Even though The Lonesome Organist has released three albums on local indie label Thrill Jockey, Jeremy Jacobsen’s solo project is still among this city’s strangest and best-kept musical secrets. Jacobsen carefully cherry-picks his collaborations, which have ranged from post-rock outfit 5ive Style and the Chicago version of the Complaints choir, but it’s by himself where the multi-instrumentalist truly makes magic, simultaneously manipulating organ, accordions, steel drums, mouth harps, and more. The Lonesome Organist occasionally provides accompaniment for silent movies, but this Sunday at Schubas is a rare chance to see Jacobsen and his lonely instruments as the sole focus. The A.V. Club talked to Jacobsen about bogus one-man bands, brain function, and his good name being besmirched by Amanda Palmer.
The A.V. Club: In concert you play real instruments simultaneously, making you an old-school one-man band. Are you insulted by the impurity of many current one-man bands?
Jeremy Jacobsen: I wouldn’t necessarily consider people getting up on stage with laptops one-man bands, but that’s not my call. Shows with a lot of looper pedals [or] people actually playing along to recordings, there isn’t any sense of spontaneity in that. I function by just playing everything because I kind of can. [Laughs.] I suppose a lot of people can, but not a lot of people do. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you think you have something weird or special in your brain function in regards to multitasking?
JJ: Well, I may. [Laughs.] I think it comes from really just being locked in the piano room as a kid. Having that discipline as a child and transferring that over to anything else that you do.
AVC: I heard about this recent study on multitasking that proved that you significantly get worse at each thing, no matter how simple, when you add something else.
JJ: [Laughs.] Good point. I usually keep it kind of simple: just one instrument, percussion, and voice. You can do a lot with an organ and drums, or an accordion and drums. I spend some time just switching off and playing a single instrument. The combination of not hearing something for a while and then hearing it come back can be very powerful. When you have a band with four guys they really all just want to be playing all the time, but the side of my brain that is focusing on organ is not going to be upset if I don’t play organ for a while.
AVC: The other kind of one-man band that’s been booming are garage-rock guitar-and-kick-drum acts like BBQ and King Louie, just playing wild music. While some of your shows have the same falling-down-the-stairs energy as that stuff, musically you’re far more sophisticated.
JJ: Yeah, it’s a bit different. Although I was a huge fan of Hasil Adkins; that’s where I was originally coming from. But I can’t really do that authentically.
AVC: Do you ever wish you were a worse musician so you could do that?
JJ: I certainly have been worse. If you listen to my first 7-inch, it wouldn’t be mistaken for Hasil Adkins, but they’re the same sort of thing. I’ve veered far away from that after discovering the limitations in my rockabilly-ness.
AVC: What’s the story with that song by The Dresden Dolls from a couple years ago, "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner"? Why did she write a song about you raping, I believe, a child?
JJ: Really, really unfortunate, really detrimental to me. I was totally confused about it. I was going to write them and say, “What the fuck is this shit?” And I never did because I thought, well, maybe it’s just one of those things. Maybe they never even heard of me and it’s just a coincidence. But it turns out this girl, Amanda Palmer, fesses up online somewhere that she saw me play and was inspired to write this song.
AVC: That’s kind of… terrible.
JJ: It doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s just her being totally thoughtless, and it’s unbelievable.
AVC: How has this been detrimental to you?
JJ: Because you’re asking me about it, And it’s fucking lame that those words are associated with my act, and anyone who looks up Lonesome Organist on the web, that’s like the second thing they're going to see.
AVC: So let’s end with a positive message that will erase those child-raping images.
JJ: [Laughs.] Um, I don’t know. There’s a lot of positive things. I’m a reasonable human, and my show’s pretty rocking!