‘Lonesome Organist’ keeps busy

By HermineBloom

Jeremy Jacobsen has performed solo under the moniker “The Lonesome Organist” since 1996 and hasn’t recorded an album since 2003. Yet he continues to play at local venues at least twice a month, ranging from birthday parties to Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave., on April 13.

Jacobsen, 43, works as a church organist at a Unitarian congregation in Indiana during the day. As The Lonesome Organist, he’s known to play up to four instruments at one time, including but not limited to the harmonica, steel drum, singing saw and vibraphone. But lately he’s more in favor of playing one or two instruments at a time. Being a former member of rock outfits 5ive Style and Chicago’s Complaints has informed his now solo musical identity.

The Chronicle recently talked to Jacobsen about who influenced his vaudevillen-type sound, the benefits of playing alone and what to expect from a new release.

The Columbia Chronicle: Is there one particular instrument you prefer playing?

Jeremy Jacobsen: I wish, because then it’d be a lot easier for me [laughs]. It’s easier to be known as someone who does this or that. For me, everything has its gratification, and I’m such a dilettante that I can’t help myself; I just have to do it all. That comes in more ways than just in music. It’s just my nature to be curious. I grew up playing all of those instruments, and I’m relatively fluent on all of them compared to a lot of people who think they can play a lot of different instruments.

The Columbia Chronicle: Why did you pursue a vaudevillen-type sound?

JJ: When I was growing up, there was a big ska thing going on, and I was pretty into that. That’s part of the inspiration. Bands like Mr. Bungle and New York Jazz [have inspired me], too. A particular band, Motherhead Bug, was a really great band that had a carnival hardcore thing going on and, of course, Tom Waits. It’s sort of a mish mash, certainly some of the exotica sounds and rockabilly. There’s a one-man band called Hasil Adkins who was very famous. He was the first person I knew playing rock shows as a one-man band. Before him, nobody really did that. If you were a one-man band, you were on the street. He’s been an inspiration musically and conceptually. I take a lot of different inspiration from a lot of different places—everything from Johnny Cash to Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s a pretty wild palette, and my music kind of sounds like that. That’s the hope and dream, to take a big palette and distill it into your own thing.

The Columbia Chronicle: How many instruments do you generally play at one time?

JJ: I used to play tons—as many instruments as possible. The novelty aspect has really worn off, so, at this point, I don’t really focus on the amount. Typically, I get enough going so the song is served and often that’s only one instrument. Sometimes it’s two, and sometimes it’s three. But I don’t go for the big one-man band blitz of virtuosity in the same way that, say, the classic one-man band does. For me, I would be really happy if I could just play acoustic guitar and sing melodies, but I never had the balls to do that.

The Columbia Chronicle: In that case, why did the one-man band appeal to you originally?

JJ: It’s just about the freedom. You don’t have to sit down as a committee and make decisions. You can make decisions instantaneously. It’s just free, and with that freedom, there are complications. If you want to change in the middle of the song, you don’t have to tell anyone about it. You don’t have to look [at] anyone to do it, and that’s really exciting for me. It’s still exciting for me. A lot of one-man bands typically use background tracks and that’s cool. I have no issue with that. But for me it takes away from the freedom of the thing.

The Columbia Chronicle: Do you find yourself improvising a lot?

JJ: All the time. I never play the same set twice. Some songs are the same, but they’ll go off into completely different place every time. That’s what keeps me playing those tunes and keeps me coming back to it.

The Chronicle: The last album you released came out in 2003. Why haven’t you recorded an album since then?

JJ: I had a daughter, so that was one of the hugest reasons. It put me in a position where I can’t really tour as much, and [I] don’t really want to. I’m trying to do a record, but I need to do it on my own schedule and at my own pace. I do enjoy playing very much.

The Chronicle: What should we expect from a new release? How have you evolved since “Forms and Follies?”

JJ: I’ve gotten more comfortable with my voice, so there’s a lot more singing and it’s more unique. It’s singer/songwriter stuff mixed with the one-man band stuff, but there’s plenty of rock. In fact, I’ve gotten more rockin’ [throughout] the years. My day job is a church organist, so I can only play so much Bach until I have to do

something else.

For news and music pertaining to The Lonesome Organist, visit LonesomeOrganist.com.