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‘SNL’ Guitarist Jared Scharff: Jamming With Jagger, Shredding on the Web

Six-stringer on childhood friend Adam Levine, major-label misadventures and Unnecessary Shredding

WHO: Jared Scharff might not be a household name (yet), but the 36-year-old’s face is beamed into millions of homes each week via Saturday Night Live, where he has held down the guitar slot in the house band since 2007. But despite calling it “the greatest job I’ve ever had,” Scharff also admits that it wasn’t a career goal. “I’d been doing my own thing for years before,” he says. “But when the opportunity to audition for SNL came up, I thought, ‘That would be pretty sick.’ I was a big fan of the show and I could just see myself in that band. And now, nine seasons later, it’s been an amazing ride.”

ONE TIME, AT BAND CAMP: Scharff caught the performing bug early on — he recalls as a sixth-grader playing guitar for his fellow schoolmates at lunch time. “I would be up on the cafeteria stage doing stuff like ‘Wild Thing,’ and everybody would be singing along,” he says, adding, “I don’t why this happened or why I was doing it at lunch hour, but somehow I was just jamming.” At the same time, he was spending his summers at French Woods, a performing-arts camp in upstate New York, where he played in bands with future Maroon 5–ers Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael. “We did songs like ‘Ice Cream Man’ by Van Halen, [Soundgarden’s] ‘Outshined,’ a lot of Seattle stuff that was big at the time,” he recalls. As for whether Scharff is surprised by his former campmates’ success? “Not really,” he says. “I always knew Adam was going to be a superstar. He was basically exactly the same then as he is now.”

MAJOR LEAGUE: Prior to landing the SNL gig, Scharff played guitar in a modern pop-rock outfit named Carbondale, who signed a major-label deal with RCA just after he graduated from NYU in the early 2000s. “We made a half-million-dollar record, and it was awesome,” he says. But after RCA merged with J Records, “Clive Davis came in and dropped something like 40 bands, and we were one of them. Our album was shelved, and that was it.” He then spent a few years fronting his own group, Jared Scharff and the Royals (a “Tom Petty–meets–Foo Fighters kind of thing, with some jams”) before hooking up with Saturday Night Live

ROCKS OFF: While Scharff’s SNL gig has its challenges (among them, he says, “having to do a lot of sight-reading”), there are also many obvious rewards. To that end, Scharff cites the show’s 2012 season finale, when he performed alongside Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck, as a particular high point. “That was just nuts,” he says. “At one point Jeff was playing a solo and Mick kinda shimmied to the side of the stage, as Mick does. And for whatever reason he looked right at me and flashed a smile, like, ‘This is the shit, right?’ And I just smiled back.” Scharff laughs. “It was a great moment.”

DIGITAL SHORTS: He may stand near the back of the stage on SNL, but Scharff has recently taken on a front-and-center role in his own Web series, which he calls Unnecessary Shredding. The collection of clips finds Scharff adding his own tasteful six-string work to some of today’s biggest guitar-deficient pop hits, like Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” and the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” While he admits it’s a “ridiculous concept,” Scharff also insists that “I’m not trying to shit on these songs. I love pop music and I love these tunes. And really, jamming over other people’s music is something I’ve done since I was a kid in my bedroom … only now I’m an adult and I’m putting it on YouTube.”

LION’S ROAR: In addition to his web series, Scharff spends his SNL downtime writing and producing for other artists, as well as working on his own instrumental project, Pearl Lion. “It basically combines everything I love, from pop to classic rock to jam-band music, and it’s mixed with a modern-day beatmaker mindset, with synths and programmed drums and some ambient sounds.” He’s currently gearing up to release a pair of companion EPs under the Pearl Lion name: One, titled Light, is “melodic and emotional and pretty”; the other, Dark, is “much more aggressive, with crazy fuzz guitars and big beats, kind of like a Jack White/Smashing Pumpkins–meets–Justice/Hudson Mohawke type of thing.” For Scharff, the project represents the fulfillment of his longtime musical dreams. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and the most important thing I’m doing musically outside of the show,” he says. “It’s the passion.”

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