by Kimberly Shires
Jarrett Nicolay is the mastermind, creative spirit, and producer behind My New Mixtape. Jarrett taps into some of the DC area’s talent pool* to achieve the layers of sound, but My New Mixtape is largely a one-man project. My New Mixtape will release its fourth full length record this month. The record is titled “Fall, 2059” and is intended to be a mixtape from the future. Incidentally, this year will mark the 40-year anniversary of the Walkman. Is “Fall, 2059” sci-fi? It is a little. Is it a concept album? Yes, kind of. Not to worry, as this record is a pop-forward piece of genius, with approachable melodies. Pre-orders of the album can be placed on http://mynewmixtape.com/.
Jarrett is one the founding members and bass guitar player of Virginia Coalition, and he also performs with Astra Via. My New Mixtape is Jarrett’s solo project. It is the culmination of the file folder where he stored all “the kids that didn’t fit with the other kids” while he was writing with Virginia Coalition.
This album can be enjoyed on cassette tape, which Jarrett says, “is hilarious and stupid at the same time”. He admits, “Well, the name is My New Mixtape, so I should probably just make the tape before it’s too late.” The cassette will come with a download code. Jarrett is also thinking to break his resistance to streaming services for this album. He laughs, “So much of the record is about being in the moment and not staring at your phone, so it felt wrong to have it contribute to the distraction, and it seemed a little hypocritical.” But Jarrett figures the irony of that is too good to pass up. He’ll likely give in once this record is out.
“Fall, 2059” plays with the idea of where humanity will be in the year 2059 when this mixtape is made. While the chronological sequencing of tracks paints this conceptual picture, Jarrett says “The goal was for this to be a stand-alone pop record, but if you want to dig in deeper, you could find this arc through it.”
The first track on the record is titled “Attention Spans.” It is about the ‘now’ and pokes a stick at how unlikely it is that anybody in today’s streaming culture would actually listen to the record end-to-end. The convenience and curiosity to go from one thing to the next is too tempting. Jarrett in no way claims immunity to this tendency but does miss the days when it was a ‘thing’ to sit in his bedroom reading record cover jackets while listening to the whole album. This record takes the listener through a series of futuristic themes where the lines of human vs. artificial intelligence become increasingly blurred. The last song, “Russian Dolls,” ties the storyline together. The record contains some heavy themes, but in a very tongue and cheek kind of way. Jarrett says, “I wanted it to be enjoyable without the weight and the baggage of all that.” He laughs, “There’s definitely a tin foil hat quality to it, but I try to keep it light. Light grade tin foil. One ply.”
Jarrett says, “I won’t be touring with this stuff. I multi-tracked most of it myself in the studio. It’s hard to tour with it live because you have to find five or six people who are really invested in it.”
Jarrett owns and operates Mixtape Studios where he records, produces and masters for other artists. Mixtape Studios allows him to keep a low overhead for My New Mixtape projects. Writing under My New Mixtape has been a liberating experience for Jarrett since there is zero pressure to make the record profitable. This allowed him to accomplish exactly what he wanted in his own time.
Jarrett confesses, “Writing has always been a compulsion. I have been writing music since I was in junior high school. They say you have to write the fifty crappy songs just to get through them so that you can write better songs.” At this point, he has written hundreds of songs and has some great movie placement. He is particularly proud of his placement in the 2017 Sundance film “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.” Jarrett laughs that his song plays during a crudely hilarious scene at a party. You’ll have to see the movie to see why he thinks it’s so funny.
Jarrett formed much of his musical roots while in high school. As an only child, he learned how to avoid boredom. He entertained himself learning how to manually tune his guitar so he could play along with his collection. It was also during high school when Jarrett fell in love with French impressionist composers. Jarrett recalls, “I remember vividly when I was in high school and I was parked on the upper terrace at Landmark Mall [waiting for my friend] and Bolero came on and it had just started snowing. I was the only car up there and it was this surreal kind of moment. I had never heard this song before, and it just builds, and the snow started getting heavier. It hit me on a different level.” Jarrett continues, “Whenever I’m at Goodwill and there’s any French classical music, I get it for like a dollar.”
Jarrett’s love for mixtapes also reaches back to his high school days. He had a great sound system and tape deck in his Ford beater. Jarrett undertook a project to transfer his vinyl onto cassette so he could listen to it in the car in just the right order. Misfortune struck one day when his car was broken into. Some jerk stole his tape deck and all his new mixtapes. It crushed him. Jarrett says, “It was just cruel.”
Today, when not playing music, Jarrett loves relaxing with his family and being in the moment. He says they don’t have a very busy lifestyle, which he owes in part to his son’s lack of interest in travel soccer leagues. Jarrett laughs, “We tried to get him to play soccer. He just did this silent protest when he was like six. He put his ball in the middle of the field and just sat on it…for like an hour.” Jarrett continues, “Me and my wife are both really sarcastic. We were hoping we would cancel each other out…but he just doubled down on the double sarcasm.”
While Jarrett claims to not be too busy, he sure accomplishes a lot with three active projects and his studio business. His perspective on this is a testament to how much he enjoys what he does. It does not feel busy too him. It just feels like living.
*”Fall, 2059” features a host of talent including Adrienne Kennelly, Olivia Mancini, Brittany Jean Valint, Randy Scope, Ahren Buchheister, Paul Chun, George Fox, Eric Taft and Todd McMahon.
(Photo Credit: Fred Hof)
Kimberly Shires is a producer and owner of Hear Me Roar Studio. She is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who is passionate about empowering women to express themselves through music. Outside of music she enjoys hiking, biking and snuggling with her dog. Kimberly has called the DMV home her whole life.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
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