Published Jan 07, 2019Paul Jacobs had a problem. The young drummer, who grew up in Leamington, ON, was a lifelong fan of '60s pop, garage rock and psychedelic music, but all he found were death metal and hardcore bands, which he played in begrudgingly. Even a move to nearby Windsor did little to diversify Jacobs' portfolio at first.
Largely inspired by a viewing of acclaimed 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, about the similarly minded lo-fi avant-popster, Jacobs decided to channel Johnston's ethic and do it himself, teaching himself guitar at age 21 and learning how to play, write, record and release songs of his own.
Before long, he had dropped four albums and developed a one-man band setup. "I had a kick and a snare with a maraca built onto the pedal, then a double bass pedal coming off the side of the kick that also hit a crash pedal, so you got a crash and kick drum together," recalls Jacobs. "And a guitar."
Still not fitting in with the Windsor scene, Jacobs decamped to Montreal, where he continued the one-man band setup. An early Montreal gig for Jacobs, at the old location of prominent venue l'Escogriffe, was hosted by local promoters Analogue Addiction. It was at this gig that Jacobs realized that he had finally found his place.
"I had never played a show like that [before]. People were crowd-surfing and stuff," he remembers. "It was a crazy night and I wanted to be around that all the time. I got a good intro to Montreal right away."
The next step was to beef up his live setup, a choice made after feeling stifled by the live opportunities he was receiving. Jacobs admits that there were some limitations to his old setup: "I watched a one-man band set [recently] and you can't really see because he's sitting down and you gotta go to the front of the stage if you want to see anything." First expanding to a live quartet, Jacobs' band now boasts seven members. They just concluded a 35-date European tour.
Despite beefing up his live sound, however, Jacobs has remained the sole contributor to his recorded output. In a brief statement released with his latest album, EASY, which came out in October, Jacobs wrote, "I recorded this album at home because it's a fun way to pass the time."
A distillation of Jacobs' sounds and influences, EASY is, true to its name, an easy listen, a collage of lighthearted, lo-fi garage rock that jams plenty of psych-tinged, fuzzed-out ideas into its 15 tracks. It's the 12th release on Jacobs' Bandcamp, a collection of albums, EPs, demos and reworks spanning back to 2013.
Despite his prolific output, Jacobs says he avoids writer's block by simply changing focus to one of his other creative pursuits. "I draw too, so if I'm not feeling music, I draw. I [have] a lot of outlets, so if one's not going, I'll just do the other. I like doing carpentry work and building things. I skateboarded a lot but it's starting to hurt so I don't really do that anymore. Just whatever. Making things."
Jacobs has, so far, designed all of his own album and other associated artwork, often whimsical line work in bright, DayGlo shades. It's just another example of his tremendous work ethic combined with an easygoing, approachable attitude.
A recent move into a new Montreal apartment with its own jam space has only brought Jacobs' DIY ethic even closer to home. Though there are thoughts of recording a live album with the full band, which he considers a completely different beast from the recorded version, he says he has a hard time keeping members due to the many different projects everyone is working on.
Which is what leads him to the one constant: himself. Even between his visual art, carpentry, construction jobs to pay the bills and his other gig as drummer of buzzy local pop-rockers Pottery, Jacobs always finds time to write and record, with a seemingly never-ending stream of ideas always rushing to the surface.
As he found during his ill-fitting death metal days, Jacobs' MO is to stay true to himself. "I always try to be honest and make myself feel something, because if I can make myself feel something, it'll resonate," he says. "Everybody's pretty similar in a way, people can relate with each other. If I'm honest with myself, it will connect with someone else."
Paul Jacobs plays the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on January 11 and Bar le Ritz PDB in Montreal on January 12 as part of Exclaim!'s Class of 2019 concert series.