Songwriting With CVBZ: When Love And Loss Make For A Beautiful Journey

[Cover photo credit to Tarina Doolittle]

Singer/songwriter CVBZ (aka Sean Jacobs) has had a pretty wild and eventful creative journey into music as someone who became a viral artist on Spotify and quickly went on to work with major artists like The Chainsmokers, and most recently, American Authors on their collaborative release “This Time Is Right”. He also continues to do solo work, like his other recent single “Don’t Call Me”.

Plans are afoot for an EP not too far into 2022, and CVBS considers this time in his life to be a kind of rebirth where he’s mapping out his own path with greater intention. I spoke with CVBS as he approached a major life event with the passing of his grandmother, and he had a lot of key things to say about loss, the unconventional path love can take, and the part we can play in embracing what a beautiful journey life can be.

Hannah Means-Shannon: What takes you to your home state of Oregon?

CVBZ: My grandmother is passing so I’m here to play her piano and sing for her. The idea is to encourage her on your journey.

HMS: I’ve been through some similar experiences in the past couple of years and I can really sympathize with that. Sometimes you have to encourage yourself to think differently.

CVBZ: Yes, you think differently for them. No matter how unbearable loss is, it’s one of the most beautiful things that can happen to us in life because you walk away from a loss different. If you don’t walk away from a loss different, you didn’t experience the loss or haven’t yet. When the matriarch of a family dies, it’s beautiful when everyone gets to come together, and all the children and grandchildren are then on a healing journey to fill that place in themselves. I know I’ll cry and be sad, but that’s fucking beautiful, too.

HMS: It sounds like she’s made an amazing impact on others. Has she been someone who has influenced you musically?

CVBZ: Yes, she has been a violinist and a pianist, and she bought a Steinway when I was ten and when I’d get bored at family gatherings, I would go teach myself piano. I haven’t really evolved too much past age 14, but she would sit and listen to me and tear up. That’s where my music comes from, literally her.

HMS: One of the reasons we’re talking is because of the release of the song “This Time Is Right”, which you did with American Authors. I really wanted to ask you about writing this song, because it’s a pretty unconventional love song in terms of the story it tells. This is a whole narrative that spans time between these two characters. How did that come about?

CVBZ: I’m actually a product of this story. My parents were high school sweethearts, then my mom went to Australia, and they broke up. Then she came back, and my dad was with someone else, then he broke it off with that person for her, and then she said, “Nah, I’m good.” It was real shitty behavior! [Laughs] They spent the next ten years playing cat and mouse. It really put my dad through the ringer, and that experience sent him plummeting to a depth he hadn’t seen before, and that depth showed him what he could be. He pulled himself out of there and became the guy I see today. Once he was that guy, she came back.

I guess the moral of the story is that we often hear that saying, “Right person, wrong time.” For a while, I rejected that notion, because it’s particularly heartbreaking, and it’s difficult to surrender to forces outside of yourself, like time. After a while, though, my mom didn’t feel right with anyone unless they were together, so from age 17 to 27, they went through this. Then they decided, “It’s not you and me, it’s us.” I’ve grown up my whole life with that story. I had been sitting writing wretched breakup songs, and I realized, “This doesn’t have to be my story. I could have a story like my parents. We just have to surrender to time and have faith.” That’s why I was born.

Photo credit to Tarina Doolittle

HMS: The title kind of hits on that, too, by making sure it has the word “time” in it, right?

CVBZ: Yes, and it’s the first song I’ve ever written that repeats a line over and over again. When I get going on subjects, I’m a very wordy person, so this was a lot of trust to repeat a line and bring it home.

HMS: Because the song is someone speaking to someone else, the repetition becomes a form of certainty, or trying to bring the other person over to their way of think.

CVBZ: Yes, it’s making a case and affirming something to someone, but also kind of convincing yourself. This almost goes beyond love because it fits in with my story, too. I started off as a successful artist, as a Spotify viral artist. I had a really blessed and charmed beginning of my career, with platinum records with The Chainsmokers and other big artists.

I had stuff on TV and commercials, but there was something underneath all that which wasn’t right. It took being in that place to show me that it’s so much more important to be there the right way. Instant fame and success can be taken from you as quickly as it came. I really wanted to focus on this rebirth of my career. I want to build something sturdy, and I want to walk forward beyond reproach and in the right way. For me, it feels like, “This Time Is Right” for my career. I don’t want to go back to where I was, I want something entirely different, and it’s unfolding in front of me right now.

HMS: Time is often on our side if we give time to build foundations. Also, his song is also about second, third, fourth chances. This idea that we only get one shot at things isn’t borne out by experience in the world.

CVBZ: No, it isn’t. It’s idealistic to feel that way, I guess, but you get as many chances as you give yourself. People will show up for you as long as you show up for yourself and honor that. I’m seeing that unfold and I’m really blessed. This song had a timing element, too. Someone mentioned American Authors, and it burrowed into my mind, and bloomed into this song in about a month. It was the opposite of swimming upstream.

HMS: You mentioned break-up songs, and “Don’t Call Me” is pretty recent. I know there’s the release version, and there’s also an acoustic video version, which is really cool. The song has a lot of different perspectives and elements that kind of become clearer towards the end. How was writing this similar or different from other songs you’ve written?

CVBZ: It started out as most songs do, with a verse and chorus. Maybe a minute and ten second demo in a dropbox. I was in what I thought was a happy relationship at the time, though we had fights. I wrote this song about a breakup, but I guess I was looking at old experiences at the time. At the time, Emo Pop wasn’t really here yet, so we had an intention to spin it kind of like Taking Back Sunday and Blink-182, but keeping it in the Marshmello type of lane. We came back to it, added verses, and time went on.

When this breakup finally occurred, I realized that everything I had written about came to be. I’m much more careful about what I say now, because words are magic. Florence Welch talks about it in her book, Useless Magic, but when you’re in the flow, tapped into songs, a lot of times they are premonitions that you don’t realize until later. Then I wrote the end of the song, which provides a little more context for the breakup. It happened in tandem with a lot of other stuff, and I had to take a hard look at myself. It was a real Saturn Return moment. A lot of things were stripped away from me so I could find what lay beneath. And I liked what I found, so it wasn’t useless magic. It was just magic.

HMS: I think having an experience that changes your whole life story can have really positive results.

CVBZ: You need a little chaos to make everything that much sweeter. It’s got to be a journey. Plus, the person I’m with now, I would go through all that a thousand times just to find her again. I’m just grateful for it all.

HMS: When you revisited the song and did the acoustic version of the song, did it bring out different aspects of that past experience for you?

CVBZ: Yes, because on one side, I started the song at point A, finished it still in that phase, then we got to put out the song. When we put it out, and I listened to it, the way I was singing did invoke some trauma for me, not to use that word too lightly. But then it was time to revisit the song from where I am now, and look at it as this two year, beautiful and healing journey.

I went from wishing karma on the person I was singing to, with anger, to a phase of blocking it out of my mind, then to a place of big development when they reached out to me more recently, having been through hell. Then I just wanted to lift them out of the place they were in. I realized, “I just went from love, to hate, to compassion.” This way that I feel now is just love. It’s not attachment. That’s a place to revisit a song from and end the loop.

HMS: The video is also shot in a light, bright space, where I think you’ve filmed things before.

CVBZ: That’s my best friend, and Producer, Caleb’s house. He had redone his studio and we wanted to show it off. He’s my family. He’s ridiculous, a cartoon character as a person. In the video he’s singing harmonies with me on the piano. They don’t make any others like him.

HMS: You’ve collaborated a lot with other artists from the get-go. Is that something you consider intrinsic to how you work?

CVBZ: I’ve been fortunate in the past, with pitching songs to different artist, then the artists wanting to keep me on the record and form a relationship. However, I’m now stepping into a much more ambitious and hands-on approach to working with others. But I’m also reaching out to all my favorite artists and building connections because I want to be more part of the community. Me and my team are wrapping up and EP and I want to go full-on songwriter mode for other people, too, because it brings me joy.

HMS: So is the EP coming up in 2022?

CVBZ: Yes, the songs are done, we just need to get in on Production and pull back some elements, taking it more back to the roots of how the songs start. I’m hoping for seven songs, but we might go down to five, which would also be fine. I believe we’ll have two singles before the roll-out, that’s the plan.

Photo credit to Tarina Doolittle
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