Singer-songwriter shows real flair for versatility
If Nick Jaina has a signature sound, he has yet to reveal it.
So far, each of Jaina’s album is its own animal.
Take the Portland singer-songwriter’s last three releases. His 2006 album, “The 7 Stations,” was an exercise in musical geography, with rich instrumentation reflecting various parts of the world and Jaina’s own storied journeys, from New Orleans rags to Canadian folk-rock and American country music.
In 2008 he released “Wool,” a collection of songs recorded on the late and legendary Elliott Smith’s old piano before it became immortalized in a museum.
That same year, Jaina dropped “The Narrow Way,” a studio album played entirely by 10 musicians in the same room at the same time, all mixed live to analog tape with zero overdubs.
His new album, “A Bird in the Opera House” – scheduled for an April release on Portland’s Hush Records – is the inverse, a guitar-heavy folk-pop record full of overdubs and sparse arrangements.
“On this album things were working in the opposite direction. It’s all overdubs. There aren’t any two musicians playing at the same time in the same place,” Jaina said during a telephone interview from his home in Portland.
“I was living in a house with a studio and my housemate has 12 electric guitars and amps, so I got into trying out all those guitars with songs I had already written, and then I was taking more guitar lessons so that ended up taking up a lot of the real estate on this record.”
As Jaina auditioned the songs for his band, members would jump in where they felt it was appropriate, instead of everyone playing on everything. The result is that rather than every song having violin and trumpet, some have multiple layers of each, or none at all.
“I sounds like it could be a different band for every song,” Jaina said. “We started recording this one or two days after ‘The Narrow Way’ and the process was so casual we never really thought of it as an album.”
Because of that informal recording process, Jaina ended up with a lot of material that didn’t make the cut, but that he still wanted to put out.
Already the next album is shaping up to be another drastically contrasting concept piece, this time enlisting the help of female vocalists from Portland’s bursting chamber-pop scene singing lead on Jaina’s songs.
“When I got to the finish line I realized I had a bunch of finished stuff that I really liked that wouldn’t fit on the album and it bummed me out, so I wanted to figure out a way to release it,” he said.
“I had some women singer friends, like Laura Gibson, sing lead vocals on my songs and pretty soon I acquired enough that I want to make an entire album that way.”