On his sprawling new record, Tompkins Park, Jack Symes makes his case as one of folk music’s most compelling new artists. Born during a road trip out to his new home in Brooklyn and his unmoored first months there, the 12-songs confront the question, “Are you on your own or are you all alone?”. It’s less tethered to Earth than his previous excursions, instead drifting skyward, buoyed by wide-reaching arrangements and dense washes of reverb that curl off his voice like thick plumes of smoke. Inspired by uncertainty and crystallized in isolation, Jack Symes sophomore album is a testament to spending time with yourself and making peace with the parts of you that have been neglected. Written while uprooting his life, and recorded in the blurry ebb of life under a pandemic, the deeply personal songs are at once wholly universal.
Until now it was easy for California based songwriter Joe Kaplow to be pushed along. At eight he was getting screamed at by Uncle Jim for playing out of time. A few years later found him passing almost every single after school evening getting stoned and jamming with his band in Bondar’s basement. Years later again he was studying music at college and having to sink or swim in the sea of talent crowding Boston streets and finally, for the past 5 years, plugging his amp into the outlet of American music heritage, driving around and playing shows in bars, clubs, and coffee shops while figuring out along the way that CDs are lame and that booking pitches should be concise. It was almost like there wasn’t time to stop and think.
Recently, it seems like all he does is think. When all the momentum, all the plans, all the validation, all the adventure, and all the money just stop; when the pushing stops, one may find themselves asking, “Why am I doing this?” An underdog without an over-dog is just a dog.
Kaplow describes music as his “currency for life. We all have something, or a few things that we do, we work at, we commit to and that’s how we pay for our time here. It’s like life is a Ferris wheel at the county fair. You can’t just ride all night. Every 4 times around you have to stop at the bottom and pay for another half hour or whatever.”
When faced with the question, “Why am I doing this?” Kaplow answered, “because this is how I feel best paying for my time.”
The title of his second full length album, Sending Money and Stems, is not just a reference to life currency, but also a description of how the album came to be. “Normally I would have flown up to Portland and sat in the room with Mike (Coykendall) as he mixed, but because of covid I had to email him stems (raw audio files) and we would go back and forth a few times until we got it right. When one song was done, I’d text him and be like ‘Ok man, next song coming up; sending money and stems!'”
The new album fills in the holes of Time Spent In Between. It’s more band oriented, more groove based, more uptempo, more hifi, and more happy go lucky than his previous work. “Yeah, Time Spent In Between was a heavy record…”
There’s always new challenges for a working musician. Thank God for the internet? But, Joe Kaplow will figure it out, just like he figured out figure-8 mic placement or how to use index pages on Squarespace. He’ll keep figuring things out because that’s how you keep going. He’s pretty sure he likes making music. He wants to ride the Ferris wheel all night.