People love to sweep mental health under the rug. For some, mental health problems are a neglected reality and for many they’re an uncomfortable topic, but when they go undiscussed, declining mental health can become an embarrassment for people that live with it — and that’s the last thing it should be. Sure, mental health’s a densely loaded subject, but depression and anxiety shouldn’t be accompanied by shame. Maybe that’s the lesson learned from Avi Jacob’s first EP on Skate Mountain Records, titled Surrender. The singer-songwriter will continue his streak of music that reads as an indie-folk therapy session when the EP comes out on March 23. “I want people to feel comfortable with being emotional,” says Jacob. “I think that if I can be really honest, then that might help people feel better about stuff, not feel alone.”
You can safely assume by now that Surrender gets personal. “They’re just really personal confessions. My songs are my subconscious expression of fears and worries and guilt and joy and whatever emotions I have,” says Jacob, one-time Charlestonian now residing in Boston. “Pickup Truck,” the first song on Surrender doesn’t mince words. “For anyone that knows me well/ Can sure enough easily tell/ That I don’t think twice on those that I hurt,” he sings. It’s a downtrodden acoustic track that has Jacob asking if he’s worthy of forgiveness, while pitilessly reflecting on the negative parts of his past. “Every bit of [Surrender] is my personal experience,” says Jacob. The production has subtle strings and backing vocals peaking in through the cracks as the song progresses.
Jacob delivers his guilt-riddled lyrics through candid vocals. His warm voice delivers straightforward words in a sincere tone. “Oh, my one and only/ You don’t have to act so tough/ I left you sad and lonely/ ‘Cause I thought that you were strong,” he sings on “One & Only.” Details adorn the track. A single quiet piano note and accordion whistles accompany the song’s pained melody.
“All the Liars” sees Jacob stretching his legs as a guitarist, with a folky fingerpicked verse that would be at home in an early Dylan track. He clashes the spry playing on verses with a slow set of chords in the refrain. “All the Liars” is the most creative songwriting Jacob shows on Surrender.
Musically, the EP is indebted to country and the blues, just as much as indie and folk. The string section throughout the release floats between sustained fiddle notes and South-influenced guitar chord progressions. The acoustic strumming exists to emphasize Jacob’s vocals. “New England” has plenty of dusty old country road sound, thanks to its jazzy keyboard and the lazy pop of the snare. Even the lyrical content could be sung by a cowboy longing for the old West. Except it’s about New England. “Deliver me safely/ For I need to roam/ Back to New England/ Where I call my home,” he sings in his best folk singer voice.
Despite the new label support from Skate Mountain Records, the singer-songwriter is still maintaining his independent status, as much as he can. “You work harder when you don’t have money behind you,” Jacob says. Skate Mountain has provided a little bit of cash, though, explaining the sharper production and wide range of instruments at Jacob’s disposal.
Surrender was heavily inspired by Jacob’s own feelings of depression. “I’ve been addicted to depression since I can remember and that’s an addiction I’ve been trying to break,” he says. “It’s not the case anymore, but for a long time I just thought about dying, like all the time. I just wanted to die, I did not want to live.”
Jacob’s openness about topics that have affected him, like suicide, is to the benefit of his individual songs and the message behind his music. “My ‘why’ is to be as honest as possible and to connect people. It’s to be so open and honest about my own shortcomings that people feel like they can relate to it or they’re not the only ones that feel so isolated and sad,” says Jacob. “Because the world is a beautiful, wonderful place where you can be happy and there’s so much opportunity.”