Have you met Aaron? (Exclusive interview with a dear friend + original song)

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When I first moved to Grand Rapids, I found a six-person house on Craigslist. Four guys and a girl were looking for a roommate – that roommate would be me. Aaron (now a good buddy of mine) happened to be one of those roommates. That first spring and summer were whiskey filled nights on the porch. Over the years, it’s been guitars around the campfire at the cottage, making up silly songs. Impromptu gatherings and holidays. So many raw, fun times.

Aaron allowed me to record an interview with him on Thursday night – including him playing and singing an original song. One of my favorite things about music IS the people who love music so much. My friend Aaron is not a career-oriented musician – he plays music because he loves the process. Read the interview below or listen to the full interview all the way at the end of this post.

When and why did you start making music?
Oh, wow. I started in fourth grade. I don’t really know why. I think because my older brother was playing the guitar […] and I thought everything my older brother did was really cool so I wanted to do it. And I just kept playing.

What keeps you playing?
I just love it. It’s something great to do when I’m relaxing or tired. I just pick it up and keep playing. And I just loved new instruments as well.

What new instruments have you picked up?
Violin, […] mandolin. I started playing [the violin] freshman year [of college]. You’ve heard me play before. It’s pretty bad! It’s not an awesome sound but I really wanna learn bluegrass fiddle. Something about bluegrass and the mandolin, the violin… it just really gets me.

When did you start playing guitar? Fourth grade?
Yeah. Then I got really into it and I started taking lessons in middle school. Then through highschool is when I paid for my own lessons, which made a huge difference. When you pay for your own lesson, […] you’re invested in it. It’s not just like you show up because your parents want you to. It’s like I wanna do this enough to put my effort and money into it. I feel like lessons is a really important drive. If you really wanna get better, it’s not like the lesson itself is gonna make you better, it’s the act of committing to the lesson and now that you’ve paid for it, you wanna practice more. I’d like to take lessons again.

More guitar lessons?
Piano. It’d be nice to actually get some basis on theory of music behind the stuff I just play by ear.

What inspires you to create music?
I don’t really know. Maybe it’s not what inspires me but one of my favorite [things] about playing music is the atmosphere around a campfire. There was one time when we were up in California… […] someone brought a guitar and there were maybe, like, twenty people around the fire. I only knew Dan, Nick and Ben [Aaron’s best friends from childhood]. We were all sitting around this fire and there was a guitar […] and I was like, “oh, I’ll play a song.” We ended up playing for an hour and a half and everyone was singing. It just made a really cool environment and it was really exciting to be able to contribute to that.

It’s comfortable for me. And […] you’re not on a stage. You’re behind everyone. You’re in a corner but you’re bringing this atmosphere that wasn’t there before and that everyone can contribute to and be a part of. Why do I pick up my guitar when I go home? It’s more because I just enjoy it.

Listen below for tidbits on original songs, a special mention of the terrible song I wrote in highschool, and my nervous cackling. Also, a recording of the awesome original song (skip to 9:30 for just the song) my dear friend Aaron wrote most recently.

 

XX Jules

All I want is to see you smile (Let’s talk about positivity + mutual respect)

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There’s a very serious condition plaguing the entire world all the time and I need you all to be aware of it… it’s called negativity. Plain and simple. As a yoga teacher, I would like to say that I am immune. But as a human being, I am not. Negativity can rub off on everyone around you. If all you do is sit around and complain about your “shitty life”, how is that helping you at all? It’s not. And it makes people dread spending time with you.

Think about it. When you’re around someone who is being positive, how do you feel? Probably uplifted. What about when someone has nothing positive to say? They are just sitting there, gossiping and complaining, angry at the world. This either pisses me off or it affects me negatively too.

At my job, I spend a lot of time with teenagers. Some of them are extremely negative and I have been noting how I feel when I encounter them. For example: A patient this week was complaining during an entire class that it was stupid and pointless and boring. The other patients, who had started the day off on a good note, joined in. As staff, we were a little bit affected by this as well. However, when I have a good interaction with a patient, I feel uplifted and happy. I very much prefer positive interactions. Don’t you?

Today was my 90-day review at the mental hospital. My peers and manager told me that they feel uplifted when around me because I am positive and always in a good mood. That makes me feel incredible even though I know for a fact that I’m not always in a good mood. Sometimes I wake up and I am angry and sad and moody. But I try to get those feelings out of my system and trade them in for my classic sunny disposition.

My Grampy always stressed the following words:

HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!

Happy is a choice. We can lay back down and choose to let the world crush us or we can get out of bed and greet the new day. So find a way to get rid of your negative thought patterns. Maybe you need a morning routine to help yourself relax into the day. Maybe you need to find some positive coping skills. Maybe you literally need to make a complaint jar and put in a dollar for each complaint, donating it to charity each month. However you do it, remember that happy is a choice. Each interaction has it’s own tone and you can control it.

I’m not saying that nobody can ever feel bad. It’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to cry. We all have our days. I am talking about the people who excessively complain and talk negatively about others. It is important to learn how to express negative emotions in a healthy manner. What do you think of this? How can we spread a culture of positivity and mutual respect? Let me know in the comments!

Smile. Relax. Yesterday’s gone.

XX Jules

Chasing Ella (Interview + Review)

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Chasing Ella is currently a solo project by Jason Wozniak. My first listen gave me some serious retro pop-punk vibes. Elements of the 80’s are woven into the music and gives it a very cool sound. I had the chance to chat with Jason in an interview below!

Q: How and when did you get into music?
A: I got into music at a very early age. My parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was just 6 years old. I remember fighting them every time I had to go to a lesson, but that time served as a foundation for everything I would do musically in the future, so I am so thankful they made me stick with it! I got into my first band in middle school with some buddies as the vocalist. I didn’t start playing guitar until my freshman year of high school, and it was around that time that I started writing music and getting into the production side of things.

Q: What are your influences?
A: I’m really into 80s stuff like Toto, Tears For Fears and YES. Some more contemporary influences are Relient K, Bleachers, and Young The Giant.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about performing?
A: My favorite thing about performing is feeling the give and take with the audience. Some of my greatest memories are attending shows where I felt like the band on stage was singing a song written for me. There’s nothing like that. My goal on stage is to always be aware of the vibe of the room, and to run with that to create an unforgettable night.

Q: What’s next for Chasing Ella?
A: We have a single called Jet Lag dropping on January 26th (I think it should be out at the time this is released). There are more new songs around the corner, so stay tuned!

I would like to thank Jason for so graciously answering my questions and sending me a pre-released version of his new single, Jet Lag! I came across Chasing Ella on Instagram and starting listening. I dig his sound, so I reached out to him for a chat. Jet Lag is very reminiscent of bands like The Cure and Bright Eyes to my ears. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Listen to Jet Lag on YouTube:

XX JULES

A S*xy Playlist (Only God Can Judge Me)

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This is my workout playlist. Get your mind out of the gutter.

RUN WITH THE FEELING
Champagne Clouds – Malia Civetz
Heavy as a Heartbreak (feat. Lanks) – Just A Gent
Drive (feat. Chain Gang of 1974) – Jai Wolf
Sun Models (feat. Madelyn Grant) – ODESZA
Hostage – Danrell x Småland
It’s All on U (feat. Liam O’Donnell) – Illenium
Kings of Summer (feat. Quinn XCII) – ayokay
Collapse (feat. Memorecks) – Zeds Dead
Line of Sight (feat. WYNNE & Mansionair) – ODESZA
Say a Prayer for Me – RÜFÜS DU SOL
Devil Eyes – Hippie Sabotage
All We Need (feat. Shy Girls) – ODESZA
The Otherside – Ghost Loft
Indian Summer – Jai Wolf
Being Honest (feat. Straight Face) – ayokay

Happy listening! Let me know what you think in the comments.
What do you listen to when you hit the gym? 😉
XX Jules

 

 

 

Now Playing: January 2018

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I have welcomed 2018 with open arms and it welcomed me with a baseball bat to the heart. Not literally but some serious changes just took place in my life and things will never be the same. My Grampy passed away last week and just hours after the funeral, my dad ended up in the hospital with chest pains. A surgery was scheduled for Monday (it went very smoothly). So with a heavy heart and a pair of headphones, I sit in waiting rooms and hotel rooms. Waiting.

A friend of mine has been sending me music, which has been helping my relax in the midst of this fucking shitstorm. I have no other words for it. This whole business royally sucks. So, here’s what I’m listening to January 2018:

Most Played:


Frightened Rabbit
I fell in love with this band in 2012 when I was on my way to London. I was trying to find a song that empathized with my recent heartbreak. The song I found was “Good Arms vs Bad Arms” and I’ve been dabbling in their music ever since.
Start with: Woke Up Hurting

HAIM
I’m gonna be honest right now and say that I’m pretty much always listening to HAIM. Especially with heart ache, I love to fill my soul with pure, raw music.
Start with: Something To Tell You

The Greatest Showman Soundtrack
Judge me if you want but this movie is so feel-good that I can’t even believe it. If you don’t like musicals, you probably won’t like this soundtrack but definitely give it a go!
Start with: The Other Side (Zac Efron + Hugh Jackman)

Honorable Mentions:

  • No Roots – Alice Merton
  • Chasing Ella *review of their new single + interview with Jason coming this week!
  • Not In Love (feat. Robert Smith) by Crystal Castles
  • Blue Foundation – Eyes on Fire (Zeds Dead Remix)
  • Fiona Apple (always)
  • Pretty Lights
  • Jai Wolf
  • Flume
  • Frank Sinatra

Let me know what you’ve been listening to in the comments.
Happy listening, ya’ll!

XX Jules

Keep it simple, stupid.

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“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” – RUMI

People have been flooding my world with love and stopping by my Nana’s house with food and kind words. Everyone loved my Grampy. Even the people who got his tough love. I don’t think we ever really say what we need to say until it’s too late. The honesty spills out. It spills onto the floor and sometimes people can gather it, make sense of it. Sometimes they can’t and they don’t want to. Gramps never had a problem sharing his thoughts. And everyone loved that brutally honest man. You cannot put a price on raw honesty. To me, it is a form of love.

Spread the love you have to the people who deserve it. Give honest, tough love. Give it fiercely and fearlessly. I believe those who hold grudges against honest individuals secretly know they have done wrong. They are just too proud to admit someone else is right. Grampy didn’t believe in coddling. Sometimes we need to hear the truth to awaken necessary changes within us.

I am a thinker. I think about how the world works, how people work and how life works. If I can give any completely unwarranted advice, here it is:
Be honest. Be true. And keep it simple, stupid.

Listen to: “My Way” by Frank Sinatra


XX JULES

 

{Vintage} What is love? An Interview With My Grandparents

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{I wrote this piece in 2011 for my NonFiction writing class in college. I interviewed both my Nana and Grampy separately. I have always loved their story. They traveled the world together + understand the hard work that comes into love + marriage. Enjoy!}

When Ann Lee was born, her parents thought that she was completely deaf. They sent her to the Cleveland Clinic to see what could be done about her hearing loss. The doctors removed her tonsils and adenoids at the clinic and that did not help. As trying as this was for the Lee family, they were not sure what to do. Mr. Lee drank too much and Mrs. Lee was a very religious, prim woman. In nursery school, the teachers noticed that Ann could hear a little bit. Later, another teacher suggested getting Ann a hearing aid. “That was the turning point in my life.” She tells me, her eyebrows high. When Ann grew older, they sent her to live with her aunt and thirteen children, and she attended a public school with a special program for hearing-impaired children. It was very difficult to learn there, as the classroom was very large. Ann learned to read lips at an early age.

Time passed by. Her father had to move because of his a job change, which resulted in Ann and his entire family moving as well. Moving to a new high school was a different experience. “I had my older cousin to look after me, and that was good… I hear but I don’t hear. And I have a hard time with that. For instance, if we’re in a group and everybody is talking, I’m not with it. I have to know the topic and what’s being talked about. If I know that topic, I’m okay. But when everyone is talking all at once, I’m lost, and I’m just sitting there. I’ve had this all my life.” She explains this with a bemused expression, looking down into her lap. It was a scary thing for her, as she was unable to completely hear what people were saying. It was by either luck or fate that Ann’s family moved to Lima, Ohio. As she walked the hallways of Lima Central Catholic as a junior, she couldn’t have known that she would meet the love of her life. “That’s where I met my husband. But I didn’t like him. I didn’t like him at all because he was such a menace.” She says the last word with distaste, a slight smile still on her face.

“Well, I was born very young. And I was happy until I turned twenty-one, when I got married.” The ornery Francis Guagenti grew up in a Sicilian family. His mother and were father very hardheaded people as stubbornness is the Sicilian way. Francis first started working when he was fourteen years old, and his job was washing cars and pumping gas. When he went to high school, he began working at Milano’s Pizza Carryout. After he quit making pizza, he worked for Woodlawn Pharmacy stocking shelves and waiting on customers. When Francis turned eighteen, he spent six months in the regular army and then went into the National Guard for six and a half years. He was never active during wartime. “I had dated a lot of girls during high school… And then I met your Nannie and it was all over.”

Ann’s first impression of her future husband was rather distasteful. When I ask her what her first thought was, she wrinkles her nose. “Oh, it was horrible!” She shouts. “They were trouble makers, him and his cousin, they acted and looked like hoodlums. Them, with their leather jackets! It was hard for me to be friends with him and his cousin…” Ann and Francis began dating when he took her to the prom despite her ‘horrible’ first impression. It also sent an intentional message of rebellion to Ann’s controlling mother.

“What made you think you liked him?” I ask her, and she laughs.

“I guess I kind of liked him. I don’t know… butterflies in my stomach. I really loved his parents. When I met his family, I found out where he came from. I could not believe that he came from such a wonderful family. That’s when I found out what he was, after I met his parents.”

When I ask Francis about his first impression of Ann, an expression I have never seen on his face takes over. “I thought she was beautiful. She was kind and easy to get along with.” He says to me sincerely. “A buddy of mine had been dating her and he told me, ‘I have been dating that Ann Lee for three or four months and I haven’t gotten so much as a single kiss.’” Francis bet his friend that he could kiss her first, and he took Ann Lee to the prom. “So I dated her and I kissed her… I knew that I would marry her just about the time we started dating.” Their first date was at the Allen Country fair. They had a wonderful time but when they returned to their car, somebody had stolen it and returned it, completely wrecked on every side of the vehicle. “I always said she was bad luck from the start… we got along pretty good.” He says with a smirk.

After high school, Ann attended an all-girls university. When she was at school, Francis wrote letters to Ann when he was in the service. “I was very worried for him.” Ann shakes her head. He pleaded with her to stay with him. Ann decided her junior year that college was not for her. “When I was in college, he tried to make it up to me and he sent me all of these stuffed animals and letters, trying to get me to stay with him.”

“How did you feel when he proposed to you?” At this question, Ann’s eyes light up and a smile graces her face.

“I was so excited.” Apparently, Francis was not a very affectionate young man. He had a little box with her engagement ring in it, and he tossed it at her.

As I have been told a number of times, marriage is not easy. It’s hard as hell. Francis and Ann did not always have money to spend. They worked very hard to get themselves where they are now. “I think we got along better when we didn’t have money,” Francis chuckles with a twinkle in his eye.

No matter what, they both admit that they were good for one another. Francis helped Ann to be more self-sufficient, as her mother had been doing everything for her ever since she could remember. Ann most likely helped Francis become more patient, as he admitted that it was very hard to date and constantly be around a hearing-impaired person.

He tells me a story about the dryer starting a house fire. Ann’s mother was around the house and Francis told Ann to call a man about fixing the curtains. “I’ll do it.” Ann’s mother suggested. “Like hell you will,” Francis said to her. “If she can talk to me, you, my mother, and her sister on the phone she can sure as hell call Mr. Murphy.” Although Mrs. Lee wasn’t fond of this, it was much better for Ann to call everyone and talk to the person herself.

When Francis and Ann settled down together, they learned that Ann was pregnant. “I was very happy,” Francis remembers, staring into the woods in his backyard. Unfortunately, this time was not their time to have children. “It was awful.” Ann tells me, her face turning grim. “Having a miscarriage is just like giving birth. You have the birth pains… it’s very painful.” This was a very hard time for Francis and Ann as they had been very excited to have a baby. Soon enough, they had a healthy baby boy, Gary Guagenti.

Francis had to work a lot so that his family could have nice things. “I loved to work,” he says. There is a proud air to his voice that only a businessman can emit. “I worked all my life. Fifty years was enough at one job. My legs weren’t as good as they used to be and I couldn’t do all of the things I wanted to. I just threw in the towel and retired.” He would often have to get up in the middle of the night and take care of baby Gary because Ann could not hear her son’s cries.

“When he went into the army, he bought me something called the Sontral.” Ann tells me. “He put it under the bed and when Gary would be crying in his crib, it would just… BUZZZZ!” She demonstrates the vibration that would wake her in the middle of the night. “It was wonderful.”

They later had two more sons, Joseph and Francis Jr., despite the second miscarriage Ann suffered through. Francis worked very hard so that his family could have nice things, which meant that he was not at home too often. Ann was not good at disciplining the children, which was a little frustrating for Francis.

Ann and Francis have a different life together now, as the years go by. I ask them what they do now, as they are reaching their fiftieth anniversary.

Ann is quick to answer me, brushing her white hair from her eyes. “It’s hard for me to lead the live that I want to lead. I want to go kayaking and swimming. Grampy never wanted to go to the movies or out to dinner. He doesn’t like to go out. So I have gotten used to staying at home.” Ann shrugs. “But I have my own circle of friends and we do things together. I don’t mind it too much now that I’m used to it, although I still enjoy doing things to stay active… I want to be with people and in the public.”

Francis’ Sicilian profile is very defined against the setting sun. “You know, when you get seventy years old, the stories don’t get as crazy. You wish you did more. I always liked to drive fast, very recklessly, and that’s the way it was. It’s been a good life…  and then I have them damn grandkids. I knew I forgot somethin’. And my Julia, that was my first grandchild. Sure changed Grampy’s life. Grandkids are better than kids because you send them home at night… I sure enjoy them and I love every minute of that.”

Ann sits across from me with a smile on her face. “I have my three sons who are my whole life. And oh my God, when my first granddaughter came along… that was the joy of my life. It was precious and it was a whole different life. I enjoy all seven of my grandkids and I try to do as much as I can for them.”

“Was it fun to be with Nana?” I ask my grandfather. In response, he squints his eyes.
Sure, it was fun. The fun never stops. We had good fun for about thirty or forty years. It’s really hard to be with someone who has a hearing problem but I love her.”

“What do you think of love?”

Love is a mother goose tale.” Francis looks me in the eye while telling me this. “Most of the time, it isn’t love that people are feeling. It’s lust. Love is a word that is very overused. Love isn’t marrying your ‘best friend’ like everyone else says so. Love is two people getting along and working together. Marriage is hard. It’s harder to stay married and it’s easy to get divorced.”

“Oh, that’s a hard subject,” Ann pauses, looking thoughtfully into the night sky. “Love is understanding each other. Trying to make peace with the two. Trying to keep everything calm and collected. Trying to make each other happy… Love is being together.”

Works Cited
Guagenti, A. (2011, October 8). Personal Interview.
Guagenti, F. (2011, October 8). Personal Interview.

In loving memory of my amazing, hilarious Grampy.
Listen to: “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day (Grampy’s favorite song)


XX JULES