Artist Interview | Denver's Own 'Ballroom Cancer' Releases New Track

Jake Sheppard of Ballroom Cancer released a stunning track this June, one that delves into the complexity of our individual lives inside an ambient, ethereal, unimposing brevity. Hidden in the layers of dialogic ramble is the thread of isolation which is born of our technological connectivity; or rather, a disconnect.

Colorado Daily iterated, "Ballroom Cancer’s music, with samples, programmed drums and voice, is a sonic distillation of freestyle contemplation. It’s electronic music meant for thinking." Thought provoking it is indeed. Sheppard deftly illustrates moments of deep, uninterrupted thought, and the emotions which are seemingly isolated to the individual, but are relatable to on a universal level.

Sheppard brought a new level of depth into his most recent, "A Whirlpool is A Drill", and we got to talking about his new, yet to be released EP's direction, and some introspection into his most early (and most unexpected) music influences. 

K: You’ve released “A Whirlpool is a Drill” in anticipation for a full EP. Can you tell us more about the influences and inspiration of the EP?

J: I’m sitting on a pile of stuff right now, and I’m in the process of figuring out what goes best together. I’m trying to figure out which songs work best together right now. I have a really wide range of influences, and so when I set out to make something, I'm less in control of what the finished product is. 

K: Is there a concept behind your EP, or are you just looking to find tracks which piece together to create a flow?

J: It’s not really a conceptual thing. The songs fit together thematically, but sonically, I have a lot of different influences.

K: The track feels similar in tone and theme to Radiohead’s newest “A Moon Shaped Pool”. How has Radiohead influenced your sound?

J: You called it. James Blake and Radiohead are some of my biggest influences; I love Hot Chip too, a bunch of different types of music, from dance to indie and electronic. It’s good to draw from all types of music when you’re creating, or we can tend to make some bland things.

K: It’s crazy to me how so many different genres and types of music knowingly or unknowingly change the outcome of a creative process.

J: Oh, definitely. I mean even if i tried to sit down and recreate a Radiohead song, or some other artist who I love, the outcome would be completely different.

K: Yet you’ll be able to see the similarities where others may not be able to.

J:  For sure. You have to borrow what you can along the way.

K: “A Whirlpool is A Drill” deals heavily with themes of isolation. Can you tell us more about the ideas behind this?

J: Yeah, there’s actually this author, Haruki Murakami; his book, I forget what it’s called-- The End Of The World, I think--

K: Hardboiled Wonderland and the End Of the World?

J: Thank God. You’re saving my ass here. I read that book while I was working on the song, and he uses the image of a whirlpool reoccuringly. It’s a great book. His work has had a huge impact on me. It reflected where I was mentally, and themes of isolation as well.

K: He definitely focus’ on the life of an artist, and the mentality of an artist. Which is, in it of itself, isolating, particularly so when you’re working solo.

J: It’s a funny thing. I can’t speak for all, but if I’m in a great mood, I’m probably not going to make something great. I’ll probably sit down, listen to it, and think, ‘Oh my God, What have I done?’ you know. There’s something underneath that which drives you. Music has always been super therapeutic.

K:  You left recently to Europe; what inspired you to leave the US and travel?

J: I really just had the chance. I was at home, and my brother had been planning the trip, and his travel partner fell through. We both just toured around and I had a lot of time to read, on the train a lot, poking around from place to place, around all of these different cultures, and people.

K: At CU Boulder, you studied microbiology. What influenced the change in direction?

J: I mean, I’ve always kind of been a scientist. I worked in a cancer research lab, and I also started my music career while I was still working there. I can still see myself becoming involved in scientific research.

K: Your name, Ballroom Cancer, was that influenced by your time at the cancer research lab?

J: It was really just a strange coincidence. I had a PR firm in LA, and I used to go by the name Aminals. It was just ungoogleable. You could not search for me; super impractical. It was sort of a disaster. My girlfriend at the time, we came up with the name Ballroom Cancer together. It gets a lot of reactions-- some people think it’s funny, others get grossed out, or whatever, but the benefit of it is that no one has any preconceived ideas about how it’ll sound, so it works out in that way.

K: There’s a lot of dance, even EDM or house music in some of your tracks on Soundcloud. You tend to veer off into a really wide, not often explored territory with cross genre, experimental movements.

J: Definitely. I don’t know why that happens. I don’t sit down with the intention of creating something that’s reaching far out there, but I have a tendency to combine a lot of different types of sound often, and I usually like the outcome.

K: You self-released your work. Online venues are amazing outlets for artists all over the world, and allow so many more people to share their art and to be heard. They’ve also changed the music industry in a lot of ways. What is your opinion of the internet and it’s affects on releasing music?

Well, it’s amazing and awful. I love the internet, and the exposure it’s given me to different artists. The craziness is in the sheer amount of volume there is. If I miss out for even a day, on the blogs that I follow, I feel like I’ve missed that moment in time-- I won’t be able to catch up. I’m an artist and I feel that way, and journalists get sent so many tracks each and every day. I think it’s all going toward a better place, but it’s tough. It’s tough to make money as an artist.

K: It seems like it’s all just accelerating.

J: You’re totally right. One of my favorite acts within the last five years or so, Death Grips, from Sacramento, they have released their stuff themselves, and I love how ruthless they are. They refuse to be subservient to the music industry, or a record label. Even Radiohead’s last album, they just released an album and surprised everyone. I’d love to get to the point where I could just release an album myself, where I don’t have to navigate through the channels to get the music out. It’s easy to make music; it’s very difficult to get it out there.

K: What were the first albums that really impacted you when you were first discovering music?

J: The first song that I absolutely fell in love with, I think I was five years old. My Mom was really into Rod Stewart, and the song Hot Legs. For whatever reason, I just had to have that on repeat.

K: First show?

J: Actually, Lynyrd Skynyrd. My Dad is a country rock kind of guy, and I’ve seen Lynard Skynard probably five times. If you have any questions about Lynyrd Skynyrd, just throw them my way and I can answer them. He took us to this thing called Hog Fest-- I don’t know if Red Rocks still has this; but of course we show up and it’s just a bunch of old guys riding around on these big motorcycles, getting drunk and smoking, and whatever. Pretty terrifying for a small child. It was Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd together. Hell of a first show. Ted Nugent shot a guitar was a bow and arrow and it exploded. I remember that very vividly. I hope I can do that to my kids, ruin them at a Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd show.

You can also check out Ballroom Cancer's music video for the acclaimed 'Misinterest' below, and be sure to keep your sights out for his new soon to be released EP. 

Authored by Kendall Morris