The night of his father's funeral, Avi Jacob found himself inside his old man's house in Nashville with a banjo, a heavy heart, and the words to a song. But those words didn't come from Jacob.
"I felt my father coming through, and I don't think it was a ghost as much as me trying to express something from him," Jacob says of his song "Simple Man." It's one of the tracks from the Charleston folk musician's upcoming release So Hard to Reach You, an album that deals mostly with Jacob's relationships. "The whole song is from his perspective, and that's something I never have done. All of my songs have been so uniquely from my own perspective and so self-involved, but that's what I have — my experiences. But that song is the first time I've ever been able to write something for someone else."
In the chorus, Jacob sings "I'm a simple man, but I try." It's the voice of his father, a once prolific writer who penned over a dozen books. "We had a lot of misunderstandings, me and him," Jacob explains. "He moved down South and we were up North, me and my sister. And I was angry because I have a little sister and she was without her father, so I was angry at him for that. And now I understand you can't hold that shit over people. He had to live his own life, but that day I apologized for holding it against him."
That was over four years ago, but Jacob's been composing his debut record for even longer. It took a lot of soul searching and moments of clarification — mostly about his separation from the mother of his now five-year-old son. The album's final track "Take Me Home" is a very honest recollection of the way it was when they first met. She was a 19-year-old college freshman while Jacob had just graduated.
"I had two or three different girlfriends at the time," Jacob recalls. "I was lying to her about it, cheating on her and stuff like that. And she found out about it, as did my other girlfriends — I still don't know how. I wrote that last song after they found out about each other, and you'd think they'd be like 'Fuck this guy, he's awful.' But they both still wanted to be with me. They wanted me to choose.
"It's so fucked up," Jacob laughs. "But at the same time I'd been in that situation with a girl before, and I was her fool. I loved her, madly. And she fucked with my mind and made me unsure of reality. So that caused me to start fucking with girls. Love, to me, was a game I tried to win by fucking over someone before they had the chance to fuck me over. Now I'm trying to unlearn that."
To Jacob's surprise, that relationship lasted over five years, and it was always a struggle. What came of it was not only Jacob's son, but also a series of songs. In the title track "So Hard to Reach You," Jacob's in Portland while she's pregnant in Boston. It tells the story of their failed attempt at communication, daily phone conversations that always ended in anger. Another song "Settlin' Down," was also written not long after Jacob began dating the girl who would unwittingly become the inspiration for an entire album. On it, he sings, "Don't go thinkin' 'bout settlin' down/ I might be here but I ain't around."
"I really thought there was no future in our relationship. I could foresee even then all the problems we had," he says. "I'm not dumb, and I don't think she is either, so it's weird how I saw those problems then but kept getting sucked into it."
In a way, his father's death helped Jacob face his past — warts and all. In "Simple Man," he sings, "How you gonna act like you were born with no work to do." Jacob says it's a stab at his own sense of entitlement and shallowness. And in the bridge, he sings "Tell my wife I'm all right/ Tell my son to be good." He knows for certain where the words were coming from and why.
"I really thought it was my father talking to me, because that's not something that I could say. And I hadn't been good at all," Jacob says. "I'd been a bad son by all accounts."
The song also advises Jacob's sisters not to settle for men that don't treat them right. "Sorta the way I didn't treat girls right," he admits.
But girls are why Jacob got into music in the first place, though they're not the reasons he's still pursuing it.
"When I was younger, kids made fun of me because I was an asshole and unsure of myself and insecure," Jacob says. "I started writing music because I wanted girls to like me, and I kept doing it because it made me feel good."
You can buy a digital copy of So Hard to Reach You now at music.avijacob.com.