Little needs be said about Ten Foot Pole. Chances are, if you’re into Punk rock then you know exactly who these Californians are. Since 1993, Ten Foot Pole have been crafting some of the finest sounds the world of skate punk has to offer. Although, their newest release, Simmer Down, has them temporarily putting aside the electric guitars in favor of acoustics, creating some campfire jams that you need to hear. Dennis Jagard is the only original member of the group today, beginning as the bands guitar player and later adding vocal duties to his repertoire after original singer Scott Radisnky had to devote his time to his professional baseball career. Pitchin’ balls instead of pitchin’ lyrics. We asked Jagard what it takes to be the man on the microphone, and the following words are his response. So, we suggest you go pre-order the upcoming Ten Foot Pole album, Simmer Down, from this location, as you read this!
What does it take to be a vocalist? What strain does it put on the human body?
It is much more athletic and mental compared to playing a guitar, for me. My guitar never gets tired or irritated by smoke,dust or mildew, for example. I approach it like a baseball pitcher, yes, I get the irony, in that I warm up gradually, then sing hard, and try not to sing the rest of that day. Because everything gets swollen and if I push too hard, or introduce too much grit in the tone, I will lose range the next days. The vocal chords won’t hold together to make sound for the higher notes. And also I try to sing daily, or not skip more than a couple of days, because if I go a week without singing, then sing hard, I won’t bounce back quickly. I don’t consider it a strain on my body, other than the vocal chords, but I think my body needs to be in good shape for the voice to sound okay and hit my usual range of notes. For example, I sound best if I sing the same time of day… too early in the morning, or too late at night, and it takes much longer to warm up. If I don’t sing one day on tour, at the time I would normally be done singing, my voice often swells up as if I had sung—my body gets in a rhythm I guess.
See also : Quickies : Grant MacKenzie from Jupiter Hollow
How important are lyrics to a song and, in your opinion, who is the greatest lyricist of all time?
I recall arguing with a producer in the 90’s who thought lyrics were irrelevant and only the melody mattered, while I put 90% of my effort into lyrics. Now I wish I would have put more effort into melody, but I still don’t think lyrics are irrelevant. The combination of a memorable lyric and melody is what gets people singing songs in their heads, I think. I guess the lyric is what the song is about, while the melody is the feeling conveyed with that idea—a melody by itself is unfocused feeling, which has been done by acts such as Dead Can Dance, but it’s not as memorable, powerful as the combination of a statement a person wants to say or feel mixed with the melody to give it emotional tug. I can’t say I know of one greatest lyricist—I appreciate so many modern songs by writers from Leonard Cohen to Roger Waters to Thom Yorke to Sia, but there are many in other genres and eras that are amazing. Also I admit, sometimes I just enjoy the songs and haven’t done the research to find patterns, as I’m sure I’d be surprised of many lyrics not written by the artists I first heard sing the songs, such as Sinead O’Conner singing Prince’s Nothing Compares 2U.
If you were to dig through your personal music collection, what albums would you pick out as having the greatest vocal performances?
Muse “Absolution”, Meatloaf “Bat Outta Hell”. AFI “Sing the Sorrow”. INXS “Kick”. Pink Floyd “Dark Side Of The Moon”. Iron Maiden “The Number Of The Beast”. Ronnie James Dio “Holy Diver”. Hedwig And The Angry Inch soundtrack.
Has there ever been a concert you were at where the singer blew you away? Who made you want to pick up a microphone in the first place?
I’m a touring sound engineer, and have had the pleasure to witness some magical moments including Prince singing Purple Rain and Nothing Compares 2U. As a child, then teenager, I was very much into music, playing songs from the moment I woke up on many days. I wrote many songs before I started singing publicly, and I guess the move to sing was really an extension of wanting to be able to perform my songs, to express my ideas and share them with crowds.
Where do you pull inspiration from? What is your writing process like and how often do you write down potential lyrics?
When I’m in songwriting mode, by which I mean spending time thinking about things and developing ideas, I tend to randomly get ideas. I mean, the more I try, the more my brain or muse or wherever things come from randomly pop into my head… while sleeping, showering, driving, whatever. And I try to record the ideas as soon as possible into my phone, so I don’t forget them. Then I try to develop the ideas, writing music if the idea was a lyric, or writing lyrics if the idea was melody or music. Sometimes my process is to listen to music written by my bandmates, and try to make a melod or lyric for that, which usually just happens over time with lots of repetition.
Then after the ideas are fleshed out a bit, I try to stand back and determine if the idea is worthy of more time investment. If it’s a turd, it’s not worth trying to polish it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if the idea is a turd, or there’s just some weak link, such as a lyric or melody or music that is holding back the potential of a good idea. The “how often” question is tricky: when I’m in fully creative mode—receptive to ideas—I may come up with a song lyric idea every day or two. But often I get out of creative mode, like if I’m busy doing other work and too focused to have free time to daydream about lyrics… and usually during those times lyrics pop in my head much less frequently—I’m lucky if one a month forces it’s way past my busy brain.