Digital Carnival by Jason Didner | INTERVIEW
Author: Thommy Delaney

The last time we had a chat with Jason Didner, he released his album "Side Effects." In 2024, we were graced with yet another album called "Digital Carnival." Through his humor with everyday observations, his new album certainly is a roller coaster of a good time! Let's catch up with Jason Didner and learn more about his latest release!

Greetings, Jason Didner! Fantastic work and congratulations on your latest album, "Digital Carnival." It is quite different from your past releases. What was the initial idea for the album?

Hey Thommy! Good to e-meet you here! Thanks, and I'm glad you enjoyed the new collection. Since promoting our music online is an occupational hazard of being a musician, I've absorbed a lot of the joys, hazards and absurdities of present-day life online and have amassed a lot to say on that subject alone. And my conversations with my wife Amy at the kitchen table often start us off on a songwriting mission before we even know we're doing that. One of us will notice the other saying something remarkable and comment "That should be a song!" And our conversations have been about feelings of envy online, which resulted in "Without a Yacht," or video game makers marketing to kids, which yielded "Unicorn Uniform." Our longest-running joke as a couple was about all the acronyms we've had to absorb. We joked about starting a protest organization "People Against the Abuse of Acronyms" and calling it "PAAA" for short for over a decade until we finally thought to make it a song. With each song relating to technology that came into our minds, we recognized the central theme of what would become this album.

You're voice is often compared to the likes of Elvis Costello and Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, one of my favorite bands I may add. While listening to the album, I did sense those voices may have influenced you and your music. Who were some of your musical influences growing up as a musician?

The funny thing is that those comparisons I'd get from audience members drove my curiosity about those acts. So I was already a working musician by the time I started taking an interest in Elvis C and Pat D (throw in a little Joe Jackson for good measure!) And I love the comparison and have gotten into those acts I'm compared to.

My strongest influences over the longest period of time have been Van Halen, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. It was a Van Halen concert in '86 when I was 15 that made me seriously want to learn guitar (I was a keyboardist first, which came in handy on several tracks of this album).

When I went to college on Long Island, I got to know much more of Billy Joel's catalog, his deep cuts, not just the hits, and really liked his musical and lyrical sophistication.

I was already a working musician when a fan of the band I was in lent me some Bruce Springsteen tapes to listen to on long car rides to gigs. I loved his storytelling and raw rock energy in a way I didn't quite "get" when I was a teenager watching MTV.

You combine different musical styles on the entire album. You do anything from reggae to heavy metal and even grunge. I find that fascinating since it seems to me a lot of musicians pick a lane and stay there. But thankfully, you're not one of those artists. What kind of styles have you grown up listening to and how have they influenced the different sound scapes you have?

I think growing up in the New York metro area exposed me to lots of sounds that interested me. Even WPLJ, which we think of pop radio, mixed it up pretty well when I was a kid. I'd hear Led Zeppelin, Pat Benetar, and Michael Jackson all on the same station. As I was getting into guitar, I remember a TV show called "Rock School" where they taught a variety of musical styles, including reggae. And I came to learn how Rush and the Police incorporated reggae into their rock sounds.

Grunge came up on the rise as I was finishing out college and subtly influenced some of my early singer/songwriter efforts. I feel fortunate enough to have enough sounds in my palette to create what I feel are the right backdrops for each of the different stories I need to tell.

"Zeroes and Ones" has an interesting subject line. With A.I. being a big piece of tech in today's world, this song just fits right in. Where did the title and lyrics come from?

An opinion article by NY Times columnist Kevin Roose grabbed my attention and shook me. He had interviewed Microsoft's new Bing AI chatbot, which professed its love for him and urged him to leave his wife for the chatbot. That really made me question why we're using AI for conversation rather than simply utility.

And I felt compelled to urge my fellow humans to remember the importance of real, living human connection and not to go chasing fads to our very extinction! Heartbeat rhythms before algorithms!

"Unicorn Uniform" is a track that made me chuckle. It amazes me what video games are nowadays compared to when they were introduced to the world. Who or what gave you the idea for the song? Was it something that you may have seen online or on TV?

I'm a dad, so the struggle is real! My daughter and her friends were very into Roblox and Fortnite, both of which aggressively upsell to kids in the game. And once one player has a new virtual mansion, everyone else has to have bigger, better ones. And the game makers are all too happy to upsell all this stuff as extras, either with their in-app currency or through expensive subscriptions. So I wrote this with all the frustration of having to repeatedly urge my young one to resist the perceived need to keep up with the Joneses.

This was the song where I developed the "carnival barker" character trying to manipulate kids into hitting their parents up for video game money. It was very cathartic to embody that character to deliver the message.

"Without Yacht" has a very Elvis Costello vibe. What moved you to write a song related to a yacht?

The rise of a retroactive "yacht rock" genre sort of tickled me, giving context to all these smooth rock tunes of the 70s-80s that they never had before, giving a jolt of energy to the careers of Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald.

Since Amy and I were working on a song about envying the fabulous social posts of casual acquaintances, I thought it might be funny to make it a yacht rock song where the object of our envy is other people's yachts.

The yacht is a metaphor for other people's success - their fabulous vacations, or even, dare I say it..., other musicians catching big opportunities that I don't get. And it's like Elvis Costello's sarcasm meets Steely Dan's smoothness.

Before we came up with the yacht metaphor we knew we had things to say about envy and FOMO but weren't sure how to proceed.

"Too Many Tabs Open" is not only catchy, the harmonies are terrific. Did you one day have too many tabs open on a device and gave you the thought, "Hey, this can be a song"?

I have looked at my browser and though, "Holy moly, that's a lot of tabs open! And I check in with my mind and realize that's really distracted and exhausted trying to juggle so many competing thoughts and tasks.

I love getting the comment "That's the story of my life" when I post video of my performances of this song. I want my stuff to be relatable whether it's on a broad, universal subject or a very specific one.

"Radicalized" has such relevant lyrics. Do you know someone who has been through what you wrote about in your song?

I was moved by a podcast interview with a former neo-Nazi who has since devoted his life to helping other people get out of these hate groups. I thought about the way lonely people get swept up into these groups, how they're vulnerable to being told their insecurity is someone else's fault and then they get pumped up to go to war against ordinary human beings.

That strong desire to help people find their way out of the cult stuck with me, and I felt I wanted to end the song on that note.

As a musician, "Virtual Troubadour" hit hard. The year 2020 was certainly a strange year for all, especially musicians. Was it like for you to go from playing live in front of audiences to playing over streaming apps such as Zoom and YouTube?

Since 2004 I've had some experience performing live, online. Originally, it was audio-only with a chat room, with sound that broke up frequently, like driving through a cellular dead spot. I've seen it evolve and gave the occasional virtual show, like when a live show was cancelled for inclement weather.

But 2020 brought it to a new level because we couldn't do shows in person and the technology was further advanced. I started with Zoom concerts and then found my way to Sessions Live, which has since closed, and Live Streamer Cafe, which is what I use for my virtual concerts these days.

It helps to think of performing live online not as a substitute for performing in front of an audience, because there is no substitute for that thrill - but as its own thing entirely. I do enjoy overcoming geographic hurdles to play live for fans in Italy and the UK and Canada at the same time - and the break from lugging gear to do a show can be kind of nice.

Are there any shows coming up that you would like to promote?

I'm happy to say I have shows in the works in Jersey City and Ocean Grove. I'll be excited to announce those shortly. These are solo acoustic shows. I hope to add some band shows as well.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

Sure. Technology is part of our lives and it's here to stay. There's no getting around that. But I want you to be mindful of what you're consuming - why and how it's being fed to you in your apps - and who benefits from it. And save some space in your life for real human connection. While I'm reminding you of that I'm also reminding myself, because I can easily be distracted by the latest shiny thing. And if you see me, please remind me of this too. And let's rock out to "Digital Carnival" together!

Thank you Thommy for an enjoyable conversation. That's exactly what I wanted this album to do - spark conversation like this.

Artist Bio:
Many of the songwriters Jason Didner admires can stretch their lyrical range from funny to rather serious, often over the course of one album. The Beatles excel at this, as do Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Harry Nilsson. Jason carries this tradition forward, setting comical observational rants to music, as he does on "People Against the Abuse of Acronyms (PAAA) or sounding heartfelt alarm bells on "Disinformation Overload," both on the same album. Some tracks, like his new album's anthemic title track "Digital Carnival," bring the humor and earnestness to bear in the same song.

Jason and his wife Amy often co-write their lyrics, prompted by something that comes up in a kitchen table conversation or on a car ride. One day Jason offhandedly remarked to Amy that he needed to get an ETA from his GPS. Amy, who remembered their long-running joke about too many acronyms, connected Jason's statement with the acronym joke and the two started brainstorming the song "People Against the Abuse of Acronyms (PAAA)."

Together, Jason and Amy have seen the humor in life's thornier challenges, like Amy's numerous medical conditions, which require them to frequently register online for doctor appointments, using the dreaded "Patient Portal." Their shared frustration with these web sites led to a comical musical gem of that title.

On Jason's five solo albums, he mostly plays all the instruments other than sharing certain tracks with some featured artists. When performing live, Jason takes the stage either as a solo acoustic act or with his new band Jason Didner and the Drive. In 2023 Jason gave a solo performance opening for New York rock-n-roll poet Willie Nile at Montclair's Outpost in the Burbs concert series.

This Jersey rocker became known for his humorous side when his song "You Can't Get There from Here in Jersey" attained airplay on National Public Radio's Car Talk program in 2001. A more recent re-recording of this tune landed in Asbury Park Press' 10 Best Songs by New Jersey Artists. Over the years, he's worked in some material with more serious messages as well, like his 2022 album "Salt and Sand: Rock Songs to Heal the Mind," which contains in its lyrics the hard-earned lessons Jason absorbed while having mental health issues hit close to home in his family.

The sounds of Jason's songs serve as settings for the messages in the words of the songs. "The lyrics provide the rhythms of the syllables, forming the melody and the accompaniment," Jason explains. "From there I choose a musical style that best supports the song's story. It could be reggae, hard rock, a folk ballad or even a yacht rock song. The lyrics usually guide me to the music, though I have occasionally had success starting with a musical idea."

Aside from the five solo albums, Jason also recorded two albums with a rock band whose music is intended for kids and families. Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam earned the Parents' Choice Approved designation for their debut album "Everyone's Invited" and gave many kids their first rock concert experience at the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island Boardwalk and the legendary Stone Pony.

About the Author: Thommy Delaney is a Senior Music Business Major at New Jersey City University. He is also the lead guitarist and a vocalist in the Bayonne Indie pop-rock band BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Looking for something new to listen to? Be sure to follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj on social media and stream their music on all platforms.

Return to Homepage