Glen Closer

A Lesson In The Craft Of Songwriting

Lots of people want to be in bands. They try to learn an instrument, for a time, maybe come up with band names over pizza and Pepsi, and figure out how long it'll take before they're skipping on stage at the Video Music Awards. Then, there are the musicians, the artists, those who need to create. It's their passion.

The life of a musician weeds out the pretenders quickly. The true artists daydream about their next session running tape, trying out that latest vocal line or guitar riff. A late evening on stage, squinting through the glare of the lights and the haze of the smoke, becomes a romantic experience. The music, a serenade pulled from the ether to exist for a brief moment in time. Those moments, good and bad, are precious. And, the music rocks.

This after countless hours of practice, and frustrating attempts to figure out why the drums don't sound right on tape. There are bookers to deal with, sound men who turn the bass up too high, empty rooms except for a frat boy hitting on the bartender, and people at the day job and the family gathering who just don't get it. And, the bathrooms. Stay away from the bathrooms.

Glen Closer, a New Jersey-based trio, have thrived on a scene that usually didn't. All three, Jim Baeszler on guitar, Joe Rubin on drums and Johnna White on bass, share vocal duties, and a wealth of experience. They are songwriters, they recorded and produced their own album, they can take the stage and win over a crowd. Want to be in a band? Read on and learn how.

Having released their debut album in November 2001, the self-produced "Pine View Grocery", they enter 2003 building their reputation while preparing to break out the studio and reveal where the past two years have brought them. We're excited to paint this picture of a talented band at a moment in time, and look forward to listening to the music for a long time to come.

Can you start off by introducing everyone, the bands they were with before Glen Closer and how you met and formed this band?

Jim Baeszler: Joe Rubin and I have been arguing about lyrics and chord progressions as Film, Saint Maybe and File 13. While Johnna White fronted Count 210 and played awesome bass in Sky Bolt Engine and Link. We had met briefly while Johnna was playing with ex-St. Maybe guitarist Shawn Ploe in Sky Bolt Engine. But Johnna and I struck up our first real conversation during an event called "Songwriters in the Round" hosted at The Saint by FM 106.3's Chris Rake. Her Sunday morning radio show "Common Threads" was a great outlet for local acoustic music. Anyway, that Sunday evening in October we discussed our approaches to songwriting and the projects we had done in the past. Later, I contacted Johnna about doing some bass parts on our next project and in exchange we would record some of her songs. When we started rehearsing the songs we went it to as 'Ok, I'm a studio musician on this track'. But as we started spending more time together we really felt the project coming together as a whole. The things we each did instinctively from song to song helped forge what we heard as a "band" sound.

It is true that your first live gig was on something of a whim at a local New Jersey bar? What's the story behind that first show, and what do you think the way the band started says about your prospects for success?

Johnna White: Yes, it was a bit of a whim. Jim and Joe had worked up a new batch of songs, and they wanted to record them, but they needed someone to do the bass-guitar parts. I was invited to play on their recording, and I began to show up at rehearsals. We started to work on brand new songs, too, as they came in. And, just to make it more fun for me, we added a few of my songs into practice. No, wait, maybe that was so that the fellas could start making "fun of me"! Eventually, we thought that a live show would really help our pre-production. Plus, we pay attention to the effect we have on our audience. We became a band because it came to us naturally. We had a clearly-defined goal, the outcome of which was a full-length recording that we were happy with. People can buy it, if they want. I think that because we set goals for our band, we have a lot of room for success. If we didn't have that, well, nothing gets done if it remains a dream. One of my dreams was to make a CD, and the boys were able to help make that dream into reality.

The band has three experienced songwriters, and critics have cited your lyrics as an important part of the attention the band has gotten. Do you write together collaboratively, or are song ideas developed individually and brought together for polish and finishing? Can you describe your creative process in writing a new song, and bringing it from conception to the band's set?

Joe Rubin: Generally, we all write individually and bring a pretty good framework coming in. Then, when we start to rehearse a song as a band it may take on a different vibe or sound, but that's the great part about this band. We all kind of push each other and inspire each other to think outside of ourselves, outside of our comfort zones. But, nothing's written in stone about the process, there's no formula or agreed structure. As long as we're all good with the end result.

Since your lyrics are such an important part of who you are, it's a little surprising that they weren't included on the CD's jacket. Was there ever any discussion about doing so? Are there any plans to publish the lyrics on your web site?

Jim Baeszler: Yeah, we talked about it a great deal. Unfortunately, since the CD was released on our own Boxing Clever Records label, we had to be conscious of the cost involved in that type of packaging. We had hoped that if people were interested enough they would seek out the lyrics on the website. The lyrics are currently available on the website when you follow the links for releases and then PVG.

Even though Jim is the primary frontman for the band, all three members are capable of pulling lead duties. How do you determine who will be singing lead on a particular track, and who works out the harmonies for the group?

Johnna White: Well, really, it is because Jim writes a lot of songs that he does the most singing. And, even the ones that Joe writes, Jim will sing those because he comes up with the words. Jim and Joe have been writing songs together for a long time. And, when I met them, they had a band called Film, in which Jim was the lead singer. I have since infiltrated the Jim and Joe system, and intend to write more songs so that we may, perhaps, have more of "the chick" singing. So far, for our next album, I am already up to two songs, maybe three.

The great fun is in the harmonies. I love to harmonize. Since we, all three of us, have "good ears", we come up with our own parts. Or, Joe may ask me to do a backing vocal, because he comes up with some great ideas during production. It was his idea to have me sing with Jim during the second verse of "Madison". I still love singing that vocal! So, basically, we sing what we write. I think that makes sense. We write what we want to share of ourselves with others. It sounds more authentic coming directly from the source. Of course, if another artist covered our songs, it would be their interpretation of what was meant, and that might be pleasing, also. Especially if some Major Recording Artist wanted to do our songs.

Having all had experience in other bands, have you learned any lessons that you're bringing to Glen Closer? What are you looking to do with this band that perhaps other projects haven't afforded you the ability to do, and are there mistakes that you've learned to try and avoid this time around?

Johnna White: What have I learned? Well, no offense meant to any of the people I have worked with before, I say it is most important to be friends. I mean: really be a friend, and forgive all mistakes. Nothing is un-fixable. We communicate better than any of the relationships I have had. That's it! I am bringing my dates to band practice! Seriously, I've never worked with two people who had a tougher work ethic. They can start the tape rolling, and be in the studio every day until the songs are ready to be sent out and mastered. This band is unique for me because we have the ability to record everything. Past projects had money constraints because we paid for studio time. In Glen Closer, if I don't think I can nail that take, we can always take a break, or go back the next day and try it again. And, the most important things to avoid: don't try to "do it all". Sure, every band has a leader, title or no, but it is "very" important to split up the tasks. We all do a great job of dividing the work. We know who would be best at doing what. Like Jim, he is computer savvy, so, he keeps the website going. What we really hope for in this band, I think, is to get our music to the masses. We have music that we are poised to move people with. We want to make music that is listened to with both ears.

Where do you see the band fitting into the local scene and, for that matter, what do you see as the state of the local scene? Do you see yourself as complementing what's already out there, bringing something new to it, or doing something completely different on your own? Would you say the scene that you're becoming a part of is a healthy one?

Joe Rubin: Well, we're out there making the best of it like so many other area bands. I think the real problem is that there aren't really any built-in audiences at the original clubs. There aren't people out there just hanging out in hopes of catching a great unknown band. That puts the pressure on the bands to fill the clubs and that's how they are judged. Not by the music they play, but how many tickets they sell.

What is the band's attitude towards critics and album reviewers? Do you ever get jaded about one writer or another liking, or not liking, your sound? Does the band ever talk about how someone likes one person's voice instead of another's, or praises or damns some musical aspect?

Joe Rubin: No, we're not jaded about any writers. Any press is good press, right? I think we'd all agree that reviewers are biased by their personal tastes no matter how objective they might think they are, except you, of course. And, there's nothing wrong with that. We are all excited about the music we make and it's the opinions within the band that we respect the most.

So, where is the Pine View Grocery that's the namesake of your debut album, and the subject of the photograph on the album's cover? Is there a story or meaning behind its selection as the subject of the album's title?

Jim Baeszler: The Pine View Grocery is on Route 9 South in Howell. It always reminded me of a little mom and pop store my parents took me to as a kid for ice cream sodas and bubble gum cards. You know, before the age of Wawa's and 7-Elevens on every corner. The kind of place you could sit down at the counter and the owner would put an extra cherry on the ice cream just to see a kid's eyes light up. It seemed to me while we where working on the CD that we were talking a little about the concepts of lost innocence and a desire to be grounded in things that matter and are real. And the PVG just kind of symbolized that. Thanks to our good friend Diane Clayton for the photo, by the way.

"Pine View Grocery" was recorded at Sporty's Sound Emporium, and has received critical praise for its production and sound quality. What was the recording process like, and who were some of the technical people involved in putting the album together? How important was the sound quality to the band when putting the record together?

Jim Baeszler: Yeah, that's funny and encouraging at the same time. Sporty's Sound Emporium is the name of our project studio at Joe's house. We recorded and produced the CD ourselves under the pseudonym of Charles T. Dumay. Joe and I had discussed back when we were playing with St. Maybe that we didn't really feel comfortable creating when we were paying for studio time by the hour. You know, the clock ticking away in the background while you're waiting for a moment of inspiration. So, when we did the math, we realized with all the money we had paid for studio time on previous projects, we could have put together a pretty decent studio. So, we started piecing together equipment here and there whenever we could and after having [recorded] two CD's as Film, we felt we could do a fairly good job going into the sessions with Johnna. I think the atmosphere is helpful. There's no pressure to have to be "on" every time we sit down to record. If it isn't working, it isn't working. So, we come back to it another day. That's the luxury major artists that can block out studio time for months at a time have, and I think you can feel it in the final product.

What are some of the clubs or venues where you've performed? Have you developed any favorite haunts where the band really loves to play and has built an audience? What are the qualities that make a room a good place to play?

Johnna White: A good place to play would be Maxwell's, or the Mercury Lounge. I have played those places in another band. Glen Closer has played at The Saint and The Brighton Bar. I'd say the Saint has good sound equipment. The Brighton Bar, though, is my favorite place. It is where I feel most comfortable. My first show, ever, was at The Brighton Bar in 1990. It's like going home. We've also done the Acoustic Traveling Circus at Brewster's Pub. That's a fun thing to do. We have played lots of times at the Internet Cafe, acoustically, as well. Joe plays rhythm guitar, instead of drums, for those shows. I prefer the "no smoking" shows. And, acoustic performances really allow our vocals to be showcased. We invite our audience to come see us wherever we play. Club owners take note: women know if your rest-rooms are gross, and they will stay out of your club if you neglect this problem.

Is there any place you haven't performed at yet that you're hoping to get into? Are there any plans for playing outside of the New Jersey area?

Joe Rubin: There are still a number of places in NJ we haven't played at yet as Glen Closer. We'd like to get out to New Brunswick, it's been a while since any of us have played out there. We're planning on heading back up to NYC and we're scoping out the Philly clubs as well. We're also available for BBQs and Bar Mitzvahs.

What are you hoping Santa will be bringing the band for Christmas and what are your New Year's Resolutions for 2003?

Jim Baeszler: He already dropped off a new hard disk recorder that we will be using to record our next CD. No New Year's resolutions for me, only through expectation can there be disappointment. Plus, I could never keep one of those damn things anyway.

Johnna White: If Santa could bring us some new instruments, like a vintage lefty Fender bass, a nice lefty fretless bass, a wind machine, and a '54 convertible, too, light blue ...

For my New Year's list of resolutions, I would like to quit doing a few things, like: gossiping, complaining and swearing. And, into my life I want to bring: fame and good fortune, enlightenment, and a trip to Brazil.

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Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.