In July, Gail Prusslin, Vice-President of the Board of Outpost in the Burbs contacted the NJAEP with the news that the Partnership was the organization selected to benefit from the proceeds of the Clearmountain Festival. Outpost is located in Montclair with the stated mission to build community through music, community service, and cultural programs.
The Clearmountain Festival was a showcase of Montclair based musicians and was organized by Cody Fitzgerald of the band Stolen Jars and Daryl Shelton of the band Werebears.
Of course, we were curious to learn how this benefit concert came about and how the NJAEP was selected. I reached out to Cody Fitzgerald, currently of Brooklyn, to find out more.
Tell me what kind of work do you do. Or are you in school?
I’m a songwriter and composer. I graduated from Brown University about a year ago and that’s when I started doing music full-time. I write music for Stolen Jars, which is a personal music project and a collaboration with Molly Grund and other friends/band members, I write songs and produce for other artists through SONGS Music Publishing, and I also do film scoring work.
Tell me about your early years. Where did you go to school growing up?
I grew up in Montclair, NJ and went through the public school system there, starting with Nishuane, then onto Hillside, Glenfield and then MHS.
Tell me about your musical career.
When I was really young, about 7 years old or so, I started taking piano lessons outside of school. To be honest, I hated them, I didn’t like practicing and I felt like they were really cutting into the time I was supposed to be spending watching Saturday Morning Cartoons. Later on, I started taking guitar lessons, and though I didn’t fall in love with those either, I did begin to play music on my own outside of the lessons, learning songs to play for my parents using tabs on the internet. In middle school, I started playing in a ska/punk band with my friends called Crucial Party. That project evolved into the indie band Screech Owls, which we recorded an album for in the beginning of high school with the help of our teacher Mr. Frye. That was the beginning of my serious interest in playing music. From there on, I recorded an EP with my friend Rachel Ishikawa as part of her folk band Sumi and I also started Stolen Jars, my own personal project. I put out an album under that name during my Senior year of high school and that was the album that started my career as it stands today. I was lucky enough to have a song from that album placed in an iPad commercial while I was in college, and my second album under that name landed me the publishing deal with SONGS and a lot of good press, including some nice write-ups from NPR, Stereogum, and Consequence of Sound to name a few. I also started doing film scoring during college, working on the feature film The Rewrite starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei, and the indie film Hard Sell starring Kristen Chenoweth with my friend and scoring partner Clyde Lawrence, as well as many shorts including Open 24 Hours which was accepted into Cannes Film Festival last year. Now I spend my day-to-day working on new Stolen Jars music, producing and writing for and with other artists, and working on new scoring opportunities. I feel very lucky to be doing all of that.
How did you get interested in music?
I became interested in music because my parents always were. My first favorite songs were ones that my parents introduced me to. “Blue Chair” by Elvis Costello was something my dad and I would dance to in the living room when I was very young. “Ode to My Family” by the Cranberries was on repeat in the kitchen when it came out. Later on, my brother would make me mix CDs every Christmas to show me what he was currently listening to and from there I sought new music on my own.
Tell me about a teacher that you are thankful for.
What influence did that teacher have on you?
Although I have already mentioned him, I would have to say Mr. Frye. Mr. Frye was my freshman year English teacher. Not only did he help me and my friends record our first album, he also taught me how to write. He was truly one of the best teachers I have ever had and actively changed my life for the better. I don’t think I would have done as well as I have without his influence on my writing.
How else did your arts education influence you?
If I’m honest, I did not really take many art classes in school. I learned how to play music outside of school and my arts education was mostly community-based, with organizations like Terry’s Serendipity Cafe (a student group that puts on local shows every month) leading the way. Being a part of that DIY community really enabled me to act on my own behalf and move forward as a songwriter and musician. Obviously, I did take Music Theory when it was offered in High School and that was a huge help, but it wasn’t where my main arts education came from. I would love to see a bigger arts presence in public education, which is part of the reason I donated money to NJAEP.
What do you want to pass on through your music?
When I write music, my hope is that it will speak to someone and become an important part of somebody else’s life. I think music has this incredible ability to become attached to specific moments, to specific places or times, it has this inherent and immediate nostalgia. I would love for my music to be as important to someone else as so many songs were to me, helping to guide them, or just making them feel closer to someone else, becoming inseparable from a certain Summer or year, a piece of something they hold onto.
How did you learn about the NJ Arts Education Partnership – and why did you select it as the organization to benefit from the Clearmountain Festival?
We learned about the NJ Arts Education Partnership when we were researching NJ-based arts charities online. We had this idea of doing a festival with a number of bands from the Montclair music scene to showcase the talent that had come out of the area and to, at the same time, give back to the community in some way. Molly Grund, my bandmate, was actually the one who found NJAEP and it just seemed perfect to everyone involved. It wasn’t based solely in Montclair, which was a requirement for us since Montclair already benefits from great schools, and it sought to do exactly what we did, to give arts education to all students in all communities and share the same opportunities that we were already lucky to have.
Thanks Cody. Your commitment to the arts and your belief in the importance of giving back is applauded and much appreciated.
Interview by Kristin Wenger