- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - As a young boy in northern Minnesota, Jason Shogren remembers how happy live polka bands made his fellow Minnesotans.

On Mondays, he would often watch the legendary polka group Chmielewski Funtime Band on television. He began playing piano when he was 7 years old. Then, after discovering punk music, he made a surprising connection.

“Punk and polka aren’t very different,” Shogren said. “You can speed up polka to get punk music and slow down punk to get polka. It made it clear to me that there was no right or wrong.”

Shogren, a University of Wyoming economics professor, has carried his Minnesota roots to Centennial, where he lives. There, at the foot of the Snowy Range Mountains, Shogren pieces together songs of incredible diversity, which can only be described as Shogren’s prescribed genre of “catawampus style of Americana music.”

“I did music way before I was an economist,” Shogren said. “Lots of people give music up for a day job. The last decade, I’ve been doing it again because I just have to.”

In September, Shogren was named to Paste Magazine’s “Nine Wyoming Bands You Should Listen To Now” list. Shogren released his most recent album, “God Bless These Crooked Little Songs” in 2012. He is working on his sixth album with his longtime multi-instrumentalist, partner in crime, Jascha Herdt.

Shogren has been featured as a member on the WYOmericana Caravan, a traveling concert of American roots music created by Wyoming bands. Performing with Herdt as J. Shogren Shanghai’d, Shogren traveled and performed with Screen Door Porch and The Patti Fiasco this past summer.

“Musically, I think his style is definitely singular,” said Aaron Davis, guitarist and vocalist for Screen Door Porch. “He is a really unique and underrated instrumentalist. He’s always exploring instruments and I think that is a sign of a creative force.”

Stylistically, Shogren made a promise to himself to remain as acoustic as possible after being exposed to electric instruments for decades.

“In some ways, you can see a style done to death, like Stratocaster blues,” Shogren said. “Haven’t we covered all that ground? I made a commitment to use acoustic instruments to see what comes of it. It’s more of a reaction to being overwhelmed with electric instruments.”

As the oldest performing member of the WYOmericana Caravan, Shogren is highly regarded by his Caravan peers, Davis said.

“Anybody with years of experience you have instant respect for,” Davis said. “It is nice to soak it up, especially someone like Jay who is so knowledgeable in so many different facets. Being around people like him is pretty inspiring.”

One of Shogren’s favorite places in Laramie to perform is the Gryphon Theater. Theater Manager David Soules said Shogren is a pleasure to work with.

“He does it for the love of the music,” Soules said. “It doesn’t seem like him or Jascha are out to be stars. He lives in Centennial, but is kind of a town hero.’”

Shogren’s albums are self-funded, rendering his professional career more vital to his musical success.

“The profession obviously subsidizes the music,” Shogren said. “You’ve got to do your job, but music works OK around it.

“It depends on how much you really want to invest.

You have to record it, get it mastered, decide how you’re going to distribute it, then decide how to advertise, how big of a promotional investment you want to make and then after that, people are listening to it with earbuds on MP3’s. When it gets compressed into this little thing, you wonder why you spent all that money.”

Shogren’s career in economics began while he was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but became interested in cross-disciplinary economics upon arrival at UW, where he attended graduate school.

“I grew up hunting and fishing, so economics itself didn’t really interest me,” Shogren said. “When I heard about Wyoming specializing in and integrating environmental economic issues, somehow that stuck in my brain. I came out here and it was the best choice I ever made as far as school.”

Through his academic expertise, which includes dozens of published articles in fields like natural resource management and environmental economics, Shogren has served as an adviser to President Clinton and the King of Sweden. Shogren’s political advising career is an impressive one. In 1997, Shogren served as the White House senior economist for environmental and natural resource policy. In 2007, Shogren and a team of fellow scientists were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore, for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

However, when it comes to climate change, Shogren calls himself a “climate Agnostic.”

“I’m not a climate scientist or natural scientists,” Shogren said. “I just treat climate like another source of risk. I don’t get emotional over it. The climate is changing, so are we responsible? I don’t know. It’s another risk.”

A major difficulty in political advising rests with whether politicians want to listen, Shogren said.

“If you’re thinking about climate change, you have to think about the risks of catastrophe, what you choose to believe about it, how able we are to adopt new technologies and how well China, India and the rest of the world are going to sign on.”

Despite most of Shogren’s political advising exploits residing in global politics, he’s still managed to make an effect locally, serving on the Albany County School Board from 1997-2007.

“I was on the Albany County School Board for a decade,” Shogren said. “That had nothing to do with economics and everything to do with trying to make a contribution the best I could.”

At the end of the day, Shogren leaves a mark, either in the local music arena or in academia. Shogren chooses not to focus on the effects, but rather his family. His children span across generations, with ages of 26, 19, five and two weeks. Shogren said he is not concerned with how he will be remembered.

“I’m not really worried about it, as long as my kids are happy,” he said. That’s the only footprint I care about.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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