An Interview With Great American Racer

Q: Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: Thanks for having me! I’m Jake Dryzal, I write songs, and I’m from Pennsylvania. I’m an avid music lover and have been writing songs for as long as I can remember. For about a decade, I performed original music under the name ‘Blue Navy’, which was heavily influenced by dream pop and post-rock music. I put out three albums under the name, called “Mine”, “Ours”, and “Yours”, along with some singles. I was also a member of a black gaze project called ‘Pallor’ for a little while with my great friend Kevin Pribulsky, and dabbled into some emo stuff with a band called ‘lusting’. Now I perform as ‘Great American Racer’, and I just put out my début album for the project this spring.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your album, “Great American Racer,” and how does it differ from your previous work?

A: “Great American Racer” was inspired by my upbringing and my hometown’s troubled history. I’m from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which as a city, has dealt with natural disasters and deindustrialization for the past few decades. On top of that, Johnstown currently has a rampant drug crisis. So on this album, I explore these topics, trying to draw parallels between them all in the process. ‘Great American Racer’ is a very lyrically-driven album and I wanted the music to complement that. My earlier music was primarily focused on atmosphere, especially when I was performing as ‘Blue Navy’ because I took lots of influence from dream pop and shoegaze. This music takes on a more rustic, folk-rock/acoustic direction.

Q: Could you tell us about the creative process you went through while working on this album?

A: I began writing this album back in February 2018. I built most of the songs around acoustic guitar, and would mainly write the lyrics for each song in one sitting. A few songs took longer to write, particularly “From the River” because of how wordy it is, and “For November”, which was built on piano. I used GarageBand to record demos for every single track on the album, which was a first for me. The album’s structure and sound were pretty much fleshed out by the time I began recording the official versions. I crafted all the extra melodies and additional instrumental layers when I was self-recording the demos. A few things were just fine-tuned when I entered the studio the following year.

Q: How would you describe the overall theme or message conveyed in “Great American Racer”?

A: The main topic of the record is substance abuse, and it’s something that hits pretty close to home for me. So although this album touches on a lot of heavy subjects, as is pretty melancholic the whole way through, I want this music to provide a sense of hope – that things can improve, and that people’s health and lives can be changed for the better through the power of music.

Q: Did you face any challenges or obstacles during the production of this album? If so, how did you overcome them?

A: When I started recording the album, things were going pretty smoothly and I expected to have it out by 2020. But then, “it” happened. Not being able to enter the studio that year with all the lockdowns was extremely disadvantageous, as it was for most other musicians. And given the album’s themes of death and decay, I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer as an artist. When things were finally starting to wind down and the songs were being worked on again, I often ran into disagreements with their mixes, and it was very frustrating. At one point, I considered shelving the record. But in early 2022, I was finally able to obtain the Pro Tools sessions from my engineer and I finished the album’s mixes later that year. It was extremely relieving.

Q: What are some specific tracks on the album that hold significant meaning to you? Could you share the stories behind them?

A: The fourth song, “Porches”, is probably the most noteworthy to me, as it was inspired by the death of a childhood friend of mine. His passing wasn’t from drugs, but it troubled me nonetheless, and writing about it, even from a fictional account, definitely helped me get through the grieving process.

Q: How has your journey or experiences influenced the lyrical content and musical direction of “Great American Racer”?

A: Funny you ask that because this album was pretty much in development since I was a kid. Even though I enjoyed growing up in Johnstown, too often I would take notice of the city’s crumbling infrastructure, and even at an early age, it made me want to figure out how these issues started. And soon, I learned how the city’s three floods, as well as industrial outsourcing, essentially left Johnstown to rot. It bothered me to no end, especially as I began to realize that the townsfolk were dying from drug overdoses on a regular basis. They were dying alongside the city, it seemed. And as this problem started to creep into my own personal and college life, it left me feeling incredibly somber, and I knew that I had to address it. Music to me seemed like the most logical way to express those sentiments. And as I kind of mentioned earlier, the folk-rock sound of the album was highly influenced by acts I’ve listened to since childhood – Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., and Counting Crows. They told lots of great stories and did so in a melodic, guitar-driven way that I wanted to emulate on my own.

Q: In what ways do you believe this album showcases your growth and evolution as an artist?

A: I feel that from a compositional standpoint, “Great American Racer” really took me out of my comfort zone. I experimented with key and tempo changes on a few songs, which up until that point, I’d never done with my music. I also wanted to include very intricate, jangly guitar melodies, and use a decent amount of vocal layering. It was a challenging yet fun album to compose. I also feel that it really helped me fine-tune my songwriting chops. Even though the album’s messaging is a bit more streamlined compared to my previous work, I still wanted the album to tell a story, with very evocative and poetic lyrics. I think I was able to find that middle ground pretty effectively. Making this record also got me more comfortable with using Pro Tools, which is a plus.

Q: Were there any collaborations or guest features on the album?

A: The drums were performed by my friend Autumn Obusek, who at the time of the album’s recording was in a really good emo band called ‘Al Coda’. She recorded the drum tracks in only a couple of days and did a really great job. And on “Sunrise and Mellow”, there were some backing vocals performed by my friends from college – Tyler Skarzenski (who’s in ‘One Wing’, ‘Something to Corrupt’, ‘Small Town Revolution’, and a few other groups), Emma Esterline, and Nick Silver. Everything else was me.

Q: What do you hope listeners will take away from this album, both in terms of musical enjoyment and deeper emotional connection?

A: I want people to come away from this album knowing that music, and hopefully my own, can still make positive impacts on the world. I also want listeners to know that if they are going through similar situations, they aren’t alone. I’ve been there and seen it first-hand, so I understand. I will be donating a portion of the album’s profits to various anti-drug and rehabilitation programs in western Pennsylvania, as well as some national ones. I’ve donated to a few already, and I’m very grateful for that. I just want people to know that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and that we can all get through hard times together, inspire change and optimism, and contribute to society in meaningful ways.


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