Interview: Jamie Muhoberac, Keyboardist (John Mayer, My Chemical Romance)

Interview & Photo by Yising Kao

Jamie is featured in our Music Industry issue!:

Jamie Muhoberac is an accomplished keyboardist who has worked with artists such as My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, and John Mayer, on multiple albums. With a musical background, he started playing the keyboard at a young age and since then, he has played on tours and built his own recording studio.

What inspired you to want to become a keyboardist?

One day, I was on a movie set and I said I want to be a special effects man, and this guy said it’s not fun! I kind of decided I wanted to be a musician then. I bought a cassette machine and started making things using sound that I recorded all over the place like on the street, and I made these sound collages. That’s when I realized that I liked sound a lot. That inspired me to start playing with synthesizers and recording. Also, my father was a session musician, so I ended up doing what he did. He was a keyboard player and played with a lot of people including Elvis Presley. Artists from his generation have a lot more technique than I do. My thing is all about feeling and sound.

What was the first tour you’ve worked on? What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from it?

I've only toured a little but over the years. The first tour I did was with a group called Was (Not Was). They had a hit song and we went out on a club tour. Then we joined a tour with a lot of other artists and played arenas. One of the things I've learned is to walk everyday if you can. Don’t abuse substances because you will derail, and just try to get along with everyone. I did go on some tours where there was more disharmony and that’s when I learned how important that was. I think that groups that tour break up on the tour bus, or by being bored in the studio and I've seen that happen.

How did you start working with John Mayer?

He does change bands quite a bit. I started working with him because an engineer producer named Jack Joseph Puig was producing his album Heavier Things and asked me to play on that album, so we flew to New York to record it. Jack knew of me from mixing some things I played on and I’d see him a lot at the studio. And I've played on a few of John’s other albums. Heavier Things was recorded with a lot of tracking and a few overdubs. My stuff was live with one or two overdubs and it was really fun, and I think John’s a really good guy. We haven’t gotten to know each other too well because through my way of working, I like giving people room to breathe because if you’re an artist like John, there’s already a lot on your mind, so I just let conversations happen when they happen.

What was your experience like working on The Umbrella Academy soundtrack?

I worked on a few songs with Gerard Way, like “Happy Together” and “Hazy Shade of Winter.” I used to play gigs with him and My Chemical Romance. I played on The Black Parade and Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. On the last record, I played keyboard and did sound effects and sound design. When the band was breaking up, I played on one of the songs on their compilation album, May Death Never Stop You. Gerard did a solo record I played on, called Hesitant Alien. I've known them for a long time now and once in a while, we’ll talk about drone music and just similar music we both like, so it was very natural to work on The Umbrella Academy soundtrack, and I already knew the producer.

How did you first get into contact with My Chemical Romance?

Through the producer Rob Cavallo. He called me and asked me to work on The Black Parade. So, I met the band and I think they sensed that we liked some of the same things and I wasn’t going to ruin what they were doing, which is important. I played some piano, organ, and electronic stuff. On the album after that, I played live with them in the studio and it was more electronic.

What's the hardest part about your job?

The constant switching of attitude from artist to artist. I've worked with people in a lot of different situations, like on albums and film things. Every artist is different, and they don’t look at life the same way at all. They have their ideas for their own reasons. If I work with a country artist one day and the next day, I work with an artist who’s like purely electronic, it’s a really big difference. I have to adjust to the situation since it switches from day to day, and it can feel like you don’t have your own identity, so you have to have confidence that you do.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Ideas are sometimes more important than playing ability. So, work on your playing, but let your ideas flow freely. That’s how the world works; ideas are what get you places. There are a lot of people that can play, but there are quite a few people who don’t have a creative identity. Just be yourself and work really hard. There are times where people tell me exactly what to play but I still have to understand where they're coming from. If you have an idea and it gets rejected, it’s part of the process too. It actually lets people know what they don’t like. Sometimes, they don’t know what they don’t like yet. That’s part of the process of coming up with something. I've had session where I've played things that everybody heard in their head and none of those worked, and only some other weird ideas worked. And if someone doesn’t know how to play or get those ideas, they’ll spend hours in the studio doing something that eventually isn’t going to work. If they figure that out in minutes, then they’ll go, “Thank you, we didn’t have to waste all that time!”