Jason Webley interview: How to become an accordion player


Jason Webley is a cult leader, artichoke-eater and accordion player who’s quite well-known for it, actually. He works with Amanda Palmer and everything. Find out more!

Name: Jason Webley

Career title: Accordion player/cult leader (find me on www.jasonwebley.com)

Full-time/part time: overtime

What made you want to go into this profession?

Want isn’t quite the right word. I had no idea this profession existed when I started doing it, so there was never any ‘wanting.’

How long have you been doing this? Do you need training or work experience?

It has been nine years now. I actually studied music and theatre in college, but I am not sure if that has much to do with my work now. I might not have ever picked up an accordion though if it hadn’t been for a theatre production in my last quarter in college.

How did you promote yourself?

I started by playing on the street, collecting e-mail addresses.

What do you earn? Do you need to spend any money to make money in your line of work?

I go through at least an accordion a year. And lately I’ve been having bad luck with laptops. I drove my car over one in December and last month my new one got stolen in the Prague subway.

What is the most satisfaction you get out of your job? On both a deep and a shallow level? Has the job changed you? What are the perks?

On a deep level I feel in general that my work is good for people, that it brings them together in ways that doesn’t happen very often in our culture right now. And occasionally a small miracle happens, where even I am suprised by the energy and am lifted a little ways outside of myself.

On a shallow level, I like it when people buy my CDs and when pretty girls talk to me after the show.

The job has changed me. It is hard to say how. Some of the ways it has changed me aren’t so good.

Perks… I get to see the world in an unusual way, visiting most major cities once a year and getting a little annual snapshot of life in these places and seeing how they evolve over time. I also have friends in many of these places now. At the moment, I am in Moscow and it is amazing how much it has changed in the five years I have been coming to Russia.

Downside of the job? I miss having a stable relationship.

How physically or mentally demanding is the job? Long hours?

In some way I am always working. I leave the stage completely soaked in sweat.

Most hideous career moment to date?

Hard to say. My show Saturday night was the worst one in a while. It was in Saint Petersburg and my Russian promoters really screwed up.

The tickets were about 6 times higher than they should have been (1200 rubles… almost $50) and the venue was horrible. There were two big birthday parties at tables right in front of the stage. About 150 people came to see me and were watching intently, but I was surrounded by these tables of loud cackling, drinking people with their backs to me. About halfway through my set some strange man in his underwear came onstage. He either must have owned the place or been the mayor or something, because I can’t imagine anyone else getting away with this. For the rest of my set he was on a microphone talking between and sometimes during my songs. Then as soon as I was done, stippers took the stage and it became a dance party. Only in Russia.

Most glorious career moment to date?

I don’t know. I used to street perform at a festival in Seattle called Bumbershoot. I did it for a few years and actually was quite well known for this. The festival changed a lot and I guess so did I, and one night I decided I was done…

Do you meet interesting people and if so, who …? Is there a freak- factor?

I meet lots of interesting people. Almost always. I don’t meet many freaks. Occasionally, but usually I am the biggest freak in the room. The other day I had lunch with Michal Horacek, the best-known lyricist in the Czech Republic. That was pretty damn interesting.

Is there a danger factor?

I found a loaded gun in my luggage a couple of weeks ago. Don’t think I’ve ever touched a loaded gun before.

Do you meet fit, clever, solvent potential partners in your line of work?

The fit, clever and solvent are usually taken.

Is there a sexy uniform? I get to wear a nice hat.

Can you still see yourself doing this in 20 years’ time?

Probably, though I imagine it will change a lot.

What advice would you give young women who are interested in this career path?

Young women? Interested in this career path? I am thinking about offering a comprehensive training course for young women interested in becoming travelling accordion players.

Is there a question we should have asked you but forgot?