Jake La Botz’s story plays like a feature film he may have actually acted in: A juvenile delinquent in the early ‘80s who discovered punk music. A high school dropout who worked odd jobs. A busker taken under the wing of bluesmen Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Homesick James. An avid reader who self-educated via public libraries while falling under the spell of music, tattoos (he has toured tattoo parlors annually for eight years), cheap motels, and drug addiction. Actor. Gospel musician. Buddhist. Meditation teacher. Bluesman. It’s all a part of La Botz’s life story, one which plays a large role in his latest album Sunnyside - a record that brims with well-crafted, detailed story songs, tight instrumentation, grit, and groove, all wrapped in La Botz’s singular brand of Americana. While on tour, La Botz kindly took the time to answer a few questions via email about the album, what’s ahead, and more.
Your life story is vast and varied. Was there one event or time in your life that had the most impact on you as an artist?
Getting off of heroin on Feb. 9th 1999. That day my life opened up in a vast an unexpected way. Maybe not the way I wanted it to, particularly, but I began to experience the "otherness" of the world- the brilliance of life- something beyond the very small and desolate world I had been living in.
When writing, do you draw from personal experiences, those of others, a combination, or something else?
I usually start with how I'm feeling- work that into a part of a melody or at least some chord changes. Then I start playing with words. It tends to be a mixture of my own outer experience: what I see, feel, smell, taste, touch, and hear, (including what I hear others say), and my inner experience: dreams, emotions, feelings, intuition, thoughts (including thoughts about what I've heard others say, things I caught a glimpse of, books I've read). Personal experience, or what is mine, is kind of a strange concept if you think about it. Where do I end and where does "other" begin? If my mind mixes with someone else's story and produces a dream, or a song for that matter, is that mine? Is some part of it mine? Maybe that get's into writing credit territory ;)
Compared to your other records, what did you do differently, if anything, this time around?
I had a great producer! I learned a lot about developing my songs by working with Jimmy Sutton. I've always been a kind of loner type (in everything- not just creating. Giving over to collaboration in the arrangements I found a lot of discoveries happened for me. I began to really appreciate Jimmy's sensibilities and looked forward to his input. I even started to write songs with his arrangements in mind as well as the sound of the Hi-Style studio.
“Sunnyside” and “How I Wish She Was Mine” were on a previous album, but what about the rest of the tracks? Were they written for the album or were they songs you had in your pocket?
Most of the songs were written for the album. Actually How I Wish She Was Mine and Sunnyside were both recorded for this album first- 6 years ago. Those are the original versions of those songs! Jimmy got busy and I got busy and I decided to just make my own record (which was the previous one "Get Right"). But those original versions haunted me. I couldn't get them out of my mind. There was a desperation and richness to them... they sounded better than anything I'd ever recorded. After a couple years I finally called Jimmy to see if he wanted to release them as a single... he said "I think we should finish an album".
Was there any particular reason you chose to title the album Sunnyside?
It's kinda catchy don't you think? It reminds of an old album title. Like taking someone who sings sad torch songs and putting out an upbeat album called "the sunny side of so-and-so". It's also one of the best tracks on the album I think. It sort of pokes fun at how sad some of my songs are.
Something that always interests me is why artists bookend their albums the way they do. Why did you anchor Sunnyside with “How I Wish She Was Mine” and “The Trees in Cali?”
Cool question. I don't know how much we thought about that. I guess we thought How I Wish was the catchiest song... and Trees was more of a deep album track... or maybe because the protagonist starts off considering murder (How I Wish) and ends up being released from the pen and trying to figure out how to live in a world that's on fire (Tree's in Cali).
There’s another track on the album, “Feel No Pain,” that has a vibe that just draws you in. Would you share the story behind that song?
We were in the studio. I had the vibe and the music. It was springtime in Chicago. I looked outside and saw all that pasty flesh walking around in shorts in t-shirts- getting its first taste of sun that year. Made me think about my excitement when Spring came around as a youngster growing up in Chicago with all of its magic, promise, and potential.
You’ve recently returned from The Netherlands; do you have plans to tour nationally to support the album?
I've got a month of dates and press lined up starting May 31st at Music City Roots here in Nashville- heading through the Midwest and East Coast (dates up at www.jakelabotz.com). I'm talking to some U.S. booking agents now to see if we can find the right fit for me. Trying to line up some tours for later this year in the U.S. and also for a larger European tour this late fall.
Finally, I always like to know if there is one recent release you can’t stop spinning and would recommend people check out?
Low Cut Connie is one of my fave rock n roll bands. I'm digging their latest "Dirty Pictures (Part 1)."
For more information visit his official website
Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify
Purchase Sunnyside HERE
LaBotz plays NYC's Terra Blues June 11th and Mercury Lounge June 19th. Tickets HERE