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Musician Jon Aktas shares his insights on performing live, music recording, and finding inspiration

If you make it out often to see live music in Statesboro, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Jon Aktas. Playing a mix of covers from artists like Jason Isbell and Tyler Childers, as well as his own originals, Jon frequently performs at venues such as Vandy's, Tandoor & Tap, Dolan’s, and Bites. In addition to performing, Aktas plans to record an EP of his original music. I sat down with Jon recently to talk about his experience as an artist and what he has planned for the future.

AJ: First off, thanks for meeting with me to share your story. I’m excited to learn more about you as a person and an artist. Let’s start with the basics. How old are you and what instruments do you play?

JA: I’m 24. I play guitar and bass. I write songs here and there, but guitar and bass are my main instruments.

AJ: How long have you been playing and how did you get into it?

JA: I’ve been playing music most of my life. My sister had a guitar and took lessons for a couple of years when we were really little. I remember messing around with her guitar that we had lying around the house and thinking “I want to learn how to play this someday.” I started actually trying to play when I was in the 6th grade. It was on and off. My parents tried to get me to learn classical guitar so I didn’t take that very far then; because I just wasn’t interested in that style. So, I guess I started actually trying to learn in the 6th grade, but there’s been a guitar sitting in the corner of my room for as long as I can remember. I started learning how to play guitar and then kind of just stopped when I realized I was only allowed to play classical music. I played trombone in the middle school band, but by the 8th grade, I was just kind of over it being an angsty teen. I was about to quit band and I was like, “I want to play guitar or I’m quitting.” and the band director was like “Well there’s no sheet music for guitar, but there’s sheet music for bass if you want to play bass.” So that’s when I started to play bass.

AJ: You started guitar before bass? I always assumed the opposite because the way you play guitar has a groovy-rhythmic style to it that you see in bass players who transitioned to guitar.

JA:  I think that’s probably because I’ve played bass more often in bands and ensemble settings than I have guitar. I also just love bass. I mean I love playing guitar, but bass comes more naturally in a way. Like it’s an instrument that I can feel.

AJ: I can remember trying to pick up a bass and play it thinking it would be an easy transition from guitar, and I’m sure it helps to some degree, but it’s really a whole other thing.

JA: People look at a guitar and they see six strings and they look at a bass and see four and they’re like “Ok, same thing but longer and fewer strings.” But it fits a completely different role. I think that’s probably why I play guitar more rhythmically and a bit more, like you said, from a bass perspective. Because the role of the bass is one that I’ve thought of and studied more than the role of a guitar in the mix.

AJ: What bands or groups have you played with?

JA: First was with my buddy Kyle Bradley Thomas, who goes by Roadhouse. I met him here in Statesboro playing at Nonna Picci’s open mic 3 or 4 years ago. He’s living in Atlanta now and he’s actually playing at the Georgia Country Music Festival September 1-3. I still play with him once in a while. I also have a band called Fizz. Two of our members are moving to New Orleans, so we’re not playing too much anymore but I still consider them a band I play with. We have plans to book shows in New Orleans. I just started playing guitar with a band called Missing Parts in Savannah. That band’s also in a transitional process, but we're going to be up and running as soon as we lock down a drummer. So for the most part I'm just playing for myself right now.

AJ: What got you into performing live music?

JA: I remember being an 8-year-old running around with my sister’s guitar and being like, “Wow this is cool!” And then at some point realizing “Oh I can play this thing and it's even cooler!” Then when I realized some people make a living doing it, it's all I wanted to do. I remember being really frustrated in high school that no one would play music with me, and then when I met my band in college, I was like “Oh, people actually do this.” I actually first got up in between Dan’s sets in town when I was in college. I was talking to him about wanting to play music and get better so he would invite me when he was playing a show at Eagle Creek and let me play some between his sets. Then I met Kyle at Nonna Picci's open mic and I would go there every week and jam a little bit.

AJ: What are some of your favorite places around town to play?

JA: My favorite spot is absolutely Vandy’s. I wish more people knew about it. Friday evenings 6-9 they have live music. It’s a great thing because they have a really nice porch. I feel like if I was in college and I knew that every Friday I could go out to a porch and listen to live music that’s not like in your face blasting loud but also good live music. The stage at Eagle Creek is also quite nice. I like Tandoor, and also Bites. They (Bites) just started doing live music. They're still kind of figuring out where’s the best place to put everyone. In the fall they’re going to start opening their garage doors and I feel like that’s going to be a cool place.

AJ: What genre of music do you find yourself listening to and playing?

JA: It changes often. Right now, I'm enjoying a lot of Tyler Childers, and a lot of softer indie rock. I think that’s because I'm playing a lot more guitar and singing a lot more, but coming up in the next few months I'm going to have to learn a bunch of bass parts and I guarantee you I'm going to start listening to and playing a lot more funk. That’s what happens anytime I go back to the bass. Even though the parts I'm learning are more like rock parts.

AJ: You’re planning to record an EP soon, right?

JA: Yep. I've got five songs. I don’t hate the songs, and I hope after having Tailor and Cameron’s creative input I will actively like and maybe even love the songs. “Who’s to Say” is one that you’ve heard and “Wasting” is the one I've played the most. I like the songs; they just need more and I've only played them on acoustic guitar. We haven’t recorded yet, I sent Cameron and Taylor some raw stuff like voice memos. We've talked a little about where we want to go with it, but I'm not sure what exactly we're going to do with it. So, there might be more people playing on it. We're just going to figure it out together.

AJ: Any sort of timeline on that?

JA: Our plan is to record the first two weeks of September, and I think that the first week is going to be a lot of getting ideas as we're recording. I don’t currently plan to have it done by a certain time or have it out by a certain time. I want to keep it as low-stress as possible to where we just have fun recording some music and I think it will sound best. Once we get everything recorded, I'll probably have to set a timeline for myself so I don’t end up trying to make it perfect because I don’t want it to be perfect.

AJ: What music influences your writing?

JA: Dr. Dog is a big influence of mine in general. They’re a Philly-based band. They’ve been playing and touring forever. I think they just finished their last tour. They have a bunch of music out and a lot of it's very different too. You can tell they’re experimenting and playing around with their sound album to album. Their first EP I think, Toothbrush, just sounds super raw and honest in a way. Anyway, I think I'm going to draw a lot of inspiration from that specifically for my EP. So, Dr Dog and anything I grew up listening to. I was a huge Arctic Monkeys fan growing up. I get a lot of inspiration from what I see live. I'll see someone playing something a certain way and just like the way it sounds.

AJ: The last thing I wanted to ask is what are your future goals musically?

JA: It would be cool to have more of my music recorded, written, and kind of fleshed out. I would really like to play my music with a band. I've always felt like I can literally understand music better when there are other people playing with me. It’s easier to fit into the context that way. Honestly, in five years if I could do nothing but play music and make a solid living doing just that, playing my music or friends’ music. That’s what I really want to do, and for me, that’s all life is man. We have this journey. If you think about where you want to go, that’ll get you where you want to be as opposed to just thinking of where you want to be, if that makes sense.

AJ: I like that perspective. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and I look forward to seeing where you go from here.