By night, she's electro-pop indie star Cannonball Jane. But by day, she's mild-mannered elementary school music teacher, Sharon Hagopian!
When we here at copacetic first heard her debut album, Street Vernacular, we couldn't help but be completely blown away! Not only could this amazing girl write solid, infectious songs, but she played all the instruments herself, aa-and she recorded and produced it by herself!
We simply had to know more about this mysterious new girl on the block. Thankfully, Sharon is just as sweet as her singing voice, and graciously answered our barrage of questions! ;)
First off, the name Cannonball Jane is great! : ) How did you come up with it?
Part of "Cannonball Jane" is my real name --- guess which part! I came up with the name about 10 years ago!
Too clever! ;) So, let's start from the very beginning! I read on your website that your first influential musical moment was hearing Beethoven's symphonies coming out of your family's stereo speakers! Are your other family members musical as well?
I heard Beethoven because of my father's admiration for the genius! My father is a very good violinist, however, he hasn't played in over 20 years and so I can only recall a few times when he'd get it out and play --- much to my enjoyment and boy, what a treat! His record collection, from what I remember, consisted of probably 99% classical music.
I didn't grow up in a particularly "musical" household --- it wasn't like the Bachs, the Wilsons, or the Jacksons! My mother played piano and I always liked to sing with her...but music wasn't listened to a lot, just classical if any. So, I would take my father's records and put them on the family stereo, turn up the volume and lie down right next to a speaker.
Piano lessons were mandatory for my two sisters, brother and me while growing up --- I was the only one who liked practicing, and the only one who has seriously pursued music.
You can play just about every instrument under the sun! Which instrument did you pick up first? Do you have a favorite?
I started piano lessons in 5th grade, then began flute lessons, then voice lessons, then guitar during my senior year in high school. And, well, to be a music teacher, you basically have to learn to play a little bit on every instrument! My favorite instrument has to be the one I carry with me at all times --- my voice. But, I'll play anything that makes a sound.
What can you tell us about your previous music project, Grody to the Max? (Yet another awesome band name!) Are there any releases out there?
Grody to the Max was another musician, Jamie Gustkey, and I. We played mostly covers, but in a very fun and twisted way! No releases...yet.
We can't wait! ;) So I understand you bought your first four-track recorder while living in New York, but the cost of living hindered your creative output so you moved away. What initially persuaded you to pick up a four-track? Also, do you miss living in New York? Do you think you might ever move back?
Actually, when I was 10 years old, I would record myself playing piano with one of those "handheld" tape recorders, then use another boombox to record that with me singing on top, then do the process again with flute on top of that. And in high school, I remember using this same method to create 3-part harmonies. When I was in college, I took a couple of multi-track recording classes and loved it. I stole a key to the school's studio and would sneak in at night and write and record songs. So when I lived in my dinky apartment in New York and didn't have the luxury of a free studio all to myself, I did the next best thing: I bought a four-track, a drum machine, and an electric guitar.
And I heart New York, for sure! I grew up always wanting to live in NYC, a far cry from my small hometown in Ohio. My father is from the South Bronx and I always wanted to be like him. I loved every second I lived there. Everyone should do it --- they'll toughen up. I think I'd only go back if I were to become extremely wealthy.
Wow! For using a four-track, the production quality on Street Vernacular is so impressive! How did you learn to mix and produce your own songs? Do you have any influences in your production style?
I recorded onto a digital workstation. I learned the basics at school, but really, as in anything in life, you really learn when you need to! Let's just say, lots of reading manuals, books and listening to things over and over and over on various monitors! I produce it how I like it --- no particular influences. I will say however, I'm not much of a fan of "minimal" sounds...I like a lot going on.
I read that no computers were used in creating Street Vernacular --- can you tell us a little more about this decision? Was it a personal challenge to create such an electro-pop sound without using computers? Do you think you'd ever use computers in any future Cannonball Jane releases?
I didn't go into recording with an attitude of "I'm not going to use computers" --- I just happen to like hardware and working with my hands a bit more, and I started off with hardware so I just kept going in that direction. To me, it seems I feel the music a bit more with hardware, like cutting samples manually and such. I'm not against computers being used in the process at all. A friend of mine gave me Reason [ed. note: Reason is an awesome studio software], so maybe I'll start using that?
What equipment do you use to create your music?
I use pretty simple sample machines, a Boss Dr. Groove drum machine, a Yamaha CX2X keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, turntable, toy keyboards, tone bells, effect units, some quality microphones, and some smaller eclectic noisemakers and oh yes, my voice. It's all recorded, mixed and mastered onto a Yamaha Digital Workstation.
I've read that Elisabeth from Solex finds samples by digging through the cheapie bin in her CD shop. Where do you find inspiration for all the cool samples you use?
I absolutely admire Solex! I didn't even know about her until some one from a record label said my music sounded a little like hers, and I looked her up and wow, I'm so glad I did! Yeah, well, I know it's a bit cliché, but most of my samples are vinyl thrift store finds! It's a fun process to look for samples though! Some of the samples, I create myself though, too!
Yay for thrift store finds! ;) Now, we are so excited that you're going on a Spring/Summer 2004 tour of the east coast! But I gotta know: how do you perform live shows? Do you utilize pre-recorded tapes or do you recruit a friend to help out? Have you ever toured before? What are you most looking forward to on the road?
Hmm, live shows --- that took a while to figure out. Yes, my friend, Jamie Gustkey, plays guitar and I play the keyboard while either a sample or pre-recorded CD is playing. A few of the songs are transformed quite a bit from what is on the record. But of course, I think it sounds great! Some songs I just use a sample machine and for others I add new instruments, like the flute! I still wish I could dance more during the show --- ha, ha!
I've never toured before. I'm excited to just play my music while people are listening and having fun because of what they're hearing. If the audience is having a good time, that's the biggest compliment.
How could anyone not get up and dance listening to your songs! ;) On an entirely different note, I also understand that you spend your days as an elementary school music teacher! What's that like? Do the students know about Cannonball Jane, or have you ever played your music for them? Do you ever incorporate contemporary music into your lesson plans? (I'm having flashbacks to my own elementary school music teacher who would lead this group of third graders in a rousing rendition of Lionel Richie's "Hello"...!!! Yikes!)
I absolutely love being a music teacher --- it's so nice to be around children everyday and to teach them about my favorite subject. I have a lot of freedom in terms of curriculum, which is nice, but challenging. No, they do not know about Cannonball Jane! I do plan on playing them the song "Slumber Party" to see their reaction.
I'm a stickler for the classics, see question #2, ha, ha! Believe me, they know who Mozart, Bach and Beethoven are. However, I have incorporated contemporary music into my plans for the older kids...for instance, last week, they each had to conduct to a favorite song of theirs --- they really enjoyed that! I also have taken in my sampler and drum machine and explained how those "instruments" work. Last year, I basically recreated Nas' "I Can" --- I had the same beat sampled, played Fur Elise on the piano, added a little strings, the kids rapped the lyrics, and voila!
Holy crap, why couldn't my elementary school music teacher have been as cool as you?! ;) So, if Cannonball Jane could play with any other bands, who would you choose?
Well, I'd really like to sing with the Supremes backing me up!
We'll see if we can't get Diana and Mary to set aside their differences for a night! ;) And what's playing in Cannonball Jane's personal boombox these days?
Literally, this past year, I've only bought, like, 10 cds...I listen to the oldies constantly --- where I live, I'm able to hear three different oldie stations! I enjoy listening to the Aislers Set, Solex and the Walkmen. I also listen to my thrift store finds a lot!
When you're not teaching kids about music, or creating music, do you have any other interests outside of music?
I like to run, calculate numbers, talk to my sisters, and sleep! Actually, I'd like to learn to be a bit more crafty like you --- I've tried a few bags and reconstructing a few pieces of clothing. I could use some help. I'm trying to learn more about plants and cooking as of late.
We could trade! I'll teach you sewing stuff, and you can teach me music! ;) Hee, hee! So, what's next for Cannonball Jane down the road?
I have a couple of cool songs recorded, and I'll keep doing that! I'm sure the sound of future releases will be pretty eclectic --- I'm not set to one particular style.
We can't wait!!! :)
HUGE THANK YOU'S to Sharon for letting us steal her away from her home recording studio, and blast questions at her left and right! ;) Be sure to visit her website at www.cannonballjane.com for tour dates, song samples, and to get your own copy of Street Vernacular!