Tag Archives: acoustic

Pitch Poet

June 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She sets up on a bustling Old Market corner. The footpaths jostle with tourists and locals doing their weekend shopping, dining,
and sightseeing.

Jocelyn Muhammad pulls the acoustic guitar slung over her back then slowly strums a chord that rings throughout the heart of the old-timey business district.

She massages sweet melodies from her guitar, but it’s not until the baby-faced, curly-haired 19-year-old songstress adds her silvery vocals that passersby stop to admire her. No one could escape her charm.

“I want to feel the breeze through my hair, through my hair,” she sings. “I want to go somewhere. I want to be someone. I want to fall in love just like everybody else.”

Muhammad’s voice flows freely at her top notes, pleasantly vibrating eardrums. She’s a showstopper—and a guitar-wielding poet of sorts.

A young musician relatively new to Omaha’s music scene, Muhammad’s voice has a textured, lived-in quality. Perhaps that’s her appeal. Caught off guard, spectators pause to hear her old-soul poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve folkie romantic songs, which are totally unexpected from such a young, jovial person.

Muhammad is a promising singer-songwriter who has already attracted an incredibly large social media following and the attention of the music industry.

A live, buzzworthy video snippet of her song “Just Like Everybody Else” recently went viral to the tune of almost 5 million plays on YouTube, even before the studio version was released in November. The 23-second clip, filmed on a few cellphone cameras, features Muhammad belting out the chorus of her song.

Taken aback, she was surprised her song reached people from as far away as Russia. It was a humbling experience, says the recent Millard South graduate. In fact, one fan wrote a song in
honor of her.

Songwriting is such an intimate practice and the truest form of flattery, she says. “It’s the idea of singing a song that you wrote about someone. The way they make you feel. And you get to put it to a melody and add words.”

Social-media savvy Muhammad stays connected with her fans through her music blog (jocelynmusic.com), YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. She documents her musical journey, taking fans along the quirky moments in studio sessions to interviews with the media.

Aside from hearing her from-the-heart work on Old Market street corners, fans catch her at open mic nights around town. She sings a mix of original melodies and covers about love and loss, loneliness and desperation, and pleas to find her soul mate. Under her musical belt, per se, she’s performed at open mic sessions at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer to finish piecing together her first record.

Muhammad got her music start at age 14. Though she participated in school choir, her happenstance of guitar picking came later when she rescued a black Indiana acoustic guitar dubbed “Black Bastard” from the flames of a friend’s bonfire.

She took it home and cleaned it up. She studied her favorite British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s likes and dislikes. His musical preferences and tendencies influenced her own.

A friend taught her the fundamentals of guitar strumming—how to play a G on Cadd9 chord. Two weeks later, she wrote her first song, “Burn It Down.”

She couldn’t bottle up her newfound love for songwriting and guitar playing. So, she packed up her guitar and headed for the Old Market.

A few months later, she says she was introduced to Aly Peeler, who, at the time, was in charge of an open mic night for the then-Side Door lounge. Soon after, she met her current manager, Jeff McClain of Midlands Music Group, who offered her a placement in the group’s free mentoring program for budding musicians.

Muhammad is grateful that she has Peeler and McClain as soundboards to help her polish her melodies and lyrics. Still honing her skills, she says she owes Peeler and McClain for helping develop her talent through many lessons and repetitive exercises, which prepared her to perform live.

“I’m not going to let a melody be just a melody,” she says. “It has to be the right one. I’m practicing constantly…working to get better.”

When she’s performing on stage, Muhammad says, “It’s just me. It’s just me there, singing to you. There’s nothing else … no one else. Just me and you. And, I’m singing.”

Muhammad has been nominated three times for Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards’ best singer-songwriter, but has yet to take home the hardware.

“I’m, like, the youngest artist there…so that’s really cool,” she says. “I’m still working on winning though. I’ll get there someday, but it’s cool just to be nominated.” 

jocelynmusic.com

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

The Acoustic Gangster

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

When musician Brian Alexander first arrived in Omaha, he decided on a big approach to introduce himself to the local music scene.

Alexander, who also goes by “the Acoustic Gangster,” plastered his image across three billboards in town, adorned with the phrase, “Having your own billboard is pretty gangster.”

“I knew I was fresh to the area,” Alexander says. “I wanted to put myself out there and blow up.”

Alexander says the gambit was pricey but ultimately worth it. And that’s not the only wild purchase Alexander has made to promote himself. He also has a life-size cardboard cutout of himself that he hauls around to gigs. Alexander says people try to buy it, steal it, drunk girls try to talk to it, and guys have even tried to pick fights with it. Everybody seems to take pictures with it, too. “That’s been one of the most interesting purchases I’ve ever made,” says Alexander, who enjoys being a bit eccentric.

But Alexander hasn’t relied solely on having his own cardboard doppleganger and putting his face on billboards to build his audience. He’s also spent time building tight relationships with local bars and clubs where he plays, especially Stiles Pub (1204 Howard St.) and Parliament Pub’s Shops of Legacy and Old Market locations.

“I’m really loyal to people that give you chances,” Alexander says.

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During Alexander’s sets, he relies on a selection of covers that point toward the sort of music that he writes. There’s plenty of ‘90s-era material from acts like The Smashing Pumpkins, Live, Blind Melon, and the Presidents of the United States. Alexander says he seeks to give his audience a little bit of adolescent nostaglia. “I do stuff that brings them back to high school,” he says.

Alexander’s music takes those influences and combines them with a modern acoustic pop feel that brings to mind contemporary acts like Jason Mraz, Eric Hutchinson, and G. Love. His latest single, “Lemonade,” brings that light-hearted pop vibe together with a simple beat and acoustic guitar.

Omaha may have become Alexander’s musical home, but it was a long journey before he arrived in town. Alexander lived in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., before attending Penn State University.

His first impulse for pursuing a music career was to pack up for Nashville, but soon an Omaha friend that Alexander had met while studying abroad in France convinced him to give Nebraska a try.

Before long, Alexander had settled down in Omaha and began playing regular gigs. Then one night at a gig, a fan called him over to the bar to buy him a drink, slung his arm around Alexander’s shoulder, and introduced him as “my man, the Acoustic Gangster, Brian Alexander.”

There was no shaking the name, Alexander says. “It kind of stuck in my head the rest of the night,” he recalls.

And it helped him with the dilemma of just how to stand out from the crowd of singer-songwriters out there. In looking up the number of Brian Alexanders on Facebook, he encountered hundreds. That number dropped dramatically for the newly minted nickname. “Sure enough, there were no ‘Acoustic Gangsters’ registered anywhere,” Alexander says.

Now, there’s one who’s eager to make fans any way he can.