New York City is home to one of the most diverse areas in the world, and if you're a native, then you already know I'm talking about Queens. It is a borough overflowing with culture, culinary expertise, and most important of all, some of the worlds best music. It was here that indie-folk artist J. Alan Schneider debuted his first album Lo & Behold which was written and recorded alongside other Queens-bred musicians. We're not surprised that J. Alan has chosen to follow suit and bring his brand new EP On Precipice to fruition in the same way. Prior to the long-awaited release arriving soon on October 27th, 2017, Alan has released its first single, "The State Line", which gives us a small taste of what's to come on his second major record.
The slow, earnest, guitar riffs convey a melancholic melody; it evokes a story of someone lost in their thoughts eager to find a path, but may never. "The State Line" is a haunting take on an artist searching the world to find himself yet never needing to leave the confines of his own mind. With raw lyrics such as, "Colorado's fucked since everyone's moved there / And she's been in a rut since November of '16", Alan not only has the rare ability to tell us a story, but to take us along on his journey. There is no doubt that this latest single adds much to the indie-folk catalog, and leaves us impatiently waiting for the full EP release later this month.
Until then, read our exclusive interview with the man himself below. Get to know his thoughts on being an independent artist in New York City, the creative process behind his latest single, and where to get the best bourbon-glazed bacon tots in Queens. We'll try and save you some.
- How did you first get into music, what was your inspiration?
Music started, for me, as the piano lessons I trudged to my next door neighbor's house for (she was a piano teacher). It became the thing I was pretty good at when I took up clarinet in the Middle School band, and the passion I became pretty proficient at when I won regional chamber competitions and joined All State and All Eastern bands on clarinet and string bass. In my adult life it has morphed into something that occupies space in my brain that people normally reserve for faith. Songwriting is what I turn to when I'm anxious, down, or generally directionless. I first started writing songs in the pop-punk band I played in in Junior High, and I've never put that pen down.
- Being from New York City, is it easier or harder to build a career as an artist?
That's a double edged sword. On the one hand there is so much noise in this city that it's sometimes hard to get people to stop and listen, let alone care and make a connection. On the other hand, I have access to some of the best venues in the world for my level of music career, and I can legit play at them. I can take meetings with journalists, or go to music industry events. Hell, every night of the week there's even an open mic night that would pass in any other market as a perfectly serviceable singer-songwriter show. Beyond that, in NYC, you don't really look at the city -- as a whole -- as a scene. In the 90s, you had alt pop/rock in the East Village... before that it was punk. The scene is segmented. I live in Astoria -- a hip neighborhood in Queens -- and between the local breweries and the roots-blues-themed brunch spots, you can find a lot of local passion just in my neighborhood alone.
- As an independent artist, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
I'm not sure I'm at the level to give advice to aspiring musicians, but I think one thing that I struggle with even myself is to stay focused on what's important and what it is I love about this -- the music. It's easy to look left and right at other musicians in your network who get achievements that you want. It's easy to feel that jealousy and wonder what you can do to get on that playlist or get that press coverage. But, while hustling and staying motivated and promoting the hell out of yourself is important, it's arguably more important to remember that sitting down to write a song, arrange it, and record it in a way that perfectly expresses your mind is really what it's all about. Stay focused and you'll stay determined.
- Can you tell us about your creative method behind your latest EP single, “The State Line”?
As with pretty much every song I record, "The State Line" was produced and laid down entirely in my home studio in Queens, NY. I record all of my music around the guitar and vocal tracks. The piano and keyboards were done after, the electric guitar was done to add texture (I had one of my good friends Tory Mance lay some down for me). But beyond production, the song is sort of a warm, dark take on fate. As humans, we can't necessarily control everything in our lives, and grappling with that can be hard to reconcile when you have goals. That's what the lyrics are loosely based on.
- What tone can we expect from the upcoming EP?
That theme of accepting and adapting to fate is kind of what the EP is about in a nutshell. This album will probably be a good bit darker and a little rougher around the edges than my last record. Lo & Behold (which I released in July of last year) was an attempt to show the world what kind of music I can make with just a full, bright-sounding acoustic guitar and my voice. On Precipice is going to bring in more electric guitar, rougher-feeling acoustic tracks, and lyrics that are less contained in one song, and more related from song-to-song.
- Each musician has a unique writing process, how do you define your artistry?
After being asked this question numerous times by friends and other journalists (both for this project and my previous indie rock band Jet Black Sunrise), I've decided that I honestly don't know how the hell a song comes about. For me, there's no way to plan it. Sometimes I'll start a song that I think I love, and then find out the next day that I hate it. And from there I'll have to pick what I like about it (the lyrics? the chord progression? the weird specific riff-hook I started with?) and spend days and days just chipping away at it, deciding if a good song is in there. Sometimes, I'll get a new guitar, or a new pedal, and I'll sit there with the guitar, maybe noodling as I'm watching TV or something, and stumble on a vibe/hook that speaks to me, and then I build on that and finish a whole song in one night. Some of my best songs have been written on nights I hadn't even planned on writing. It's weird when that happens, but there is something really cool knowing that something tangible like a song does actually come from a really intangible place.
- Which artists are you listening to today, anyone you'd recommend?
I have my go-to artists that I keep coming back to year after year (Bon Iver and Tallest Man On Earth to name a couple), but on a monthly basis, there's a revolving door of new albums I'm listening to non-stop. This month I'm spinning Pinegrove's latest record, the newest release from Jason Isbell, and Haim's LP. They're all great and you should give them a try!
- What's the best concert you've attended, and if you could perform onstage with anyone - who?
It's hard to pinpoint a best concert, but a few that come to mind: Mutemath at The Met in Pawtucket, RI (the most energy I've seen at a concert, ever, I think), Bon Iver in Port Chester, NY, and Tallest Man On Earth at Newport Folk Festival. If I could perform with anyone on stage it would probably be Phil Cook --he used to play in Justin Vernon's band and now has his own records and performs with Hiss Golden Messenger. This dude is a serious keys and guitar player who knows the best way to service a song. And I think it would be a huge inspiration to play with him.
- If you could eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life - where would it be and why?
There's a spot in Astoria, NY called the Sandwich Bar that isn't particularly big, nor is it particularly notable in the larger NYC restaurant scene. But between their bourbon-glazed bacon tots at brunch, and their house-roasted chicken grilled cheese, their food is some that I don't think I'd ever get tired of. They also have a really killer tap list.
- When is the EP set to release, and what can we expect after?
On Precipice will hit digital shelves on October 27th of this year, and you can expect a release show in NYC, plus a short run of northeast dates to support it. From there, I'll just see where the momentum takes -- you never know how a record is going to be received, and like I said up there, I can't expect anything. All I can do is put out music I love and hope other people love it, too.
"The State Line" is available now and keep up with J. Alan below!