Jason Horodyski of Maudlin Magpie on literary influences and stories behind the songs.
Tom Murphy Catch Maudlin Magpie (Katie Gold, from left, Jason Horodyski, Lander McLees and Luis Chavez) tomorrow night at Unit E.
Maudlin Magpie started out as the solo project of Jason Horodyski, but after two shows, Horodyski realized he preferred to make music with other people. The band went through different line-ups before settling with its current incarnation. What didn't change, however, is Horodyski's literate yet emotionally resonant songwriting. With the addition of a full-time keyboardist Katie Gold and a solid, reliable and expressive rhythm section in Lander McLees and Luis Chavez, Horodyski's songs and songwriting have reached their fullest realization. We spoke to Horodyski about his leap from writer and painter to musician, his literary influences and the concepts behind his songs.
Westword: You mainly did visual art in high school. Did you get into playing music around that time as well?
Jason Horodyski: I kind of did. In middle school I was into suburban gangsta rap stuff. Sometime in middle school, though, I discovered Smashing Pumpkins and [I loved] that expression and that sound and fury. My uncle passed away -- he was in a swami and a Hindu temple in Chicago and he used to do a lot of mantra and chanting with guitar -- and I inherited his guitar. But yeah, I got into it, and I took some lessons more so to learn some Smashing Pumpkins songs and Beatles songs. I tried playing in a jazz band in high school. I did that for about twelve weeks, and that was the only formal training I had. I think one of the guys from United Dope Front was part of that.
I kind of put it down. I did more art in high school and in college I did more creative writing, and it was kind of near the end of college when I started working for 1190. I did the A-Side/B-Side show for three years. I got progressively got more and more into music. I wasn't so interested in the screaming guitar solo side. I was more interested in the moodiness and the dynamics that some of the artists I discovered during that time: Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Songs: Ohia and Carissa's Weird. That sort of moodiness is something I was attracted to, and I felt closer to that.
What attracted you to the moodiness of that music?
I tend to be a cerebral guy, always kind of thinking about stuff. To me, that was something where I felt more grounded. There's something about the emotional side, not just the self-expression, but the communion between musicians and people. Just playing with people. I started with self-expression, but I got burned out on that, and I feel like the shared experience and finding like-minded people that wanted to make music and play together was more interesting.
A lot of the musicians I've been attracted to lyrically, there's something that seems very connected to them. There's a lot that's sort of polarized toward a certain style of singing: people that sound like Cobain or trying to sound like Eddie Vedder. There is a uniqueness in the human voice that I think certain artists have tapped into that comes through that's very unique to their identity.
Yeah, like with, as you mentioned, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, and certain Bob Dylan, part of the appeal is not sounding "conventionally good." They're good by virtue of the individual sound of their voice.
Definitely. It took me a while to get Dylan.
You only started writing your own songs a few years back. What sparked your interest in doing so?
I think I tend to be more of a quiet guy in terms of what I really feel and what I think about. With music, it's something that feels innate to me and it's a way of communicating things that are very different from what you might expect. I'm a very even-keeled kind of guy. Just sharing in the pains of humanity and recognizing the commonalities between people and how we suffer, I think in a way it was helping the universe fit together for me. The way I talk about it, it sounds like my music is confessional but it's not autobiographical.
With the authors I'm really attracted to like Philip K. Dick, Annie Dillard, [Haruki] Murakami and David Lynch. There's a certain transcendentalism and a recognition of time as one recurring moment and just trying to capture that presence in your own life. Often I'll have characters interacting each other in a storytelling sort of way.
So your songs aren't fiction so much but perhaps striking at different kinds of truths by telling stories that speak to it in a more poetic way?
Yeah, yeah. Also, not necessarily pinning things down in one place. But just sort of that dance between worlds. That's what I really love about Annie Dillard. One of my favorite books of all time is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Another one she wrote, For the Time Being is also fantastic. She goes from talking about this beautiful, poetic, cosmological universe to talking about dead fetuses in a hospital and all the different sort of malformations that occur at birth. And kind of revealing the mystery of both the dark and the light.
I've had some really spiritual people in my life, and I've had, especially in my family, people who don't believe in souls and it's just this one moment. It's sort of interesting to me to play with the things we contemplate and the stories we create in different cultures and societies.
It sounds like you're navigating people's beliefs and perhaps observing that you find the perspectives of others even if you share it or not.
Yeah. It's a lot easier to see your prejudices but your loyalties are what's kind of tricky and that's one thing that really interests me a lot. Chris Steele, for instance, I feel he really explores so many different territories in a very Bob Dylan sort of way. Maybe in a movement people are trying to embrace what he's saying and he's like, "Look, I'm not actually not about that." When you're trying to speak truth or seek it out, you're probably going to piss off [a lot of people].
It's interesting what you say about what's tricky is your loyalties.
Once you start to strongly identify with something, it kind of twists you.
For sure. Your thoughts start to orient toward reinforcing a specific belief pattern.
The opening passage of Winesburg, Ohio [by Sherwood Anderson] where they say, and this is a paraphrase, something to the effect that people in this town had faith because there was a locus of truth to them but that the more that they closely identified with that, the more it kind of twisted them. That's such an interesting concept to me.
A lot of people will try to make their belief system more sensible by appealing to your own sense of reason by starting with the premise that their belief system is true in a very concrete sense. Arguing from a place where one premise is believe to be true makes it a tautology. It will not convince someone that doesn't already believe it.
So if you can't construct an argument for something on a more solid footing than insisting that an article of faith is a fact, you have no good case. You must begin with the idea that not everyone has to believe what you believe and consider why someone should believe it in the first place free of basing your whole argument to a non-believer on the aforementioned article of faith.
When you deconstruct the universe like that, you realize how groundless we all are. That's really interesting because I was watching Charlie Rose. It was an interview with a bunch of authors after Christopher Hitchens passed. I think faith in anything interests me whether that be a belief in nothingness or an inner sense of something.