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Auburn's Jake Nannery channels travels and experiences into his music
Jake Nannery didn't choose to make music his life, music chose him.
From an early age, the Auburn musician – who celebrates the release of his 7-song EP "S.W." May 17 at the LUCID Lounge in Seattle – was drawn toward all things musical.
"There was never a point where I just made a decision to do music," he said. "It was just an obvious thing for me. Growing up, honestly, in Auburn there was always just a strong music community."
Nannery, 35, said his first memories of music came via local music instructor Fred Strom and the Auburn School District.
"(He) had a personal library of musical instruments he would loan out to students," Nannery said. "He went from elementary to elementary.
"They used to bring the fourth-graders in to the high school music classes, and the kids would give a speech about their instrument and what it's like to be in an orchestra," he said.
It was the trombonist's demonstration that hooked Nannery.
"He took off the slide of his trombone and showed how you could use it to blow spitballs," Nannery said. "Then he showed out you could use it on the flautist in front of you to hook their flute. I was pretty much sold at that point. More than anything, though, it was the community in Auburn around music and the kids around there. It's always just been an integral part of my life."
He began writing his own songs at Auburn High School, from which he graduated in 1997.
"My dad had a wild idea," he said. "He was worried that I was playing too many video games, so he talked me into trading my 8-bit Nintendo for an Ibanez Strat copy and a tube amp. I took chord charts out of an old piano book my parents had. And I just remember glomming off the stuff that I learned from the Auburn music programs."
Several of the "grunge" bands that were gaining traction in Seattle in the early 1990s also influenced him.
"It was hard not to be influenced by a lot of the stuff coming out of Green River Community College," he said. "KGRG was putting on shows with Mudhoney, Seaweed, Presidents of the United States and Diamond Fist Werny. It was hard not to be influenced by all that rock and roll. We just have such a great culture of music in the Northwest. It's great to be a part of it."
Nannery said the influence of the music his parents played while he was growing up also filtered in.
"My parents listened to Tom Waits, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Mammas and the Papas," he said. "I can remember my first albums I ever bought, Pearl Jam's 'Ten' and a Dizzy Gillespie live concert. It was pretty eclectic."
Funk and ska, jazz and Celtic music did their number on him, too.
"You just put all that through your filter," he said. "Then, later in college, I found my own voice, and I found that Springsteen/Americana sounds just natural for me."
Coupled with a gravelly voice, the byproduct of a childhood throat injury, Nannery found his niche.
It wasn't until he spread his wings, left the Northwest and experienced the world, however, that it all come together.
After getting a degree in Communications Art from California Lutheran University during his second stint at the Los Angeles-area school, Nannery said, he came back north to work as a contractor at Microsoft.
"I realized I didn't like the person I was becoming," he said. "I had some big-boy decisions to make and decided I wasn't ready to be that guy."
Unwilling to settle down and become another worker drone, Nannery took to the road on two wheels, touring the United States and Mexico, putting more than 12,000 miles on his motorcycle.
During his trek, a chance encounter at the Grand Canyon youth hostel provided a shot at another adventure.
"I met this guy, Alastair Rowan," he said. "We went to a local pub for a few beers, and the next thing I know I'm interviewing with the general manager of a five-star restaurant in New Zealand."
Nannery soon found himself on the other side of the planet.
"The motorcycle trip alone was pretty life altering," he said. "But the trip to New Zealand, I got to focus on my music. It gave me a chance to broaden my horizons and exposed me to more people. I was flat-broke but had a really good time. I worked really hard.
"Being a bit of a roustabout, I was there legally, but not a citizen or anything, but you have to be on point," he said. "There was no safety net, and I learned a lot about counting on myself. If you didn't have work, then you would have to find your way back home."
After a year-and-half, Nannery returned to the Northwest to take up his musical career in earnest.
This past summer he started recording with renown engineer and producer Bubba Jones at Critical Sun Studio in Seattle.
Along with the Wooden Nickel Brass Band – bassist Ramon Salumbides and Auburn buddy and drummer Mike West – Nannery knocked out 32 songs.
"We recorded 16 with full band," he said. "We went and just knocked it out. Mike and Ramon are just consummate professionals. It was a cool experience. It wasn't punch in, make music and punch out. It was come have tea, chat and then get to work. Bubba and I negotiated a deal where we weren't on the clock. There was a real kind of exploratory sense and liberty to the session."
Nannery said the trio also recorded 16 solo acoustic tunes and four tunes with vocals, an upright bass and an acoustic guitar.
He said the plan is to release the songs slowly as four EPs, with 'S.W.' being the first batch. That way, he said, the band can concentrate on touring and live shows.