Jake Huffman on going solo: "It's just been about going down rabbit holes"

Multi instrumentalist and indie pop rock artist Jake Huffman chats to Headliner about discovering his musicality as a solo artist, his impressive songwriting credits, and his new single Martyr, which he wrote, recorded and produced at the famous Power Station New England Studio and is a nod to his upcoming EP.

Despite having only relatively recently embarked on a solo music career, Huffman was busying himself with show rehearsals and a brand new release when he joined Headliner on a Zoom call towards the end of January. It had certainly been a productive start to the year for the singer-songwriter, who tells Headliner with a wry smile, “it’ll be nice to get a little bit more sleep next week.”

Huffman began his journey as the lead vocalist and drummer in rock band McLovins, who’s video cover of Phish’s You Enjoy Myself went viral on YouTube overnight in 2008 and catapulted them firmly into the spotlight.

“All this stuff makes me feel so old now, because it was so long ago,” Huffman laments. “I was 14 at the time. Me and my two other buds, Jason and Jeff, threw that cover up for our friends and family, and lo and behold, we woke up the next day and the video had gone viral with 10,000 views overnight. With those 10,000 views came about 300 emails from promoters asking us for gigs. That video really changed the trajectory of my life, and solidified the fact that I wanted to be a musician.

“We built a great team, we went on a bunch of tours and made a bunch of records. It was an amazing jumping off point for us. I kind of think of it like I got a doctorate degree in being in a band, by being in the band!”

Inundated with an amalgamation of various musical styles, Huffman’s main musical influences in his teens came in the form of renowned rock and jazz drummers like Stewart Copeland, Max Roach and Art Blakey, who made him think about drums melodically, and less as a rhythmic instrument: “We were just trying to find weirder, and more,” Huffman recalls, “We would just end up going down rabbit holes.”

Huffman admits that the catalyst for him going solo was undoubtedly the pandemic. As many struggled to make ends meet as the live touring world diminished, he used it as his opportunity to “go back to school”, enrolling in a production certificate program at Berklee Online.

It was pre-pandemic however when Huffman initially discovered his love for music production. In 2019 he went to L.A. to work with a producer and songwriter named Andy Seltzer, who inspired him to dive in head first.

“I got Ableton, but decided that I want to be taught this stuff from the ground up,” he recalls. “For a year and a half I stayed in my studio and started producing for my other bandmates. We operate almost like a band ecosystem; I started putting my energy into the group, and now I have a stable of artists that continues to grow. That’s the newest flower in my garden.”

I kind of think of it like I got a doctorate degree in being in a band, by being in the band!

Huffman’s own artist material is all entirely written, performed and produced by himself in his home studio. His most recent EP however was finished off at Power Station New England, a professional recording studio based on the exact design and acoustics of the original, iconic Power Station in New York City.

“You can do anything in the box with drum sampling and stuff, but there’s nothing like recording real drums in an acoustically accurate room with the right mics,” he says. “Not all my productions need that treatment, but this EP needed that extra polish, especially because we're taking it to radio; it needs to be able to properly compete.”

At Power Station, Huffman partnered up with studio manager Evan Bakke and audio engineer Trevor Okonuk to utilise the studio’s impressive live room, and mic'd up “every single instrument that we could think of. We would do 12 hour days of me just bouncing from instrument to instrument, and really experimented with the vocals and percussion.

“It was the best week of my entire life,” he adds in earnest. “It was surreal, but just being able to have that freedom of not wearing both the artist and producer hat was great. It’s tough when you’re doing it all yourself because you have to be a little schizophrenic about it!”

In a nutshell, Huffman’s latest release, Martyr is about not dying on a hill.

“These days people are just all about making an opinion, and then changing it three weeks later when that opinion isn’t popular anymore,” he says. “Everybody’s just going through life like a robot with a screen, and I also find myself getting sucked in. I see a negative comment on Instagram and then see there’s 300 responses to that one comment, which is just like a wall of shit of people yelling at each other. It’s so easy to watch that unfold, kind of like trash TV. But life is outside of the box; I think Martyr is one of those tunes where I was just a little bit upset at the time and wanted to find some crazy shit to say.

“Saying this stuff is kind of cathartic though, especially when we play it live. We end up screaming the hook – if you know what’s good for you – and it feels really good to do that.”

Speaking of performing live, Headliner is impressed to learn that Huffman – while still part of McLovins – has shared the stage with the likes of Blink-182, Foster The People, The Flaming Lips and BB King, to name a few. Right now though, he’s rather preoccupied with the release of his latest record.

“When you're actively promoting something, it's hard to switch back to the songwriting side of your brain, which is when you start over analysing yourself,” he says. “You start asking, ‘What is my sound? What am I supposed to be writing about?’ And then you just go down weird rabbit holes.

“For me recently, it's just been about going down rabbit holes. It’s a bit like Whack A Mole, but I’m the mole,” he adds with a chuckle.

Headliner also discovers that Huffman’s work as a composer and lyricist for popular US children’s TV series Sesame Street helped shape him into the artist and producer he is today.

“That gig definitely helped me become a producer in terms of just getting to the point, and led me to start working with other people,” he explains. “I ended up writing a song that was originally for Mumford & Sons, and then The Lumineers, but they both passed on it. But Leon Bridges and Ed Sheeran did go for it.”

Huffman’s main focus at the moment is the recently launched 10-week radio campaign for Top 40 and Hot AC, for his track Martyr.

“It’s out there in the world now, so I don’t exactly know what happens next,” he admits with excitement in his voice. “I really would love to play internationally this year. I look at my streams on Spotify and Apple Music and my listeners seem to be very much global, so I’d love to be able to connect the dots from the streams to bring that into the physical.”

So if his global streaming figures and ever increasing popularity is anything to go by, Huffman looks to be well on his way to a successful solo career. Headliner will certainly be keeping a close eye and ear…

Listen to the full interview with Jake Huffman on Headliner Radio, here: