We all remember our first time. Some persuading, a little awkward fumbling, bated breath, high expectations, followed by a sense of elation and perhaps an apology. And for once I'm not talking about paradise by the dashboard light. I'm talking about a guitar riff. Rochester musician JJ Lang remembers his first. It was played on a $40 Harmony guitar. He was 18. The now 41-year-old Lang hasn't looked back since.
Lang is a powerful musician in the hard-rock vein with a soaring voice of stratospheric range. No joke — in the entire electric church of singers, shouters, wailers, and howlers, Lang is one of the best. Yet the man is dogged by his own standards and a relentless drive, he holds the stick from which the carrot dangles. In Lang's quest for success in this merciless trade, he focuses on the perks that spell success. It's the music that matters, and he knows this. But he needs to be reminded that he is a success. I mean, have you heard the cat sing?
Lang formed the heavy-hitting Boneyard in 2008 but left late last year when, he says, priorities within the band shifted. Not missing a beat, he put together the equally hard-rocking JJ Lang Band. The Indie Music Chanel got wind of the big man with the even bigger pipes and lo Lang was nominated for four awards, and has been asked to perform at the Indie Music Channel Awards Ceremony April 28 at The House Of Blues in Los Angeles.
Lang recently talked with City to discuss it all — his frustration, his satisfaction, his success. Below is an edited transcript of what was said.
CITY: Is there one moment you recall that solidified your drive? An epiphany?
JJ LANG: There are a few. From playing a packed house, like opening for The Cult in front of 2000 people. Or even driving four or five hours to play in front of three or four people, but you still move those three or four people.
But it's almost more rewarding to get a little crowd to say, "Wow."
When and why did you start Boneyard?
I founded Boneyard in 2008 to play music that sounded good to me, that included my influences, and that I could sing well.
What was the band's stance on performing covers?
It's one thing to throw in a cover because you want to. But I never did because I felt I had to. I wouldn't do it.
What did you set out to do with Boneyard?
Get out there and make it in this business. I've come close a couple of times with different bands and thought I was on to something.
Have you ever considered hanging it up?
I did for a year, but that didn't work out. I realized soon that music is my passion and I kept coming back to it. I've never been one to have a back-up plan. I've got all my eggs in this basket. That may not get me far sometimes.
So you're not cut for the 9-to-5 world?
Let's face it, I'm a musician. Who wants to work when you can sing? It's a lot harder being away from it. When I'm in a 9-to-5 job I can't turn my brain off, all I'm thinking about is getting out and singing. I'll be singing in my truck and be like, "That sounds great. Why am I here?"
You're an extremely talented musician. If knowing that isn't enough, what's it going to take to shut you up and make you happy?
Somebody once told me I had a voice for an arena. When I 'm there — and it's full — I know that I'm good, and I write good songs, and I have good musicians in the band. But I also know how limited I am with my guitar playing, and I'm very lucky to have people who can deal with my drive over the years.
But there's a good chance you'll never be satisfied.
I think about that. Then I think about how I was almost happy sitting on a stool with an acoustic at a local bar making $100. When I left Boneyard I said, "I want to be in a working band, with a tour bus or a van, at a 500-person venue, working and touring." I've got an acoustic cover project called LowDown. It's rewarding, I was making money and still singing, keeping my chops up. And just when I thought it might be enough, Chris Ewing from the Indie Music Channel pops in and says, "No, no, no. You've got to do your own songs." And that reminded me of what I believe in.
Depending on who you ask — or when you ask the question — you'll get a variety of explanations of what the Sound ExChange Project really is: A local contemporary classical ensemble; a chamber group; an artist collective; composers; curators; educators; community-investors.