Today we’re Making Meaning with Maura Jacob! Maura is the powerful vocalist, bassist, and synth player for the art rock band Action Camp and bassist/vocalist for the riot grrl indie pop band Garter Shake. Maura’s working on new material for the next full-length album with Action Camp and is releasing a debut EP with Garter Shake on 9/15/18 (check them out with Shonen Knife and Murder for Girls on 9/4/18 at Howler’s in Pittsburgh, too)! Keep up to date with Maura’s artistic endeavors by following her bands on social media.
Let’s make some meaning…
Making Meaning: The Background
Action Camp is a Pittsburgh, PA-based art rock band with heavy doom, post punk, and surf influences. They’ve been making music together since 2006. Their most recent album Action Camp was released in August 2017 and marked their evolution from a two-piece to a trio.
Action Camp is currently working on material for their next full-length release. In the meantime – if you want to experience something that is really, really cool – check out their aptly named EP Collection which was released this past June. It covers over a decade of musical creation and evolution.
Action Camp is: Bengt Alexsander (guitar, synth, vocals), Maura Jacob (vocals, bass, synth), and Joe Tarowsky (drums, samples, vocals).
Maura will be performing with Action Camp AND Garter Shake on Saturday 8/11/18 in Youngstown, Ohio for the famed Pabstolutely 11 music festival!
On a somewhat tangential and mainly editorial note: The full lineup for Pabstolutely 11 is pretty awesome and includes a ton of our friends! The full lineup is: Dominic Pastella, R.D.N.A., P.C.M.C., Squank, Apostle, Punk Willie, The Long Hunt (that’s us!), Action Camp, Horehound, Garter Shake, When Particles Collide, Lake Lake, and Rebreather.
Making Meaning: The Song
Listen to the song “Nameless” from Action Camp’s self-titled album and learn what meaning Maura makes:
Written by Maura Jacob and Bengt Alexsander. Performed by Maura Jacob, Bengt Alexsander, and Joe Tarowsky. Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Bengt Alexsander in The Bunker June + July 2017. Appears on the EP Action Camp. Originally released as a single on the Paper Portal project through Impossible Colors Records in Sept. 2015.
Lyrics to “Nameless”
moonlight holds the spark / awake, not alone / omens in shade / rage and give way
a call from the rocks / the art of the lost / burn bright
soothing envy / ease of the prey / give up the ghost / go gentle, feel no loss
pulled by / a call from the rocks / defy / for art and the cost / burn bright / for all that was bled / nameless
lucky few / who bear the pale, true soul / the madness of hope / how brief, how bright
“…I also view the voice as the most vulnerable and raw instrument in the mix because it is purely human.” – Maura on “Nameless”
Instrumentally, songwriting in Action Camp is usually a group process. We may write all together or start with a riff Bengt wrote and then build and mold a general skeleton of the song from there. As the lead vocalist, I tend to be the primary lyricist and melody-writer. My approach to melody is that I want it to not only add to the song but also compliment what the instruments are doing. There is usually a bit of push and pull in every song, with different elements taking center stage at different times. With that said, I also view the voice as the most vulnerable and raw instrument in the mix because it is purely human. I try to think about the overall feeling the song evokes and I then work to make sure that that intimacy shines through.
“…I kept thinking of the soft, cool light of the moon and the fuzzy quality that darkness has as your eyes adjust upon waking up.” – Maura on “Nameless”
As strange as it may sound, I often imagine the feeling of a song in terms of light—this song makes me think of hot summer walks at night under streetlamps, or this song sounds like quiet conversation in candlelight, etc. With ‘Nameless’ I kept thinking of the soft, cool light of the moon and the fuzzy quality that darkness has as your eyes adjust upon waking up. I decided to work with that as the starting point. I wanted the melody to be fairly legato so that it would keep the sleepy tone. Lyrically, I decided that I would try to emphasize vowel sounds and round off the consonants as much as a possible so that the words wouldn’t bite through the instrumentation.
Lyrically, I tend to approach songwriting as an opportunity to explore the intersection where personal and more universal experiences meet. For example, on most of our songs on our album PA I was attempting to shrink down historical events and make them more intimate for the listener. It was a fun challenge to try to imagine individual perspectives on a large-scale natural disaster or explore the human tendency to search for and apply meaning to chaotic events. With ‘Nameless’ I found myself working in the opposite direction, taking a very individual perspective and tying it to larger, more universal ideas.
“I felt like I was making a lot of decisions and sacrifices that were potentially taking me further and further away from having a “normal life,” all with no promises of what I would get as a result.” – Maura on “Nameless”
At its heart, ‘Nameless’ is about the thoughts that keep you awake at night, the ones that you may keep at bay in the day but later find yourself dancing with when you should be asleep. More specifically, struggling with questions related to the classic fork in the road—would my life be simpler, and in turn happier, if I chose a different path? What if I had been less ambitious? What if I had been kinder? At the time I was struggling with anxieties tied to being a creative person. I felt like I was making a lot of decisions and sacrifices that were potentially taking me further and further away from having a “normal life,” all with no promises of what I would get as a result. I felt like I was constantly working since creative projects never feel like they have true endings—there is always more to do or the desire to start on a new challenge. I wondered if I was less happy than other people as a result and what I would be like as a person if I stopped working on my art.
“I chose the sirens as imagery because I wanted to allude to how dangerous these late-night ruminations can be and how murky their promises are.” – Maura on “Nameless”
The choruses are references to siren calls, to how tempting and close this “other path” can feel. I chose the sirens as imagery because I wanted to allude to how dangerous these late-night ruminations can be and how murky their promises are. Not only is there no way of going back to change what is already done, but many “what if?” questions ultimately boil down to “what if I was not me? What if I had denied some part of myself in order to attain what, in hindsight, seems perfect?” At my core, being a creative person doesn’t feel like a choice. While I don’t buy into the idea that someone is “born with” creative talent, I do think that, after dedicating yourself to any task, you eventually change your wiring, so to speak. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine not working on music or having a creative outlet. The few times I have been without an outlet for long periods really affected my mental health. But you have to be at peace with not knowing what direction your work will ultimately take you and with understanding that a lot of what you do will go unobserved or unrewarded. It will be left nameless.
“While the first and second verses are about anxiety and what ifs, the end is about how beautiful it is when someone embraces who they are.” – Maura on “Nameless”
The song is ultimately hopeful. While the first and second verses are about anxiety and what ifs, the end is about how beautiful it is when someone embraces who they are. I think reaching that point is a cyclical and evolving process. ‘Nameless’ is very special to me as it was really the jumping off point for a theme that I find myself circling a lot in our current material—the state of being in transition or on the edge of a big change, with all the different emotions that can come with that. Thank you for letting me dive deep with you and share my process! – Maura Jacob of Action Camp
Thanks to Maura for sharing the meaning she makes from their song! I was fascinated to learn about Maura’s process for writing this song! Her focus on detail – legato melody for a sleepy feel, vowel sounds and soft consonants to keep the vocals back in the mix, and deliberate word choice – makes this song stunning! Thank you for making meaning with us.
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