Season 5, Episode 15
David Sedaris + Jacob Ewald (Slaughter Beach, Dog)

David Sedaris

David Sedaris, photo by Anne Fishbein

Jacob Ewald was at a crossroads. His band, Modern Baseball, had just broken up, and he wasn’t sure if he could stomach the terminal uncertainty of an artist’s life

“In the back of my mind I was always like, ‘This is not a legitimate use of your time, and you really ought to be pragmatic,’” Jacob says. “‘Because you’re going to die, eventually, and you’re going to have to support a family before that happens’”

But while waiting backstage at a college show, Jacob opened a book that shifted his perspective, David SedarisTheft by Finding. In a collection of journal entries from the author’s young adult life, Sedaris writes about terrible jobs and terrible hotels. Sedaris’ anxious uncertainty about how to become the writer he hopes to be is a constant background hum in the book

“By seeing David living these kind of experiences that I could relate to and seeing, ‘Oh, he’s calling himself a writer. That means I should be able to call myself a songwriter,’” Jacob says. “At that point I knew it was really rare to get that kind of permission because I was desperately looking for it all the time”

Jacob Ewald

Jacob Ewald, photo by Ashley Gellman

Soon after reading the book, Jacob started the indie pop band Slaughter Beach, Dog, which began as a solo project but grew into a group of creative equals. As the band developed, Jacob noticed that the lessons he learned from Sedaris continued to shape his thinking. It wasn’t just the permission to call himself an artist, but a fundamental perspective about creative work

“Every day you wake up and you do something, and you write down what happened,” Jacob recalls. “That is exactly what being a musician feels like”

During this time Jacob also came to realize that he didn’t need to be miserable in order to write about suffering. Like a lot of younger artists he had imagined that pain is what gave his songs authenticity

“I think when I started trying to do the work in my personal life – instead of trying to do my own work in a song – the songs got a lot more interesting,” Jacob says

While he feels better than he used to, Jacob does not pretend that he has it all figured out. It’s just that now he has some reliable tools for the bad days: therapy, meditation, self-care. He is also working to make peace with the artistic process as it unfolds, however meandering and frustrating it might be in the moment. Experiencing the world as an artist, living as an artist, is the point of the work. And Jacob recommends it to anyone

“The thing I would like to tell anyone who has any interest in doing anything artistic,” Jacob says, “is that the sooner you start doing it, the more interesting it will be at the end”


Audio from Theft by Finding is provided courtesy of Hachette Audio.