When Jake Scott began his song-a-month campaign, he only had intentions of doing it for one year. “But I just enjoyed it so much that I kept going,” he admits with a laugh. Three years, dozens of songs, and millions of streams later, the singer-songwriter, a frequent collaborator with Aloe Blacc and Jason Mraz, now readies a long-awaited new record, Goldenboy, out this Friday (June 25).
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“I learned so much from that campaign. I think it was a very effective way for an independent artist to build an audience and also to figure out my voice. Coming from the standpoint of spending a few years writing and producing songs for other people, you have to learn how to be a jack of all trades,” Scott tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call. “Today, you’re doing a pop song; tomorrow you’re doing a country-leaning song; and the next day, you’re doing an R&B song. You learn how to dip your toe into a lot of different lanes.
“I also learned to not be so precious about it. I learned to not put so much pressure on every song that I was writing and releasing,” he continues. “There were certain months during the last three years of releasing the song every month where it was like I only had five days to turn [a song] around, and it has to be good enough. I could spend three more weeks on this, and maybe it gets five percent better. It’s really not going to change the song that much.”
Toward the end of 2020, Scott began deeply “craving a longer story” to share, so he set an intention to write a full-length record. Goldenboy builds out of a personal firestorm, finding himself needing to confront particular parts of himself and reassess where he was and is in life. Across eight songs, feeling quite like a storybook in many ways, he tries to come to terms with himself, as he sings on the title track. God knows I’m bound to break, he later laments over glass-rattling percussion and guitar.
“Like most people, quarantine forced me to do some soul searching,” he says, noting he turned to therapy and reading books as ways to cope and assuage his many anxieties. “I started realizing there were patterns in my life that, as a young man and as a kid, gave me some sense of safety and security but ultimately were keeping me stuck as an adult and from really opening up fully to the people who are closest to me.”
The Golden Boy, the project’s central character, serves as an Alter Ego, you could say, born out of his therapy work. He sought healing, not only with his therapist but through leveling his songwriting with sharper, more colorful edges. “The whole EP is a process of becoming aware of this, coming to terms with it, and then ultimately having the turning point where you can let it go. Let go of this false identity in order to step into your true self.”
Goldenboy opens with the moody 85-second setpiece “5AM,” an “intentionally raw” and affecting introduction to set the EP’s two-ton emotional weight. A voice memo off his phone, the sobering, acoustic-wrought ballad signals “heavier subject matter than what I’ve released in the past” for the entire release. “It’s going to feel a little bit different. There are going to be songs that definitely will catch people off guard. There’s some familiarity to who I am as an artist and what I do well, but then there’s going to be a lot of other songs that kind of explore different ends of the spectrum for me.”
“George Bailey,” a reference to the lead protagonist in the 1946 holiday feature, It’s a Wonderful Life, plucks with skin-grafting acoustic guitar. You can’t hide when your storylines collide / And all your secrets come to life / And there’s no end in sight, he sings, firmly gripping the heartstrings.
“I’ve always been really fascinated by George Bailey as a character. I grew up watching that movie at Christmas, as I’m sure everybody has,” he says, calling it a “case study” in human nature and aching desires. “He had everything seemingly together. He had everything that he wanted, but then ultimately, he hit a breaking point to where he was ready to turn his back on everything.
“In the writing of this song, it was borrowing those themes from my own life and being able to see certain things,” he adds, “from me growing up to needing the emotional space to push against everything that I have ever known to be familiar or safe to me.”
George Bailey becomes a metaphor for his own life, as he deconstructs every preconceived idea, long-held belief, and certain behaviors from his younger days. In doing so, he’s able to see the pieces for what they are: jagged and broken, in desperate need of mending. “Piggybacking off the movie, he had this moment where he wished he had never been born. And then he got to see what it would have been like, and it isn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t better than what he already had.”
Another film character, William Wallace from “Braveheart,” also proved instrumental in his songwriting and personal journeys. “He was gonna be who he is, regardless of how many people don’t agree with it or how many people are going to be opposed. He’s not going to apologize for who he is, and what he actually thinks. And I think because that was something that was lacking in my life so much, like I’ve always really wanted to have that strength─part of this whole record and process of self discovery is trying to embrace that characteristic.”
With “Overthinking,” a piano-tuned mid-tempo, Scott depicts the emotional tug-of-war raging inside his brain. Now the silence is the only sound in my head, and I can’t get it out, he sings. In the modern era, the necessity of a digital footprint compounds the turmoil, frequently sending him into equally-tragic spirals. “I think it’s very easy to start putting your sense of self worth and a sense of security and safety in a number─whether that number is on Spotify or Instagram, or in reading the comments of a post and seeing all this affirmation,” he says.
“You can have 100 good comments, and then if there’s one bad one, it’s so easy to just fixate on this one thing. I’ve actually had to force myself to stop looking at Spotify numbers. I started realizing it wasn’t healthy for me,” he continues. “Being a creator, we have to come from a place of authenticity or people are not going to resonate with it at all. And I’m not gonna resonate with it, and it’s all just gonna kind of fall apart from there.”
Once “Goldenboy” arrives, the listener has already been put through quite the wringer─but the record’s centerpiece is vital in clearly outlining his alter ego and its importance in the story. While traveling with his wife over the holidays, he realized “I needed to write a song that explained what I’m talking about” in terms of The Goldenboy, laying out some of the resentment he had harbored with the chorus. Always been who I should be for the sake of somebody else / And I can’t carry all this weight, he rips open his heart. “That line is the anthem of this entire record. It was the starting point for the anger and the hurt and the resentment that I was feeling. Internally, externally, it started this whole process,” he remarks. He soon realized that he simply couldn’t “play this part anymore. It’s killing me. And it’s also damaging the relationships that I’m in.”
Scott takes full ownership of the damage done with a brutally visceral finale. “Sleeptalking” features a lone acoustic guitar, and Scott’s tender rasp─and all he can do in this moment is speak the god’s honest truth. I know I burned all we built into / I hate the hell that I put you through / But I see one thing is true / For me, it’s always been you, he weeps. As soul-crushing the performance is, there’s a note of redemption from “the other side of the breakdown,” he says.
Eight years ago, Scott issued his very first project, a five-song EP called Of Life and Love and Longing. A follow-up arrived two years later, titled Silhouettes & Sand. An arsenal of songs began firing off at the top of 2018, and for the next three years, he found a creative energy, voice, and songwriting perspective all his own. “I actually look back fondly at my first songs. They were just really honest and authentic. I had no idea what I was doing,” he offers, “and I think that there’s a lot of sincerity in that. I didn’t study music or songwriting. In doing this, it was me fumbling my way through songs.
“Then, spending several years now in the music industry kind of learning some of the tricks of the trade, you have to be intentional to not let the rules dictate your decisions too much. There’s a fondness that I still feel towards that kid.”