Finding a folk masterpiece

After living and dying by an acoustic string, Nick Jaina was finished with folk music. He had a rock band, he had a wife and he had enough of that dead-end strumming. Actually, he was about to have more troubles than he could handle.

Jaina split with his wife last year and then fell in love with someone else – but she only broke his rebounding heart, and he fell apart.

But this isn’t Behind the Music. There are no cocaine groupies, no alcohol-induced car wrecks. Jaina doesn’t even like coffee. Instead, he pulled about 30 forgotten songs from his head and, with the help of some friends’ studio, produced a 12-track portrait of quiet desperation that is miles away from rock ‘n’ roll.

Most of the songs that made the cut on The Bluff of All Time were written years ago. Two of them were written at the last minute. All of them are good.

"It’s not hip," he said during a walking interview that weaved through old town and across the river last Sunday. "It’s not something I thought could be popular at all. It’s just something I needed to do."

The album didn’t cost any money to record, which is lucky because he didn’t have any. While housesitting for some friends that were off on tour, he had access to their home studio with deeply idle hands.

"I was as sad as I’d ever been in my life," he said. "I’m sitting there, I have nothing to do and all these songs. So I’d just spend all day recording and not even eating. It gave me something to get up for every day."

These days things are much better for the Sacramento-born, New Orleans-sharpened musician. We made it across the Steel Bridge twice without Jaina diving into the dark Willamette. That’s a joke. Kinda. The guy does things you wouldn’t expect.

In May, he toured the country and Canada by Greyhound bus. He didn’t bring a guitar. He borrowed them. The tour went well, he said.

Jaina has worked about 40 different jobs so far in 2005. In his whole life, he said he hasn’t kept a job for more than five months. He said he doesn’t like the commitment. No shit.

"I want to be able to go on a tour and not have someone get mad at me," he said. "Or I want to be able to just spend a week in the studio."

Unlike many artists, Jaina puts at least as much thought into his lyrics as he does to the piano lines or guitar changes that characterize the songs. Sometimes a year passes before he finds the perfect phrase to complete a tune.

"I’ve always thought there’s such a great potential lost," he said, "from so many bands and musicians that just don’t take the time to write good lyrics."

Besides combining words that roll well off his tongue, he’s working on a book for Pinball Publishing in Southeast Portland. He’s co-producing the new Heroes and Villains album. He’s working a full-time office job and doing freelance graphic design. He’s playing select shows with Binary Dolls, the rock side of the Jaina equation, and pursuing his folk zone.

There’s even another solo record in the works.

"The next album is going to be more happy," he said, deadpan. "More drums."