Aaron Jentzen rocks Pittsburgh music scene

By Bethie Girmai

Aaron Jentzen is all over the Pittsburgh music scene. As a musician and a

music journalist,… Aaron Jentzen is all over the Pittsburgh music scene. As a musician and a

music journalist, he’s in it, on it, writing about it and writing for it.

Jentzen made a name for himself as the music editor for the Pittsburgh City

Paper, but his most recent vocational endeavor cultivates his passion for

performing music rather than writing about it.

Jentzen, who compares himself to artists like Nick Cave, Scott Walker and

David Sylvian, said that as a musician critiquing other artists, the dynamic

is different than it might be for someone who just critiques music and

doesn’t write or produce it.

“For me, being a musician myself — having some understanding of the

processes that go into making a record or playing a show — makes me a little

bit more understanding of what that’s about,” Jentzen said. “But at the same

time, I’m not writing critiques for musicians to read. They’re for more

general audiences.”

He said, he chooses his words very carefully with other local artists for

fear that they don’t have his experience with media.

Though he initially moved to Pittsburgh because of a girlfriend, but he

stayed for the Pittsburgh’s art and music scene.

“The affordability of living here gives things a different quality,” he

said. “You can be adventurous in some ways you can’t in this competitive

engagement with every other band in town.”

Jentzen said the mellow atmosphere of the music scene in Pittsburgh

attracted him to the city.

It wasn’t long before Jentzen began recording music with his band, Chalk

Outline Party, in 2003.

But Jentzen’s love affair with music began long before Chalk Outline. He

fell in love with music that at the ripe, young age of 5.

“I got into bagpipes when I was just a little kid, and my folks took me to a

Highland Festival and it was just the most bad*ss thing I’d ever seen,”

Jentzen said. “Periodically, other instruments came my way, like everyone

starts playing guitar in high school at some point.”

The self-proclaimed “Jack of all trades” said learning a new instrument is

easier when you have already learned to play one.

He said bass is now his favorite instrument to play, although he initially

felt reluctant to learn it.

“I picked it up a couple of years ago kind of as a necessity for my old

band, and realized clearly I just need to step up and learn how to do this,”

Jentzen said. “But it turned out to be way more fun than I thought. I had

played guitar for a long time, but there was something about bass. There is

more boogie in that — it’s more sexy.”

After recording several successful EPs with the band, Jentzen left Chalk

Outline Party in 2007 to pursue his solo career.

Chalk Outline Party distinctly marked the beginning of Jentzen’s singing and

songwriting career.

“I kind of started a version of it in college, and when I ended up moving to

the Pittsburgh area, one of my friends, Brian Sproul, was here and he and I

decided to work on music together and start a band. We did that for several

years, put out some EPs, did some regional touring, and a couple years ago,

I decided I wanted to do some other kinds of music,” he said.

Chalk Outline Party served as the outlet that helped Jentzen mature as an

artist and eventually fueled his aspirations to establish himself as a solo


“With a band, it’s hard to evolve. For me as a solo artist, I can change

something on a dime if I want to try a different song, and it seems to be

more forgiving of that. You can put out an album that has a bunch of

different songs on it, and I don’t think that’s weird. But if it’s a band,

it’s kind of strange,” Jentzen said.

Jentzen said he believes more creative and artistic limitations for members

in a band exist than ones for a solo artist do.

“I was just recording some demos this weekend where I was asked to do music

with a ’60s sound to it for a video game soundtrack, and I don’t know what

I’ll ever do with it, but that’s not really something you can do with a rock

band — you can’t be that flexible. It’s kind of like the difference between

being in a relationship and being single,” Jentzen said.

Jentzen’s first EP as a solo artist, *Great Inventors*, debuted at No. 9 on

the national underground/specialty radio charts. He said he plans to release

a self-titled full-length album and go on tour in April.

Aaron Jentzen will play a show with Bear Hands and Ready Room at 9 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Brillobox in Bloomfield.