By Rebecca Benoît
Names: Jack Staffen, Eliza Callahan
Occupation: Musicians, Students
Hometown: New York, NY
Current City: New York, NY
College: NYU (Jack), Columbia (Eliza)
Current year: Rising seniors
NYC natives Jack Staffen and Eliza Callahan’s journey to forming the musical duo Jack + Eliza is something out of a movie plot. They attended different high schools but were family friends, and found each other somewhere in a musical twist of fate. A couple weeks back, I was lucky enough to stumble upon their gig at Shea Stadium in the nether region between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the pseudo-grunge space did not disappoint.
I’d say if Patti Smith and Mac Demarco got together and birthed Angus & Julia Stone, it would probably look something like this.
Paradoxically, a certain new-age style is borne of their retro-60’s charm, as they merge a vintage aesthetic with their own millennial sound. They epitomize, in this sense, up-and-coming NYC. But while many young artists signed to a record deal can come across like the overworked result of a marketable product, Jack and Eliza bolster their stage presence with music they wrote themselves.
A few days later, a chance encounter near Washington Square Park gave me the opportunity for a Q&A. Walking down the street, there was not much to distinguish them from many of their classmates, unless you just so happened to know exactly who they were.
“Are you guys Jack and Eliza?”
They knew I was referring to them as a musical duo, and not as individual undergrads, but their reaction was a polite, and perhaps even a little flattered, “yeah.” They haven’t yet grown jaded with over-exposure, surely part of what allows their show to still feel honest and their interactions sincere.
I remembered standing next to some girls in the crowd at their show with giant Sharpied X’s on the back of their hands saying, “Yeah, my brother knew him in high school!” Within their pocket of the Brooklyn scene, they fit comfortably as relatable college kids who make music. You might even assume everyone at the show knew them, or of them, personally. But take into account the fact that they were named in the Observer’s Best Debuts and performed at the South by Southwest Music Festival, and you realize you’re catching a glimpse just as they veer away from street anonymity and toward unrelatable fame.
They told me they would be spending the month working on their next album in the studio, but put aside time to answer some questions for Friends of Friends.
Tell me a bit about balancing the responsibilities to your music career with the responsibilities to your college education?
Generally speaking, it’s been really nice to have two things going on at once — what we both study definitely informs what we do creatively. Neither of us is studying music, but naturally find that when we’re excited by what we’re learning or reading we tend to be more prolific when writing music. It’s only tough at very specific moments. When a festival or tour lines up with finals… that’s no fun.
Does being young affect your conversations within the industry?
At first, it definitely did. We’ve always had a strong sense of what we want but when we started out, we were often too shy to ask for whatever that was because we didn’t feel we were in the place to do so. We were treated like kids and were maybe too complacent at times. That’s not what goes on at all anymore. WE’RE THE BOSSES!
What music are you guys listening to these days?
We’ve been listening to a band called Whitney — they just came out with a stunning debut album that’s definitely worth a listen if you like The Band and just good songwriting in general. Sheer Mag is another band to which we’ve been listening. The Beach Boys have been on heavy rotation as usual. We both just saw Brain Wilson perform at Northside Festival, which was obviously a treat and a half. We’ve been listening to a lot of David Bowie lately as well. Still mourning.
We are, after all, a roommate-matching platform, so do either of you have any funny roommate anecdotes?
Neither of us spent much time in our dorm rooms and often went home to our parents’ houses because that’s where our music set-ups were. One time, Eliza went back to her dorm after a couple weeks had passed and her roommate had pushed the twin beds together so she could sleep with her boyfriend more comfortably.
Would you ever consider living together?
We practically do live together at this point because we are always working. We collaborate very well in a both creative and a much more managerial/business sense.
And there you have it: Jack and Eliza, conquering the world of both creative and managerial musical collaboration. Between young friendship, the Brooklyn backdrop, and a passion for making psychedelic surf rock, it feels, looks, and sounds like a biopic straight out of indie-movie heaven.
Rebecca Benoît grew up in Washington, D.C. and Paris and is currently a student at Brown University.
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