|Jared Scharff is a walking anachronism – a New Yorker that talks like a surfer from Huntington Beach, an accomplished guitarist who only recently showed any signs of legitimate gear lust and a young man in a position that typically takes years to achieve. Not only is Jared an in-demand studio and session musician, he also holds the much coveted guitar spot in the Saturday Night Live Band.
“I’m not exactly sure of the numbers, but I think it was something like 20 or so guitar players at that first audition. Now, every time I talk to somebody they’re like ‘Yeah, my friend auditioned for that’ so maybe there’s more,” he recalls.
Throughout our interview Jared continually challenged convention. Here’s a guy whose band was signed right out of college – forget the fact that he’s a guitar player who actually earned his diploma. Until a year ago, he only owned two guitars and he bought his very first tube amp for the SNL gig. Stylistically, Jared always makes sure to serve the song, but when given the chance he’s more than happy to burn through a few eights. Jared was kind enough to take us through everything from showcasing his first band to an anxiety inducing description of his SNL auditions to doing sessions by trading 1s and 0s back and forth as email attachments.
Let’s start at the beginning – what made you start playing the guitar?
Well, I originally started playing drums in the fourth grade, and around the fifth or sixth grade my parents asked me if I wanted to take private lessons outside of school – they gave me the choice of three instruments: drums, guitar and piano. I choose drums because that’s what I was playing, and they said “No, you already do that in school.” So I said how about piano, and they were like, “Well, you tried that once and it didn’t really work out.” So I was like, “Ok, I guess the guitar.” I started taking lessons and I was terrible; I couldn’t even play like a C chord for a month. Somehow, that year or so I just kind of kept doing it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What was your first band experience? Was it while you were still in junior high or high school, or was it later?
I went to a summer camp that was a performing arts camp, and I played in rock bands there actually. That’s where I met Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael from Maroon 5. We played in rock bands together at this performing arts camp in upstate New York when I was like 12 or 13. I basically played in rock bands all summer, and then when I was in high school I had my first official, real band called Velvet Frogg with two g’s. That band lasted until the end of college. That was my main thing for a long time. We put out two CDs and it was kind of my first serious, this-is-what-I-wanna-do-with-my- life band.
Were you guys pursuing getting signed or was it more just like coming home on weekends and playing gigs while you were in school? What was the focus?
The problem was that we started out in high school when all we did was listen to Phish, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, the Dead – jam bands. We were very jam-oriented when we started out, but that’s not a label-friendly thing. As we got older and started listening to more stuff, we got into more of the pop/rock stuff and pursued that kind of thing. We began to get a little bit of interest toward the end of things but I also joined this other band midway through college called Carbondale, just to do something else. At the time, it was a straight rock/pop band and I had never really done that before, so it was a challenge for me.
I went to the Hartt School of Music for one year and studied jazz performance. I then transferred to NYU and did jazz performance, and I eventually got a Bachelor of Science in music education. When I graduated, Carbondale got signed to RCA records, which kind of put a hold on the Velvet Frogg thing. I figured, ok, I should probably do this for a while and see where it takes me.
Sounds like a dream gig – you get out of college and you guys get signed to a major label. What happened with that?
It was like a year or two of us playing around and doing different demos and kind of figuring our shit out. Once we produced the right demo with the right songs and our lawyer started shopping it, we basically did three showcases and got signed, it was really quick. We played one show at Arlene’s Grocery in New York where Jack Rovner, then president at RCA who had been responsible for bands like the Strokes came to our show. He was late; I think he only saw a couple of songs. He told our lawyer that night that he wanted to sign us, so it was pretty exciting. I think we got signed a day after my birthday – it was pretty surreal. The whole thing was unbelievably strange. I’ve always wanted to be in a signed band, it was always a big dream growing up. Back then major labels were the ones that were really able to affect your career. It’s not like today where it doesn’t quite matter.
What time period are we talking about?
This was 2000. We got signed probably in 2002.
So, this is around the time the Strokes and all those kinds of bands had really broken nationally?
Yeah, exactly. So we did a record with a producer named John Fields who has been responsible for bands like Switchfoot and some huge records – Rooney, the Jonas Brothers – he’s a huge producer. We spent half a million dollars on the record, the best mixers, the whole thing. During the middle of the project the president was fired and a new president came in. We were still fine with the new president, so things were still doing okay. Then Clive Davis, the third president, came in when J Records merged with RCA. He cleaned house and dropped 30 or 40 bands, and we were one of them. He didn’t know who we were, so we got dropped and ended up releasing the record ourselves.