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Insider Beat: Rutgers student Jake Thistle following in footsteps of New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen

School of Communication and Information sophomore Jake Thistle is leaving his mark at Rutgers—New Brunswick. – Photo by @jakethistlemusic / Instagram

The spark for School of Communication and Information sophomore Jake Thistle's musical journey was ignited at three years old, during a Super Bowl halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This early exposure, alongside eclectic YouTube recommendations, laid the groundwork for his musical odyssey.

By age nine, he decided to take up the guitar, inspired by icons like Petty and fellow New Jersey guitarist Bruce Springsteen. These early influences, along with the modern stylings of Harry Styles helped shape the distinctive sound of his music. 

"Being a guitar player from Jersey, it's kind of the law to know Bruce Springsteen because he grew up around the corner," he said.

Fast forward to age 19 — before even graduating from college — Thistle is already making a significant mark in the New Jersey scene, performing at Rutgers-affiliated events like COMMChella and dropping his debut EP, "The Half Left Out." 

His journey blends the essence of classic rock with contemporary pop, looking at the evolving future of music through a retrospective lens. With such a niche genre, Thistle continues to experiment to find exactly what suits him best. Fans will know him best for his acoustic ballads, but he's recently considered moving to keyboards and synths.

"I'm always just trying to evolve in any way I can," he said. "Take what worked and leave what didn't and try to get new things."

This evolution, both in his music and his career trajectory, is driven by a desire to grow, learn and embrace the challenges of the rapidly changing music industry. 

Thistle's songwriting process, which involves reflecting on previous lyrics and reworking things that might've felt out of place, is another critical process of his work. With the support of his label and producers, he's been able to ensure a continuous flow of creativity and innovation.

"I haven't written a song from scratch, in like, a really long time," he said. "I always think of it similar to a sourdough starter."

Thistle, who prefers the tranquility of late-night hours for songwriting, finds the period between midnight and 3 a.m. especially conducive to creativity, attributing the quiet to his productive spurts of inspiration.

To continue growing as an artist, Thistle's also prioritized collaboration. During the first studio session of "Ghosted Road," he was introduced to a group of musicians at that same label who occasionally joined him to form a band.

"We play mainly local with those guys and you, like New York, Connecticut, New Jersey area," he said. "I try to bring the band anywhere I can … I've been really fortunate to have surrounded myself with some really good musicians and so, they make me sound better."

Thistle's recent signing of a three-album deal marks a significant milestone in his music career, offering him a structured framework to further his artistic exploration. As he looks ahead, the anticipation for his next full LP is palpable, even with the pressures of studying for exams lingering in the background.

"It's never a chore for me to really balance it because it's not the end of the world," he said.

On top of his music endeavors, he's made it a mission to use his growing platform to spark change. His work alongside charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Tassie Foundation underscores his belief in the power of music to effect change. His work with the Light of Day Foundation highlights his commitment to leveraging his musical talents for a broader social impact.

"I really enjoy getting to do what I do. And so, it's nice to do that if it also helps other people," he said.

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