Coming (Back) to America
Oregon singer Ryan T. Jacobs ends self-imposed European exile
by Ethan Maffey
The cliché is that young Americans go to Europe to find themselves. Sometimes all they do is spend Mom and Dad’s hard-earned money partying and learning how to swear in new languages. But sometimes, the trip is a journey, and the time abroad produces a changed person (see Lost Generation of the 20s).
For singer/songwriter Ryan T. Jacobs, the latter outcome applies to him.
“The greatest change in my thinking due to my time abroad is the way I perceive and process things around me,” Jacobs said in an interview with the Source. “The linguistic and cultural cues you take for granted are mostly gone and you have to investigate constantly just to tread water.”
At 32, and now living in Portland, Grants Pass native Jacobs is actually thousands of philosophical and artistic miles away from where he started his music career rather than just a short trip up the I-5 corridor, partially because he didn’t begin exploring music until he moved to Germany.
“I majored in romance languages at the University of Oregon,” Jacobs said. “I decided to learn French for some reason and lived [in France] for a couple of years. I met a German girl and ended up living [in Germany] for four years. When I moved to Germany I had just finished my degree and didn’t know what the next step was. That’s when I started writing music.”
As a result, what began as a self-taught hobby during his senior year of high school—playing the guitar—turned into a life of busking and playing small venues in Berlin. It wasn’t until Jacobs returned to Oregon and pulled together band members Thomas Yates on bass, drummer Tim Skerpon and Jim Meyer on keys—forming the group Melville—that he got really serious and further developed his sound.
Despite being away from the States for so long, Melville’s music is rich with Pacific Northwest influences. With his hybrid Eddie Vedder/Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) voice, Jacobs and company successfully straddle continents by pairing stout woodsy rock and the sullen sound of The Smiths. And the band’s new EP, Maquette, speaks not only to duality in relationships, but also living somewhere that isn’t home. It’s both musically and lyrically powerful.
“It’s definitely from the perspective that is gained by viewing yourself as an outsider,” Jacobs said. “Coming back to the States, I can have that same detached perspective. But I didn’t want to be that one guy-you know, everybody has that friend who was backpacking for a month in Europe and comes home and is like, ‘Oh, man, it was so different dude’.”
8 p.m. Saturday, June 22
The Horned Hand
507 N.W. Colorado Ave.
$5 at the door