by Jane Roser
“My son is quacking like a duck for you.”
I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when I interview artists, but am always pleasantly surprised to be, well, pleasantly surprised. Speaking with South Jersey (by way of Philly, DC and Baltimore) blues-rock musician Jason Ager last week was akin to a fun family roadtrip sing-a-long complete with back up vocals provided by the sweet toddler in the backseat.
Wondering what inspired him to start playing music, Ager says his parents saw him singing around the house and signed him up for piano lessons (he also plays a mean guitar, banjo and tuba) and “that’s where it all started,” recalls Ager. “Then, my brother gave me Van Halen’s Diver Down album and I thought this is awesome; but it was really U2’s Achtung Baby and R.E.M’s Automatic For The People that truly inspired me as a musician. I still listen to them rigorously, even though my music sounds nothing like that.”
Ager’s original music has shades of hip-hop and R&B influences and is peppered with his witty, fast-paced humor. His last album, Born To Surf, is a fun, cheeky showcase of Ager’s unique songwriting style and delivery and was collaborated on with his long-time backing band, the C.O.P.O, comprised of bassist Austin O’Connor and drummer Sheri Walsh.
“We always joke around about what it [C.O.P.O] stands for,” says Ager, “but for me it’s always stood for The City of Philadelphia Orchestra, although we’ve told audiences that it stands for a million different things over the years. I can’t even remember what the original acronym was for.”
Their third album, Porch Light, is set to be released this fall and Ager is immensely excited about the overall soulful feel the album’s songs convey. “They have a retro feel to them,” he explains. “We’ve always danced around the soul music genre, but we’ve hit the nail on the head this time around with some R&B sounding songs of the 60s and early 70s. We’re still hammering out some parts and getting everything to where we want it to be, but we’re pretty excited about it; it’s our best sounding and catchiest album to date.”
With seven-eight tracks, Porch Light is longer than an EP, but shorter than an LP and suffered a slight set back in production when the pipes burst in the studio causing some damaging flooding, preventing the group from recording at all over the summer. Now, they were able to pick up where they left off and are in the home stretch of mixing and mastering the final touches.
Asking which track off the new record he’s most excited about, without missing a beat, Ager launches into a fascinating story behind the song “Overload” which is also his first foray into social commentary [“I’m so scared to be alone with you, excuse me while I stare down at my phone”]. “I teach German at a local university and a lot of the songs I write have titles with combined words, because that’s all German is-combining two different words together for a new meaning. This song came from going into my dark classroom and seeing all the students looking down at this glowing light, which was their cell phones. They’re all in constant communication, just not with each other, so I got this idea about writing a song centering on information I overload. The second verse is especially personal [“there’s no distance between you and me”] and illustrates stage fright and social anxieties.”
Currently performing up and down the east coast, Ager loves playing listening rooms because of their intimacy and opportunity t connect with his audience, especially since a lot of his song catalog incorporates humor. Listening rooms give Ager the chance to engage more with his listeners. “It’s always great to have the kind of audience where I can tell these zany stories of how I come up with these songs,” laughs Ager.
Performing at Puck Live in Doylestown this Friday, Ager is planning a show-stopping, rollicking good time. “We’re having a video crew come out and we’ll be filming a live music video, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
So get ready to cut loose, practice your best Kevin Bacon dance moves and kick off your Sunday shoes because this Friday’s gonna rock.