Chaucer's Josh Simkowitz: You Don't Need a Kickstarter Campaign to Record Music
Chaucer's Josh Simkowitz was gifted "half a drum set" to help set him back on the music track.
Photo by Donny Barth
Josh Simkowitz took a few years away from music because he simply didn't want to make any — until he got back to South Florida and decided he had to.
His West Palm Beach-based band Chaucer will take the stage October 16 at Propaganda armed with songs from the album Busted and the still-in-production Iced — both of which were written entirely by Simkowitz.
After playing mostly "bad, generic hardcore" in high school, Simkowitz stopped wanting to make music. So he bounced around the country a little and lived some life. Eventually he found himself back home, wanting to write.
He picked up a cheap console on Craigslist, bought a guitar from a friend, and was gifted "half a drum set." He began writing, often coming home from work and getting straight to the drums, banging out beats and writing lyrics.
"I have a full-time, very busy day job — I just stay up really late," Simkowitz says, explaining there isn't a lot of planning or thinking ahead to how he works on music. "I write the songs as I record them. I'm not really good at the recording process. I try not to be too good at anything.
"I play until I mess up on the drums. I mean, it's the same beat every time. It's the only thing I can play. I just do, like, a good four-to-eight-hour stretch. If I couldn't finish a song, I never came back to it. It's just all stuff I wrote in one sitting."
Busted's ten songs clock in under two minutes each. The length has as much to do with preference as it does with writing style. "I don't like boring music," he says. "Like, give me a verse and a chorus and call it. I don't need a whole thing."
Simkowitz finished Busted and sent it off to a friend for mixing and mastering, eventually getting an offer from Decades Records to release it on tape, in addition to offering it on Bandcamp. He says recording the album himself and working with friends made the experience more rewarding and less about trying to meet some requirement for what a record should sound like.
Chaucer's sound isn't all that foreign to South Florida music fans — it exists somewhere in the realm of the dancey rock 'n' roll of Jacuzzi Boys and Gun Hoes. Busted doesn't sound like the vision of perfection that might come from a professional studio, which doesn't bother Simkowitz, but describing the band as "lo-fi" does bother him, because that's not what's happening.
Josh Simkowitz: "Just do it yourself, man."
Photo Courtesy of Chaucer
"It's a fun thing to say, but it's a buzzword. I'm not trying to sound lo-fi," he says, noting the record would sound different if he had "a bunch of money." Because he doesn't, Busted sounds like what he has access to. "I think there's something to be said for working with what you have. A lot of people go and have a Kickstarter, like, 'Send me to the studio!' Just do it yourself, man."
Simkowitz already has the second Chaucer album, Iced, finished and in the mixing process. It'll be released "sometime," he says.
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"I want to make as much music as possible. I don't understand how people spend a year on a record and play it for three years. I make a record in a couple months. If you work hard and do it, you can make a record in a couple months," he says, noting he may be a little different from other musicians. "But I'm sloppy."
His band, initially made up of friends he gathered to play live, has cycled through a few members, but Simkowitz says they've got a good group now. Unlike the first two albums, the latest is being made using a different process: Simkowitz is writing on guitar, and the full band is involved in developing songs. He cops to being a "pain in the ass" who knows what he wants and therefore can be difficult to work with, but he says the songs written with friends are even better than those he's done alone.
The vision when he began writing again was just to let it flow, which means he's as likely to be penning songs about candy and television as he is to be writing about sitting at home feeling lonely. Years ago, he may have been embarrassed to write some of what he sings in Chaucer; Simkowitz says the less self-conscious approach has been more productive and brought new satisfaction to what he's doing — none of which has changed since he shifted from writing alone to getting the band involved.
"It's expressing myself in a little more honest way, and I'm a little goofy," he says. "The way I think of it is, every time I sit down to write a song, I think about 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.' But I'm not good enough, and that's what comes out."
Chaucer isn't the Beatles. But it's definitely good enough.
With Boytoy, Suede Dudes, and Kremlin. 8 p.m. Friday, October 16, at Propaganda, 6 S. J St., Lake Worth. Admission is $7, $2 of which goes toward Surfer Blood guitarist's medical bills. Call 561-547-7273, or visit dwntwnarts.com.
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