Seven years ago Jason Hausman left performing to concentrate on composing and sound design for commercials and film at Hot Sake, his South End studio. He played his first show as a solo artist Friday with his new band, Jason Hausman & the Shallow Sea, debuting material from his upcoming album "Grey Sky Sparrow" (due summer 2012). The award-winning composer, whose work has appeared in CarMax and Bojangles' commercials, recently spoke about the differences of writing for himself and for others.
Q. How has writing for clients influenced your songwriting?
I've spent all these years writing music for other people and trying to get what they want. Now when I write for myself it really is for myself. I don't think about whether anybody is going to get it. Hopefully I end up with a product that's truer to who I am and more visceral.
Q. What's your creative process when you're writing for a client?
Sometimes it's difficult because they might say, "I want jazz." And you'll ask what kind of jazz and they'll say Enya. So my goal in processing that is to formulate this idea. It's almost like a color. I get this overall vibe ... . I hardly ever just sit down and start writing for a client. As soon as I do that I start forcing myself into it too much. I've written more stuff for clients in the shower or in my car than anywhere else. I'll sing multiple individual parts into my notes recorder on my iPhone and go back to the studio and play it all into the system.
Q. How is writing your own material different?
I've had difficulty writing for myself over the last decade (because) I am immensely happy. I don't gravitate toward happy music ... . For this record I had to go into my past into the cold, bleak atmosphere of Terra Haute, Ind. (where he grew up) - the infinite gray skies in the winter, the stark trees and the starlings, and the cold black earth - and just try to pull from that vibe and get feelings from that. Or I've had to put myself in someone else's shoes.
Q. How much of the record is fiction?
I don't think any of it, which is strange because I didn't think I'd have it in me to write about myself or anything that dark and not feel like I was getting scarred again. There's a song called "Earth Like Coffee." The refrain is "Bury my body here." It's about no matter how long I'm away from Indiana when I go back I feel like I'm home.
Q. How has your sound design work colored the record?
Somebody asked me what the guitar sound was on one song and I said, "It's not a guitar. It's a wolf." I'm taking my ability to take sounds and destroy them and make them into something else for sound design purposes, which is what I would do for something like NASCAR, and building elements out of that.