By Mike Shanley
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Maura Jacob has ideas about how a band can work.
“Bands are not just about how good of a musician you are, or how much do you agree about music or the art that you make,” says the bassist of Action Camp. “A lot of it is also personalities and relationships.”
Jacob met Bengt Alexsander when both worked at a coffee shop in Boston. She was attending Boston University and had never played in a band, though she had sung in choirs for years. Multi-instrumentalist Alexsander was studying audio engineering and graphic design. Their musical tastes overlapped, so it wasn’t long before Jacob picked up the bass and they started playing music together.
ACTION CAMP SINGLE RELEASE AND SKILL-SHARE
1 p.m. Saturday, February 29
Smiling Moose, 1306 East Carson Street, South Side. 412-431-4668
That was 14 years ago. Action Camp’s discography now includes 11 releases of darkly arresting music ranging from albums to singles. Eventually Jacob moved back to her hometown of Pittsburgh in 2008, and Alexsander followed a few months later. After using programmed drum tracks for several years, the duo brought drummer Joe Tarowsky into the fold in 2016.
When Jacob talks about the way Action Camp operates, from her approach to the bass to the trio’s approach overall, everyone plays an equal role. “I respect Bengt as a musician and a person. I respect Joe as a person and a musician,” she says. [We’re] trying to keep that in the forefront as we work together.”
The group plans to release a new full-length album later this year, and they’re releasing the single, “Dissonance,” this weekend. Rather than go the usual route of hosting a release show with a live set, they’re presenting it as part of a skill-share event which aims to offer information to other musicians and artists.
In addition to their recorded output, Action Camp took to the road extensively, with jaunts to the Midwest and up the East Coast. While many bands throw in the towel after a modicum of success, the group has continued unabated, even when Jacob entered graduate school. “I think all of us approach it, not just that it’s fun, but that it’s a genuine need to produce art, period,” she says. “I had people ask, ‘How do you juggle going to practice and writing these things when you’re also in school?’ Honestly, I never really thought about it. You just do it because it’s that important to you. I never sat down and said, ‘Okay, do I do this or do that?’ Nope. I’m going to figure out a way to make these things work together.”
Jacob’s background in choirs helped her pick up bass-playing skills and balance them with her vocal duties. “I think about how these two things intertwine with each other. I think that I’ve always done Alto 2 and Soprano 2, all the harmonies in choir,” she says. “So when I think about playing the bass, the bass plays similar roles. It fits in between all the cracks. Initially learning it was kind of hard but once I started to pay attention to the bass not as separate from the vocal but how they mix and mingle together, then it got easier.”
That same approach rubbed off on her bandmates. “We all view our individual parts in a way that might be more akin to a choir, where they’re all interlocking,” Jacob says. “It’s whatever best serves as part of the song at this time and how they sit together. I think it started to branch out into the way we write too.”
In some ways, the new single “Dissonance,” also talks about how conflict and tension can be creative forces that help a relationship grow. “When friction or ‘dissonance’ occurs you have to embrace it as not only inevitable but as an opportunity to go deeper and come out the other side better,” Jacob says. “You can do that by being genuine, having faith in your partnership, and by loving even the cracks in the relationship.” The song draws on the band’s blend of heavy sound and pop undercurrent for emphasis. Alexsander’s baritone guitar sounds dark and distorted during the verse, which breaks into a gripping chorus, pushed by Jacob’s dramatic vocals.
This weekend’s Skill Session was inspired by actual action camps in which Jacob participated during her activist days in college. The afternoon event will also be like a salon with attendees able to get tips on do-it-yourself music production with participants including music and light tech Jamie Fadden, musicians/online denizens Ky Voss, Brian Howe, Weird Paul and members of the Long Hunt.
The afternoon ends with a listening party for “Dissonance”— which will be available on art prints with a download code — and some songs from the upcoming album. Of the event, Jacob says, “We wanted it to be a different format and more of an exchange. It felt like [we should] do something more full-themed rather than focused on us.”