Keep it simple
There’s a cliché that the best Reno musicians establish a strong local following, start touring, record an album, and then move to Portland. There are hundreds of case studies of musicians, artists and chefs, who, after achieving some success in Reno, start to bristle at the size of the pond and swim out to larger waters, like San Francisco or Seattle, often, or even all the way to Brooklyn. But, for whatever reason, Portland seems to be the most common destination.
Jack Beisel, a.k.a. Hopeless Jack, is a singer-songwriter who plays a rough style of stripped-down blues rock readily described as “raw.” He’s toured the world, played more than 1,500 shows, and put out multiple albums. And he moved from Portland to Reno earlier this year because he sees Northern Nevada as a better base of operations for a touring musician.
“It’s been nice how people get excited when they hear I moved from Portland to Reno,” he said. “I’ve been coming to Reno on tour for the last five years. Every time I came to Reno, I got to see a little bit more of the culture, and I really fell in love with the idea that this is a city of underdogs. Reno has such a bad reputation everywhere else—it’s only gamblers and retired people. But when you actually spend some time here, it’s people making art and making food and making industry because they almost need to. … It’s a city of underdogs making art because they have to, not because it’s cool.”
For Beisel, the appeals of Reno include the inexpensive costs of living, the accessible tour routing, and the inclusive nature of the local music scene, where it’s easy to get to know people and a wide variety of musicians rub shoulders.
“Every time I go to a show, I see hip-hop dudes, shirt-and-tie dudes and punker dudes, and they’re all sitting together, talking together, joking together, drinking together,” he said.
For five years, Beisel performed as half of a duo, Hopeless Jack & The Handsome Devil. He played guitar and sang while Peter Thomas, a.k.a. The Handsome Devil, played drums. When that band broke up after its most recent tour, Beisel saw it as an opportunity for reinvention, which led to him relocating to Reno. He played some solo shows, and then recruited a new drummer, Spencer York, who’s also moving to Reno.
Of course, as soon as that duo has begun to set down roots in Reno, it’s headed off on a long tour—70 gigs, including a couple of festival dates, in 36 states. The kick-off show is at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, at the Loving Cup in Reno.
Beisel’s motto for songwriting is to keep it simple.
“We’re trying to convey emotion here, not play the most technical gnarly lead,” he said. “The guys that I love, it’s all rhythm. All those old bluesmen and country guys that I fell in love with as a teenager; it’s simple, simple songs with a ton of heart. ”
He often starts his songs by writing lyrics first.
“I usually think of insults to people,” he said. “I don’t talk shit to people because I got beat up too many times as a kid. But, in my mind, if someone makes me mad or something is upsetting me, I think about the most evil way to say it to someone. … Or what would hurt the most to hear, and my mind automatically turns them into rhymes. And I write them down in my phone or on paper. That’s how the lyrics form.”
For songwriting inspirations, he cites guys like Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, writers who express darker, angrier emotions balanced with humor and pathos.
“Music has been a way for me to deal with the intangible things of life that drive people crazy, and keep me from acting out on those demons that everyone has,” said Beisel. “I’m a pretty nice guy most of the time. I’m happy-go-lucky most of the time. I’m optimistic most of the time, and music is my way to sit down to dinner with my demons and get to know them.”