arts and entertainment in the street

The Human Computers: writing songs with meaning

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The Human Computers performing in the street
The Human Computers performing at BuskerBus Festival in Krotoszyn; photo Joanna Dryjańska-Pluta

The Human Computers on freedom in creating music, writing songs with meaning and why playing covers doesn’t feel right.

Maybe I could gather more people if I played “Wonderwall” instead of my songs. I would probably also earn more money, but it would not feel right to me. If I did not write the songs that I play, I would be just ripping off somebody else. It would be their work, their success, not mine.

The Human Computers

Hi Jakob, how are you? What have you been up to recently?

I am feeling quite well. A lot has happened in the last few months. I released my third studio album “Petty Misdemeanour” in August, and I (finally) finished my master‘s thesis in physics in October. Besides working on new songs, I also started some different projects: I decided to run a side-business as a photographer, I built my webpage from scratch, and I am very close to publishing my first book of poetry. For this book, I also took all the pictures, designed the layout myself, and I am currently looking for a publisher. Lastly, I started writing my second novel, but since this field is quite new to me, I am not sure how it will turn out in the end. So yes, I have quite a lot of projects to work on.

You certainly know how to keep yourself busy! Congratulations! What is your background and how did your musical journey start?

It started when I was 7 years old. My brother quit his drum lessons at the music school which my mother had already paid for, so I jumped in, and I really enjoyed it. A couple of years later, I also started taking guitar lessons, and as soon as I was able to play my first notes, I wanted to write songs on my own. From this day on, I have been writing my music and lyrics. Truth be told, the first songs were bad and so were the lyrics, but I always try to improve what I am doing.

I released my first self-composed and self-recorded album at the age of 17, with a band called “Blanked”. Two friends and I were playing heavy metal in the basement of my parents’ house, where we also recorded the music. The songs were getting better, but the sound quality was poor. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun, but at some point, we broke up, and I decided to do everything on my own. So a few years later, in 2016, I finished my first self-made album “The Vanquished & The Uprising”, and released it under the name “The Human Computers”. That’s where it all started. 

What album have you listened to the most times in your life?

Puh, that’s tough! I think there are quite a few albums that I have been binge-listening, and which have been quite influential. Up to now, the best album I have ever listened to is “Shallow Bed“ by Dry The River. I discovered them at a small 2000 people festival close to my hometown in Germany, and it was unbelievably amazing. Sadly, the band only made two albums before they split up.

I need music to release my feelings

The Human Computers “Masterpiece”

I’m not going to ask you about the meaning of your lyrics because on your website you explain your intentions and thoughts song by song. You wrote that you had a feeling that most of the people missed all the details. What made you think that? Do you think it’s important that people don’t interpret songs their way?

I am not sure what I really want, to be honest. Some of my songs are quite emotional, and I think it is crucial to know what they are about, to understand them. At the same time, I do not want to make it too obvious, and I do not want everyone to understand.

Ideally, the listener should get interested and dig deeper into the lyrics, because there is a lot to be found in there. But I realized that most of the people just do not care about it. Maybe it is the influence of pop music that produces a vast amount of songs without meaning.

The Human Computers

Of course, the listener is free to interpret my songs in his/her way, and this is fine with me. The explanation on my website is for the interested listener, who wants to know what I thought about when I was writing the song.

By writing songs about your life you are opening your soul to everyone who listens to your music. Are you equally open when you talk to people instead of singing?

No, definitely not. If there is one thing I cannot do, it is talking openly about my feelings. That is why I need music to release it. For some people, it may seem strange that I would rather scream my feelings into a public audience instead of discussing it in private. If there is a large crowd, I lose the connection to each individual person, but face-to-face is quite intimate.

Fight Night Combat at BuskerBus in Krotoszyn
Fight Night Combat with live music by The Human Computers; photo: Małgosia

My music is mine, and only mine

You are not only a one-man band but you are also responsible for recording your songs, designing covers, and the list goes on. Do you do everything by yourself because it gives you total control or freedom or because you haven’t found anyone you can trust?

I like the idea of creating everything exactly as I want it to be, but there may be a few more reasons why I am doing it. In my opinion, the layout of an album must fit the music and, for sure, no one knows my music better than I do. So instead of explaining all the details to an external designer, it is more efficient to just do it myself. In addition, I really enjoy the process of creating the layout, because I can include a second hobby of mine: photography.

My music is the only thing I have left, where I can do whatever I want, without anyone telling me what to do. My music is mine, and only mine. I have fallen in love with this kind of freedom.

The Human Computers

What is your writing process? What comes first: the lyrics or music? How do you know when the song is ready?

Usually, I write the music and the lyrics simultaneously, but I am faster at writing the music. So, in general, when the music of the song is finished, I already have some lyrics that I must finish in the end.

The song is ready when I feel it. There is no objective criterion. Normally, the first outline of a song is too simple for my taste, so I add a bit of complexity, and then I play it over and over again, rearrange and fine-tune until I’m satisfied.

Do you listen to your music?

Yes, I do. Sometimes just to compare the audio quality. For me, this is necessary to improve it, since I am recording everything by myself. I try to identify mistakes that I made, to do it better next time.

Writing and recording music is what I consider my passion. I enjoy every step of the process, from writing to recording, but also the mixing and mastering. I am proud of what I did, and I like listening to the final product.

The Human Computers “In the Crashing Waves”

You have to find the right audience

What is your busking experience? What is the most exciting and the most difficult about playing in the street?

I am fairly new to busking. At the beginning of the THC-project, I was just recording music all by myself. When I decided to play live, I only played on stages, where I have power supply. I gained my first busking experience on a large festival for street music and street art in Würzburg, the Stramu. When I first did it, I was relatively insecure. I had to change my songs a bit, so I can play them alone, and it took me a while to realize that some songs do not work at all. After some time I built a concept that finally some people were responding to.

I am aware that my music is not appealing to everyone, which can be tough when performing in the street. Most of the people just walk by and do not take notice of me. Nevertheless, it is even more pleasing when someone stops and listens.

The Human Computers

It happened to me once that a young woman was sitting down in front of me, while I was still building up my stuff. She sat there throughout my whole set, listened carefully, and left when I was finished. Even though she was probably the only one who was really listening, it was one of the best street experiences I ever had.

There is a famous quote from a classic Polish movie “Miś”: “I like the songs that I have already heard. It’s because of reminiscence. How can I like a song that I hear for the first time”. Playing your songs in the street instead of covers is quite brave. Do you sometimes think “ah, maybe I should play Oasis instead”? How do people react to your music?

People are reacting differently. I have the impression that most of the people do not really like it, or just do not care about it. Some think it is quite good, and the smallest part is getting enthusiastic about it. But music is all about taste, and as a musician, you have to find the right audience. Playing in the street necessarily involves that some people might not like it, and I am slowly getting used to it.

Maybe I could gather more people if I played “Wonderwall” instead of my songs. I would probably also earn more money, but it would not feel right to me. If I did not write the songs that I play, I would be just ripping off somebody else. It would be their work, their success, not mine.

The Human Computers busking in Wrocław at BuskerBus 2020
The Human Computers at BuskerBus in Wrocław

Do you often stop when you see buskers? Who are your favourite street performers?

When someone is really good, yes, I definitely stop. It has to be original though. If a musician is playing a song I already know, it is not very likely. Sadly, there are not a lot of buskers playing their own songs.

My favourite street performer is the Swiss comedian “This Maag“. Besides his hilarious shows, I love how he is interacting with the audience in his improvised parts.

What are your goals for the nearest future? What can I wish for you?

In the long run, I would like to be an independent, full-time artist, not only as a musician, but also as a photographer and author. It will take some time to get there if I will ever be able to do it, and I could definitely use some good wishes for this.

Good luck with all your projects!

About The Human Computers

The Human Computers is a solo music project of Jakob Hagen. In his songs, he recounts his experiences and views. He touches on the subject of death, and grief after losing a loved one. Jakob records all the instruments himself. The Human Computers has released three studio albums: “The Vanquished & The Uprising” (2016 – limited edition with just 17 copies!), “Humdinger” (2018) and “Petty Misdemeanour” (2020).

Follow The Human Computers:

Official website

Instagram

Facebook

You can buy his music here: Bandcamp

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