Usually when a band collapses into two separate parts, one of the projects may become the favorite child over the other. Unfortunately for Jaguar Love, their new album Hologram Jams has fallen under the love it or hate it category for fans of the band's former entity. The irony is in the expectation, as vocalist Johnny Whitney sat down to talk about simply moving on and making party music instead of tunes meant to level an entire city.
Not to start on a negative foot here, but what kind of happened with Jay Clark's departure from the band?
Pretty Girls Make Graves broke up. Blood Brothers broke up. When it was decided that The Blood Brothers were over, me and Cody [Votolato] kind of deliberated over whether...you know, we wanted to continue playing with Mark [Gajadhar], but we didn't want it to be like, "Oh, it's just the three dudes from The Blood Brothers." We wanted to try to make our own identity and obviously not be a copy of what we were. Jay was Cody's guitar tech on the last couple of tours for Young Machetes. We became really close friends with him. We just sort of started this band. Me and my wife bought this house. We just moved from Seattle to Portland. There was this momentum that was super great for the first four songs we wrote. Then slowly after a month of really productive creativity, it became pretty self evident that Jay A) Should not be playing drums because he's a guitar player. The control that a guitar player has is something that a drummer should not be implementing; B) Creatively, on an aesthetic level, me, Cody and Jay were not on the same level at all. We managed to write the rest of the record for Take Me to the Sea. Then there was [personal dilemma]. Basically we tried to write Hologram Jams with Jay, and he hated "I Started a Fire" and mildly liked "Polaroids and Red Wine." One of the reasons The Blood Brothers broke up is because Young Machetes was a fucking nightmare to write. We just spent hours and hours and hours arguing and nit-picking songs to death. The end result - totally the best record. We just could not make ourselves do that again. We just could not do that again. We spent November, December and part of January trying to write this record with him, and just got nowhere. It was getting to a point where we couldn't do it anymore. It was done. We didn't know how to write songs together anymore. I started to write "I Started a Fire" and "Polaroids and Red Wine" to a drum machine, because that's how I write. We kind of were like, let's just try this. It was partially, let's just try this and partially we kicked [Jay] out of the band two weeks before we had to go to Australia, so we had to figure something out really fucking fast. Rather than finding a replacement drummer, that was just something we decided to do. I tell people all the time when they ask "What is the impotence of this record?" Basically we wrote "Fire" and "Polaroids," and we were so happy with how it turned out with the electronic, synthy treatments. Instead of writing this eclectic record that goes off in all these directions, let's just write a solid, compact album just like these songs.
I think you went into my follow-up question. Take Me to the Sea had these moments of electronics in it. With Hologram Jams, it certainly takes the whole. Is that something for you, and I don't know if you can speak for Cody on this, but for you, is that something you've always wanted with your creative side?
Yeah. Sort of. I went through a really strong personal crisis after I wrote that Neon Blonde record. Kind of not knowing if I wanted to do that or do another Blood Brothers record. Ultimately I decided to do The Blood Brothers record. There was always that trajectory with Neon Blonde that I was going for that was always unfulfilled. That kind of manifested itself into what happened to make this record. [Jay] tried to control things behind the drum set, and that made things muddled. When I listen to Take Me to the Sea, it sounds like a bunch of people fighting each other for space. The way we wrote these songs is either me or Cody would write these completed songs, in his case without vocals, email it to the other person and then that's the song. It's someone else's vision. When there's so much stuff to be done, like programming drums or programming bass, it makes for so much of an even flow. It was so much fun to do.
What about that writing process? Do you enjoy it more than being in the same room with someone?
I find it to be much more challenging to write in a traditional practice space-band setting. I'm a really nervous person when it comes to playing instruments. Generally, my ideas are not just a part. It's a keyboard line, a bass part and a drum part. You can't really say, "Hey guys check this part out that I'm going to do with my hand." Instead of presenting a part, you're presenting a full idea. It was just really fun. It was great.
I noticed live, I would think you would have played a keyboard more, but all the electronic stuff came through the computer. Is that that initial idea to do that from the beginning?
Yeah, because a synthesizer is a very initial component to the music, but it's also the most boring instrument to watch someone play that was ever invented. It's because it's so grounded. There's people who put their keyboard on springs or some shit, and it looks so tacky and stupid. I find it very difficult to perform and play an instrument at the same time. For the sake of the live show, the same sound is going to come out if I'm playing it or not. It's so I don't want to be tied down to playing anything.
What about any negative backlash for performing like that? There's certainly a critique now with bands using autotune and backing electronics in their live show.
This is the first tour we are playing with a drummer. We were playing with a drum machine and samples prior to this. It was very divisive. Some people come to a rock show and want to see a drummer. The way we thought of this band was a rock band and a DJ meeting halfway. There's just certain people who come to shows and it's not going to be their thing. Ever since we got a drummer, the response has been pretty positive. The thing is, it's so fucking hard to make a living as a band. Ideally, if I could, I would hire a keyboard player and a bass player and have a six or seven piece band, but it's not practical. We're just barely breaking even now going on tour.
What do you think of Past Lives and the direction things took after The Blood Brothers?
I'm so happy for those guys. The thing that I think, especially now that we both have these full lengths out, anybody that likes The Blood Brothers, it should be evident why we broke up, from the two bands that were formed. Being on the ground level and getting involved in the conflicts that led to the break up, the two aesthetic wholes of the band that sort of pulled each other apart became two really awesome bands. It's really amazing to be able to see what they wanted to do within in The Blood Brothers that I really didn't want to do. I think they made great songs and the record is really good. It definitely seems like Jordan is a lot more comfortable with what they are doing now than what was happening in The Blood Brothers. It was a five way democracy, and everyone was competing for space. I think that there is this false perception out there that there is this rivalry. It was difficult for the first year and a half - two years. Mark and Jordan [Blilie] came to our last show. Cody has gone to a bunch of Past Lives shows. I can't go to shows because I have a baby now. But if I didn't, I would come support them. We've been friends forever. I met Jordan when I was twelve years old. There's been some things that have happened between us, but ultimately at the end of the day I'll always respect him and what he is doing.
What do you think of the response of Hologram Jams thus far?
It's been very polarized. I feel like people really really like it a lot, or people are acting strongly to it in a way that people reacted to certain Blood Brothers records, or they don't get it. There's been some pretty scathing sort of reviews of the record. It either sounds like people want me to be something I don't want to be anymore. From some of the criticism it has gotten, "It doesn't sound like any of the bands I've been in before" or they take some of the more ironic elements of it, and paint it as being sort of childish instead of getting what we are doing. It seems like people either really liked it, or didn't like it.
Do you think the irony in it is that it's just a pop-electronic record and people want more out of it?
You go into a record, and I've been certainly guilty of this in my life...I remember when Jets to Brazil came out with their record. I was a fucking Jawbreaker fanatic in my adolescence. I didn't want a Jets to Brazil record, I wanted a Jawbreaker record. I was like, "Fuck this. I don't want this at all." It wasn't really until I listened to it four or five times and let go of expectation. Then I was like, oh, this is really great. It's not what I wanted, but it's still good. This is even evident in the last couple of Blood Brothers records. People that got on board with Burn, Piano Island, Burn were not into the crossover. They wanted this maniacal, on all the time music. Certainly with this record, if you're coming in to hear this disjointed, time signature, pseudo-pop-hardcore, it's not what you're going to get. It's a fun record. It's supposed to be a fun record. The lyrical content is supposed to be fun. It's not supposed to be a dissertation. It's something you're supposed to put on at a party. It's not something you're supposed to study.
My last questions is, why the Janis Joplin song?
Let me tell you this, and I haven't told anyone this yet. We recorded that and it wasn't supposed to be on the record. There was a fuck up, and it was mastered as the last song. It was going to be an iTunes b-side. That's why it's not listed on the record. I love her voice. I was just kind of bored one day and did it. I thought it was cool. I wanted to try it. I never wanted to have a cover song on a record we've done.
Has anyone told you it was heresy yet?
Oh yeah. Whatever. Fuck it. I don't care. The Janis Joplin version is a cover itself. It's the same reaction people had of her version because she has a crazy, gnarly voice. I think the thing with criticism is the more you think about it and the more you let it effect you, the more it manipulates your aesthetic decisions. You're not really an artist at that point. I know by making this record, people were not going to like it, but I don't care. I don't want to make music like The Blood Brothers anymore. That's why The Blood Brothers isn't a band anymore. It's a blessing and a curse to have this shadow of a thing that everybody really liked.
I am 50/50 on Halogram Jams. I adored Take me to the sea and was so excited for a follow up in the same vein. Songs like Polaroids, everything is awesome, and Cherry soda are cool but songs like I started a fire and Evaline are horrible.
Even their good songs are repetitive though and not quite as good as Bats Over The Pacific Ocean.
So glad I saw the blood brothers before they split. Was at one of the shows in Australia he was talking about - it was weird, wasn't long after the first album had come out, and they played like 2 songs off it and the rest was all new stuff. Hope to catch them again soon and see how the new album goes.
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