Friday, June 25, 2010

Interview with Jake Niemi

Humble…easy on the eyes…strong loyal fan base…and an incredible appreciation for Duran Duran. Jake Niemi has been lucky enough to be one of the few to enter a web-based song contest and walk away with his songs, Lush, Last Second, and Anthem of Zeroes, being played internationally in the UK and Spain and the U.S. This well spoken gentleman discusses his humble beginnings to the genesis of Behind Those Beautiful Eyes, to his gracious view of Duran Duran. Jake agreed to an interview with Ladyaslan of Duran Duran to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and what he feels is important to him and the music, here is the interview.

LadyaslanDDTTRH: Tell us a little bit about yourself...let's talk about the ABC Radio Networks Best Pop Artist and the Effigy Award...

Jake Niemi: Well in 2008, my manager Nikki from Bliss This Media suggested that I enter my songs on a website called Fame Games Radio, then an affiliate of ABC Radio Networks (they have recently switched affiliates, as far as I know). The website holds an ongoing competition for unsigned artists to get their music heard. If the songs garner enough attention online, then radio airplay results. Plus, other exposure and benefits come into play. Three of my songs, “Lush,” “Last Second” and “Anthem of the Zeroes” ended up being repeatedly featured on the radio program internationally in 3 countries (USA, UK and Spain) and online across the globe. The network went on to feature my song “Anthem of the Zeroes” in their Global Breakthrough Top 20, and many times I was a featured artist on the Fame Games home page. In January 2009, they announced that I had won “Best Pop Artist” during their “Effigy Awards 2008” broadcast live on the radio. I believe God has had a Plan for my career and He spoke to me only a week before the award was given, saying He was about to move and that I should get ready for it. I really didn’t expect the award but I was quite honored to be heard and respected by Tony Cowell (world renowned broadcaster and author, brother of American Idol’s most popularly tough judge Simon Cowell), the legendary multi-platinum Grammy winner Lionel Richie, other experts and the wonderful staff at Fame Games. I largely owe so much of the publicity I received in the months to follow—from both fans and industry people alike—to the staff at the MMI/Meer Music studios that runs these programs. I’m just a big kid with a longstanding dream of making it in the seemingly impossible music business. That’s finally starting to take shape. I’ve worked hard for decades but it’s paying off and I’m appreciating the recognition. I don’t think anyone knows just what we go through unless you’re an artist who has tried. If the difficulty of making it doesn’t break you, and you somehow make it, you’re beyond blessed. That’s sadly not the case for so many struggling artists and my heart will always be with them.

LadyaslanDDTTRH: What is your favorite Duran Duran video and song?

Jake Niemi: I love a lot of their songs. My favorite song by them is “Come Undone.” It’s one of these magical masterpieces that I can always turn on and it takes me into a dream world. The video was the perfect supplement to the song’s vibe. The song is pristine in every way: hooky and melodic vocal line, undeniably catchy chord progression, amazing words, emotional, and let’s not forget the stellar production. The drum line was clearly inspired by my favorite drum loop, “Ashley’s Roach clip” which has been used as an inspiration in many ways by bands, artists and rappers alike on radio tunes you’d swear you’d heard before they came out. Clearly, that’s where that line in the lyrics came from. Milli Vanilli used the loop incessantly (I still like them regardless of the lip-syncing debacle) but countless others used it like PM Dawn (“Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”), EMF (“Unbelievable”) and others. Beats inspired by that loop (from an old song by Soul Searchers) seem to turn to gold—err, I should say: platinum. I have a couple songs inspired by it and plan to record more. One such is on my MySpace called, “Steal Me A Piece of You.” Go check it out

Ladyaslan DDTTRH: Have you found a record label to call home as of yet? Who would you like to be a part of and why?

Jake Niemi: Good question. No but I’m really close, I think to a deal with a division of one of the Big Four. I won’t say which one so as not to jinx my connections. I think my dream has always been to be on the Universal Music Group (UMG) umbrella, because of the word. Also my favorite movie “Breakfast Club” from 1985 (one of my fav years for music also) has their logo at the intro. I think “universal” describes what I want to be as an artist. I grew up with Michael Jackson and Madonna doing soda commercials, in the ‘MTV actually doing music videos’ days, when I believe pop culture was fully alive and at an all-time high. I want to personally usher back in the vibe of that era. I aim to do so with my music and I’m hoping to eventually generate the worldwide hype to go along with it. I kind of want to “bring the 80’s back” because today’s kids don’t realize what they’re missing. But as far as the original question, I’m still unsigned and loving it. Every artist dreams of being swooped up by a label. That doesn’t happen, though. It’s a well-known fallacy. You have to create a huge buzz for yourself and then let the labels actually come to you. The other way around never works—something I learned the hard way years ago. And that is, if you even need or want their help by that point. I’m in the process of trying to do what I call “pull an
Owl City” and build up a huge fan base to then be in a good bargaining position once a contract is placed on the conference table in front of me. I’ve already turned down multiple publishing and record deals, if that gives you any idea… I’ve quintupled my fan base since 2009 and now have more fans on MySpace than Backstreet Boys, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

LadyaslanDDTTRH: What contributions and influences do you feel Duran Duran contributed to the world of music and fashion and social awareness in the past 30 yrs?

Jake Niemi: I think Duran Duran has that same 80’s excitement and hype in them (even in the 1990’s material) that I was referring to a moment ago. And I believe they helped keep that sound and feeling alive. The term “magic” is one of my favorite words and ideals. My music would not be the same had I never heard, “Come Undone,” honestly. And I remember jamming out to “Hungry like the Wolf” when I was little, sitting in front of the Top 40 Radio wondering how all that was being done. (Later, I would work as a radio “jock” with some of the same DJ’s I heard as a kid at some top 40 stations, as an adult—a step which led me to stay obsessed with pop music and culture.)

LadyaslanDDTTRH: What is the story of Behind Those Beautiful Eyes?

Jake Niemi: I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you. Just kidding. Well, well, well… wouldn’t you like to know what makes me tick? Ha-ha, no, in all seriousness I still remember the morning I wrote that song. It was like the song WANTED out of me, and wouldn’t let me rest until I wrote it. Seriously that’s how it went. (Anna Nalick said it best: “2am and I’m still awake writing a song. If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me threatening the life it belongs to” in her smash Breathe [2am].) Behind Those Beautiful Eyes has been one of the most popular songs among fans for a while possibly tied with Lush. But the story isn’t as important as the irony that the lyrics and emotion of that song represent. Speaking of universal, I’d say it’s a feeling everyone can identify with, but one people don’t usually touch upon quite that way. I love irony, as does God (clearly) which is a driving force behind the charismatic and mysterious energy I bring to all the music I create. “How do I stop breathing? … How do I forget you when I wouldn’t want to in a million years? How do I erase your perfect face from my mind.” Think about the intellectually clashing nature of such concepts, and yet how readily identifiable that very rationale is. I think that is why the song stands out, because we all have that moment at one point or many points in our lives. Another song that has the same heart-wrenching ‘twist the knife’ kind of emotion that I love right now is, “Perfect” by Hedley. I think that should be song of the year and needs to hit Billboard #1 like yesterday. It says, “I’m not perfect but I’m still learning… I’m not alive if I’m lonely so please don’t leave… Was it something I said? Or just my personality?” I’m like, Whoa! Chills, goose bumps, arm hairs standing straight up. We’ve all been there, and that is what makes perfect ‘Pop.’ That and a killer melody which “Perfect” also has. Go, Hedley!

LadyaslanDDTTRH: Tell us about Last Summer, who are they and how are you connected to them?

Jake Niemi:
Last Summer from Swartz Creek, MI is clearly one of the most commercially viable acts that I’ve had the pleasure of producing music with. Front man Damon McKenzie has one of the most powerful and accurate set of pipes I’ve ever heard. And that counts vocalists I’ve met and vocalists I’ve never met. I mean, period, one of the best I’ve EVER heard. He sounds like his voice has been pitch corrected even when he’s just goofing around. Impeccable pitch, power and stage presence, that guy has. And his sense for catchy melodies is out of this world. I think I’m sitting on a couple “living legend” type projects right now, and they’re one of them. The other is LaToya Kennedy from Chicago (originally from Saginaw, MI). (Hands down the best vocalist I know.) One of the things that set these two apart from other bands and artists I’ve worked with—besides their talent—up to this point is that they are both very driven both in terms of playing live shows and promoting their work. I love all the people I work with, though, and I don’t take on any acts without commercial appeal.

LadyaslanDDTTRH: If you could remake a Duran Duran song which one would it be and why?

Jake Niemi: At the risk of redundancy, I’d be remiss not to say, “Come Undone.” I think I explained why pretty well earlier. My music would never be the same without that song. It’s one that I can never get tired of, and I believe a song that helped define the sound of the 90’s. Pretty powerful stuff…

LadyaslanDDTTRH: Have any upcoming news about gig dates....

Jake Niemi: Well, I am actually heading down to Nashville next month to work with my new mentor, a 45X+ Platinum songwriter named Andrew Fromm whose sickeningly endless list of success stories includes Backstreet Boys, N Sync, Selena Gomez, and Britney… He currently has the #9 and climbing song on the Billboard CCM chart and its bizarre trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this guy texts me sometimes—let alone that he respects my work. I remember those artists who had the Max Martin/Rami sound from the late 90’s.

I have come to appreciate where a lot of their infectious hooks come from, which led the acts to be now-legendary. And it’s songwriters like Andrew Fromm that make that happen. With him as my musical guide, I’m producing demos of his songwriting for some notable acts including 33 Miles (INO Records), Nick Carter (of BSB on Jive Records), and Kelly Clarkson (Queen of American Idol, on RCA/Sony Records). But I’m just excited about sitting down at a piano and penning some future potential hits with the guy more than anything. We have some other really huge contacts that are planning to be a part of a potential major label solo debut for me, including Evan “Kidd” Bogart who has been one of the biggest Billboard hit makers and won a Grammy for co-writing Beyonce’s “Halo” with Ryan Tedder.

I want to give kudos to my entire Street Team including the President Andi and the VP Trish who are doing a phenomenal job with helping me build a huge fan base around the world. (Trish actually introduced Andrew Fromm to my MySpace page initially.) And all the fans that have supported me up to this point, I owe it all to you. I vow to be an “Artist for the People.” That’s my brand. I have a passion for compassion that supersedes even my intense love for music. We owe it all to The Man Upstairs lest anyone should boast. ;)

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