Weekdays With Ben & Jaro: Collaborative Sessions That Capture The Sounds Of Chicago

Photos by Michael Salisbury

Weekdays With Ben & Jaro is a series hosted by Ben Niespodziany and Jeremy Van, also known as neonpajamas and jaro. Jeremy is a producer and engineer, making a living as a full time web developer and pursuing his passion for music and running during any free moment. Ben is not a musician, but rather a curator, artist, designer, writer, and driving force in the Chicago music community. He has been covering the work of creatives for years and built an impressive website that centralizes his diverse catalogue of content. Together, the two have created a cyclone of energy in which they invite artists over to their home studio and create a collaborative track in one night. Originally starting these sessions at Jaro’s apartment last year, the two became roommates in December and have since hosted several more sessions in their Humboldt Park apartment.

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When Ben and Jaro first started hanging out there were always musicians coming and going through whatever space they were in. They first met in Netherfriends’ attic in 2014, where Netherfriends would make music for 5-6 hours at a time and have artists stop by and freestyle whenever they wanted to. It was around this time that Jaro first started producing, and later that year Ben began managing the group Beach Jesus, of which Jaro was the primary producer. Years later Ben was helping Jaro work on his solo EP and had his first real experience inviting people over and seeing them make music in front of him. This sprouted the idea to create their weekday series, with the goal of consistently inviting new artists to collaborate with.

Soon after Ben and Jaro planned out their first session and invited musicians to work on the track that would become their first release, Sleeping. The session began with just three people in the room, but by the end of the night there were around 7 or 8 people involved. The track is produced by Jaro and Boathouse and features vocals from Wasted Ju, Bleeklino, Yomi and Melo Makes Music as well as guitar from Bleeklino, harp from Yomi and additional synths from Sen Morimoto. It’s an exuberant song that displays the power of collaboration and sets a high precedent for the quality of music that Jeremy and Ben decide to release from these sessions. The mix of talent creates an incredibly unique sound in which the vocals flourish on top of the production and the beat bangs out to an incredible harp solo for the last minute of the song.

Reflecting on this first moment of their series, Ben discusses how he was trying to get as many instruments in the room as he could and the first session really proved that this was something worth doing. In curating ‘Weekdays’, Ben often asks himself “who would be the weirdest batch of people to have in the room?”. He’s got a crazy list of people he wants to invite over, and Jeremy helps him narrow down the goal to about 4 people per session. There are artists who always get an invite, such as Yomi, Boathouse, Qari, and the guys of Iris Temple, but most of the time they focus on minimal overlap of people they’ve had over before. Often times they will invite people over that they don’t know personally, and from there a relationship grows and ignites collaborative efforts on other projects. For Ben, the most rewarding part about ‘Weekdays’ is seeing these people collaborate together in the future. “It’s really cool seeing people who I introduced to each other and who may not have met otherwise, working together without me being there”.

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The songs that come out of these sessions are inherently unique. Ben and Jeremy will do a good job developing a strong lineup, but it’s the creative environment instilled in their apartment that drives the project into something worth releasing. While there are several songs that have yet to be released, every single ‘Weekdays’ session has resulted in a finished product. At the start of the project Jaro will typically lay down a beat or a few chord progressions in Logic Pro, which isn’t the typical software program of choice for most independent musicians. While Jaro will often take control of the boards, Ben and Jaro are very frugal when it comes to their shared workspace. They make sure that everyone is able to contribute and nobody dominates the space. A common stereotype about musicians is that nobody is ever on time, but with these sessions this phenomenon actually works in their favor. People will come in at different times, which creates a good environment for this type of collaboration because there is a constant refresher of new mindsets. There have been several occasions where the group found themselves at a creative roadblock when someone else came in and added the perfect element at the perfect time. The songs have a particular raw feeling to them. They record everything in the one session and don’t allow for people to re-do their part later that week. For many artists, this is a particularly influential aspect of the series because it forces them to create music in a different sort of way and realize that rawness doesn’t necessarily mean a compromise in quality.

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“Working on music seriously it’s so easy as an artist to get caught up in the very fine minute detail of stumbling on a syllable or fluctuating on a cadence and all these little things that only you would notice because you did it yourself whereas as a listener you probably wouldn’t even notice. One of the most important things about these sessions is that we are trying to capture a moment in time. Trying to capture what the feeling was like in that room that night. We don’t want to get to a point where they’re sending stems back and forth after the session and redoing parts. Especially when you have about 8 people on a song. We capture the best moment and get the best product by not being too serious”
— Jaro

Ben and Jaro are focused on enjoying the process and living in the moment rather than forging the next great hit. They’re meeting new people, fostered new relationships, and supporting the growth of up-and-coming artists. It’s truly incredible to see the effort these two put towards creating something with other artists, and the artists are thrilled to be a part of this series. While Ben and Jeremy don’t limit themselves to Chicago, I can’t help but to think of how the music of these series perfectly captures the Chicago style of music. From the communal aspects to its blend of genres and instruments, nearly everything about ‘Weekdays’ stands for the things that are happening in Chicago. As Jaro said, “Chicago has a close knit community of musicians, people know each other.” Perhaps their music so closely resembles Chicago because their musicians are the most accessible, but there have been plenty of artists involved from out of town, and Ben has several dream collaborators from all over the world. The two are working hard to uphold the consistency of their sessions, and they hope to release more music in the near future. When speaking on the advice he would offer for other collaborators Ben says to simply “Show love, that’s the whole reason we got people in the building at first.”

Follow Ben: Twitter // SoundCloud • Follow Jaro: Twitter // SoundCloud