Several years ago, Boston-based musician and producer John Dragonetti saw his band (and his alter ego) Jack Drag part ways with A&M Records. Nearly two years later, Dragonetti finds his plate loaded with projects touching the worlds of indie rock, hip-hop, TV commercials, and beyond.
In retrospect, I've never been more happy," Dragonetti told MTV News, "and I feel actually like I'm building my career the way it should be built."
The first stage of Dragonetti's plans is the release of Jack Drag's "Aviating" LP on Chicago's Sugar Free Records, home of Wheat and Beulah, among others. For Dragonetti, life on a smaller label is breath of fresh air.
For me, anyway, it's just way less pressure," he began. "It just feels comfortable. At the major label, there were always a few people that worked really hard for you, but it's hard to get the whole company to have the same amount of enthusiasm. [On smaller labels,] people tend to be younger and more excited
about music. Just less cynical, I guess."
After making 1998's "Dope Box" with a full band, Dragonetti sees "Aviating" as a return to the roots of the Jack Drag project.
The earlier stuff was done on my 4-track, with me playing most of the instruments in my rehearsal space," Dragonetti said, referring to his "Jack Drag" and "Unisex Headwave" records, which were both released on Hep Cat before he signed to a major.
This record isn't as low-fi or anything, because I have bit more gear and my production skills have improved," he explained, "but it's nearer to where I started, which is where I was happiest and the most excited about making music.
I think on this record, I needed to work alone," he continued, "which gives it a more intimate feeling. It was done on 8-track in my home studio. 'Dope Box' was recorded to be so big that I started to feel sort of removed. This record is quite the opposite. It's fairly quiet and intimate."
finishing "Aviating," Dragonetti also began working on a new project with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, perhaps best known for his work with Dr. Octagon and his Handsome Boy Modeling School project with Prince Paul. Jack Drag and "The Automator" have a history together, as Dragonetti explained.
When we were looking at producers for ['Dope Box'], I heard the Dr. Octagon record and loved it," Dragonetti recalled. "We approached him about remixing some singles, and he agreed. We met and stuff and got along pretty well.
Then last fall, just out of the blue, he called me and asked me what I was doing, and he said he wanted to do a record with me," he said. "It could be a Jack Drag Record, or it could be 'The John And Dan Freak-Out Sessions.' I think it's leaning toward being a Jack Drag record.
We've been passing tapes back and forth, and it starting to take shape," he explained. "It's going to be a summer project, because right now he's in Jamaica at the moment
with Damon [Albarn] from Blur. They're doing some dub thing.
The cool thing about Dan, though," Dragonetti continued, "is he is this hip-hop guy who loves Blur, and he's also a classically trained violinist, which I just learned from Sean Lennon. All these new things pop up about him. I'm very excited about that record."
Aside from his solo work and his upcoming collaboration with Dan "The Automator," Dragonetti has been working as a producer of other artists as well as in the fields of television and film music.
I'm still cutting teeth as a producer," Dragonetti offered. "I learned a lot from Chris Shaw [who produced] the 'Dope Box' record. Recently, I produced Boston-based artists Wednesday Next, Quick Fix, and a singer-songwriter named Blake Hazard. That came out really well. At some point, I think producing will be a nice exit from trying to be a rock star.
Dragonetti has also made music for Volkswagen's Web site and is currently in the midst
of finishing up music for his first big TV commercial, as well an unusual cover song for a pending film.
I just did a cool version of [War's] 'Low Rider' for a movie," Dragonetti said. "I came up with some pretty cool music, but then I thought, 'How in the hell am I going to sing this one?' I finally found this guy who is a baritone opera singer, and he came in and sang it. It came out really freaky, but great."
Even with his full recording schedule, Dragonetti has found time to put together an unusual live band configuration for an upcoming "Aviating" tour.
This record is a very mellow record, and I didn't want to have a power-rock band like the 'Dope Box' era," he explained. "The thing that is happening right now is the 'Aviating' duo [with] Evelyn Pope, who is a great person and a talented keyboardist. She is basically the control center, operating all the drum loops and string sounds and organ sounds; backing me up, really.
It's sort of a
glorified acoustic set, although I won't be playing acoustic. I'll be playing my stereo guitar setup and singing. I think there will be some nice sounds that move from side to side," Dragonetti said, laughing. "Stereo probably sounds outdated now. Maybe I'll have to go surround sound."
Jack Drag's "Aviating" duo is currently playing shows regionally on the East Coast, with a U.S. and European tour schedule to be announced in early summer.