Joseph Aleshaiker was walking along Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, when he got an idea for a song.
He then returned home and began to write “Frenchmen Street,” inspired by his experience entering bars along the road, each with different musicians performing different genres.
The fourth-year civil engineering student will perform the song as his opener for the next installment of the Fowler Out Loud series Wednesday. Aleshaiker plans to sing five other folk-rock originals and a few covers to fill his set at the Fowler Museum. Though he writes his music to incorporate many instruments, Aleshaiker said he often performs solo, writing and adjusting the music to encapsulate the sound of a full band with many notes.
“It’s important to have a lot of variety whenever I’m writing a song. I don’t like to just write songs that have four chords you repeat over and over again because anyone can do that,” Aleshaiker said. “I want each part to have an importance.”
When he was younger, Aleshaiker said he envisioned creating music with an entire band. The difficult reality of finding a consistent group of people to make music with, however, led Aleshaiker to create music by himself. He adjusted his style accordingly, transitioning from classic rock to folk-rock, because acoustic guitars are prominent in the folk version of the genre, he said.
Despite being a one-man band, Aleshaiker incorporates multiple instruments when recording his music. Aleshaiker plays guitar, bass guitar and piano, as well as singing vocals. For percussion, he utilizes common skills such as snapping, clapping and thumping his hand against his guitar. If a recorded song incorporates both chords and a melody, Aleshaiker said he records separate takes of himself performing each different aspect of the song on his own, including each instrument and vocal layer. When recording his music, he said he is able to add harmonies to his voice to give it a folksy sound and elevate a line’s emotion.
His recorded music, however, is different from his live music. Aleshaiker said when he performs live, he often uses a Spanish guitar, a type of acoustic instrument with slight differences from the typical acoustic guitar. Fourth-year ethnomusicology student Astrid Hernandez, who helped him book gigs over the summer, said the Spanish guitar is more physically intensive, requiring one to constantly move their hands up the neck of the guitar. Incorporating Spanish guitar into folk-rock styles brings out different stylistic elements, Hernandez said.
“Folk-rock means you have more of a core element in it, because you have harder strings, and then with the Spanish guitar you have that melody that’s relaxing, so it gives you that release of tension … and they complement each other very well,” Hernandez said.
Laura Jane Yee, the coordinator for Fowler Out Loud, said she was interested in Aleshaiker’s music because, as an ethnomusicology student, she is drawn to music that incorporates different kinds of fusion, including the use of Spanish guitar within the genre of rock music. Aleshaiker said the music he wants to record often includes instruments atypical to the genre of rock – one song even involves a full orchestra.
But Aleshaiker’s performances are often stripped down, giving the songs different sounds. Aleshaiker said he prefers his live version of “Frenchmen Street” to the version on his SoundCloud. After witnessing the variety of music styles found on Frenchmen Street, such as folk, jazz and rock, he began to write the song for a whole band. He would not perform the song live, as he initially thought it would sound too weak without being accompanied by other musicians. He eventually incorporated a foot shaker – an instrument used for adding a beat – to his performance, which he said helped him perform the song live.
Aleshaiker said part of his goal in writing “Frenchmen Street” was to capture the essence of the New Orleans location through sound. He said he wrote his music with more than four chords so it would not sound like a typical acoustic song.
“I think it’s a cool experience. You can go on this one street and experience so much music and so much culture,” Aleshaiker said. “I was really inspired to emulate that diversity.”