Jacob Sigman’s Polychromatic Pop: ‘Color Coded Heart’

. November 13, 2020.
John Savage
Image courtesy of Riley John Savage.

Jacob Sigman’s music may have a lightness both in its buoyancy and brightness, but that doesn’t mean his lyrics can’t get heavy or that he can’t face darkness.

“What’s always been the goal for me is to write something that is melodically and harmonically fun to listen to — something people might choose to listen to in their moments of joy — but something that can also cause them to think twice about the lyrics. Or, if you are writing a lot of love songs or something that’s just lighthearted, there can still be complexity in the music, if not the lyrics.”

Sigman has been releasing new music for an entire calendar year. Starting at the end of 2019, he premiered a new single at the start of every month. “I feel the way we collectively consume music has changed, so my rationale was to respond to that (with singles).” 

Sigman, a UM alum, broke out onto the local music scene almost eight years ago. Prior to the cycle of singles, he had released a series of three EPs. He says another reason for doing a song per month was “….I’m not sure how genre-specific I am as an artist right now. After college, I felt a big pressure to be consistent, and to have all my songs sound similar to one another.” Sigman says this allowed him to focus on making sure every song flourished, regardless of strict stylistic continuity, rather than fixating on a cohesiveness between songs.

Sigman first started making and writing music in grade school. “Of course, it might have been a bit childlike back then. But over time, I developed a better concept for how music works. I suppose my growth as an artist has been punctuated by these major changes in my genre.” During Sigman’s college days, he fell hard for the grand, sweeping, cinematic style of cerebral-folk music that was particularly predominating the global indie-scene at that time (Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, even local contemporaries like Chris Bathgate). But much of the music he wrote as he entered his 20’s drifted toward the paisley-psychedelia style of Sgt Peppers-era Beatles. But as the 2010s rolled on, his tastes started opening up to modern styles that embraced electronica.

“The big thing for me now is accepting that I like writing all kinds of songs: folk songs, pop songs, or even R&B and more modern soul-influenced songs. My focus has been bringing those disparate elements together and accepting all the different sides of it and trying to exist within a post-genre era of music. It’s been a journey for me, but I think my songwriting has grown along the way.”

This whole year has been a journey, really. Last month, Sigman unveiled a full-length album titled Color Coded Heart (collecting every song released throughout the last year). “Toward the end of 2019, I’d started working with a producer based in Windsor, Datsunn, and he really crystallized for me how you can fuse sample-based music with more of a singer-songwriter mentality.” Sigman said that he and Datsunn established a strong rapport early in the process, sharing a creative vision that nurtured their collaboration.

COVID hit after they’d completed four songs together, and that meant that the Canadian border was closed. The pair were forced to transition their productive partnership online. “We were able to share mixes with each other, but I also just had to take on a bit more of the weight of production. But I had gained a lot more confidence just having worked with him in his studio in the first place. Because of technology, now, you can imagine something and create a song out of it within a day; you’re much more able, now, to do it yourself. So, I recorded the last half of the entire album in my bedroom during the quarantine.”

The batch of songs on Color Coded Heart fluctuates across gradations of the pop spectrum, from snappy, uptempo sprees to slower, croonery ballads with lyrics that are celebratory, contemplative, and wistful. All in all, most of these tracks are a surefire surge for our serotonin levels — but that doesn’t mean it was easy to make. “It was especially hard to function as an artist during a pandemic. I realized there’s a distinction between me trying to distract myself with working on music versus me confronting the reality of the world, first, accepting it, recognizing where we are, and then focusing on the music I can make. People need music. And I think there’s a responsibility as an artist to write about the world, to share your perspective, and to do your best to provide a sort of escape for people.”

Sigman said that releasing this album was definitely cathartic yet bittersweet. The world changed, and that altered the aspirations, trajectories, and motivations of not just Sigman, but music artists everywhere. “There’s always this blurred line between who you are as a person and who you are as an artist and entertainer, and where you derive your self-worth from…” Sigman said, reflecting on a year where everyone was unable to perform live shows in a conventional setting. “In this time, what’s kept me hopeful are the other artists, my peers, the support from the scene has been real, and I’ve found a lot of strength from that. I can’t say I feel ‘great’ about the future, but I still have hope. I still feel that sense of community. It’s been a year of structural change, and I hope that we, as artists, can come together and try to rebuild the kind of infrastructure for live music, for recorded music….”

To feel hopeful in the face of despair, said Sigman, is the real challenge. “I think it takes a bit of courage just to feel hope,” he said. But to receive a dose of hopefulness amid uncertainty, amid despair… well, that also sums up precisely what the songs on Color Coded Heart can do for any listener: music that can brighten up darkness, and add some polychromatic splashes to the greyer days.

To keep up to date on the latest from Jacob Sigman, check out his Facebook. For his latest music, check out his Bandcamp.

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