Jon Yeager is flying solo.


Jon Yeager is flying solo.

Jon Yeager has what Midwestern singer-songwriters often lack: sex appeal. Few musicians -- or even entire bands, local or otherwise -- are able to sing their asses off, make self-deprecating jokes between songs and carry off the whole enterprise of live music as though they've come from the arms of some gorgeous heartbreaker instead of from a musty stone basement. This, Yeager can do. Of course, it helps that this son of a preacher man has the hirsute, vaguely Latin, college-dropout look of a Pete Yorn or a Sam Roberts. He's a bit on the tiny side, however, with a dainty waist, small feet and legs that his busted-up, form-fitting Levis reveal to be slightly bowed, but all of that will work to his advantage in the stature-enhancing arena of pop stardom.

If he ever gets there.

His heartfelt power pop, looks, stage presence and sing-the-clothes-off-your-girlfriend voice are all good enough for him to be able to sell his act just about anywhere. But for now, the 25-year-old Liberty native works at Starbucks on the Plaza, walks or takes a cab to his in-town solo gigs (he hasn't had a car in a year) and -- most of all -- waits patiently for the money to arrive that will once again make him a working musician.

Until sometime last year, Yeager was in beloved local act the Daybirds, which he joined a week before graduating from high school and, forgoing college, remained with for seven and a half years of almost constant playing. Known for a big, lumbering live show that had all four members swapping instruments and harmonies in blissed-out pop-rock bravado, the Daybirds were immensely proficient in making hook-laden anthems out of major chords and lyrics about girls. It's hard to think of a band that worked so hard, stayed together so long and yet never made it. Check that -- almost made it. They were courted by Las Vegas-based Celine Dion Associates, owned by the famous Quebecois diva and her famously baked-looking husband, who, despite the "My Heart Will Go On" image, looked to the Daybirds like a legitimate outfit. But on May 1, 2004, eight days before they were to travel to Vegas and sign the papers that would catapult them out of obscurity, CDA called and told them that the whole deal was off.

"Literally overnight, all of a sudden the rug was pulled out from under us," Yeager says.

That's why he's not holding his breath now. He has his new album ready to distribute to the pop-rock-craving masses, an EP titled Truth and Volume -- the cover of which has a close-cropped, black-and-white portrait of Yeager in shades, looking like a dealer in, well, truth and volume -- but he doesn't have the money.

What he does have is a well-connected, San Francisco-based manager who has found him an investor interested in providing the cash that will allow him to hit the road with a full band, peddle discs and make a name for himself. Any day now, when this investor (whose identity Yeager insists remain secret) hands over the $10,000-$15,000 that will launch Polyrhythmic Records (an as-yet-nonexistent label that will be operated by local boys Kyle Nanos and Josh Riepe of the Depressors), Yeager will officially be off the ground. If that sounds rather convoluted, just remember one key word: money.

"It's the age-old thing -- when you start flashing green, people pay attention," says Yeager, who contends that a record label is little more than a logo on the back of a CD and a shitload of money. With the funds his investor is expected to fork over to promote his EP and to record and promote a follow-up full length, Yeager should have all he needs. Ideally, a major label like Sony or Astralwerks will call one day, but right now, what matters is the moolah itself, not its source.

Yeager knows this. He developed a rather cold business sense during his Daybirds days. If nothing else, that band understood the value of a dollar.

"The Daybirds always tried to see the bigger picture," explains former member Jon Sweetwood. "When we wrote songs and went into the studio, we were always cognizant of the fact that radio stations want singles.... Playing music in your house is all about the music. Playing music on the stage night after night is all about money."

Yeager and Sweetwood developed tough skin against the vicissitudes of the music industry, and they wrote their songs accordingly -- like javelins to pierce the industry's thick hide. But they never brought down the beast.

Now, free of the somewhat overbearing, songwriting-by-committee style of the Daybirds, Yeager has produced a small body of recordings on which he plays all the instruments and crafts a honey-voiced-frontman identity. It started as a demo that he pitched to dozens of industry professionals when he was working as the Golden Republic's tour manager last summer, around the time his previous band was dissolving.

"It was me being very blunt and asking, 'Do you think I have what it takes to leave the Daybirds?'" Yeager says. "It was a resounding, 'Dude, hell yeah.'"

The fact that the pros like it indicates that Yeager's music is commercially viable, that it'll sell. But, you ask, is it any good? After all, a common criticism of the Daybirds was that, in their quest for the melody that would make the cash register pop open, they traded originality for bubblegum. Is Yeager more than a pretty face, the prettiest in a band that once made pretty music? Does the guy know how to rock?

Dude, hell yeah.

A listen to Yeager's finished mix reveals it to be the sort of homespun recording that's hard to believe is, in fact, homespun. In contrast to the Daybirds' strained, harmonic bombardment, Yeager's solo stuff is laid-back and intimate, less swaggering and more real. He uses his voice like an instrument -- what he's singing is less important than how emotively and artfully he sings it. Fortunately, though his lyrics are trite, his voice is damn near flawless.

But Yeager is the first to admit that he won't get far without a band. "It's really hard to get people's attention with an acoustic guitar," he says. "I was made to sweat and jump around and really rock, but I don't mind being out there on my own. It's a small sacrifice to feel uncomfortable to get my music out there."

He showed no signs of discomfort at the Cup and Saucer last Friday, however, where, despite a terrible sound system and a crowd of family members goading him lovingly between songs, Yeager fell immediately into a captivating, bobble-headed mien, strumming deftly and singing like he was born for the stage. Either out of ferocity or clumsiness, Yeager somehow tore the cuticle of his right middle finger, and after his set was over, he looked down to see blood darkening the strings above the sound hole on his blond Gibson acoustic.

It was an impressive scene: the blood, the charming musician laughing it off, his sister taking a picture of the gory guitar with her cell-phone camera and, all around, the feeling that things were just getting started.


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