"I would like to make enough money to pay my rent and buy myself a bottle of whiskey a week."
That's what Indianapolis singer and songwriter jascha told us of his musical aspirations in 2010, just before his group's sold-out album release show at Radio Radio.
The singer and songwriter was found dead in April of 2013. He was 28.
Now, about a year later, his friends have gathered their thoughts and his songs and set up a memorial concert honoring the life and music of the vastly talented and beloved jascha. Various iterations of his band's lineup (also named jascha., just with some punctuation attached) along with Christian Taylor, Dan Snodgrass, David Campbell, The Yellow Kites, Leilah Smith and other musicians will perform his music at the show Saturday at Radio Radio. All proceeds garnered from the show will benefit his young son, jascha Fox Marvin Updike.
NUVO asked musicians playing at Saturday's show to submit memories of making music with jascha to try and identify why his songs were so special, and to attempt to capture what a singular artist - and person - he was. These are their tributes. (Editor's note: And don't miss Matt Erler's two-part tribute to jascha on Musical Family Tree.)
He was extremely unpredictable on stage, so no show was alike in that manner. Some nights he'd have us shocked, and even embarrassed with his crazy antics.
We always kept really strong eye contact while performing, and occasionally (when he knew we were sounding on point) he'd look over at me with this enormous smile on his face!!!! It was contagious.
What made his songs stick? I didn't even realize they were "sticking" until I picked up an accordion again after four years and remembered all my parts! He had a magical way of expressing his emotions through his lyrics and his performances. He liked to make his audience FEEL. People like to feel, even when it hurts sometimes, so I think they'll continue to stick.
- Lauren Moore
My favorite memory of jascha is when I first hung out with him. We were at the Red Eye Cafe watching my future bandmate Christian Taylor perform. I cracked a joke (which was apparently only humorous to me) and was the only one who started laughing. jascha just got a smirk on his face and said, "You were homeschooled weren't you?" I was startled. How could he have known that? He said he was homeschooled too and that's how he knew (but I'm pretty sure it was my quite unsocialized sense of humor, which made that obvious!) That's how I got my nickname "Homeschool."
Playing music with jascha, the few times we were actually able to, was simply spiritual. That boy knew how to pour his aura, energy and entire being into his songs and how to do it on command. His songwriting abilities were completely inspirational and still to this day, I study his music for guidance in how I should write my own songs.
I met with jascha a few weeks before his passing and just me and him sat in his living room jamming away attempting to do a collaboration at our band's shared upcoming show at The White Rabbit. I will cherish that day forever, as jascha and me shared a distinct strong bond through our mutual love for music. As a Music Education student, I do not have a lot of time on my hands and unfortunately had to cancel the collaboration. I regret that decision to this day, but feel that perhaps with the amazing collaboration of the memorial show, I can forgive myself...as I'm pretty sure jascha already did a long time ago.
- Leilah Smith
jascha playing live and recording (Slideshow)
Photos of jascha, playing at various venues. The singer-songwriter will be honored with a memorial show this Friday at Radio Radio.
Click to View 14 slides
Before I joined jascha. (the band), I had never really been in a band before. Not one that played shows anyway. I grew immensely as a performer from my first days writing drum parts in the studio as we were recording our album "there's nothing like love for making you miserable" back in 2009, through last March, when we played what would be our last show together. I was learning how to be in a band on the fly at first, and there was no better group of individuals to do that with. That first incarnation of myself, jascha, Lauren Moore, Jordan Updike and Nathan Lucas was a pretty tight-knit family at that time, and there was an excitement behind everything we did, working our way up from open mics at the Vollrath Tavern to selling out Radio Radio for our album release show just a few months later.
jascha was a person who could cut right to the core with his music and words. The night I tried out for the band, we ended up at the Red Eye downtown, where Christian Taylor hosted a weekly open mic at the time. I still remember hearing him play "Divorce Makes People Cry; Especially Me" for the first time that night, and how it made me feel incredibly sad, and also incredibly excited to be playing with somebody who could make me feel that way. This feeling would continue all the way through the last batch of songs he wrote, which featured songs like "Forget Me" that were absolutely beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking at the same time.
As the band progressed, we began to write songs more as a unit, and it was always so rewarding to come up with a cool tune in practice and have jascha return the next week with fully fleshed out lyrics and melody. Our EP "at the mouth of the well of the twisted serpent / indianapolis: the paris of the midwest" was written in this way, and songs from that EP like "Quetzalcoatl"
were almost effortless to complete. I remember writing that one almost from start to finish in one practice and then recording it for the EP just a week later. jascha was a seeming well of ideas for songs and lyrics that never ran dry.
Prior to the EP, we had been asked last-minute to contribute a song to Standard Recording's annual Christmas album, and somehow just a week later jascha was able to show us a seven-minute masterpiece of a song called "what the hell; it's christmastime" that remains one of my favorite songs of his to this day. I've never heard a song that has so perfectly illuminated the sadness the surrounds that holiday for so many people, myself included. But there was jascha again, cutting to the core of something with a surgical perfection.
As the band progressed through multiple lineup changes, eventually adding Drew Malott and Katie Purifoy, the songwriting process became more and more collaborative, and it was amazing how jascha was able to throw himself into group songwriting as easily as he threw himself into writing songs on his own. It was always so easy to work with jascha, and having played with him for several years, I grew a connection with him musically that extended beyond words, and into the territory of feeling.
Losing jascha was a crushing blow that, in all honesty, I still find extremely difficult to deal with at times. But, as I am sure you will hear many others say, it is beautiful that jascha left behind so much music so that we can continue to interact with him any time we want to. This show is something we have been planning for quite a while, and in the process, we have refamiliarized ourselves with a great deal of jascha's extensive catalog of music, both solo and with the band. It's hard at times to hear the music, but the act of playing it still brings me all the joy it has from the beginning. I cannot wait to play this music live again, and celebrate with everyone the music of my friend, and the best songwriter I have ever known, the Last Honest Man.
- Bryan Unruh
I met jascha for the first time when he came up to Muncie for a gig with Bonesetters and Slothpop at the Heorot. He was really easy to warm up to and his talent was almost instantaneously apparent. After my move from Muncie to Indy, we would spend long nights hanging out on his porch, throwing darts in the back room, discussing books that we both shared a love for, and smoking so many cigarettes you could almost suffocate a small country with its plume. He was one of my dearest friends, the main link in the friendships I hold now, and this past year has been really strange without him.
- Dan Snodgrass
I've been playing music for nearly 20 years now. But when i first met jascha and heard his music a few years ago, everything changed. I thought, man, this guy has his finger on the pulse of something melancholy and beautiful in the world. and I wanted to be a part of it. He saw the sadness, and he saw the joy; he knew love, and he knew isolation; laughter and tears. This was all familiar to me. See, he wrote the songs that i had been trying for years to write. And he wrote them better. I haven't written a song (outside of collaborations in bands I'm in) since then. I've tried, but they end up as forgotten scraps in a notebook. and I was fine with that. I'd leave them on a shelf somewhere and just walk down the street to play music with jascha.
He was impetuous, in a good way. He was always up for trying something new (making whiskey?) or going on an adventure (buying a boat and sailing the gulf?). Or staying right at home and enjoying the sunset on the front porch. His music was the same way. If it suited him, he would strip it down to just a bare acoustic guitar and a wailing, heartwrenching cry. Or a country-inspired twang and a whiskey-stained drawl. Or a fiery, uptempo explosion. Lyrically, he would say things that seemed so earnest that it was almost shocking. he could love with such passion and then hate with equal intensity within minutes of each other.
jascha had a way of telling stories that made him a great songwriter. He knew to lean on the good parts, and which to leave out, grinning a little half-smile, with these knowing eyes. You knew you didn't get the entire story, but you knew you got enough. He saw to that. He was also an honest soul. I don't think I ever saw him do or say anything that wasn't genuine, straight from inside. Like his storytelling, you might not always get the whole story, but you got enough, you got what he wanted you to know.
Jascha, She Is Does Magic, and DMA perform at Locals Only (slideshow)
Jascha, She Does Is Magic, and DMA performed at Locals Only on January 20, 2012.
Click to View 11 slides
He was also generous, sometimes confusingly so. At the end of any tour the band went on, jascha would purchase gifts for everyone who went out with him. I have an overdrive pedal that he gave me after we went out to South by Southwest a few years ago. He never had a lot of money, but he had no problem blowing it on things for the people who made music with him. If he ever caught a windfall of cash, like if he had a winning lottery ticket (which he played regularly), it would be gone within days: spent on others, on drinks and food, shared with friends. When you came over to jascha's house, he made sure to offer you something to eat or drink, every time. Any band from out of town that was friends with jascha knew they had a place to sleep and probably put together the best house show of their tour.
jascha was on a musical journey that bore itself out over several self-released homemade solo EPs, a full-length album, another EP (on Standard Recording), and a handful of studio recordings that never had enough time to gestate fully and become what they needed to be before jascha left us. Who knows what his music would have sounded like a year from now? Five years from now? That might sting the most for me. I have lost friends and family before, but the twist is that i believed my fate to be somehow entwined with jascha's. Even though, after the band went on hiatus, our friendship waxed and waned a little (as can happen in life, people get caught up in different things for a while), I always felt like we were some kind of brothers, musically, spiritually. I knew, just knew, that someday when jascha found his voice again (he hadn't lost it, he just refused to sing... for a while), we were going to pick up right where we left off. a one-off show last march that went great had us all thinking that. I was excited. We all were.
Obviously, that future isn't going to come to be. So now we're left with the only option of trying to get to know jascha the best we can through what he left for us. And we're kind of lucky, because he left us quite a bit. there are songs here that i had only heard once or twice before, or didn't even know existed. The past few months, I've spent a lot of time alone in my room with a guitar, learning a dozen or more songs that are new to me. In some ways, it kind of feels like he's still here, we're hanging out, he's showing me this song he wrote, I'm seeing him nearly break down when it gets to the bridge and he really goes for it. Every week, when we practice for the show, a part of him is in each song we rehearse, each word we sing.
But no amount of clever writing can bring jascha back. No amount of memorial shows or whiskey or tears. All we can do is hold him close to us through the words and music that he left behind. and look, he knew that. he did. Listen to the music again. Close your eyes. You can almost see jascha giving you his little half-smile, the knowing eyes.
- Drew Malott
jascha is the first person I met from the Indianapolis music scene, and from there he became the only reason to come to Indianapolis in addition to the group of kind friends and loyalty that orbited (and still follow) the jascha name.
jascha would never hesitate to offer us a safe place to stay. Indy was often the first stop on our tour, and we'd be sent off feeling accepted and giddy. Often jascha caught us at the tail-end of our trip where we'd almost forgotten about the Midwest charm. After our shows together, we would go to jascha's big house with a million mattresses and we would talk about Wilco for hours, dink around on the piano/vintage guitars, and watch spiders catch moths. The porch was its own web, gaining a crew of quirky and memorable insects as the night went on. I was always surprised by the amount of people gravitating to the light of the porch - and I soon realized that this gathering happened more often than not. The jascha hospitality is something I'm very thankful for - always his arms (and couches and floors and whiskey) were open to us.
Sharing the White Rabbit stage with jascha is something I wish I could have one more time. I'd love to watch him again through the threaded cabaret curtains, crooning for the mic on his toes and then ending his set on his knees. Sometimes I say his name just to remind myself of the friendship formed and the songs I once heard. He told me he loved me from stage once and I wish I wouldn't had been too shy to yell, "I love you too, jascha! Thank you for everything."
- Vivian McConnell
I loved him as a songwriter and a performer because he wasn't afraid to express his emotions and opinions, whether good or bad and he never held any energy back on stage. Even if that meant ruining his voice or being over the top. He consistently got better with every new song written. He would have grown into one of the best songwriters in the nation, at least, had he continued. ... I am grateful to have shared so many stages and line-ups with my little friend and am honored that I get to carry on his legacy through his songs.
- Christian Taylor
My friend jascha, who left us last spring, was in fact far more than a friend. He was a brother to me. He was a brother that came and went. Our relationship ebbed and flowed, but it was always there. In fact, when I heard of his passing, I was in London with my wife on vacation. When I heard that he had left us, I quickly called our airline and informed them that my brother had passed away. They didn't hesitate to issue us bereavement fares so that we could bid him farewell properly. A little lie yes, but it was imperative that we be there.
I met jascha in 2006 at a house show that he and I were slated to play. He showed up in a beaten tin can late '90s mustang he was borrowing from his cousin. Nothing worked on this car. Every dial, switch and knob in the passenger compartment served no apparent purpose other than convincing passengers that it was in fact a car. He was sporting a pastel tee shirt, Chuck Taylors, torn jeans, a few beat up suitcases and a cake he had made for the headlining act.
I had heard of him before, but this was the first time we'd met. He was younger than I'd imagined. The songs that I'd heard had a maturity about them that didn't seem like they'd come from a guy so young.
He and I shared a few stories and a few drinks and before the night was over he'd invited me to join him on an 8-hour journey across the upper mid-west to Jamestown, New York (a city that became a favorite of his). I was a bit concerned about being in that car for 8 hours each way with a guy I'd just met, but he had such a strange, innocent, lovely demeanor about him that I had to go.
Not 36 hours later I was boarding his rusted wagon for our first show together in Jamestown. The trip itself was fairly uneventful with one exception. On our way, we made a stop by a small town grocery store to pick up a musicians road-meal of cheese and crackers. He drove while I attempted to scrape cheese off the block without breaking the crackers - having only occasional success. I would eat one and then offer one to the good man - to which he demanded that I feed it to him as he drove. As I barely knew him, I considered this to be a bit odd of a request. Nonetheless, I obliged and as we stormed across Ohio and stuffed crackers into the crooked-tooth mouth of a man that I grew to love.
We traveled and played together in New York City, Western Massachusetts, Kansas City, St. Louis and many different venues throughout Indianapolis. He played the album releases for "Stories of Clockwork," a two-piece lap dulcimer duo I was a part of and for "The Yellow Kites," 2 piece acoustic folk duo I'm in with my wife. He was always there when I needed him and he was eager to show kindness however he could.
When my wife and I moved to London in 2009 to deal with immigration issues, jascha was one of the few constant contacts we had with Indianapolis while gone. I honestly could write volumes about him. He was such a strange wonderful friend.
jascha was a complicated man. He was passionate about those he loved and passionate about those whom he did not. He was fervent about working with children, his art, his friends and he was one of the most generous people I'd ever met.
I count it a pleasure to have known such a kind soul. I miss him greatly and will never forget.
- Kendall and Erina Ludwig