SIDE EFFECTS by Jason Didner | INTERVIEW
Author: Sean Manuel
Do you ever feel like your favorite artist is writing songs about you? Montclair-based singer-songwriter Jason Didner becomes your cool friend quite quickly as he reveals his personal experiences through lyric and melody and (sometimes humorously) cements his likeness to you and I. The album entitled Side Effects, a follow-up to July 15, 2022's It's a Jersey Thing, is Didner's fourth album release overall. In what I consider a "best of both worlds" approach, Didner wields the humor from It's a Jersey Thing to address health themes expanded from February 4, 2022's Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind and, having faced and felled adversity, leaves the listener triumphant. Would you like to hear songs you can easily mistake for lost tracks from artists such as The Who, Elvis Costello, BB King, or New Jersey's own The Smithereens? Side Effects releases February 3 on all major streaming platforms and Bandcamp. Before that and his February 4 Album Launch Concert at Silver Stream Studio (594 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07043), hear from Jason Didner below:
Hey there, Jason. What a dynamic release! Side Effects plays like a "happy medium" between the whimsy of It's a Jersey Thing and the serious subject matter of Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind. Was that your intent? Explain Side Effects's conceptualization.
Thank you! You nailed it. I found the soul of this album when I came up with the lines for the title track - "I'm the case study I'm speaking of / You can live with the side effects of love." In life you may have to read the disclaimers, but you'll still probably continue after what your heart wants anyway. If listeners come away encouraged to pursue their life's desires in an enlightened way, I've done my job as an artist on this one.
I viewed the music and lyric videos on your YouTube playlist and noted you record every track yourself. How do you go about the recording process? Is there a tried-and-true workflow or do you afford room for spontaneity?
There's a core to the process with some wiggle room on the outer layers. I'm generally a lyric first kind of writer. My wife Amy and I co-wrote lyrics on about half the songs. Melody and chords usually come together - either on acoustic guitar, electric guitar for a harder track like "Another Plot Twist" or piano, like on the title track. Once I have those core tracks (first vocal is usually a scratch that will be replaced when all other layers are in), I'll add bass, more guitars, and electronic drum kit. While tracking core instruments, there's usually a temporary programmed drum beat to keep my timing honest. I replace that with a physical performance on the electronic drum kit.
It's a lot of fun to sweeten it all up when the basic tracks and lead vocals are in - adding embellishment on keyboard, glockenspiel, hand percussion and backing vocals - whatever I'm hearing in my head.
"Patient Portal" is an upbeat tune based in a major tonality with a driving ska rhythm; however, the subject matter is quite sad. Lyrics like "Patient is the hardest thing to be," (great play on the definitions for "patient") and "This portal sucks the soul right out of me," illustrate the healthcare system ironically causing further agony for its stakeholders instead of providing ease of service. Can you expand on your personal experience with the track's story?
The major key and upbeat tempo must have been my reminder to keep a sense of humor about the hassles. Amy and I often laugh about this stuff, even as we're feeling aggravation over it.
The fade-out on "Patient Portal" leaves the storyline without finality. Are we indeed "trapped forever in this Patient Portal?"
Absolutely. The zoom-out on the last shot in the video further adds to that feeling. And you have to see how I approximate this in a live solo acoustic show! This is one of only two tracks over my whole career that ends in a fade-out.
The title track "Side Effects" features a moving intro in which listeners can clearly focus on your vibrato singing over a lone piano. You credit your wife, Amy, as a frequent co-lyricist in your bio; additionally, she collaborated with you on the lyrics for "Side Effects." How did this song lyrically develop?
That vibrato came from having listened to Elvis Costello shortly before conceptualizing the song. Thanks Elvis!
Amy has had to take a lot of medicine throughout our time together. First because of Type 1 Diabetes. Then I donated a kidney to her. Then, her diabetes was put in remission with a pancreas transplant. Now she's on the anti-rejection medicine and also managing the complications she'd already gotten from diabetes.
So we have a sense of humor about all those pharmaceutical ads - you know - the really quick reason stated in the ad for the medicine - then 5 times as long listing all the terrible side effects, saving the ultimate side effect for last. Well, Amy absolutely has to take these medicines to stay as healthy as she can under the circumstances, so we accept the side effects. This became a metaphor for many things in life, including love.
So we put our sense of humor into that - like the line about seeing your lover in the separate bathtub next to yours, like that ad for "when the moment's right."
The Status Quo-esque rock 'n' roll tune "Exposure" sardonically touches on a common event many a musician has had to endure: playing for free. Do you have any "exposure" gig horror stories?
We played at this one porch fest for exposure and got absolutely poured on - total deluge! The organization wasn't a money-making operation, so I didn't resent the organizers at all - but damn - that was rather uncomfortable!
I've generally made the case for the value of my music when for-profit operations are involved, so fortunately, I haven't had too many people who make money off my performance tell me it's "good exposure." And I'm happy to play for free for a worthy benefit when I can.
But I see those horror stories in the facebook groups from musicians dealing with certain bar/restaurant owners.
Have you had any positive experiences playing for "exposure?"
The benefit concerts are really rewarding - especially the BlowUpRadio benefits - so very life-affirming! Giving back to the community matters more to me than even the exposure in those cases. But I don't recommend an experienced artist play for free at a for-profit venue. It's a race to the bottom and has a negative effect on other artists' ability to earn!
Beginners should play for free wherever and whenever they can though.
"Give Up the Ghost" is the Who-like penultimate offering on Side Effects. To "give up the ghost" is to move on from a detrimental behavior. The track is very much the opposite of "Back to Our Bliss" in messaging. Whereas "Back to Our Bliss" is happy reggae, "Give Up the Ghost" is conflict-heavy, urgent epic. Explain how you arranged "Give Up the Ghost."
Interesting connection. I hadn't considered those two songs together. But they're about two very different experiences in my life. "Give Up the Ghost" was my story of trying to move forward with my own creative ambitions while getting pulled into other people's visions. After college, I was at a real crossroads with that. This song was my declaration of independence.
I wrote "Ghost" in '93 and made demos of it over the years. This sort-of-post-pandemic moment is when I had amassed the tools to give this song the recording I had heard in my head all this time. So I gave it a go. And thanks for the comparison with The Who - I love them!
Back to Our Bliss is the story of a mature relationship that has weathered a lot of hardship through nobody's fault, where we get to celebrate a return of the passion that fuels a loving relationship.
The E minor-heavy "Give Up the Ghost" triumphantly ends on an E major chord (the technical term for this is a Picardy Third Resolution). Does this indicate the lovers conquered their past regrets?
That may well have been somewhere in my thinking. I just knew that final chord gave me the goose bumps - especially since I end on a downbeat with an upstroke on the guitar (pick sweeping from thinnest strings to thickest).
Where can people go to RSVP for your February 4 Album Launch Concert at Montclair's Silver Stream Studio?
Not many seats left, so hurry to -
and claim the last of them while you can!
What other Jason Didner plans can we look forward to in 2023?
I just found out I'm opening for Willie Nile as a solo acoustic act on March 10 at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair. This is my first time as a solo act opening for an international touring artist. I'm really excited about this!
Also, I'm starting a "Songwriter Relay" event similar to BlowUpRadio's Guitar Pull - but in person. First one is with Rick Barth at Silver Stream on March 4. I'm hoping to do these once every 2 months or so.
Tell us the best way for your fans to connect and interact with you.
I'm on Mastodon now that the bird site has become toxic.
You can generally find me checking in on Facebook and Instagram.
I also give live streaming concerts occasionally on Live Streamer Cafe:
In fact I'm doing a virtual album launch concert on February 11 - a week after the in-person one.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I deeply appreciate what BlowUpRadio is doing! You guys not only curate consistently high-quality independent music connected with New Jersey, but you also bring us artists together socially. We support each other and make online promotion feel less like shouting into the void.
Montclair, NJ-based singer/songwriter Jason Didner wants to have a conversation with you, through his lyrics. That conversation can be earnest at times. The dialogue can also take a humorous turn, like griping about the dreaded "Patient Portal" we must visit online before going to a doctor appointment.
On his upcoming album "Side Effects," Jason compounds the comedic with the heartfelt, drawing on a medically complicated home life. Jason had donated a kidney to his wife (and frequent co-lyricist) Amy; doctor visits and prescription changes occupy a large swath of daily life for the family.
This musician weaves these words in with music of wide-ranging classic rock and singer/songwriter styles. You'll hear influences from Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Eddie Van Halen, U2 and BB King.
The singer/multi-instrumentalist has written songs and performed in coffeehouses, sports bars, and bookstores since 1994. Early in this artist's singer/songwriter days he found his voice with epic, progressive rockers like "Wall of Sound" and quirky tunes with humor from his own life's experiences like "Cubicle."
Perhaps most notably, Jason broke through in the winter of 2001 when his ode to Jersey driving, "You Can't Get There from Here in Jersey" got airplay on NPR's Car Talk program. The single also made it to the show's "Best Of" CD. Recently, a new re-recording of the song became a music video and the lead track to a new compilation, "It's a Jersey Thing." When Jason made a new recording and video of this song in 2022, it made Asbury Park Press' Ten Best Songs of 2022 by NJ Artists.
As Jason's home studio skills improved during the pandemic of 2020, he's found inspiration to record and release music more often. In 2022 the artist launched two albums "Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind" and "It's a Jersey Thing." His upcoming album "Side Effects" marks his 3rd album release in a 12-month span.
Since 2013, Jason has led another musical project: as singer and co-founder of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam, a rock band for kids and families - an act that has taken him up and down the East coast from Massachusetts to Virginia and to such venues as The Stone Pony in Asbury Park and the Coney Island Boardwalk.
About the Author: Sean Manuel is a Senior enrolled in New Jersey City University's Honors Program. A Music Business major, Sean specializes in the piano and bass guitar. Outside of academia, Sean performs in and manages the Bayonne indie-pop group BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Are you interested in their music? Follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj and stream their releases on all platforms.