Thu, Dec 15 2011, 10:34 AM
This is an upcoming interview for Wilkes-Barre/Sranton Night Out.com 1/11/12
Harmony is How They Do it Best
Interview by Lucia Peregrim
"Harmony Constant" was named after a Michael Nesmith song. Both members of the band, Mac and Cindy Jackson, adore him. It was the first song they sang together, their wedding song and a nice way to explain their sound and the two of them as a couple. Mac originally sang as a solo artist and then with a buddy. At the time they were called “Folklore" due to their folk acoustic sound. It stayed that way when Cindy joined but once his buddy left, they felt the new title was much more fitting. The name of the band is a tribute to their biggest influence but subtle enough so people don't think they are a cover band.
Mac, 36, went to West Scranton High School and then Penn State and plays guitar and harmonica. Cindy, 35, is a natural at harmony and began playing piano as a child before taking a lesson. Shawn Caden, their newest member, is a string virtuoso. He is constantly adding new instruments to his catalog of knowledge. Harmony Constant have utilized his skills for lead guitar, banjo and mandolin so far.
When Mac writes he tries to be as eclectic as he can be, while realizing the things that tie most of his influences together are the sincerity and emotion that they bring to their performance. He has called their style Folk-Rock since it can be anything from him solo with a guitar to 3 part harmony with a full band behind him. Folk-Rock also lets the audience know that there are sincere lyrics that lean against the edge that Rock provides. "You're getting an intelligent story that’s not afraid to go somewhere unpredictable and exciting."
His biggest influence, above all else, is Michael Nesmith. For Mac, Nez captures every angle of a musician that he loves. "He's constantly dipping into the pools of different musical styles when not creating them from scratch." All of Mac's other influences stem from aspects that Nesmith's catalog and personality hold. Mac has always been a singer and as a child his dad introduced him to Jim Croce's music, which he loved, but when he was 15 he started to discover new music on his own. He can remember giving in to the fad that was the re-appreciation of The Monkees in the summer of 1986 and sat down to watch them on MTV. "Right away I felt drawn to Mike Nesmith who, although just 24 at the time, carried himself like a wise man who had the world figured out yet stays incredibly humble to this day." Mac loved his subtle humor and adored his voice. He gets the chills when he hears him sing. Nez could read the phone book and Mac would buy it. "There is something about him that makes him the definition of cool without any effort on his part." Mac loved that he was in such control. "He sang his own songs, wrote his own music and just did more than he needed to for the love of his craft." Watching him on that first viewing Mac knew that was what he had to do.
After that, Mac dove into many other artists, buying all their albums and studying their back story and creative process: Simon and Garfunkel (together and solo), Mamas and Papas, Billy Joel, John Denver, The Bangles, The Everly Brothers, Edie Brickell, Allison Krauss and in more recent years David Gray, Ray Lamontagne and KT Tunstall.
Harry Chapin has been another major influence on Mac through his music and the inspirational person Chapin was. Mac can remember his father playing "Mr. Tanner" through his old collection of 8 tracks and when it was over Mac had tears rolling down his face. The song moved him so strongly he had to hear more. That summer he replayed that 8 track of Chapin's "Short Stories" album until it broke, then he fixed it and played it again. Harry showed him that every song can have an emotional journey and subtle messages that time helps you appreciate. Mac's story songs are his attempt to capture that Chapin power and sincerity.
About 10 years ago Mac was at a crossroads in his dating life. He had gotten out of a seven year relationship three years before and the dating experience that followed was horrible. "I had women approach me, flirt with me, lead me on and then never call." He was prepared to end up alone. One day he was in Borders and noticed this beautiful girl stocking the shelves and remembered her from a prior visit. As they started flirting he noticed that she was different from the other girls and seemed genuinely interested in him. When he went back to ask her out a few days later she explained that she was in a band. After telling her he was a singer-songwriter, he asked what kind of songs she sang. When she replied "We do a Mike Nesmith song," he grabbed her and hugged her tight knowing this was God's way of letting him know she was the one he would marry. The moment she sang harmony to his lead he knew she was crucial to the music he was creating.
Mac went to Shawn's father's Abington Lock and Key store about a year ago and noticed a banjo case in the back room. As he and Shawn talked, Mac learned that he was of like mind and no ego. He asked Shawn to join him and Cindy when they recorded for WVIA radio and he's his go to guy for any string addition. He fills in his songs with beautiful picking.
Originally when Mac met Cindy he had already been performing with his buddy Pete Syslo under the name "Folklore" and when he heard her sing he insisted she come over during their rehearsal so Pete could hear her. Pete agreed that she was a welcome addition and for a while, before he left, they had a great three part harmony sound. Two years later they became Harmony Constant. Mac states “It's a lot of work to be the only guitar guy, so I'm always on the lookout for a musician who is skilled and dedicated, but lacks ego." He found that with Shawn. "He's brilliant when it comes to music and is willing to try anything for the sake of the music.”
They are currently unsigned to a label but always looking to get someone in the industry to take notice. Right now it's all been on Mac to do the promotion and find the time and money to create and record or book gigs. A lot of the levels Mac has achieved have been through the kindness of friends and other musicians. "I realize this is a vocation and I'm compelled to create and try to add to the world in a positive way. It wouldn't stop me if we never get signed but it would sure help to ease some of the pressure."
Mac prefers to play a classical acoustic guitar. He’s willing to play electric or any kind of guitar, but the classical acoustic nylon strings tend to make it easier on his fingers since he tends to play without a pick most of the time. "Good story songs switch between strumming and picking a lot throughout each piece." Mac had taken lessons for a couple weeks as a kid but the instructor took all the passion out of it and Mac states that, "I didn't do my part to learn at the time.” Years later when they were forming as Folklore, Pete offered to teach him so he would never have to rely on anyone else when he wanted to perform. "He taught me song by song so I reached new plateaus in skill quickly."
They have been blessed to have played in most of the venues in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area numerous times with tremendous results. They have played everything from local bars to Country Clubs to a Stargate Convention in the NY/NJ area. The only unpleasant shows were a couple where the business owners went out of their way to not support them. "The audience is always supportive, but you can tell when the management only cares about the money at the door and treats you like a necessary evil he has to deal with to get business," says Mac.
Harmony Constant is proud to announce that they have a big concert at the Scranton Cultural Center. It's on January 13th at 7 pm. They got the gig due to the wonderful, dedicated support of their fans. They are going to play some of their long time favorites, as well as a couple new story songs ready to make their debut.
They tend to get a lot of requests for the songs they have available for sale, such as "Alone Again" and "The Story of Us". "It's wonderful to watch people get excited when they hear the first chords and sing along." Harmony Constant also have a new song called "Before You" that has a twist at the end that has made people cry. Mac knows he has succeeded touching their heart when he can move them with something he has created. One of the rules they have is to avoid doing covers of songs everyone knows, due to the fact that subconsciously the audience will be listening to how close you sound to what they know of the original and not judge you independently. "Plus, why sing something you can just hear on the radio?" When they do a song by one of their influences such as David Gray, they do other songs from their catalog that the fans are not as aware of, but are as good or better than one of their well known hits. "We'll do David Gray's 'The Light' over 'Babylon' or Harry Chapin's 'W.O.L.D.' over 'Cat's in the Cradle'." Most nights the play list is pretty loose. "We know we're going to do most of our originals, but we let the mood of the room and our energy control what cover song we throw in throughout the night. Sometimes they feel like a high energy David Gray or John Denver song or an emotional Chapin tune. Every night is different."
Mac has a few rules when he is writing a song. He quotes, “I want the lyrics to be intelligent, and true when possible. I want the music to be catchy and I don’t want it to sound like a rip off of anyone else's song or like anything I've already written. Similar in spirit is one thing, but stealing is another. I also desperately want my music to be diverse. I find writing lyrics much easier then writing original music I am happy with. There are only so many chords and rhythms to work with so I'll typically work on the tune first since it's more difficult and place in the lyrics after. Occasionally, I'll do the opposite just to challenge myself and see what type of song comes from it. 'Meridian Avenue' and 'The Story of Us' were like that. I wrote the story first and created the music to match the mood of the lyric. I have found myself writing story songs with a clear, linear message even when I want to write a more cryptic, poetic lyric the way someone like David Gray tends to do. The upside to being your own worst critic is that you never settle on a song that is just 'good enough'. It has to be something I won’t cringe at or get sick of playing night after night. I want it to stand along side the songs that inspire me.”
Rehearsal for them tends to be whenever Mac gets the urge to pick up his guitar. "Having Cindy as my wife and always there is a wonderful benefit when I want to go over a particular song." With Shawn it comes down to new songs and getting him used to them. He'll come over after work to discuss what instrument he can add. They will go over it a few times and will then lay down a demo track that Shawn can work on afterwards on his own. "Shawn can naturally follow along without hearing a song before, so any rehearsal with him is just to discuss specific ideas."
When it comes down to how music has evolved since they have been playing music together, Mac states “The great thing about playing with another musician is that it inspires you to write more or tweak what you've been doing. You're constantly trying to impress the other person. When Shawn comes over he adds a new element to songs I've been playing for years. It opens new avenues to mood and timing I never noticed before. Many people hate rehearsing or recording but I adore every second.”
One of the hardest parts of being a band is finding others to play with. Before Mac met Shawn, he was always trying to find like-minded musicians who were dedicated and didn't have baggage. He even put up flyers, but either got no results or people running from the law. "It's nice to be able to rely on another musician to carry some of the load when performing."
"Another challenge is finding a way to record what we have. It costs money and a lot of time to do it right." Harmony Constant has two songs recorded and available to buy, but Mac wants to finish a whole album. He plans on getting some serious recording done in the upcoming year.
Mac’s dream job would be to be a working musician. He would love to be like his musical heroes and wake up everyday knowing he was either going to the studio to record or play a concert that night. He wouldn't even mind all the press interviews that go with it. "Fame and fortune would be wonderful to achieve, but it's not what motivates us," Mac states. “To be any kind of artist is a vocation. You don’t do it for money or attention. You're just compelled to do it and hope the world appreciates it and makes it easier for you to do.”
Mac gives the same advice to people who are thinking of taking up an instrument: "Make sure you are dedicated to it. It takes up a lot of your time and if you don't take it seriously, don’t bother starting. Band members will come and go but if you make the quality of the music your top priority, the respect and success will follow. Just realize it is going to be something that defines you and makes you stand out from the crowd. It's a power you can't abuse with ego or bad habits."
Mac has grown to appreciate the times we live in and the benefit to social networking. Harmony Constant currently have two songs available for sale at iTunes, Amazon.com and CDBaby just to name a few sites. They also have fan sites on Facebook, Myspace and Reverbnation.com. Mac tries to keep those active with demos of upcoming songs, survey questions, blogs and video blogs made at his YouTube site: MacWJack. He recently gave in and created a Twitter account @MacWJackson as well as joining Google Plus. Harmony Constant has been lucky to have been played on WVIA Radio as well as Scrubradio.com and Memoryhole radio.com, all of which have been very supportive of them. Mac has been looking forward to adding to all of them soon.
When it comes to acknowledging those who have supported them, Mac states, “We need to thank our friends and families for their support and nights of coming out to hear us play the same songs over and over early in our career. We have to thank our families for babysitting when we get a last minute gig, and all those who are loyal and travel to our furthest gigs. We are forever thankful for those like Malissa, Joe and Mandy who start conversations about us on Facebook and Lorrie Dewar who practically runs our fan club. I also need to thank all the other folks in the music field like Lee, Rick, Pete and Paul who have helped us record, get a gig or just give a supportive word.”
In closing, through his music career Mac has discovered the kinship he feels to other musicians. Through the years they have been mistreated by some desperate musicians who have tried to steal their audience instead of working with them, but despite that they have tried to support other talented local musicians. Mac states that the band should think of each other as family from whom we can learn. "There are enough gigs to go around and music to be shared. We are proud and thankful that we have such a supportive and loving audience. We will continue to work at deserving it."
We're also on FaceBook, iTunes and Amazon.com.