Jack Dolgen is a songwriter, comic, and ex-bassist for NYC band Sam Champion, whose tunes have been featured on such shows as How I Met Your Mother, One Tree Hill, Royal Pains and 16 and Pregnant. We asked Dolgen about his new album, Wandering Times, the intersection of music and comedy, feeling satisfied with your own material, and more.
How did you end up getting so many TV cuts?
My first record found its way to a music supervisor at MTV, who passed it along to another music supervisor, who passed it to a licensing agent. He reached out to me and said he wanted to represent my music for film and TV. At that time, I had decided to quit making music, so i figured – okay, go for it. I didn’t think much would come from it. But synchs just started coming in, first from MTV, then other cable channels and networks. It felt sort of surreal, as if it was happening to a past life.
In addition to being a musician, you’re also a comedian. How do comedy and music intersect for you?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with such talented people in the comedy world. Rachel Bloom who is a tremendous talent, writer, and singer came to me with a comedy song idea called “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury,” and after that was a big success online, we’ve been working together ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to work with other great comedians like Kimmy Gatewood, Billy Scafuri, Adam Lustick, Doug Mand, and doing theme songsand synch spots for comedy shows like NTSF:SD:SUV, which is in it’s second season now.
You stopped playing music for awhile. What brought you back?
I never thought I would make personal music ever again, but once TV synchs started coming in for my first record, I began to get asked to submit original songs for TV shows. I figured that would be okay, considering it wouldn’t be too personal. But it sort of reopened the flood gates. I was writing more, and just couldn’t help but record some more material. It felt like the song gods brought me back, and I’m very thankful for that.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Nothing crazy here… George Harrison is probably tops on the list – right there with him are Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty/Mike Campbell, and of course John and Paul.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
I wrote two parody songs when I was a kid — one was a Thanksgiving themed parody of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” entitled, “Dark or White” (referring to the turkey options). I called into the local Tucson radio station on Thanksgiving morning and sang that song on the air. I think my voice was in the same range as Michael’s back then. The other, was a song that ultimately won me my 5th grade Vice Presidential campaign. It was entitled, simply, “Vice Vice Baby.”
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I’ve been working on co-writing songs lately with an incredibly talented artist named Brad Raisin. He was a professional songwriter back in the 60’s and 70’s and I’m thrilled to be producing his first full length record. It’s a project that is long overdue. He’s a special talent.
How do you go about writing songs?
It varies. Sometimes I get a hook or a melody or a lyric in my mind while I’m taking a walk. Sometimes I sit down with a guitar or piano and see what happens. Sometimes I start at the computer with just lyrics. When it starts to flow, I try and sit and strum and hum and sing and just see what words and melodies come out of me. I try and stay very passive in the process in the beginning and then once that initial creative moment has passed, I get to work and try and learn what I was initially communicating and bring that feeling or thought to fruition.
What percentage of songs that you start do you finish?
Probably around 10%. Almost every idea I have stays in idea mode purgatory.
Do you have any standards for your songs you try to adhere by when choosing them for an album?
Most of the songs I write are bad – but I’ve learned to appreciate the bad songs! When it comes to picking songs for an album, I start by collecting the good ideas and tunes, and seeing what threads are running through those songs. Often it becomes evident to me that the better songs all share a relatively common theme or circle a greater idea. I try and go with that. I learn from my songs just as much as I do create them.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
In a word: boobs. (just kidding) I’m not sure I want to think about that. I’m so happy that inspiration exists at all, I don’t want to look it in the eye.
How does Wandering Times compare to Maricopa?
Wandering Times is definitely a more emotional record for me personally. I allowed myself to go to emotional places, that I wasn’t quite willing to do on Maricopa. The production is a bit different, but it’s still me.
What’s a song on the album you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’m more or less dissatisfied with all of them. When I listen back, I have a hard time not hearing the imperfections, the missed opportunities, and the wrong turns. But I’ve accepted that as a given. That being said, I’m reasonably happy with “Feeling Sound” and “Wandering Times” from a songwriting perspective. Happy, but not satisfied.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
I don’t really look at my own lyrics in that way. Feels dirty.
Are there any words you love or hate?
When it comes to songwriting, I love the challenge of finding a word that not only has the right meaning, but also the right sound and tactical feeling. Words are crazy, right!?!?
The most annoying thing about songwriting is …
Finishing. They should never be finished, it seems wrong. But, whatayagunnado!
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
So many people are so good. Probably the most underrated songwriter is a guy who no one has ever even heard. And there are probably thousands of him/her.
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
“Something” by George Harrison. It’s the most beautiful and honest love song: “You’re asking me will my love grow. I don’t know. I don’t know.”