Jacob Bunton is an Emmy Award-winning composer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from Birmingham, AL. His credits include Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler, Smokey Robinson, Akon, The Doors, The X-Men, Becoming, The Unlikely Candidates, and many more. Jacob also has a collection of really awesome shoes!
Here's our chat with Jacob:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
Growing up, there were so many bands and artists that I loved. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of them at this point, and it’s always surreal. One of my favorite moments was when I was recording with Steven Adler from Guns N Roses. I wrote and sang lead vocals on his solo album "Back From The Dead." Slash played lead guitar on a song called “Just Don’t Ask," and at one point in the studio, I just sat there pinching myself that it was actually happening. Growing up, I had posters of GNR on my wall, so it was very surreal. Another project that I’m particularly proud of is The Doors. I was asked to do cinematic, reimagined versions of some of their biggest songs for movies. I still have the first voice message that Robbie Krieger left me to discuss his guitar parts. That was a really fun project. I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve worked with some of the biggest pop artists on the planet, but it’s always the iconic rock bands that are the most surreal to me. At the end of the day, I love all styles of music; I’m a music geek.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?
My main role varies depending on the project. For instance, I’m producing, writing, and playing all of the instruments on the new Matt Goss record. Matt has sold over 20 million records worldwide, and this record is his return to pop. He’s been making big band music for the past several years, so this is an exciting record to make. Also, I’m writing and singing for Motley Crue’s guitarist Mick Mars. This is Mick’s first solo album, and my role is just writing and singing. Michael Wagener (Metallica, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne) produced the record with Mick. Also, I’m scoring the new Bruce Willis movie “Out Of Death,” and my role is composer. I also mix a lot of projects, so my role is constantly changing.
How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up, and how has that progressed?
I got started very early. There was an old beat-up piano at my grandfather’s house. My mom would sit me at the piano before I could walk, and I would just bang away at it. One day she noticed that I started picking out melodies for commercials playing on the television in the background. I was always obsessed with music, and there was never any question as to what I wanted to do with my life. My favorite bands were New Wave and Heavy Metal bands like Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, Duran Duran, and Depeche Mode. I bought my first guitar when I was 11 years old. I mowed a few lawns in my neighborhood and saved up $60 to purchase it from a shop called Highland Music in Birmingham. Highland Music is one of the best music stores in the world, and the owner, Don, has always taken care of local musicians. After I got my guitar, I would listen to everything!
I had a boom box, and I would just surf the radio dial and play along with everything. I started writing songs right away. I had a couple of friends, Ben Trexel and Jason Elgin that would record my demos. I couldn’t have done it without them. I sent the demos to everyone. I was relentless; from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, I was writing songs and sending them out. An artist called Poe got my demo to Atlantic Records, and that was my first big break. From there, Randy Jackson and John Kalodner at Columbia Records gave me huge opportunities. I’ve been very blessed, and I am very grateful.
Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc.?
There are so many. I would not be where I am without the help of some truly amazing people. Everybody that I mentioned above were all huge factors in my life and career. I don’t have a formal education, but I always say my music school was a place called The Nick in Birmingham, AL. I learned everything from watching shows there. Two artists that I saw play there, James Hall and Dada, changed my life. After seeing them play, songwriting just clicked and made sense. I was able to put a visual with the song structures, and everything changed. The owners of The Nick, Dan Nolen and Pam Stallings are absolutely amazing people. They booked all of my bands and have always given me a stage to play on. Almost all of the showcases we did for labels were there.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
I have moments of frustration in almost every project that I do. That’s not a bad thing, though. Whenever you're trying to continually get better and evolve, you run into situations you have to figure your way out of. It’s always easier to follow a template or just keep doing what’s easy, but that’s boring. One thing I used to do was never take breaks. I would get very frustrated because I would get stuck on a verse or a chorus or a mix. I realized that if I take breaks and take a walk, when I get back, everything falls into place. Sometimes you have to walk away to gain perspective.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
When writing songs, I like the old-school organic approach of just a guitar or a piano. I have a couple of acoustic guitars that I love to write on. One is a Bourgeois Country Boy made by luthier Dana Bourgeois, and the other is a 1941 Martin D-45. Both guitars are amazing. The Martin is almost spiritual because it’s so old and has the mojo. When you pick up that guitar, a song will just spill out. I also use a lot of UVI and Arturia synths to write. I get a lot of inspiration from those instruments.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
Work ethic is absolutely the most important thing. There will always be more talented people than you, but the person that gets things done will always win. Be respectful of everyone else’s time. If a session is supposed to start at noon, get there on time. I’ve seen so many talented people lose huge opportunities because they would always text 30 minutes before the session begins asking to “push” the session because they were running late. Also, if you are a songwriter, remember that the song is the most important thing. If you write a great song, it will translate to any genre/production. There is no wrong way to write a song if it works. There are tons of producers/songwriters out now that don’t play any instruments or sing. I’ve met a few producers that have had hits that aren’t even musical, but they're talented at putting the right people together and have an ear for what makes a song great.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
I've been using headphones for many years now. Traveling and working on multiple projects with deadlines, I don’t have time to stop. Before Audeze, I would work on music on the go, but I’d always have to get back to a studio before sending rough mixes and ideas because I couldn’t trust what I was hearing. With my Audeze headphones, I trust what I’m hearing, and I know what I’m sending is going to translate. When doing final mixes, I go back and forth between the headphones and speakers, but there have been several projects that I mixed only using my Audezes. The last single from The Unlikely Candidates is called “Invincible.” I mixed it just using the headphones because I was traveling and Sony had a deadline. I love the way that the song turned out. The band is absolutely fantastic. They had the number 1 single on Alternative radio last year for several weeks in a row. The singer has one of those voices where he can sing the phone book, and it would sound good.
How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?
They are absolutely one of the most integral parts of my workflow. They allow me to work in hotel rooms, airports, planes, etc., and know that what I’m hearing is honest. Recently I’ve been using them while recording Mick Mars from Motley Crue, Matt Goss, scoring the new Bruce Willis movie “Out Of Death,” creating music for the new Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly film “Midnight In The Switchgrass” and music for the new Mel Gibson film “Force Of Nature.”
My Audezes are one of the most imperative parts of my work flow. I have the closed back LCD-XCs and I use them for everything from tracking vocalists to mixing and mastering. The Audezes are honest and I can always trust what I’m hearing to translate perfectly in the real world. Thank you, Audeze, for making superior headphones. My next dilemma is trying to decide which headphones to buy next between the LCD-4s and the LCDi4s!