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Welcome Back: Jake Stern of Meridian talks touring, ‘The Cathedral’

By Jack Trainor / Staff Writer

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Pitt senior Jake Stern interacts with music a bit more frequently than the average student. In addition to being a psychology major and the training director at Pitt’s student-run radio station, WPTS, he’s also a touring musician. 

As if the wealth of music in the radio station wasn’t enough, Stern and his brother, Max, make up the acoustic-folk duo Meridian. Their new record, The Cathedral (not a reference to the Cathedral of Learning), was released by Youth Conspiracy on Aug. 19 and received coverage by The AV Club, an entertainment website. The Pitt News caught up with Jake Stern over the phone about the increased attention, the art of balancing academics and weekend touring and whether or not their new album is connected to the 42-story hub of Pitt’s campus.

The Pitt News: What impact has working at WPTS had on your musical career?

Jake Stern: I mean, I guess just working at WPTS — it’s definitely broadened my musical horizons, just having access to so much new music. It’s so readily available — you just get all the newest stuff shoved down your throat. It’s really great but I think my appreciation for all sorts of different types of music has definitely just gone up and I feel like I’m more of a well-rounded music appreciator now.

TPN: Where does your musical career fit into your future?

JS: Well, I’m finishing up college this coming year. I’m going into my third year of college, but I’m going to graduate a year early. I’ll have to go to grad school for industrial psychology and I figured, if I finish up a year early, I’ll save some money because I’ll have to go to grad school anyway. I want to finish school and just tour. Last summer I went on my first tour and we were gone for, I think, eight or nine days just doing some East Coast dates. We’ve gone on a couple little weekend tours since then. I actually leave tomorrow (Aug. 1) for an 11-day tour in Cleveland. Touring is just the best — it’s so much fun, and it really is the best way to get your name out there as a musician and meet people and just have a great time. If you want to make it as a band, I feel like you really gotta tour. Unless you’re doing something really, really inventive and you just catch the right person’s ear.

TPN: Is it tough to balance the academic and musical careers?

JS: Not really. The way that I am is, I always get my schoolwork done, especially when I know that I’ve got shows coming up or things like that. In my mind, if I’ve got schoolwork or I’m stressed out or anything like that, my creative juices aren’t gonna be flowing, and it’ll be no fun — but it’s not too bad. 

TPN: What do you make of the AV Club write-up? How did that come about?

JS: When we found out we were going to be on there, I was so unbelievably excited and I can’t think of a better way for us to debut our new album. I’m really excited about it — I think we’re up to eight or nine hundred plays on the single on there, which is pretty cool. It’s just some wonderful exposure. I couldn’t be more grateful.

We’re lucky enough to be on a great record label; they’re called Youth Conspiracy, based out of Cleveland, Ohio — our friend Scott [Heisel] runs it. I guess Scott put a lot of feelers out there and we got a bite on AV Club.

TPN: Your new record is called The Cathedral. Is that a reference to the Cathedral of Learning?

JS: It has absolutely nothing to do with the Cathedral of Learning [laughs]. It’s just a total coincidence. There’s a recurring setting on the record. There’s a lyric on the first song and a lyric in the last song and there’s scenes that just take place in a cathedral. We just thought it sounded cool and we really like to have recurring themes throughout albums and songs, so we thought it was pretty fitting.

TPN: Your brother [Max] is the primary songwriter, but how do the songs actually come together for you?

JS: I’m not sure there really is a set process. Sometimes I’ll come up with a riff, then he’ll add lyrics and the chord progression. I think for the most part, he writes both lyrics and the music at the same time. Whenever I try and write songs, I find that it is very difficult to write the lyrics because, a lot of the time, you end up with lyrics with syllables that don’t quite work out or fit. I think it’s easier to write both at the same time just because your feelings with the lyrics are reflected immediately with the music.

TPN: Do you have any other musical projects besides Meridian?

JS: I don’t have anything official with any other bands but I do enjoy getting together with friends and just playing music and seeing what happens. Like just getting a bunch of people together in a basement and everyone’s got their unique styles — it’s really fun to see what kind of music comes out of it. I’ve got a group of friends that I play with and we’ll play anything from crazy, experimental psychedelia to grunge music to funk and jazzy stuff. It’s a lot of fun.

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Welcome Back: Jake Stern of Meridian talks touring, ‘The Cathedral’