The Duality of Man: Jason Ross on His Music and Style
Jason Ross ‘20 greets me with a firm handshake and warm grin. Before Ross speaks about his work, he is quiet for just a moment, and then launches into the answers each questions with an almost aggressive passion. A music major and arts administration minor, Ross will be releasing his debut EP, The Duality of Man, on Nov. 9, alongside another EP, Pictoria Vark, which he’s collaborated on.
When talking to Ross, it is easy to see that his love for, and delight in, music has only grown from his early years. For the musician, “Music has always been in my life. It was always around the house. It started really with obsession with classic rock bands from The Beatles to The Who. When I was eight, I joined this program called School of Rock. I learned to play guitar, how to sing, and over those years I learned how to perform.”
Ross explained that the program teaches children how to be a “full musician,” from learning about artists and songs from Zeppelin to the Ramones to Parliament Funkadelic. Once Ross got to a certain age, “I started to write, and at seventeen I started to create the songs I personally had written.”
Ross describes his style as “within the indie-rock realm,” but in speaking about the vibe and tone of his work, he often refers to it in terms of the conceptual influence behind the music: “Part of it is witty, part of it’s sharp, hard-hitting, and a lot of it speaks from the perspective of things I was going through when I was writing these songs.” It’s easier to understand more of the thought process that Ross had while making the EP, than what it will sound like, which remains something of a mystery.
“When I was writing this EP I was listening to a lot of Talking Heads, a lot of Radiohead, a lot of Pavement, too. Those band were very prolific in forming my style and forming my own musical identity, you could say,” explained Ross. “I liked a lot of aspects that I was hearing in those artists and it definitely spoke to me in a way. But at the same time, my music taste is always changing, so I can’t really put it down to a couple of artists.”
In answering whether he felt that his music resembled that of the artists he looks up to, Ross said that “It’s natural for that to happen, all music that is created is a reflection of who that particular artist was inspired by.” While he can definitely hear odes to some of the artists that he was influenced by, “at the same time it’s the way that people take their influences and combine them that makes their style distinct from someone else’s.”
Ross is a process-driven artist: someone who works from a place of intellectual and artistic inspiration rather than a formula. Often, his creative journeys begin with a chord progression or musical idea rattling around his head. From that, if he’s in the right mindset, the lyrics will start to come and formulate, matching what he’s playing, “with whatever chord progressions or melodies have being going on within my head. Usually, this process could take anywhere from a couple hours to even a couple weeks.”
After he completed the demo, Ross workshopped it with others in order to gauge the responses The Duality of Man might generate: “There are so many details that I was able to pick up from other people that really helped make these songs as complete as possible. It was definitely 85%-90% me trying to figure out what these songs were from writing and demoing, but the other 10%-15% was bringing it to other friends and musicians whose input I trust, and seeing what they had to offer.”
Thematically, Ross describes the EP as playing to a duality in his personality — “My whole personal mindset flip flops between optimism and nihilism. So a lot of these songs have this upbeat, positive vibe, but there’s also a little bit of gloom interjected in it.” As mentioned before, Ross allows the lyrics to come naturally, and in the creation of The Duality of Man, he didn’t set out to evoke one particular idea, but later saw patterns that had formed within his work serendipitously.
Ross’ very inspiration for the creation of this particular work came in tandem with the genesis of another EP, the self-titled Pictoria Vark. This past summer he “got together with two of my friends from home, Gavin Kane and Victoria Park,” said Ross. “We both pretty much have been friends for the longest time. We were just sitting in Vicky’s basement one day, talking about all the songs we’d written and stuff that we wanted to do, and we all came to this conclusion that we wanted to work together and create something really special. So out of that came two incredible EPs that I’ve been honored to be a part of.”
The Duality of Man and Pictoria Vark will both be available on Bandcamp and all other streaming services on Nov. 9. His decision to promote so heavily on Bandcamp is because he works with a nonprofit called Share the Spotlight, which is in its fifth year of doing incredible work. The nonprofit “auditions kids — right now we’re based in NYC and Philadelphia — that aren’t necessarily able to afford the standard performance equipment. I feel that this would be a great way to give back and support a great organization and the work that one of my really good friends has been able to do.”
Sharing the joy that music brings him is one consistent value easily seen in Ross through even one short meeting with him. From his collaboration with others, to his support of the Skidmore musical community, and his efforts in non-profit work, it’s clear that Ross’ artistry won’t go unnoticed. You might even find him practicing on campus, or be able to share the artist’s joy by attending one of his performances. Of his hopes for the public’s reaction, Ross simply says, “I hope people are able to get the same sense that I felt when I was writing it.”