Student folksmith takes his time building a meaningful sound

by Beacon Staff • October 6, 2011

strongJaclyn Diaz, Beacon Correspondent/strong

From a quiet Wilmington, Mass. living room — with instruments and sheet music scattered about — came the stripped-down stylings of one-man band Cauzamos. A year after self-releasing his first album, the mind behind Cauzamos is focused on refining its sound and remains cautiously eager about building an audience.

Jonathan Rizzo, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major, is the calming voice behind the project’s inventive lines and hummable melodies. He plans to bring his haunting folk music to the KillJoy Festival on Saturday in Cambridge.

The festival is a small, local celebration that aims to promote the work of citywide artists. “From beekeepers to painters and musicians to authors,” the event’s website reads, “KillJoy Festival brings together our favorite Boston locals for a night of pure awesome.” A perfect venue for an up-and-coming indie folk artist to test out his progress and broaden his fan base.

Cauzamos, as Rizzo describes, peppers a folk-pop sound with audible hints of Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, and Bob Dylan. As he was starting out, though, he found his greatest influence not in these folk standbys, but in the blues. He connected with the passion that gushes from legends like Muddy Waters and B.B. King as they holler their personal pain.

But as his influences continued to evolve, Rizzo found himself deviating from the blues. Instead of unleashing angst-riddled laments, Rizzo used folk as an outlet for the simple inspiration he sees in everyday life.

“It comes from a feeling I get from an image that sticks there,” he said. “Something, a part of me, wants to make it more alive.”

As a one man band, Rizzo writes, produces, and performs all of his own music. His repetoire as Cauzamos is small, and he said another CD is a while away — but for now, that’s OK. Rizzo said he wants to polish both his songwriting and musicianship before attempting another full-length.

Rizzo has remained relatively reserved in promotion, too. He has yet to reach out to any managers or record labels.

“I haven’t really put myself out there,” he said. “Once I decide I want to or not, I will pursue that more seriously.”

He would like to avoid the fate that traps so many young artists: anxious to record and release, they fail to say something meaningful for their listeners — something that Rizzo said he wants to do with every song he makes.

Rizzo crafts eccentric lyrics, occasionally so esoteric that they may seem nonsensical.

“And all along, these ragged souls that walk these aisles moving listless to the backing sound of some velveteen underground,” he sings in “Grey Matter.”

But light percussion, wavy guitar strums, and his crooning voice make the words come alive in a whirlwind of rootsy, upbeat tracks.

Cauzamos’ appeal is not confined to the ear buds: On stage, too, Rizzo keeps a friendly, light air, according Jacob Rosati, the creator of the KillJoy Festival. Rosati said that he selected Cauzamos for the fest because of Rizzo’s measured approach. “He does a great job live of balancing taking his art seriously but not overly somber, like you see so many indie performers do.”

Despite the support he gets from fans like Rosati, Rizzo said he feels like Cauzamos is still a big work in progress. He acknowledges the limitations of his insular approach to the music — with no one to bounce ideas off of, he sometimes finds himself stuck — but he doesn’t want to rush things.

“I’m still focused on making the music better,” he said. “For now, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

strongCauzamos will perform as part of the KillJoy Festival Oct. 8 in the Life Alive Cafe. Festival passes are $15. /strong

emDiaz can be reached at jaclyn_diaz@emerson.edu/em