Keeping up with musician Obadiah Jones
The Aspen Times
It’s a typical thing for a musical act to be weary of their latest recording even before the music gets out for public consumption. The process of writing, recording and mastering an album can take a few years — a decade if you’re Lucinda Williams in the 1990s — and by the time the recording is released, the artist has heard the music so many times, he’s tired of his own creation. And if it’s an especially dynamic musician, he has absorbed a new set of ideas, sounds and techniques and is ready to move on to the next thing.
Obadiah Jones is likely at the most dynamic point of his musical life. Jones, who was raised in Woody Creek, is 20 and just finished his second year at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. At the school, which was co-founded by Paul McCartney, Jones is surrounded by classmates who he says are “just like me — driven and passionate about music.” The around-the-clock, around-the-globe stimulation provided by his fellow students is Jones’ favorite aspect of the education. In addition to studying production, theory, ear training and the music business, Jones is a member of three bands: a five-piece group that performs under his own name; an instrumental Celtic folk band, Barefoot Fiddler; and Orian, an electro-pop group led by his girlfriend, Orian Peled, a singer from Israel. In the Liverpool Institute’s music program, there are three separate tracks: performance, songwriting and production. Jones will get his bachelors degree in two of those — performance and writing.
“I’d love to do all three if I could. But you have to narrow it down,” he said.
As fast as he is moving, and as much music knowledge as he is absorbing, Jones hasn’t outrun his past. On Saturday, at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, Jones will throw a performance party for his debut album, “Dreamboat.” The album doesn’t take into account anything he has learned in Liverpool. “Dreamboat” was recorded in spurts over Jones’ years at Aspen High School, beginning when he was 15. Still, Jones is pleased with what he accomplished.
“I’ve grown. There are things I’d do different — maybe,” said Jones, who will play the album in its entirety at Steve’s. “But what’s cool is I listen to it and now and I really like it. The songs stand up. It might not be exactly what I’m writing now, but it’s a snapshot of my life at that time. I’m happy to let it be what it is.”
“Dreamboat” was recorded at Aspen’s Great Divide Studios. Jones played most of the instruments, including guitar, ukulele and keyboards, and sang all the vocals. John Michel handled the drumming, while fellow local musician Michael Jude played bass on half the songs. Jones financed the project himself with money he earned playing in Slightly White, the trio that kept him exceptionally busy for some six years. “Dreamboat” was mastered more recently, during Jones’ first year in Liverpool, at Parr Street Studios, notable for being the site where Coldplay made its first several albums.
Those who listen to “Dreamboat” probably won’t be struck by a shortage of quality. The sound is rich, and the playing is sharp. What will be surprising is the style of music. In Aspen, Jones was known as a rocker, with a double-necked electric guitar and often a wild head of hair. The reputation was widespread, thanks to Slightly White’s numerous appearances. (The trio — drummer Cooper Means, bassist Miles Phillips and Jones — recently got together and calculated the number of gigs they played as teenagers. They counted around 200.)
“Slightly White was amps up, electric guitar, for sure,” Jones said. “But Slightly White was always for parties and things, a function band. It was never intended as a vehicle for original music.”
Jones’ own songs were in the background, but they did earn attention. “Beautiful Someone,” a soft rocker built on piano chords and a melodic chorus, won a songwriting competition organized by John Oates, a Woody Creek resident and half of the duo Hall & Oates. The even gentler “Too Late Tonight” won the same competition, and Jones got to play the tune at the Wheeler Opera House. Both those tunes are on “Dreamboat,” along with “Wind,” a complex, two-part folk-rock song about a reluctant soldier; “What Can I Do?” which has a Latin-fusion beat; and the carnivalesque “Time of Our Lives.” The one piece of aggressive guitar rock is “Fast Lane,” an early version of which was part of Slightly White’s repertoire. It wasn’t until Jones moved to Liverpool and formed a band that the songs from “Dreamboat” began to get much of a presence in live shows.
Fittingly, it was McCartney’s old band that drove Jones to become a musician. At 5, Jones saw the Beatles film “Help.”
“And couldn’t get it out of them for years, listened to nothing but their catalog,” Jones said. “Then it was so easy to go to the Beach Boys, Queen.”
From his mother, Claire McDougall, a writer whose first novel is due for publication next year, Jones got an appreciation for singer-songwriters John Denver and Carole King.
“This album reflects my duality, the blend of the two — kind of that Queen sound, with emphasis on the song,” Jones said of “Dreamboat.” “Fundamentally, my musical morals haven’t changed. I love melody and layered harmonies on guitar and vocals. But being around all these musicians has opened my palette to different kinds of music. But fundamentally I’m the same. That’s why this album resonates.”
In fact, Jones has always been absorbing a range of influences. He did extensive musical theater around Aspen, starring as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” as Claude in “Hair” and as an Elvis-like rocker in “All Shook Up.” He took an International Baccalaureate course in music at Aspen High. He wrote songs for the Aspen Community School’s annual musical, and last summer he participated in the Aspen Music Festival’s PALS program, getting private instruction in classical singing and in composition, which helped when he scored the string quartet part on “Too Late Tonight.” Jones got further creative input at home. His older sister, Naomi, danced, acted and wrote; she recently completed shooting a film in New York, “Under Her Skin,” which she wrote and stars in. Younger sister Talitha, a sophomore at Aspen High, is into ice skating, cooking and musical theater.
“She’s a fantastic singer,” Obadiah said.
The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts had been the Liverpool Institute for Boys when Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended it in the ’50s. The building was in ruins by the ’90s and was going to be demolished when McCartney and Mark Featherstone-Witty came in to save it and establish the Institute of the Performing Arts in 1996. Recently, the school purchased the building next door, the former Liverpool College of Art, where John Lennon studied. When Jones applied to the school, he was one of 60 students accepted out of 2,000 applicants.
The Liverpool Institute focuses as much on the career as on the art. The school encourages extensive extra-curricular activity — forming bands, getting gigs, playing as a sideman, using social media, planning tours. Jones had considered attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston — he got his acceptance letter from Berklee the night before his Liverpool audition — but he preferred the Liverpool approach. (In Boston, it is also unlikely he would have sat 15 feet from McCartney in a master class, as he did in his first year in Liverpool. Jones is also hopeful of having a one-on-one songwriting workshop with McCartney this coming school year.)
“It’s more all-inclusive — preparing you to go off on your own, learning about the industry. The purpose of the course is to help you figure out what you want to do and how to do it,” said Jones, who would like to be both a performer and an industry writer, creating songs for other artists. “You have to prepare yourself, get yourself to a certain level. Once upon a time, there were a lot of record companies and a lot of artists looking for record deals. Now there are so many fewer record companies.”
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