AU student and musical artist John Schwallie sat down to discuss music, songwriting, future endeavors and the changing face of his band John Louis and the Midwest.
Q: Can you give the readers an overview of your history in music?
A: I started playing piano in third grade, started playing guitar in seventh grade. I started writing songs in the seventh grade because I thought it’d be cool and people would like me. I was wrong, but that’s okay—I’ve just always had a passion for songwriting. Even if they sucked, I was still working on them. I’ve got a wealth of demos, because my parents bought me recording software, so whenever I’d write a new song I’d record it.
Q: So how did John Louis and The Midwest form?
A: During freshman year, I continued writing songs as I had done all through high school. My roommate, Jason Boucouras, played guitar really well and we wrote a few songs right off the bat. The two guys across the hall from us were [band drummer] Jarrod [Bright] and [bassist] Caleb [Scott].
Jarrod was really excited about engineering [music] and I was like, “Hey! I like to record songs, and you like to record people who like to record songs, so let’s record some songs!” And he was like, “Cool, man.” So we recorded an EP.
Q: What was the EP like?
A: It was really my solo stuff; I wrote about whatever, it was very freeform. Stylistically it kind of fit, but the first song was like alternative-rock, the second song was like piano-pop. Genres hopped around so much on that EP.
Q: What about the next record? What was the writing process like for that?
A: So, fast forward a few months to the end of freshman year, we had just released our EP on Noisetrade, and I get a message from Mike [Mains and the Branches] on Twitter that said “Hey man, I wanna give you songwriting lessons.” So that summer, I started working with him on various songwriting-related things. I showed him the stuff from the EP and he was like “alright, you’ve got a lot of potential. Let’s roll up our sleeves because we’re gonna put in a lot of work this summer.”
That summer I wrote pretty much every song that’s on our full-length album. So, whether we were really ready for it or not, we did a Kickstarter and went in to the studio. If I could go back and do it again, I definitely would.
Q: Your single “Sunrise” just got released?
A: Yeah, on Friday Feb. 12. Sunrise was a track we recorded last year through an Oranghaus project. Jon McLaughlin was in the studio while we were tracking stuff, and he really enjoyed the production we had on “Sunrise,” and did all of the harmony vocals. It’s on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
Q: The past month has seen some big changes with the band. What happened?
A: Well, we’re starting to buckle down. I’m taking a semester in Nashville with the Contemporary Music Center, so I’ve really only got two more semesters here. If I want to prepare myself to be the most successful, the best move was to break away from seeing it as a full band thing.
It made the most sense to go back to it being my solo project, with control over the songs and control over the social media stuff. Now that things are different, it doesn’t seem as weird as I thought it would. It definitely feels good, like I made the right choice. I’ve been sticking to a pretty strict pace for this project that I’m working on.
Q: Stylistically, what is culminating in your new project?
A: It’s got a bit of a darker sound. Lyrically, it focuses on issues everyone deals with. I’m focusing on some more universal topics that are maybe not the easiest to explore. So the EP itself is a lot more coherent content-wise. It’s more of an analysis trying to figure out where we draw meaning from in life and what makes us whole, what makes us who we are.
John Louis and the Midwest can be heard on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. News and updates can be seen on Facebook, Twitter (@JohnLouisMusic) and Instagram (@John.Louis.Music).