“I’m figuring out ways to make my version of pop music,” explains Jake Lazovick. “I call it fake music or failed pop music. I don’t have the money to be Lady Gaga but this is what I can do.”
It’s a brisk afternoon in January and I am sitting with Lazovick in a Brooklyn loft off the Morgan L stop. Over the last couple of hours, I have been prodding the Baltimore musician about his music, and when he finally juxtaposes himself to the flamboyant pop star at the end of our meeting, it’s impossible to hold back laughter. While it is hilarious to imagine the gangly twenty-one year old wearing one of the “Mother Monster’s” mirror masks, Lazovick’s pseudo-dismissal is the final puzzle piece in understanding the ideas that have eluded me throughout our conversation.
Initially, Lazovick’s words may seem to contradict his recorded work, which includes Foozle, a power-pop-punk three-piece, and a formerly eponymous solo recording/performance project that is now officially known as Sitcom. Sitcom’s newest album, What’s Up?, certainly does not seem like “fake music” or “failed pop music.” Over ten tracks, Lazovick teases popular music conventions to reach a deeper meaning. His version of pop music is distinctly individual, and not just because of his recognizable monotone warble or the first person lyrics. Minimal or simplistic are certainly the wrong words because the production is so complex, yet Lazovick’s music notably lacks excess. Even his preceding album, Drum Set, an album that uses “software, microphones, various objects and samples” to precisely dissect sound and language, remains deliberate. The opening track of What’s Up, “White Reeboks” perhaps best exemplifies the multiplicity that Lazovick effortlessly packs into each song. Over five-and-a-half minutes, the song moves from a sprinting drum beat to a drowsy choral distortion before breaking into a funky jam at the end as Lazovick repeats “I can’t always be the funny guy.” The conclusion feels cathartic but not contrived.
But what Lazovick really means when he describes his music as “fake” or failed” refers to the ideas behind Sitcom. Sitcom is a means of self-reflection, of experimentation, of a constant re-imagining of self through the embrace of various parts and sounds.
Lazovick is from Potomac, Maryland. He began playing guitar and drums around the age of ten, crediting his status as a scrawny kid who struggled with sports as one of the main factors behind his interest. He now lives in Baltimore where he studies interdisciplinary sculpture and sound art at the Maryland Institute of College Art (MICA). Lazovick’s visual art explores similar themes as his music—dualities, fleeting connections, awareness, and allegory—perhaps best represented by the video ::)(. In the short clip, Lazovick is shown from the shoulders-up in front of a blue screen. Two versions of himself, one grinning widely and the other crying are superimposed over each other, merging and splitting to create two distinct emotions that are ultimately one.
This idea of being two selves at once is intrinsic to Lazovick’s musical philosophy. He looks to the late (subjectively) comedian Andy Kaufman who made a name out confusion, contradictions, impossible-to-break characters, and unclear lines between reality and performance. “He sets up this thing where he is always winking at the audience,” Lazovick explains. “You’re always asking what is and isn’t real.” Lazovick sets up a number of similar scenarios in his songs such as “Tonight I am a cowboy / I am stone-cold / Last night I was Buster Keaton” (“White Reeboks”) and “I’m not a good guy / I’m a bad one in disguise” (“Mr. Lonely”). But unlike Kaufman, whose rapid shifts in character could be disconcerting, Lazovick approaches these deviations with a relaxed attitude, and thus they seamlessly form a whole.
In reference to these co-existing personalities, Lazovick points to psychologist Sherry Turkle’s 1995 novel Life on the Screen. The book explores how computers shape our identities and how Cyberspace allows users to explore multiple selves, often at the same time on separate tabs and windows. In an interview with the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Turkle explains that, “The Internet concretizes this experience of identity as multiplicity. It takes the fluidity of identity that is called for in everyday life and raises it to a higher power: People come to see themselves as being the sum of their distributed presence in all the windows they open on the screen.”
Playing all these characters, like Turkle says, leads to the awareness and acceptance that an individual naturally contains all these different parts. “All the narratives go into being a cartoon version of myself,” Lazovick says. “I’m constantly destroying what I just said and figuring out a new way to say it.”
But Lazovick is quick to say that he is not simply performing a character as Sitcom. “You can act very different roles and none of them are more real or not,” he says. “So I’m not stepping into this performative self…that’s what I’m trying to set up in the song, like I can dance around and joke but I also need to be alone sometimes…”
Lazovick uses these constantly shifting scenarios and lack of stability to avoid sentimentality. Sentimentality and relatability are cornerstones of pop music; it is most often the combination of incredible orchestration and sincere, sentimental lyrics that make a song a conventional hit. But of course, even instrumental music can stimulate emotions in surprising ways. Take The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” a song that is regarded as one of the best songs of the 20th century. In its final form, it is a love song of the most devout type, a melodramatic declaration of love after life. But the instrumentation is equally moving, possibly in an incomprehensible, intuitive manner.
Lazovick aptly understands that this sort of emotional relatability is the aim of many musicians, of the music industry that wants to cash in on abstract feelings. The refusal to follow this tradition reinforces Lazovick’s point that that he is not making traditional pop music. Lazovick’s choice to refuse sentimentality has allowed him to experiment in order to create a representation of his self that is fluid and truthful in its inconsistencies. In this sense, it relates a lot to the mishmash of sounds on records like What’s Up. The rejection of genre, in Lazovick’s words, “parallels the character of trying to keep an open mind and exploring different sides of musical interest and identity.”
All the narratives go into being a cartoon version of myself … I’m constantly destroying what I just said and figuring out a new way to say it.
Lazovick displays uneasiness with the idea of writing for other people. “It seems like a pointless thing to strive for, making music in hopes that it will mean as much to someone else as it does to you,” he says. “If it means that much to you in the first place maybe it’s best kept there?”
Instead, he sees music as a means to contemplate the world around him: “I’m reflecting on the past but I’m trying to use that to figure out my present self. Sentiment or nostalgia always feel like this attachment to things, to people or places or objects. That attachment doesn’t seem very productive because your mind remains there rather than in the moment.” Instead of focusing on his audience, Lazovick concentrates on the act of making music. “The act of playing music is something that’s really therapeutic and also reclusive and is done on my own….The actual act of making music should always be the goal.” Sentimentality yearns for the past; Lazovick remains grounded in the present.
But with all this anti-sentimentality, what is to say of lyrics that do seem, on the surface, sentimental, like in “Ginger Ale”: “Can I dwell in your passenger seat? / Will you kiss me at the movies?” A line like this evokes mental associations of longing and rejection that surely most people can relate to. But as Lazovick explains, “It’s me being clumsy. I don’t have life experiences to talk about, like, this melodrama of love, but I do have a car that I sat in.”