Jacob Kulick is a multi-genre, Rock and Pop-leaning artist who is also a Producer. He has recently released the EP Everyone I Know Will Die via ENCI Records, an EP which has a challenging title that leads to some challenging content. The music is not challenging because it’s super-heavy in sound or theme, but because it asks audiences to think about their own lives and find their own answers. In the EP’s title track, Kulick takes on the realities we all face when it comes to death, and on other tracks, he also questions the past, present, and future that audiences have experienced or continue to seek out. Are we empathetic toward our past selves? Do we own our mistakes? What do we continue to aspire to? Does that involve human connection?
The test subject, in all songs, is Kulick himself, since he writes in an autobiographical way, hoping that others will, literally, reach out to him and share similar experiences. This EP arose from a specific time in Kulick’s life when his girlfriend, the musician April Rose Gabrielli, was diagnosed with epilepsy and had prolonged hospital stays, forcing him to think about the bigger issues in his life. Realizing how important that process is, he brought it to audiences on the new EP. I spoke with Kulick about working as a Producer, how he sees social media in relationship to his music, and the ways in which some of these new songs connect with his personal experiences.
Hannah Means-Shannon: As a Producer, do you work with artists even if they are coming in from very different sound directions from what you usually work with?
Jacob Kulick: I’ll be honest with them if I think it’s something that I don’t think I can do. I wouldn’t be doing Dub Step. I do pretty much everything, though, including Rock and Pop. Pop is something I’m very comfortable with, and I’ve done Rap and Hip-Hop before as well. I can also do any skill level in terms of the artist. I’m Producing this band called Awakening Autumn and they are 18 years old. They send me what they can record and then I beef it up. They are very experimental Rock and I’ve never worked with anyone like them before.
HMS: I’m sure that your knowledge and experience in music is useful to them, beyond just your formal training as a Producer.
Kulick: It is satisfying. I’ll never forget when I first started making music, realizing, “Oh my god, this sounds pretty close to what I heard in myhead before I even knew how to create it!” I like doing that for other people. It’s almost more satisfying now to do that as an older artist for those who are younger. It’s the same magic trick.
It’s all a magic trick, including the videos and edits. It’s not an illusion, because it’s still real, but it’s definitely magical. Something starts as a voice memo, with me whining, not even knowing words yet, and then it becomes a huge, amazing, 116 track, three-minute-long song. It’s still amazing and my favorite thing to do. It also helps with narcissism not to be focused on myself all the time. I’m pretty sick of the narcissism that’s all over the place right now. [Laughs] It’s crazy.
HMS: It seems mentally healthy to have more than one thing to work on, something that takes you out of your own mind.
Kulick: It’s like going to see other artists’ shows, rather than just playing shows myself. It gives you inspiration and makes you think, “What did I like about that? What could I do better?” It’s the same with recording other people. Even the kids I’m recording are people who I learn from.
HMS: When I first heard about the EP, I thought that the content, either sound or theme, might be kind of heavy. But I actually don’t feel that way about this collection of songs. I find it really interesting, honest, and empathetic. It’s empathetic towards yourself, but also towards other people, potentially the audience.
Kulick: Definitely. It’s supposed to be a perspective-bending approach. That’s why I wanted to name the EP something so gruesome. Everyone is making albums with normal Punk titles, but I was actually going through some crazy stuff. [My girlfriend] April had epilepsy and was in the hospital every single month as a brand-new diagnosis. We didn’t know why she was having seizures. I was in the hospital so much with her, watching people around me die. I just thought, “Why don’t I write a record around this?” I wrote the whole thing, and sent it to Kevin Eiserman, the other Producer on the record. I sent him demos, and then he added the guitars and sent it back. Then I basically sent a note saying, “more guitars”, and that was the record.
When I think of the other songs I’ve written, they are always personal, but I’m always trying to write something where if my kids heard it, I’d be cool with that. I want to make something purposeful, I guess. But when people hear the new album title, Everyone I Know Will Die, I have to say, “It’s not what you think it is!”
HMS: A lot of people have been thinking about mortality lately, so it’s coming up across genres in music. But it’s not as common to go down a middle road where you’re thinking about things, but not relying on an easy answer or solution, like you do here. It seems like these lyrics give space for people to think about things in the way they want to think.
Kulick: Exactly, the whole point is saying to people, “Just think about it.” I don’t have an answer or a reason, but it’s good to think about it. Because if you don’t, and something extreme happens, like in my case, you realize, “Holy shit, I never think about this, and now I don’t know what to do.” Change and death are the main things that give me anxiety and panic attacks, and it’s been that way since I was young. So it was kind of cool for me to be able to wrap back around to my youth. When I was 14, and first started getting into music, this was the style I really liked, so I did the EP in that style, too. I like the lyrical content with the style of music, which is moving fast, which is how life feels.
HMS: How does it feel to play these songs? Do they seem different on the stage?
Kulick: It’s so different and it’s making me think about the next album that I release. The writing process on this one was one I’ve never used before, and I actually don’t want to do it that way again. I’m not sure if I want to stay in the same lane as this EP in the future. I really like Manchester Orchestra’s Black Mile to the Surface, and I love what that sounds like. But the only songs that I’ve played live so far from the EP are “Necessities”, “The People I Know (Don’t Like Me)”, and “Time To Go”. The room definitely shifts during those songs, where audiences are really moving and into it. It’s interesting to put those with the catalog of what I play.
I’m all over the board genre-wise. I tend to Produce a song depending on what the song needs. These new songs are definitely more difficult to play, because I like singing, but on these I have to play the guitar and sing. But I think the audience reacts more enthusiastically. People like me giving the speech about how “The People I Know (Don’t Like Me)” is about hating pretty much everyone you know who you grew up around. People get that.
HMS: [Laughs] It’s shocking how many people get that. I get that. It makes me reevaluate things because I thought those other, cooler people were happier, but now I hear that everyone hated their youth.
Kulick: Most people I know did not like growing up where they did. I’ve never met anyone who says, “I like where I’m from.” Aside from really conservative people, everyone else feels they didn’t fit in. Even the popular people still didn’t like it.
HMS: Maybe everyone had carefully hidden insecurities.
Kulick: There are a lot of different situations. I found out later that someone who was popular at school was being abused at home but seemed fine at school. Or someone who’s family was so set in their ways that they had to be a certain way, and they seemed really popular, but once they went to college, they were able to change, whether in terms of sexuality, or other things. My town is particularly crazy, because it’s an old coal mining town that basically went broke. It’s depressing and full of heroin.
HMS: How do you see your social media presence in terms how it relates to your music or your work schedule?
Kulick: The internet doesn’t really help. I try to get on and post as quickly as possible. I make my captions on my notepad, so I’m not online when I’m writing them. I make dropboxes with all the photos ready. I basically take an hour and make something like five drafts. I try to make it like a job, and be meticulous, and not be thinking, “Oh, do people care about me today?” I fell into that trap when I first started touring as a musician with Sleeping with Sirens. It’s just not a good world and the people who thrive on it are afraid of speaking against it. Then, the other way around, there are people like me, who are afraid that digital is the only thing people care about now.
Even when you’re trying to book a tour now, they don’t care about how many people you can bring to a room, they care about how many streams you have, or how many listeners you have on Spotify. People pay for that. They buy ad campaigns on TikTok, so that more people see the TikTok with their song, so that more people stream. That gets your stream numbers up, but it’s all been a paid thing. It’s still the same beast; you’re battling money.
That’s the root of the problem to me. You need money to be successful. If you don’t have money, no matter how good you are, you are not going to be able to do much. I got signed to RCA in 2018, so that was before TikTok took the lead, but even then, money was funneled into getting you on the radio, and if you got on the radio, you would get a tour. It’s disheartening to me because this year I really this with TikTok.
HMS: Artists get drawn into it and are persuaded to sink money in getting these streams. But if they’ve saved up a sum, and do this, eventually that temporary bump is gone, and they might have nothing more to show for it. There are no guarantees.
Kulick: Yes, you have to do it consistently. You need to do it for months to show the numbers that might get you a tour or a record deal. Firstly, the single could flop. But even if it doesn’t, you have to keep spending the money, or it flatlines. There’s literally no answer, which is the sad truth. Even the people who have been in the industry before 2020 are frustrated and don’t know what to do. They know we’re paying for fans. It may have been that way forever, but now instead of putting your face on a billboard to influence radio station guys, you’re paying influencers. The model has just moved, and this model, in my opinion, is more bullshit.
HMS: The song and video “Time To Go” really seems to address your younger self and the ways you wish you could reach out to him. At what point did you decide to reach out to yourself in that way?
Kulick: I have a song called “Hide Your Pain” where I kind of do the same thing. I sing to a younger version of myself. But I wrote “Time to Go” on the acoustic, finger-picking, and super-soft. It came really quickly, in about an hour. I didn’t really think about what I was writing, but I was kind of reflecting, and then the chorus is not reflective. It’s a modern day statement that I don’t need the rest. I’ll never want to not be here. But I was singing more to how I used to feel in the verses.
HMS: There’s still some conflict there in the two perspectives, but it’s not so common to show empathy for one’s past weaknesses in this way.
Kulick: I’m very big on self-acceptance and processing things in a healthy way. I’m into meditation and I think that song is very reflective.
HMS: Do you hope that people will see themselves in that scenario and benefit from that in some way? It’s presumably therapeutic for you, but do you hope it will be therapeutic for others?
Kulick: It’s therapeutic for me. This is the same for pretty much every song of mine, or at least 98% of them, that my hope is always for someone to listen to it, then reach out to me, and say that they relate to it. It makes me feel like I’m not a fucking basket case. That’s the main reason I still release music. If that didn’t happen, I would just make music and not release it. If a song gives a person a feeling, that’s it. That’s enough for me.
I just played Montauk Music Festival, and there was a girl who had taken an eight-hour road trip to be there, and didn’t know any of the bands. But after she watched us, she messaged me, and said, “I loved all of your songs, and on the eight-hour ride back, I listened to all your songs. You write the way that I feel.” That was worth it.
This record, specifically, is very emotional, and one of the reasons that I haven’t been able to play more of the songs live is that they are a little raw yet. I have to wait a little bit. But I always hope that people listen to the music and get it.
HMS: For the song, “For Once In My Life”, I don’t think it’s entirely a dark song, or entirely a lighter song, because there seems to be some self-critique in there. It reminded me of times in my life where things have stacked up on me, and I’ve been able to see more clearly how the choices I’ve made have brought me to a certain point.
Kulick: Then you’re like, “Ugh!” That’s what that song is to me. It’s a shoulder-shrug. I have an album out, Yelling in a Quiet Neighborhood, and that was a divorce record. I was married to my high school sweetheart, and all the sudden, I’m 28 and getting a divorce. All of that was happening. It all stacked up.
That song, “For Once In My Life”, was supposed to be on Yelling in a Quiet Neighborhood, but in a different production style. Then I changed the sound to fit this album. I was rewriting it and it was like, “Why does it seem like everything just keeps going wrong? My heart is in the right place. I’ve made a few mistakes and I accept that. Can I get it right for once?” That was the last song that I wrote for Yelling in a Quiet Neighborhood, but I really like it better in this Production style.
HMS: Is that a song you would play live?
Kulick: I think it is. I think the falsetto is something that would be fun to sing. I like the guitars. “Everyone I Know Will Die” is a song that I love, and I love the video for that song. Our goal was for it to be fucking weird, and I hope that people will watch it, and get it, but I don’t really know if it’s a show song. I don’t know how that would translate into a bar setting. [Laughs]