The Steadfast Songsmith: Folk musician dabbles in new sounds, instruments

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • April 19, 2012

Websorgen
Sorgen is starting a new project where he rewrites Irish tunes.
Sorgen is starting a new project where he rewrites Irish tunes.

Some musicians scrape together a meager fanbase by covering Top 40 songs on YouTube. Some try to propel themselves quickly to fame on shows like American Idol. And some just give up. Jake Sorgen is none of these — he prefers constant hard work. 

The senior writing, literature, and publishing and political communication double major, radio guru, and multi-faceted musician released his first full-length album, Sudden Myth, April 3.

The son of a musician, Sorgen started early, learning to play saxophone at around age seven, he said. From there, he ventured into bass guitar and mandolin, teaching himself through trial and error. He said this is a method he still employs today with new instruments.

“There’s a real joy for me in sitting down with something I’ve never touched before,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that within about 20 minutes with any instrument I could figure out enough.”

His new album, Sudden Myth, which he said incorporates sounds of folk, Americana, and country, is the result of a songwriting binge while studying abroad Kasteel Well. True to genre, the songs have a common guitar-based sound with gentle vocals. Sorgen noted the progress he has made since Glasco, his 2009 EP that featured minimalist instrumentation. 

“I think that’s online somewhere, but I hope to God no one hears it,” he said with a laugh. “It was my first attempt.” 

He said the making of his first record was a necessary step in the learning process of being an artist. Through it, he learned the basics of recording. He said his second release, Remarkable Feeler, includes demo versions of sounds from his current album, although they’ve been almost completely altered.

“That was my first time on my own,” he said, having recorded the album over a span of a couple days in his empty apartment last January. “It taught me a lot of self-discipline, saying ‘now we need to add stuff’ or, now we need to stop.’”

Despite Sorgen’s natural affinity for music, he admitted there was a time he considered giving it up during high school summer “band camp” at the Crane School of Music.

“It was very intense and very classical-based,” he said. “We’d get a break for the evening and I would want to go do something … and everyone there was like, ‘I’m going to the practice room. I have to do this.’ And it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s just not me.’”

At first, though, he took the crisis too far.

“From then I sort of falsely took that to mean music in general is not for me,” he said, “not seeing that it just isn’t that path that’s for me.” 

Instead, Sorgen chose to incorporate music into every other aspect of his life. 

“In the same way that I am interested in the way that non-musical projects inform my music, I am equally interested in the way that I can use music in a variety of settings, whether it be in an academic environment, composing for theater, film, or TV, or any other opportunities that could arise,” he said in a follow up email.

At age 16, Sorgen got a high school internship at a hometown radio station and fell in love with the medium. By the summer after graduation, Sorgen was promoted to the position of Production Director of the station.

“It’s pretty incredible to be 18 and to be running the production department of a radio station,” he said.

Now, as a web editor in the music department at the college’s widely popular station WERS, Sorgen incorporates his previous radio knowledge and music expertise into his work.

 Of course, he’s already moved on to his next project, a venture into unexplored territory: reworking traditional Irish songs in the WERS studios.

Sorgen said his interest in a culture that is not his own stemmed from the Irish origins of the folk music he already plays. He added in his email that he isn’t transforming his entire sound. 

“I think that my playing,” he wrote, “while rooted in that Irish tradition, is still very distinctively ‘me.’ ”

What Sorgen says really sets him apart from his contemporaries is not his range of knowledge in different musical and non-musical subjects alike, but the “release of preciousness” in his music.  

“I’m playing the whole instrument. I’m not just playing the strings on the guitar. The buzz, my elbow knocking up against it, that’s all part of the sound,” he said in the interview. “To some people it may come off as unpolished, but to me, that’s the real thing.”