In his debut album, Dented Little Scars, Ottawa’s Pocket Writer takes listeners on a whimsical trip through his insights about life around him, mixing folk melodies, storytelling lyrics, and mellow instrumentals. The album is hosted online for anyone to stream.
Pocket Writer is a pseudonym used by Jakub Ra?ek, who was born in Slovakia and moved to Ottawa when he was almost four. Growing up, he was always surrounded by music.
“I’ve been playing since I was young,” he said. “I have a family of five siblings and we all play music, so I used to just jam with my brothers all the time.”
The album shows off Ra?ek’s soft, compelling voice in songs that meander and surprise the listener, dipping into instrumental bursts and lulls here and there. The final product is entirely his vision: Ra?ek wrote all of the songs, and he plays all of the instruments on every track, except in two cases where he collaborated with his brother and his wife, who are also musicians.
“I always kind of wanted a moniker…that describes me as a songwriter,” he said. “I usually write songs on the bus or on the go, you know, in my notebook or on scraps of paper, and I carry them around, so it’s that idea…you carry around with you a bunch of songs.”
Ra?ek said that he was influenced by artists such as Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst when he was writing the album.
“It’s kind of more imagery, more poetic, not very upfront lyrics,” he said. “I like where the listener has to figure out what they think, in a way, and there’s not necessarily a right answer. It’s more like if it can affect you in some way.”
“I think some of the songs may seem kind of bitter, but to me it’s optimistic. Like there’s always stuff happening, but it’s…trying to look at the bright side and not getting stuck in the hole and overwhelmed by it, kind of embracing the chaos.”
Ra?ek said that one of the benefits of producing the album himself was the complete control he had over his own creative process, such as being able to leave songs as long or as short as he wanted. The shortest song on the album, “Iatrogenesis,” is just over two minutes, while the closing track, “Return to Normalcy,” is over six minutes.
His songs are also unusual for the extended instrumental segments that split many of them up, which he noted isn’t something you would normally hear on the radio.
“In the song “Good People,” there’s like a three minute gap between the first verse and the outro, and when I was recording it, I was like, should I just shorten it? But it’s kind of done on purpose,” he said. “It makes the listener listen to the music, ‘cause some people might just ignore it, but if there’s just this huge gap they have to listen to it.”
The album wraps up with “Return to Normalcy,” which Ra?ek said he chose as the final track because the theme of challenging normalcy runs throughout the entire album.
“I have a problem with the word normal,” he said. “If someone says you should be more normal, you should ascribe to normalcy or whatever, then it doesn’t really make sense in my mind, like nothing’s really normal.”
“Life’s not really stable, it’s always chaotic, and that kind of typical idea of normalcy is not very interesting…A return to normalcy is a return to impossibility, because it doesn’t exist.”
Ra?ek has already written songs for a second album, which he plans to begin recording soon. “It’s more self-reflection-based, whereas this one was more about the outside world,” he said.
Ra?ek will be performing songs from Dented Little Scars for the first time in a show at Pressed Cafe on Saturday, May 16. The show will be a double album release party, with his brother, Zef Ra?ek, also performing songs from a new album. They will be playing again at Raw Sugar on Friday, June 19.
Pocket Writer is on Facebook.