Largely rooted in acoustic guitars, “Sleepless” isn’t far removed from the best of Jack Johnson or solo Dave Matthews. I was not surprised when Jacob told me that both have been big influences. “I guess the music that I write is similar to the music I listen to,” he said. “Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Iron and Wine, Bon Iver and The Black Keys. My next album will probably be more of a rockin’ affair.”
In person, the 23-year-old McCurdy is tall, confident, polite, dapper (“Gotta look good,” he says) and somehow, he seems to have acquired John Lennon’s hair circa “The White Album.” He’s also quick to share credit, especially when it comes to the songs. Many of the lyrics on “Sleepless” were written by McCurdy’s friend, Adam Hanson. It’s a unique partnership with an unlikely beginning. “We didn’t really get along in high school,” McCurdy remembered. “Through mutual friends, we started hanging out a lot and going on various trips including a cross country drive last summer. Everything that we’ve done influences what we write.”
Bursting with melodies that remain lodged in your noggin long after you’ve heard them, “Sleepless” also excels in the area of production. It’s a lush, wide-open, hi-fi listening experience. According to McCurdy, the record was recorded at the New England School of Communications (Jacob is a 2011 graduate) as a final senior project by engineer Frank Baron for Dave Maclaughlin’s Audio Engineering IV class.
The album title is appropriate as the pair spent the next three weeks in a charged, sleepless daze to see the project to completion. “I don’t know how I survived,” Jacob said. “It was great, but it was crazy. I was working full time. I was recording my own final (an album by McCurdy’s friend Matt Smith) and recording my record at the same time. We were up for many nights working in the studio from midnight to 8 a.m. I went to class, then to work, then back to the studio.”
While McCurdy handles most of the album’s string instruments, including guitars, banjo and ukulele, “Sleepless” features contributions from Chris Viner of When Particles Collide on drums, Tyler Yentes on violin and Joe Visciano on piano and organ.
The NESCom connection landed McCurdy valuable life and recording experience in Hawaii. Bill Devine, director of career services at the school, arranged an internship for McCurdy at Sea Legs Studio on Maui. McCurdy jumped in with both feet. “I basically ran the studio there for the summer. I then landed a job at Dreamcatcher Studios and did some work for pianist Fulton Tashombe.”
One of the highlights of McCurdy’s album is a catchy sing-along called “In The Morning” (warning: one listen and you may find yourself humming and singing it to yourself weeks later). With its references to tangerines, papayas, bananas and mangoes, I asked him if his island experience was connected with the song. “Yes, I had some time late at night to record my own stuff, so I wrote the song and recorded a demo version there,” he told me.
Whether appearing solo or with one of his two bands, the recently disbanded Poor Folk or the continuing Bubba’s Ganush, McCurdy has been a fixture in Bangor’s live music scene. He’s preparing for a mid-May move to Portland, where he can’t wait to begin tackling his second album. “I have the material for it, I just need to find the time to lock myself in a room and do it.”
“Sleepless” by Jacob McCurdy is available online at Amazon and iTunes. McCurdy returns to the area on Saturday, June 30 to play a live set as part of an autism-awareness fundraiser at the 300 Bar & Grill, adjacent to Family Fun Lanes on Hildreth St. in Bangor.