Getting to Know Jacob Latham

Jacob Latham is the youngest Emerging Artist at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.  He just graduated from high school in Bloomington, Indiana.  It’s safe to say that we’re expecting great things from this rock-climbing mandolin/guitar playing singer-songwriter.

Falcon Ridge is celebrating its 25th anniversary the first weekend in August and the Emerging Artist showcase is always one of the highlights of the festival. The musicians are chosen by a three-member jury and are given the opportunity to perform two songs (not to exceed ten minutes). * The audience votes for their favorites and three or four acts are asked to return to the main stage the following year.

To learn more about Jacob Latham, jump right on over to his website here.

Here’s a video where you can watch (and listen to) Jake sing and climb some rocks!

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What gave you the singer-songwriter bug?

This question could easily be summed up with two words “Bob Dylan”. When I was about twelve or thirteen my dad very strongly urged me to read Bob Dylan’s auto-biography, The Chronicles Vol 1. I don’t think he imagined at the time just how drastically it would change my understanding of life. My priorities changed from video games and lego’s, to understanding the lyrics of “It’s Alright Ma,” and “Desolation Row,” or memorizing the release dates of every Dylan album. I was cast under Dylan’s spell, and became engulfed in his lyrics and serene melody’s. I began to write my own music immediately after that, and quite appropriately, my first song was an ode to Bob Dylan. Fast-forward to today, and I’ve written many songs, inspirations rooting not only from Dylan, but from other greats such as Springsteen, Petty, Cash, The Beatles, and more age-appropriate acts like The Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons.

I read that you’re in a family band—who does that consist of and what does everyone play?

When I was also around the formative age of twelve, my father, sister and I formed a family band called “Blue Cut”. My sister played the bass, my father the guitar, and I played mandolin and harmonica. We played shows and went on a few tours, but when life got to us, and my sister moved to San Francisco to study fashion design, we had to make a few changes. So I was in a family band, however, for the past year and a half now, the band has been changed to “Jacob Latham,” which is the name under which I just recently released the EP Midnight Train. If I have anyone else play shows with me, it really depends on the venue, and the nature of the show. Usually, I have a couple of friends accompany me with bass and electric guitar, and my dad sings harmony and rounds it out with metronome-tight acoustic guitar.

What’s the Bloomington, Indiana music scene like?  Are you in John Mellencamp territory?

Bloomington is home to one of the world’s finest music schools –The Jacob’s School of Music at Indiana University–so there are lots of amazing musicians here.  But it is an unusual town, in that so much of the population is college kids, and there is not a strong culture of seeing unknown music or hearing new music. So less well known, singer/songwriter musicians have a tough time here, but known touring acts do quite well at a few venues in town.

A Michael Jackson cover band might sell-out at The Bluebird, but The Wood Brothers can only bring in 100 or so people to The Bishop Bar. Still, a lot of musicians come through, so I am lucky to see lots of live shows every year.

I suppose I’m in Mellencamp territory, mainly because he owns land behind my house!  So, yes, Bloomington is his home, but he rarely does anything musically in town.

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Is your instrument of choice the mandolin or the guitar?

I have been playing the mandolin for longer, and I would say that I can do more with it. But if I’m playing a show solo, or just writing lyrics, I prefer the guitar. It has a nice calming feel, and you can just spend hours with it.

Your bio states that some of your influences are newer folkies like Blitzen Trapper and Iron and Wine.  Have you ever explored any deeper into the “folk” history archives?

I do enjoy newer bands such as those, and ones previously mentioned, but lately, the old 60s-70s early rock bands have captured me. I can’t go very long without listening to Tom Petty’s, “Learning to Fly.” As for earlier folk, I have listened to tons of music from the early recording days–The Carter Family (I have pretty cool version of “Bury Me Underneath the Willow”), Jimmie Rogers, Mississippi John Hurt and lots of early blues artists, and of course, folks like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.  I am sure there are lots more I need to sample.

I understand that you’re a pretty serious rock climber.  How did you get started with that?  Tell us about some of your experiences at climbing competitions and what makes you like the sport so much.

I LOVE rock climbing. I have played baseball my whole life, but at the age of 15 I had to make the extremely hard decision to stop playing, because it would have put a damper on my musical career. But everything happens for a reason, and soon after I quit baseball, I stopped into a rock climbing gym to see what all the fuss was about. Since that day, April 15th, 2011, I don’t think I’ve been more than a week without climbing. I immediately became a fanatic, and started climbing 4-6 days a week, and competing at a national level. The level of passion and the feeling I get from climbing, is only surpassed by a small margin, from being up on stage seeing smiling faces in the crowd, and the roar and applause after I nail a mandolin solo, or just how fun it is to close your eyes and feel the whole band around you, as you all play your heart out to people you’ve never met.

What can we expect to hear about you in the near future?  Are you heading to college or will you be playing shows or climbing bigger and better and scarier rocks?

I just graduated high school, and this next year I would be a freshman in college, but I’m going to take at least a year, and set some tours up in the east coast, and Indiana’s surrounding states. I want to get in front of as many people as possible, and really try and make a career out of this. I will definitely continue to climb! I always climb at the local hotspots on my tours. For instance, after the Festival in Hillsdale, I’m going to head over to “The Gunks,” New York’s best outdoor climbing area. I want to take music and climbing to bigger and better levels, and connect the two in a way that no one has ever done before!

*The judging panel changes year to year. Many thanks to this year’s panel, Carter Smith, producer of Common Ground Community Concerts in Hastings-on-Hudson NY, Dennis O’Brien, talent buyer for the Newtown Theater in Newtown PA and Kathy Sands-Boehmer, booker for the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA now in its 43rd year of presenting great acoustic music.

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