for the classics. “My dad taught me to really respect those sounds,” he recalls. Nowadays, it’s a mix of old and new (namely, acts like Ray LaMontagne, The Head and the Heart, and The Lumineers) that are helping to inform Jeanson’s songs. “[Ray LaMontagne] has such passion when he sings, and you can tell that he’s not bullshitting you,” he enthuses. “Even if he’s singing a song about a girl, it’s from the heart, and you can feel that.”
As a freshman at Westmont, Jeanson picked up the guitar to try his hand at an open-mike night. “I think I was playing music then for a lot of different reasons than I do now. I thought it was cool, and I could make friends by playing,” he said. Like most young artists, he looks back on those early songwriting ventures with a healthy amount of chagrin: “I wrote so many cheesy things; I’m just grateful people were nice about it. I was lucky to do that in a really positive environment.” Over the course of a very solitary summer, Jeanson had a change of heart.
“I wanted to start writing songs that actually meant something to me, about growing up and finding the intrinsic value in things,” he explains. “This summer I was alone a lot, working and writing and fostering this new idea about what this new chapter was going to be about.” Band members followed shortly thereafter, including vocalist Taylor Hallie, whom Jeanson credits with helping cultivate a lot of his new song ideas.
Then came Downtown Sound, which found Jeanson, Hallie, and bandmates Matt Day (bass), Rob Limkeman (percussion), Trey Lindsley (guitar), and Brad Goodin (violin) dominating the online and semifinals rounds of competition before taking home top prize. As for the future, the kinesiology major is happy to announce he’ll be sticking around Santa Barbara post-graduation to work on music, as well as take a job at Spectrum Athletic Club. He’s also hoping to get into the studio and, eventually, out on the road with his newly formed band, The Riverside. “I just want to do music, however that’s possible,” he says. “There have been some people who don’t understand why I’m writing music this way, so it’s definitely been encouraging to know that people can feel what I’m feeling when we play.”