Way back during my podcasting days, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Ilika (like Basilica without the “Bas”). You’ll find him all over the Twin Cities performing solo, in the Ilika Ward Duo, and in a band call The Heavy Set. Jake took the time to answer some questions for me in anticipation of The Heavy Set’s CD release show at Icehouse Nov 13.
He’s seriously one of the coolest, most laid back, and funny guys I know, and I especially looked forward to his insight as a full-time musician. I’ve included two songs from The Heavy Set’s new album Everybody’s Got a Mountain in the post, so be sure to enjoy them.
Q. What’s one of your first memories centered around music?
A. My parents were real musical, choral people. My mother is an organist and played piano in all the church choirs, directed many children’s choirs and included me in all of them. My dad was in choir and we constantly listened to the radio (sometimes classical, sometimes rock and roll) to and from church on Sundays. So probably singing in/going to church is one of my first memories of music. Another is dancing on my father’s shoulders as he played Yiddish Choral music and bounced around the house. Lastly, I remember my mom singing and rocking me to sleep in an old, soft, brown rocking chair, which I later learned we through out when I was 3, so that must be pretty early on.
Q. How would you describe your sound?
A. If I can be vague and true at the same time – Rock and Roll. But nowadays there are so many genres and sub-genres that I don’t know how to really describe it, and maybe that’s a good thing. Leave it up for interpretation. I’ve aways loved and been influenced by artists that don’t keep the same sound: Paul Simon, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Ray Lamontagne, Nina Simone…I could go on and on. I’d say our sound is a mix of rock, blues and Americana.
Q. Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re writing?
A. Listening to music is usually the main reason I stop what I’m doing and start writing a song, or parts of it at least. Not to say I’m hearing a punk song and try writing a punk song, but music has always hit me a certain way other stimuli doesn’t. A song can get me to close my eyes and feel something, and I usually have to do something with that feeling as soon as it passes, but many times as it is happening. That’s why it’s hard being at a show, getting deeply move, and being far from a guitar, piano, or notepad.
I’m also inspired by movies – both the score and the cinematography – because a lot of songs come to me in pictures and I can write a part for a song picturing a certain thing instead of trying to tell the lyrical story. Our first single from the record, “River,” came to me as a picture first, then a poem, then the music came.
Q. How do you balance performing as a solo artist, in a duo, and in a band?
A. With that many schedules it works so many ways, and I’ve been lucky to have a good balance. All the guys are great communicators and tech savvy. We plan practices and scheduling via the internet. Everyone works together to communicate days off, days available, and are quick to act if something falls in our lap, which happens a lot. The duo is a lot easier to manage because a lot of my solo gigs can turn into a duo gig if Joel can or wants to make it. Or if the band can’t make a gig, and the booker doesn’t want a solo act, I can always pitch the duo. Sometimes, the duo is a quintet with Jillian Rae (fiddle), Max Graham (mandolin, Kind Country) and Jeff Swanner (upright bass, The May North).
Q. What’s some advice you would offer other artists who want to quit their “day job”?
A. Don’t. Well, yeah, quit it…but see if there’s a way you can keep some hours. Every month is so unpredictable with gigs and payouts, unless you’re negotiating guaranteed money at every show, there’s no way of knowing how much you’ll earn in a month, or two weeks, or per week. It’s not all about the money (so cliche, right?) but to be as committed as I can to being a musician, I need the time to create, network, promote and manage. For me, that meant getting rid of the security and benefits of a full-time job and relocating to the Twin Cities (from Winona).
And it’s going to be different for everyone – I’m a parent and family man, have some college debt and joint debt with my girlfriend, and plenty of bills. But if you’re single, no kids, pets, and have little to no debt, you can live in an efficiency and tour the country for 3 months at a time and make ends meet. There are ways to make it work if you really want to do it and… I think… I’m making it work.
I did recently get a part-time job at a nursing home doing activities 15-20 hours a week, so the steady income definitely helps, but I’m utilizing music pretty much daily – playing guitar, piano and records, and so I’m not miserable being away from the main job of being a musician because I’m actually being a musician at the “day job.”
Q. Who are some artists that you see as great leaders in the Twin Cities music community?
A. I’d be lying if I said I was a huge fan (though I like a lot of what I’ve heard), but Doomtree seems to have a good grasp on being musicians and making their own path up here, both with music and with the business side of things. The hip-hop community as a whole does a good job collaborating, promoting each other, and getting MN out there in the national scene.
Gabriel Douglas comes to mind. He does a lot to promote all his projects, but does a whole lot for others too. He goes to a lot of local shows to support other bands, gets a lot of people exposed to new music via his social media pages and new podcast Doubleasterisk, and is really pushing positive messages with music and events around the Twin Cities.
Peter Miller and everyone in We Are The Willows/Homestead Records are really active in promoting each other and also other artists they come across or are friends with.
Last but not least, Dave Simonett and the Trampled By Turtles gang. Festival Palomino really grew a lot from year 1 to 2, and though I didn’t make either fest, all I’ve heard was amazing things. They’ve really done a good job representing MN on an international level, as has Charlie Parr and Low. I love all those acts and what they’re doing with music.
Q. How did you pick the title Everybody’s Got a Mountain for the album?
A. Everybody struggles with something. It’s a lyric in the song “Start Over,” and refers to every person’s struggle, whatever they’ve got to go through.
Sending many thanks to Jake for taking the time to talk about music with me, and I hope you’ll check out all of his music. Even if it’s not your typical style, I think you’ll feel the heart and soul that Jake pours into his music once you take the time to listen.
Who: The Heavy Set with special guest Matt Latterell
Where: Icehouse, Minneapolis
When: Friday, November 13, doors at 10:30pm
Tickets: $8 in advance or at the door – click here to purchase