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How eisenach is making college a music genre

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“It all started with ‘Boom Boom Pow,’” Jacob Eisenach ’22 told me. “That’s where it all began.”

Back in the days of the iPod, Eisenach, whose stage name loses a capital letter to become eisenach, carried around the quintessential Gen Z starter pack: Flo Rida, Maroon 5 and — inevitably — the Black Eyed Peas. During these years, he was a “third culture kid,” the child of Americans living abroad. Though born in the United States, Eisenach’s elementary school years were spent at an international school in Singapore, thumbing the white donut circle of a green iPod Nano. As the years passed, Fergie faded to make room for the Beatles and Singapore to make room for Germany. By the seventh grade, he was attending school in Berlin and listening to Cage the Elephant, Tame Impala and The Kooks. An indie rock sensibility started evolving in his playlists, likely facilitated by the discovery of his favorite band, Vampire Weekend. By the time he was in high school, he had ditched the Nano and embraced rock fully.

Since the release of his first EP “Transitory Places” in 2019, eisenach has solidified a unique, coming-of-age sound and amassed over 20,000 monthly listeners on Spotify to date. A blend of indie rock and bedroom pop with a lo-fi college freeness he’s coined “dorm pop,” eisenach’s songs are the type the main character in a movie would listen to on Route 1. At Stanford, he’s established a strong performance presence, playing gigs at events like Dance Marathon and Vibes & Vino and garnering a loyal support base. For the release of “Transitory Places,” eisenach played a live concert in his frosh triple for an audience of 60 people: “There’s a mythical quality to that room,” he recalled. Now, in 2020, eisenach has released his second project, titled “Thoughts in Motion” — a five-track record penned at school and recorded in isolation. 

There’s an improvised meticulousness to how eisenach talks about his music. While he’s the type to make 10 potential mixes of every track to ensure it’s close to perfect, he’s also the same guy who recorded his first EP with a yellow sock over his mic (“I didn’t have a pop filter to pick up the p’s”). All of his songs are self-written and self-produced. He’s taught himself how to create rhythms with no formal training. On his YouTube channel, you can find a video of him live looping his song “Google Earth” at Vibes & Vino, making background tracks at the same time as he performs. When he’s recording music, he often takes a break from other artists altogether — like a novelist might stop reading to be immersed in their fictional world — sometimes listening to his own demos 30 times in a day. He jokes that on those days, he’s a “tormented artist.” He might wake up and hate the song completely. 

In all of this, eisenach’s unique balancing act as an artist is revealed: He is both exacting of his craft and carefree, painstaking and impromptu. Like his “dorm pop” brand, he toes a very “college” balance: a dedication to excellence while, all the while, just being a young person trying to figure it all out.

***

eisenach was performing on street corners before he was 16. He’d go out with his high school band and play, hoping to turn just one or two heads every minute. The best spots in Berlin were by the Brandenburg Gate and on busy shopping streets with both locals and tourists. There, you could bet some cross-section of the population would be interested.

The first time he street performed, the cars were so loud he lost his voice. By the third go, the band had made enough money to buy an amplifier and set up a mic, and from then on, he didn’t have to shout to be heard. Those early experiences were critical in shaping his sound. In tracks like “Google Earth” and “Study Politics,” eisenach incorporates a rock-infused shout-sing impressive in its control and clarity. Coming from a musical theater background, eisenach consciously worked to create a sound outside of the enunciation-heavy musical theater tone — and things soon fell into place. When doing street music, he needed to be loud out of necessity; soon enough, his signature shout-sing was born.

Though he doesn’t consider himself a “musical theater kid,” eisenach has a natural predisposition for performance that can only be achieved through years onstage. In concert, he plays guitar and sings with a freedom so infectious that rooms of students start jumping and holding each other’s arms. I saw him perform at Grove last fall and watched a packed backyard mosh under yellow lights and sing his lyrics back to him. eisenach resembles his performance idol Matt Schultz (from Cage the Elephant) in this — both of them are more lost in the music than performing at all. 

In middle school, eisenach started participating in musical revues and plays. Every year, his school took students to a German village for three days, put together a musical and come back and perform it. From “Newsies” to “School of Rock” to “Matilda,” the revues would sample from various shows to create a cabaret-style variety event.

“Backstage [was] crazy,” he remembers. “It’d be like, ‘I’m on for ‘Matilda,’ and now I gotta go change in five minutes to dress up as a Newsie.’ People had like 15 costumes.”

These were moments he’d later remember on street corners or in bar gigs with his band. Like those practices in a German village: project, look up, smile.

***

“What’s home?” eisenach asks in “Deep Dive (Into My Daydreams),” a dreambeat lo-fi track on his first EP. He later answers like this: “[It’s] an imaginary place that I associate your face with.”

eisenach’s music has a throughline of nostalgia for past moments and places. The first song he ever wrote was called “Gone.” He penned it in the seventh grade, a ’50s-type love song about missing someone when they leave. eisenach traces this preoccupation with change to his upbringing in international schools. Going to Stanford was another drastic move for him. Suddenly, he found himself nine time zones away from his family. He titled his first EP “Transitory Places” as an ode to this: the constant quotient of change that has followed him throughout his life.

The pandemic has only intensified eisenach’s longing for old times. After leaving campus in March, he moved in with his uncle in Colorado. His bags were all overweight, stuffed with music equipment from his dorm. He had to beg United to check his baggage. Eventually, he settled into a quarantine routine: running or biking in the morning, doing schoolwork during the day and making music at night. This is when he recorded his 2020 EP, “Thoughts in Motion.” Again, eisenach created a five-track record — now a collection of optimistic songs with a dancey dorm aesthetic (“Study Politics,” “Memes”).

These days, eisenach is missing the little moments at Stanford the most (“This time has only left us with the long FaceTime calls or the nonsense Zoom birthday parties”). He misses running into acquaintances in the dining hall and the one-minute conversations with people whose phone number he doesn’t have. He misses the feeling of closeness on campus, wondering, “Why can’t everyone you care about live in the same place at the same time?” He misses performing, the new songs he never got to sing live, getting lost in the music on a Friday night.

He summarizes this longing perfectly in “Deep Dive (Into Your Daydreams).” With his free-sounding guitar lines and performance joie de vivre, eisenach’s music teems with an unrestrained collegiate youth. And for those of us now missing lazy afternoons on Meyer Green or brief exchanges in Arrillaga — all the little moments we’d never thought twice about before — eisenach’s songs are a nostalgic ode to another life: “I love you, retrospectively.” 

Contact Valerie Trapp at trappv22 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Valerie Trapp '22 a writer for the University beat. She is interested in International Relations, Symbolic Systems, and Psychology.