On the surface, Jacob Abello has a very 21-year-old life. He studies English literature at the University of Oklahoma and works part-time as a barista to get by. Since moving to Norman from his Tuttle hometown roughly two years ago, he has made a number of close friends on and around campus, but there's something they don't know about him.
"It's going to be fun, but I should be really nervous," Abello said. "I don't have any persona that I'm ready to project. I think it's just going to happen when I get up there. Hopefully."
Although "Nothing but Gold" is largely Abello's creation, he has fellow Tuttle-to-Norman transplant Jarod Evans of Black Watch Studios to thank for the album's fruition.
"Jarod and I worked on music a long time ago. I did Christian music when I was in high school, and I was the first person he produced," Abello said. "After that, I didn't talk to him for a couple years. I thought I didn't want to do music anymore, but I had these songs, so I called him. He really liked the one he heard and said, 'We should do a record.' I said, 'You've only heard one song. That's weird.' But he was excited about it, and he knew my voice and had worked with me before."
SINGING IN THE CAR
Abello, who jokes that his primary songwriting practice is singing in the car, credits Evans for fleshing out the songs, assisting with chord progressions and even selecting and bringing in outside musicians to play on the album.
"I didn't record any of the songs myself before going into the studio," Abello said. "Sometimes I'd sit down with the guitar and try to figure out what chords I needed to play. I'm not a great guitarist, but they're pop songs. They're simple. Sometimes, I wouldn't even do that. I'd just sing the song for him. He had already decided to use these expensive musicians before hearing the (complete) songs. I look back now and think, 'What the hell was he thinking? These songs could have been shit.'"
To the contrary, "Nothing but Gold" is a festive, impressively professional debut. From the biblical references of slow opener "Windows and Trees" to the youthful assertion of the single-worthy "Eternal Security" ("The night is alive / We're so young / And I know we're going to live forever"), his voice is self-assured, his lyrics clever and the abundant instrumentation pitch-perfect.
The slick production betrays nary a glimmer of inexperience, thanks to assistance from a talented cast of veteran local musicians, many of whom will join Abello onstage Saturday. The evening's roster includes Evans, Chad Copelin, Nathan Price, Ben King, Brine Webb and Jordan Elder, the performing members of The Hero Factor, Umbrellas, Cheyenne and Unwed Sailor and the musicians backing Ryan Lindsey and Sherree Chamberlain, to name just a few. Norman's The Nghiems and local soul-blues outfit The Adventuretones will open the show.
"We have not rehearsed at all," Abello said. "I should be more worried about it than I am, but those guys do this stuff all the time."
His confidence in his band is perhaps sound, although he has difficulty explaining his personal decision not to perform prior to the album release.
"I didn't want anyone to hear the songs until they were finished," he said, "and maybe that didn't make a whole lot of sense. There's no logic behind not playing any shows."
He may not know what will happen at his own debut, but his expectation from a concert is clear.
"Bands that just go up and play, that's awesome, but with pop songs, you need to be putting on a show," he said. "I love going to shows when it's not just, 'Oh, I'm going to close my eyes and play these songs.' I'm going to interact with the crowd."
For now, Abello has no plans to shelve the double life and do music full-time.
"The only thing I want or need right now is to play around here," he said. "I don't know how stuff works. Are we going to 'shop' the album or something? I don't know. I'm going to play, and hopefully someone will hear it, because somehow, I need to make my money back."