Jake Pavek Creates a Grand World on His New Album, Illume

"This place was used as a car repair shop, then it was a ceramics studio, and they didn't take anything with them when they left," explains Jake Pavek, about his St. Paul practice studio that he shares with his other bands, A Piano in Every Home and Taj Raj. The space is one large room with a wall full of guitars and a grand piano sitting in the middle of it.

Influenced by Yann Tiersen and Philip Glass, Jake creates modern classical piano pieces that deviates from the indie-rock that saturates this town. On the heels of winter, Pavek will be releasing Illume, a collection of tracks built around a breathtaking world, and shares with Gimme Noise his thoughts on the importance of creating a space of your own.

Under a softly lit lamp, Jake, who bears a resemblance to a young Beck, leans back in his chair and opens a beer before he shares the stories that went into his new album. Pavek talks about his pianos, three at home and three in his studio, as if they were his children. With pride in his voice, he explains the characteristics of each one and how special they all are, notably an old Swedish piano he found on Craigslist.

"It was in Brainerd, and it had been in this guy's family for 20 years. He just didn't have any room for it anymore, so he was going to sell it to me for $800," says Pavek. "I drove up, and called him. He said, 'You wouldn't believe it. I tried to move it out of the garage, and it fell over and the whole thing's broken.' I hung up, and called him back and said, 'If you don't mind, I would like to still take it and try to work on it.' He couldn't let it go for nothing, so I paid $100 for it. I picked it up, and the keys were all messed up. It looked like it was done for. I took it anyway, and once I brought it back to my apartment, I set it down and all of the keys laid down flat. Everything was perfect. The guy used to play it a lot as a kid, so I'm gonna record a piece and send it to him."

Much like his stories, Jake is an expert at weaving emotion and hope into his music. The pianist began his musical explorations with a guitar in seventh grade, and eventually switched to piano during study hall when he found that the school housed an extraordinary piano. "This piano had a piece of felt in between the hammer and the strings, so when you played it, it was really soft," he recalls. "I think that's what attracted me to the piano."

Lessons were never a priority to Pavek, even though he did take a music theory class in college. Yet those classes on theory boxed him in when he was trying to compose new tracks, making him feel he had to follow certain rules to get the end result, something he eventually pushed out of.

Jake is kept busy with his two bands and a full time job, yet he felt it was crucial for him to have another outlet of creativity. He thoughtfully shares, "This music is really special to me. In the bands, I've got my own role, which I really like, but it's working together with these people to create something. This is my outlet to express myself. I get to sit down at the piano and let my subconscious out. I don't really have to think about writing a song about being sad or love or anything. It's whatever happens."

Pavek worked with Leah Ottman on violin on Illume, his second solo album. It's a collection of piano-laden tracks that were borne out of him coming home from work at night, having a cocktail, and playing whatever came out. Most of this material was never heard by anyone other than his girlfriend, who he turned to for help when it came time to name the tracks. 

"Katy was so sick of the album by the time it was done," Pavek says. "I was always listening to the same stuff over and over, and I needed help when I had to name the tracks, because instrumentals are so difficult to title. She had a few drinks, and I played her the album, and she had a book to write down her thoughts. I used some of them."

One of those unique tracks, "Wings," Jake composed on a trip to Thailand with Travis Erickson, his bandmate in A Piano in Every Home. "That was the first song I wrote when I began working on this two years ago," he says. "Trav and I were on a really long train trip to Chiang Mai; it was a four hour ride. I wrote it out longhand, and when I got back, I played it and it thankfully worked out. I wasn't just writing gibberish."

Jake did all of the mixing and mastering himself, and when he presented it to Harnes Kretzer at his German label, Unperceived Records, Kretzer was astounded by the textures and techniques Pavek used to get his grand sounds. 

"I've been really infatuated with cathedral reverb and with really long tails and big space, which is really ironic because I was living in the tiniest carriage house on Summit Avenue -- it was a bunk bed and my piano." Breaking into a bad German accent, Jake does his impression of Harnes, "When he heard it, the first thing he said was, 'What is this? This is not a world that exists. This reverb doesn't make any sense.' I told him that it wasn't supposed to. A lot of people in the same genre will go for a live recording and have finger noises. I don't mind adding artificial reverb."

Sounding a lot older than his 26 years, Jake concludes "Illume has been a long time coming. With an album, you think you need to put it out right away, but sometimes the world isn't waiting for it, so you have to wait and give it time, then you can put it out."

Jake Pavek will release Illume on Friday, April 10, 2015 on Unperceived Records.

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