Jason Singer, the indie troubadour behind Michigander, came on the scene in 2014. He played junky college bars until his 2018 debut single “Nineties” went viral. His early singles demonstrated impressive songwriting chops and quickly captured the attention of indie enthusiasts. After listening to his song “Alice,” NPR lauded Singer’s “astounding knack for writing anthemic pop songs.”
Since his nascent days, Singer has released three EPs, each solidifying his spot in indie cannon. His most recent EP, Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, delivers solid melodies and catchy hooks, and his use of synthesizers makes his music feel airy.
Redacted Magazine caught up with Singer backstage at Lollapalooza to talk about his music journey, what he’s listening to and playing this year’s Lollapalooza. Make sure to catch Singer today at the festival, and again at Lincoln Hall in October.
Redacted: So, can you tell me how you started? Was there a moment that you decided you wanted to be a musician?
Singer: Yeah, actually. Before high school, everyone was planning to go to college, and everyone was trying to plan on doing things and I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I decided I was all-right at writing songs and that kind of stuff. And so then I just wrote songs and my friends all went to college and I was like, I’m just gonna be a musician. I played bars forever. You know, like late night, you go to a bar and there’s a guy playing an acoustic guitar in the corner and you’re like, this sucks.
You’re from like a small town in Michigan, right?
Yeah, Midland, Michigan. So I would drive to Mount Pleasant Michigan, which is the college town. And I played from 9 p.m to 1 a.m. Like 300 bucks. I was like, I’m making it. That’s how I started. And then I eventually moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I met some guys who were more talented than me. Where I was from, I was like, the only person doing music. So when I met new people to challenge me to be better, I was like, we should start a band. We played my songs that I had written and all that stuff. And we eventually became Michigander. From there, we started selling a lot of tickets to shows — we never put out recorded music. And then
in 2016, I put out my first single. It did pretty well organically.
Do you still play with the same guys?
My drummer and I’ve been playing on and off with since high school. He’s kind of the main drummer now. And then the other guys have been around for two, three years consistently. But they’re hopefully around for a long time. They’re my best friends. I love them a lot.
What was one of the hardest things that you kind of faced trying to get to where you are now?
I think figuring out how to record the music in a way that reflected the sound I wanted. It was really a challenge for a long time until I met like my friend Jake Ryan, who really helped me
make the music good. He produced a bunch of stuff.
When did you start working with him?
2017. I had some music out – you can put out whatever you want at first because then you can only go up from there.
I feel like your most recent EP sounded a lot more developed.
Yeah. I think every time I make a record, I try to top myself. I hit my ceiling – what I could do on my own – with the first single. And then, I needed someone else to help me. So the next one I was like okay, I need someone to produce it. So I met Jake and Jake did that one. And I was like Jake if we’re going to do another one, we got to top what we did before. Which was kind of easy, because the first time we were just figuring it out and the third one – the most recent EP, which is Everything Will Be OK Eventually, was honestly really challenging to top ourselves on.
I think you did, though.
Thank you, I think so too. But sonically it’s different than the other stuff. The first one is kind of a hodgepodge of everything up til’ then. Where Do We Go From Here is a record that is very cohesive, very similar sounding the whole time. After that, I wanted to sound more diverse, I wanted the dynamics to be more lush, a lot more production. Over 2020 I didn’t do anything except make music, which was cool.
What were thinking about while writing that EP?
I was trying to top myself, but also I knew we were going to be playing festivals this year. I was like, I need to write some songs that can really, like really slap. I never say that word. But really hit at the festivals we’ll be playing. So “Better” and “Let Down” and especially “Saturday,” those three songs are the types of songs for a live show – if you really want to make an impression at festivals. This is the first time we get to play those songs that were written for the moment.
What’s your favorite song EP to play?
“Together,” it’s the last song. It’s just so fun. We have everything locked in really nice with the band. That one’s really fun. But honestly, maybe “Let down.” From a technical standpoint, it’s really fun to play together. It’s the song I’ve always wanted to have. And to have people
sing it back to me — because it’s been on the radio and streams a lot – it was definitely the biggest song I’ve released. It feels really cool. Yeah, I’m very grateful.
You seem really excited to play.
I am so excited. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of my social media.
Okay. Yeah. Very, very exciting to play. It is a dream come true. Yeah, it really is.
Did you ever come as a spectator?
In 2019 when I got signed.
Did you see the Strokes?
Yeah I did. I watched side stage at the Strokes. And then Maggie Rogers and Hozier came up and sat next to me, so I watched with them. So just me and my band, and those two, and Win Butler from Arcade Fire. I almost puked.
What are some bands that inspire you?
I think it always changes but the bands that I grew up with were like U2 and Oasis and Coldplay, that kind of stuff. Now, I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music. Dayglow I love so much. So those types of bands. And I think big anthemic music is something I’m always drawn to, like stadium bands just because that’s what I want to do one day. I’m not trying to just be a local band, I want to be big. I’m shooting to be the biggest band in the world. I know that’s never going to happen.
You never know.
I know. But if I could just be someone’s favorite band, that’s good enough.
I feel like you probably are.
I hope I’m a few people’s favorite bands.
You talked about being able to write music during the pandemic, but did you have shows lined up that got canceled?
We were supposed to play Lollapalooza. We didn’t get to, which kind of sucked. But we get to do it this year. It’s maybe even better, you know?
What was it like to stop playing?
Really sad, really depressing. I ate a lot of chocolate-covered pretzels. I played a lot of video games. Trader Joe’s has the best chocolate-covered pretzels. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but try them. I’m on a diet now, I lost 100 pounds last year. So that’s like a big thing. But
I’ve missed those a lot. I might have to get some after tomorrow as a reward.
In terms of your career, how did you adapt to the pandemic?
I wrote a lot of music. I just kind of worked on these six songs and a few other ones didn’t make the cut. I did so much zoom stuff, which I hated. I’ve done a lot with a lot of people and I’m so appreciative I had something to do to occupy my time and help advance my career, but at the end of the day I’m so glad to be back person-to-person.
So, where do you see your sound going in the future?
That’s a good question. I think one of my favorite songs on the record, from a listening standpoint, is “Saturday,” It’s heavier. It’s a big guitar song, and I think I really want to get back to that. I want to be a guitar band. I feel like there’s not a ton of them left, but I feel like a lot of the younger bands are becoming guitar bands. And it’s pretty cool. And that’s what drew me to music – rock and roll and that kind of stuff. So I want to be that.
What are some of your favorite bands to listen to
I’m really into songwriter stuff right now. I love the new Manchester Orchestra album. I really love Sob Rock, the new John Mayer album. I can’t stop listening to it. Joy Oladokun. She’s here. I hope I get to meet her I’m a huge fan. That’s what I’ve been really been listening to. Samia,
JP Saxe is a songwriter guy. I’m really into the craft of the song.
I can hear that in your music.
Even since I finished the last thing, now I’m into how to write a good song. Just a three-minute, four-minute song. You know, that’s what I want to do. Peel your production away and make a good song. That’s what I’m hoping for.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Work harder. I’d care more about the music, and less about the business because
the business sucks. But that’s why you have good people. Like I don’t have to take care of that stuff now. Which is cool. The music is the most important. But it’s hard because you have to have both things, you know. I cared too much about the business side of things and just getting like five good songs and being like, okay, pour put these out. But I wish I would have cared more about the music.
Featured image credit: Jake Mulka
Kira Leadholm is the co-editor-in-chief of Redacted Magazine. Kira recently returned from a year living in Kazakhstan where she reported on the climate crisis, LGBT+ rights, labor issues and the arts. Currently, she studies social justice and investigative reporting at Medill School of Journalism, and she holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago.