As a full-time college student and musician, Jack Powers needs some breathing room.
The Montclair, New Jersey indie rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist briefly escapes a heavy course load and mounting creative demands on his supercharged latest single, “Music School Burnout.”
“I’m going to school for music, and I can’t even do the music things that I want to do. That’s directly the thing that inspired it,” said Powers, a music education junior at Montclair State University.
“It was also having the time to actually finish something … it takes a long time to write a song, and I do all the recording, producing and mixing. To do all that, and then to make the music video, and then release it … seeing any project to fruition is so hard to do when you’re also taking 19 credits.”
As a concise, energetic release, “Music School Burnout” clobbers lingering tensions and anxieties with a whirlwind of smashing cymbals, weary electric guitar, thumping bass and fitful drums.
Powers sings, “I haven’t wrote a song in a minute/Harmony in thirds been my limit/Can’t tell what’s been off/But something’s probably wrong/I hate it already/I hate it already.”
“I want to continue releasing music and keeping doing this because it’s what I really want to do. It’s been really frustrating to not be able to do it because of music theory in school,” he said.
“And now, I finally have a band that plays my music now, which is super fun. We’ve been playing shows, and we’re going to start touring. Once I’m out (of school), I’m going to put all my energy into this and see what happens.”
For “Music School Burnout,” Powers sought creative inspiration from The Strokes and Bo Burnham, who varies the structures of his songs on the Netflix comedy special and companion album, Inside (The Songs).
“Bo was doing it for the punchline to end the song super quick or have it be like ‘Bezos II,’ which is just a repeated line for the entire song. I was like, ‘These are good songs though,’ and ‘The structure is so weird,’” said Powers, who recorded, produced and mixed the track in his dorm room studio.
“I had never thought about taking a song and having a structure be part of the meaning of it. I decided to do that with this song, where it’s an intro, it’s a double verse, and then I get to the chorus.”
Powers also released a frenzied new video for “Music School Burnout” to depict the chaos and frustration of hastily writing and recording a song in cramped college living quarters. Co-directed with roommate Frank Konze, it features an exhausted Powers working away into the late hours of the night.
“We were going to do the whole thing in my room, and we decided to do it in one shot and see what happened. We took a night that we were both free, and we went through four different outfits,” he said.
“We were going to get one pass-through with every shot that we wanted. Throughout the course of the night, I would get more exhausted. As we kept doing it, I’d get more drained and that would aid for what we were going for. By the end of the night, we were both dead.”
Melt Me and More
After tackling his academic pressures on “Music School Burnout,” Powers reveals a calmer, more vulnerable side on the intimate electro-rock ballad, “Melt Me.”
Shimmery electric guitar and ethereal synths ease Powers as he sings, “You know, I’m usually quite a social kind a person/I feel bad you’ve gotta see me like this/I can’t seem to hold a simple conversation/Cause when you talk to me, I give you full permission.”
“I was going for a very different vibe when I started writing it. I was writing it as an upbeat, early Beatles kind of vibe. It was gonna be something where I was gonna produce it in the vein of ‘60s music,” said Powers, who thoughtfully channels a wistful fusion of The 1975 and Her’s.
“I was trying to write a cutesy love song, like ‘You’re melting me or whatever.’ As I was writing it, I was like, ‘Oh, this is way more anxious than I thought it was.’ I went to my other roommate Kyle (Sanders) because he plays in my new band. I asked him to show me some chord voicings, and then we did it.”
Powers recorded “Melt Me” live in his dorm room with a guitar and a vocal mic. At the time, Konze recorded video footage of Powers finalizing the song in the moment.
“The take that you’re listening to in that recording was captured on video. We have stuff that’s gonna be released a little bit later,” he said.
In fact, “Melt Me” and “Music School Burnout” aren’t the only striking singles in Powers’ growing indie rock catalog. Last year, he released the politically charged anti-Trump anthem, “To My Bride,” and the anxiety-fueled, accident-prone track, “Distracted Driver.”
“I usually start with nonsense lyrics, and I throw stuff at my guitar to see what sticks. It’s actually been really therapeutic … as I do that, my subconscious throws out these things that I’ve been dealing with. I’m not even trying to write about this stuff,” Powers said.
“When I was writing ‘Distracted Driver,’ I did not know I was writing about that. And then, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is literally describing this experience.’ I realize that a lot of my songs have been covering similar themes where you don’t really know how to take on the feelings that are coming at you.”
In the meantime, Powers and his band – Josh Wilson (guitar), Calyx Ryu (guitar), Kyle Sanders (bass) and Tim Nuzzetti (drums) – are sharing those tracks with DIY venue audiences. They’ll play next at The Litterbox in Elizabeth, New Jersey on May 6 to celebrate the release of Powers’ new single.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to economize my time and still put things out. I’ve learned you’re gonna get the most bang for your buck out of singles. I have a bunch of music that is ready to be released right now, but I’ve decided to space it out,” Powers said.
“I’m releasing the next single during finals, which will be stressful and fun. It will be a fun combination of fun stress and not-fun stress.”