How do you define passion? In my experience, I have found that while we all have something about which we are passionate, and define that particular something—and passion itself—differently, we, in a rather paradoxical way, can easily identify passion in others. Though all of us employ vastly different methods of expression, and hold countless, diverging definitions for what is to most the very fuel of life, we seem to be able to spot the spark in our fellow man. Passion is obvious; it is contagious. And passion is exactly what I witnessed, what I felt when recently I spoke with an up-and-coming musical artist.
His name is Jack Nonnenmacher—I’ll give you a moment to sound that out (perhaps he’ll eventually adopt the moniker J-Nonn or J-Mac to save our tongues a twisting). He is an exceptional musician, a savant of the musical arts, a prodigy, by all accounts. Seriously, try listening to this young man tickle the ivories without tearing up—I dare you. It’s impossible. He is a one-man-band, a master of many instruments, with a pitch-perfect voice, the kind one hears after blacking out on the half-pipe, at the same moment the bright light appears.
[Jack] has wasted no time, accomplished much, and has set his sights upon the stars, while his hands construct the ladder that will take him there.
As one who invests his entire being into his artistic craft, it is always a pleasure and a privilege for me to speak with others who similarly invest—and Jack Nonnenmacher has not only made an investment, he has also made a perfervid, consuming commitment. At twenty years old, J-Nonn, a current math and physics-loving student of the University of Michigan, studying Sound and Electrical Engineering, has wasted no time, accomplished much, and has set his sights upon the stars, while his hands construct the ladder that will take him there.
And so, without further ado, allow me to introduce to you the magisterial maestro, the vigorous virtuoso, the ingenious, impassioned instrumentalist, Mr. Jack “J-Nonn” Nonnenmacher.
C. K.: Thanks for being here, Jack!
Jack: Thank you for having me!
C. K.: Let’s dive right into this, shall we? Tell me about your skills as a musician. And have you received any accolades for your work?
"That’s my biggest accolade—being able to help others achieve their musical dreams."
Jack: Well, I have perfect pitch, and can play nearly any song by ear almost immediately. I play drums, guitar, bass, keys, ukulele; I sing, and I play a little violin. As for accolades, I’ve been blessed to have worked with some stellar musicians on several albums that I have helped produce. That’s my biggest accolade—being able to help others achieve their musical dreams.
C. K.: So, I understand you’ve released an album.
Jack: Yes. It’s called Living In Outer Space. It’s an Alternative Rock album, with Disco/Funk influences.
C. K.: How many hands were involved in the making of this album?
Jack: I did everything myself!
C. K.: And what was your inspiration?
Jack: A big concept on this album is traveling to a new world. That new world, for me, was college. But mostly, as it pertains to the album’s overall message, I’d love for the listener to decide that for him or herself.
C. K.: How is the album faring?
Jack: I’ve gotten a lot more attention than I had thought I would. Everyone who has listened to it so far seems to have liked it.
C. K.: Let’s talk about process. You said you did everything yourself for this album—tell me what “everything” entails.
Jack: I think it’s worth mentioning first that there are many steps when it comes to turning a jingle in my head into an MP3 in which I feel confident enough to release to the public. I never start a step until the step prior is completely finished. Additionally, it’s important to understand that, when done “right,” each step should be LESS important than the last.
"When I am writing a song, I very much feel like I am a bystander. I’m just sitting behind a piano experiencing something that is happening to me."
Let’s start with composing. For me, this is the hardest to describe. I don’t really know how I write music. I’ve thought about this a lot, and the best answer I’ve come up with is that my consciousness is sort of a medium through which an idea for a song passes. When I am writing a song, I very much feel like I am a bystander. I’m just sitting behind a piano experiencing something that is happening to me. I can try to interfere; but when it’s all said and done, the things I try consciously—perhaps “unnaturally” is a better word—to change end up being changed back. I think ideas for songs and the emotion behind them come from a subconscious part of me. The best writing sessions happen when I am closest to that subconscious state. For instance, immediately after I wake up, I sometimes sit at the piano and feel like music just comes right through my hands. I’m not really deciding which notes to play—or at least I don’t feel like I am.
Writing is far and away the most important step in the process; and, if I do it right, I really don’t feel like I’m “doing” anything at all.
Next is arranging. Although the name might not suggest it, this is a technical part of the process. I haven’t left the composing stage until I can hear a finished song in my head, and have it represented in some way or another on a notepad. All I have to do at this stage is play back the melody in my head and write down which notes each instrument is playing, and where. This is sometimes tedious and time-consuming, but never difficult.
"I spend most of my time worrying about vocals. This involves a lot of shower and car singing."
After that is performance. This brings me back to the creative aspect. I know how I want things to sound, but I need to make sure I can play each instrument with the right feeling, so that the performance matches what’s in my head. Since a lot of what I write is not too complex, in an instrumental sense, this usually isn’t a problem. I spend most of my time worrying about vocals. This involves a lot of shower and car singing. Many of my songs include nine to twelve vocal parts; so nailing more than one complete performance is key. Once I feel like I can nail every performance in front of a microphone, I am done with this step.
"I don’t stop and think too much during a [recording] session—it’s usually rapid-fire takes until I feel that I have recorded the best ones possible."
Now I record. I am fortunate to only have two microphones, so choosing one is never a big deal. I have a small keyboard, a couple guitars, a couple basses, and an electronic drum set, as well. Recording is probably the most intense part of the process. I don’t stop and think too much during a session—it’s usually rapid-fire takes until I feel that I have recorded the best ones possible. After this step, I can finally hear the song out loud, close to how I hear it in my head.
Then I edit. Editing is the most technical part of the process. Although I’ve performed the takes as well as I possibly can, I still need to make sure that everything is in time, and that my vocals are in tune. This is also where I would cut out any breaths or excess noise in the audio.
Mixing comes next. Essentially, this is where I set levels and apply effects. This might be echo or distortion, but more universally EQ, which is similar to the “tone” knob on a guitar amp, and compression, which is a way of automatically turning down the volume on parts of the track that get too loud. After this point, the song is basically done.
Mastering is the final step. It is the last chance to make my mix sound like other songs on the radio. This includes some subtle tonal changes; but the majority of mastering is cranking the volume so that my song sounds as loud as other songs.
With that, I’m done. If I’ve completed every step properly, there shouldn’t be as much work to do in each subsequent step. For instance, if I’ve performed well, I shouldn’t need to spend time tuning vocals and fixing timing. My hope is always that this last step is very easy and painless.
C. K.: And you do all that by yourself?
C. K.: Wow! That’s impressive, and quite a process! Tell me, what is your dream scenario for your music?
Jack: This summer I hope to make headway on a follow-up album. As for the future, I would love to have a career in music as a performing artist. I would also love to write songs for and produce other bands.
C. K.: Well, I wish you all the best, Jack! Thank you very much for sitting down with me!
Jack: My pleasure!
Passion is obvious; it is contagious. And the passion I witnessed radiating off this young man was no exception. May we all discover the life fuel that propels and inspires us to shake off mere existence, and just start living. May we never hide our unique flames, or stow them away for more convenient times. May we, all of us, everyone, realize the intoxicating thrill that comes from the fearless, unbridled investment in that which is to each of us the essence, the representation of our very beings.
Stay awesome, everyone.
C. K. Conners
©2016 by C. K. Conners