Courtney Jacobs Breaks Into the Music Scene
Courtney Jacobs is a college student at UVA studying computer science. She realized her passion for music at school, which prompted her to join a band. Today, she released her first solo song, “Canary.” Driven by synths, her sultry voice and condescending lyrics set the mood for this song about an unhealthy relationship.
I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with her over Facetime about her journey in music and her first single (along with a few special reveals). Keep reading to find out more about Courtney Jacobs and what she’s up to!
How did you get into music?
I actually didn’t do anything in music until I started college. I’ve always loved singing, playing guitar, stuff like that. But, I was always super shy. I was a really shy person and could not imagine myself on stage. As soon as I started college, I got involved in the music scene there. I joined an acapella group at the University of Virginia so we would sing rock songs. It was super fun, but then I got asked to be part of a rock band. I didn’t know anything about getting into the music scene or the music industry of any kind. I just kind of went in with my foot on the gas. It was me and 5 guys. Our band is called Silver Retriever. All of the guys in my band graduated [this year]. With COVID-19 and everything, I decided now was the best time to pursue what I always wanted to do. I started writing songs that didn’t really fit with the band. Not rock more like pop and I didn’t know what to do with all those songs that just do not work with the band. I thought that maybe I could go off on my own someday and I could just do it now. I met up with a really talented producer. His name is Peter Wellman and he’s another student at UVA. He’s extremely talented - he can play every instrument under the sun. Such a great guy. Most importantly, he totally shared my vision for what I wanted from my music. He could understand what I was trying to say. Eventually I learned more and more about music and it’s been such an amazing journey for me personally because I love learning new things. For all of the songs I bring to Peter I make full demos in Garageband. I record my voice really crappy. I use the default instruments in Garageband. I put the song together exactly how I want it and then I ask Peter to make it sound good. He will just play guitar, bass, drums or anything else. He does the electronic instruments too and he does it way better than I ever could. He mixes, masters, he does everything. Anything that’s not my voice there’s a high chance it was by his hands which is incredible. We have such a good relationship over music. It’s been a long road, but really my actual journey into the music scene has only been just over a year.
Oh my gosh. That’s so quick too.
Yeah, I was like if I’m really gonna do this I better give 110% and try to knock it out of the park. If I fail, I fail. I will never know if I’m going to be a good musician unless I try, and put everything on hold to just do this. Although I didn’t quit my job and go out in the streets playing music, I like to say that I have my 9 to 5 and then my 5 all the way back to 9 is music.
That’s such a great mindset to think about it though. You’re just giving it everything you have right now.
Thank you. I mean, it’s exhausting and I don’t get a lot of sleep, but it’s important to me. I would be cheating myself if I didn’t give it everything I had.
What’s your vision for your music? You said you and your producer share that same vision?
I don’t know how to define my sound. I feel it when I hear something or when I think of a few lines. You can easily tell whether it fits. A couple of years ago I fell in love with dubstep. I love the feeling music gives you especially in those kinds of genres where it feels like it’s surrounding you. I feel heavy. It’s substantial. I want to put my own spin on it by having soft, raspy vocals that complements a heavy soundscape. I don’t know how to define it any more than that. But basically, I want my songs to surround you.
Oh that’s cool. That sounds like it would be really fun to listen to.
I’ve always been a person who doesn’t like headphones and I would listen to music from the speaker of my phone. My music friends quickly corrected me on that. If someone is planning something you won’t be able to hear it if you’re listening to it through one speaker. I’ve been inducted into the headphone club. I love listening to music like that and now I love making music like that, where when you listen to the music you tune out everything else. It doesn’t have to be dubstep where it’s high energy and angry. It can just be something you can chill to. I love listening to music similar to what I make when I'm doing homework or I’m working. I’m a programmer. I do computer science. When I’m coding -- it sounds kind of nerdy, but when I’m coding I love listening to music that just takes you to another dimension. It’s just you and music and what you’re doing. It can let you focus.
Oh, I do the same thing. Where I just try and drown out everything else.
What is your songwriting process like? I know you kind of got into it. Do you write it with a guitar or anything? Music and then lyrics or music and then lyrics?
So most of the time I come up with lyrics and melody before I come up with chords or music in the background. Most of my songs are written -- this might sound crazy -- 90% of 90% of my songs are written within 20 minutes. My songs are like a snapshot in time, but it’s an easy way to go back to a memory that I had. The song transports me there. Usually it’s an extremely strong feeling, or like the way that I’ve characterized something in my head. It’s kind of like therapy. You’re explaining all these seemingly random things that go on in your life and someone puts a thread through all of it and you have that ‘a-ha’ moment. When I get one of those I start freewriting. Sometimes I’m writing lyrics with no melody in mind, like a poem and then I come up with the tune later. Most of the time I kind of improvise a tune and then keep going until something sticks. I keep doing that line by line until I get the structure of a verse or the corus and then fill it in piece by piece, like a puzzle. Usually I can do that whole process in 20 minutes if I’m extremely inspired. I’ll get 50-70% of the lyrics done and the general melody and I can tweak it later. Others take a month or two for me to feel like it’s complete, but the bulk of the songwriting happens in this one really quick burst when I feel that inspiration. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 am and I woke up from a dream. I get up and write it down in the notes of my phone and that’s usually how I do it. I think I wrote every single song in the notes app of my phone or my laptop.
That’s really impressive though. 20 minutes.
There’s some people who write very shitty songs in 20 minutes. So the time isn’t very impressive. If one of my songs ends up turning out very well in 20 minutes then I’m very proud of that. There have been quite a few songs I've written that I’ve thrown right into the trash, cause they’re just so bad.
Fair point. You have your single “Canary” coming out on July 1. Can you tell me a little bit about that one?
I was telling you that my songs are like a snapshot in time and how I felt at a certain time in my life. Sometimes it’s not 100% based on reality. Basically, it’s about a controlling, manipulative relationship where the main character, the singer, is the bad guy in the situation. I don't see that done very much. Normally it’s like ‘oh i’m the victim, poor me, you keep on breaking my heart.’ I’m so tired of that, so I informed off of my own life and a really horrible relationship I had. It taught me a lot but believe it or not I’m still friends with that person. That song basically describes how someone can love someone and yet still be condescending, manipulatie, controlling, and just have really bad trust issues. It explores this space where there’s no clear line on who’s the good guy who’s the bad guy, you know whoever’s singing it has done some nasty things. The thesis of the song is to stop trying like you're going to be good enough because you’re never going to be good enough. In the chorus, the first line is “Look at you making moves all by yourself” and that’s saying like ‘oh, you’re trying so hard to be a good person and be successful but that’s not going to happen.’ The idea of the canary, is the name of the song and it’s in the chorus. Birds are meant to fly and be successful and everything, but I’m keeping my bird in the cage on the bookshelf. It thinks that it’s really successful because it’s singing, but it’s never going to be able to fly because it’s stuck in a cage and I’m the one that’s keeping it there. It’s not a nice song, let’s put it that way.
I like the twist where you say the singer is the abuser. You were right, you never see that.
It’s pretty rare, and I’m not saying that it’s something novel because think about Carrie Underwood. She got cheated on and she’s smashing his car and she’s such a badass. It’s kind of along that vein where it’s not like the singer’s a standup person, but they’re still the protagonist and you want them to succeed. I feel like in my song if you’re an observer looking from the outside you’re not really sure what to think, morally, of the people involved.
Yeah, it’s kind of like a big gray space. Ooh, I like that a lot.
Who do you find your biggest inspirations from?
I don’t have a clear inspiration that I’m trying to be like or sound like. It’s very much a mix of everything that I listened to and it’s very much my own style that I’ve developed from what my voice naturally sounds like. My music kind of has a Lorde-feel. I also really like Lana del Ray, but I don’t listen to a lot of her music, but I respect her from a distance. I feel like I have a similar vibe going on. I really like Lauv and adore his music, especially “Paris in the Rain.” I think the sweet vocals with heavy baselines and synths and stuff, I think all of those share similar ideas and are expressed in different ways.
What’s next for you after ‘Canary’ is released?
I actually have another single that’s almost done that I plan to release sometime in August. I haven't told anyone about that yet, and I plan to have 3-4 singles out by the end of the year, about 1 every 6 weeks. I want to ride this wave and build up the momentum and give the people what they want. I really want these first 3-4 songs to kind of define my sounds and to explore and create a persona of who I am musically. I think that will serve me well, and I want to get the most music out there as fast as I can, while I’m still in college and sell myself to the system with a full time job. Even though my band graduated, due to COVID, they were all supposed to scatter around the country after graduation but now I don’t know. We haven’t really talked about it. If they’re back in town I’ll definitely play more shows with them. I’m also looking to play more shows with my music, but it’s hard since I have to build a band up from nothing. I have to play electronic sounds out of a speaker or something like that. I don’t know how I’m going to accomplish that but we’ll see.