-Words by Mark Alvarez, Web Editor
-Photo and audio by Janelle Abad, Assistant Music Director
Austin has done it again — bringing a variety of grade-A performances at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. With names like Judas Priest, Wiz Khalifa and Alt-J gracing the line-up this year, this autumn arts festival rivals others, like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. The lively three-day festival featured a diverse range of artists, performers and bands, like Dallas Green of City and Colour, comedian Rachel Bloom, SOHN, SZA, Adam and Zoe of ASTR, Dum Dum Girls, Iceage, Modest Mouse, Deafheaven and Sky Ferreira.
KTSW’s Janelle Abad was able to speak with guitarist Andrew Low of The Jazz June at the festival. Low described his festival experience as a “trip down memory lane” and got to speak about The Jazz June’s upcoming album “After the Earthquake,” comparing it to the band’s earlier album “Medicine.”
Abad also spoke with comedian Rachel Bloom, who took time to tell KTSW about her role in Showtime’s upcoming musical show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The show was shot this past summer, directed and executive produced by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer,” “The Amazing Spiderman”), and will feature a 1940’s musical number and an R&B music video in the pilot alone.
Fun Fun Fun Fest’s blend of art, humor and music provided Austin with color that will only shape its image into one of the country’s most thriving arts cities.With many still calling Austin “the live music capitol of the world,” it is clear that Fun Fun Fun Fest is a part of that.
Janelle Abad: So how has your Fun Fun Fun Fest experience been thus far?
Andrew Low: It’s been pretty crazy ’cause we flew in on Wednesday night really late, then the next day we had rehearsal during the day, because I live in London and the rest of the guys live in Philly, so the only time we can practice is when I’m in the same country as them. So we practiced that day, then played the gig, stayed out really late and then one of our friends, who we’re staying with is actually working here, so we had to get here at like 10 a.m. We were obviously out late, hungover, here in the sun, watching music all day long and then back again today.
The weird thing is I’ve seen people here from my high school; bands that I haven’t played with in 20 years are here, so every time I’m walking around I’ll run into someone and I’ll be like, “Hey! Do you remember me from you know, back in the day?” So it’s been really really fun. Yeah, it’s just like one of those things because one of the guys I went to high school with is in a band called the Spider Bags, who just put out a record on Merge, and they’ve been playing all over the place. I saw that we were both playing the festival, randomly, and was like “Awh, I haven’t seen them in like 10 years,” but he’s touring and I’m living in London now. Then when he showed up, two other dudes from my high school that I didn’t even know lived here showed up, and I haven’t seen them for 20 years. It’s been a totally weird trip down memory lane. And even meeting some people from bands that we haven’t played with since the year 2000 is just like, “Hey, do you remember that one show in New York City, in this one place?” and it’s like, “Oh yeah, of course,” which makes it fun, you know what I mean?
JA: After your last album “2000,” in what ways is “After The Earthquake” going to be similar to that sound in comparison?
AL: Well, it probably sounds a bit more like one of our albums called “The Medicine,” which wasn’t the last one, but it’s the one where we kind of worked toward in the first seven years of our band, [when] we were honing our sound, and I think with that one we kind of captured the best version of what we were trying to accomplish. After that, we did a bunch of touring and wanted to make some sort of crazy experimental album. We did that with this album called “Better Off Without Air,” and that was our last one — that was in 2003. What some people don’t realize is that it’s been such a long time that actual recording technology has changed. Like think about the phone you had 12 years ago to now, it’s totally different. As far as the sound of the recordings, they sound so much different because it’s cleaner, it’s easier to get better recordings for cheap, whereas before you had to get a really huge, expensive studio to get great sound but now you can get it from simpler equipment.
I think generally, the sound of the recordings is a bit more modern sounding because of the equipment we’re using, but because of the way we write songs I’ll be in London and I’ll record a guitar and vocal and send it to the guitarist, and he’ll record something — we kind of like don’t just sit there and jam out and write these really long, complicated songs because we’re not physically there. All of the songs are like three minutes long, whereas before it was an average of five minutes per song because we would really riff out on this one part, and it’s great. Now it’s just like right online so you don’t have that kind of opportunity to jam out, which I really like because I’ve never really been a huge “jam-band” dude. I just wanna write tight, cool, easy songs that people like and can listen to on a night out and have fun, as opposed to some deep, intricate thing. But that’s just where I’m at right now. Talk to me in five years and I might want to write some experimental jazz odyssey album. Now I’m just like I want to go out and have a good time, and I want to write music that’s energizing and not draining people away.
Having said that, it’s not really pop-y, but I guess compared to our previous stuff, it’s just a bit more upbeat? I don’t know what the word is, that’s a horrible way to describe it, but I think that’s what we really wanted to do with this album: just write a tight, good, solid album and cut out all of the fluff and all the jamming and stuff and just focus on having really good, sharp songs.
JA: With that being said, what has inspired the lyrics for this new album?
AL: I think a lot of it had to do with nostalgia and remembering the band when we first started playing till now because when I first started to work on new songs for The Jazz June, the same time we were doing some shows in the states, like Philly, New York, CMJ and things like that, so I had to relearn all those songs. I’m sure it’s the same thing with you; you know when you listen to a song it just brings you back to a time and place? Like I remember, I was 17, I was living here, I remember sitting on my bed listening to this song and it was really that way for me when I was relearning the old songs. I think that kind of carried over into the new songs; we were kind of thinking about all of those thoughts and emotions you have at the time.
Also, since I’ve been in London for the past eight years, the London riots was a huge sort of, well, just a situation that happened that makes you kind of reflect. I’m not like “this song is about the London riots,” it’s kind of like ideas that sort of come from different big events in your life that have happened. Again, moving to London and being in a whole new country, and new people, it was a totally different scene than what I used to be in. It’s a lot of “where was I then, where am I now and where do I want to go?” It’s like that very introspective stuff, which hopefully it’s not too deep in my head so people can understand it as I’m writing the lyrics for it.
JA: When you’re writing songs do you keep the audience more in mind or do you write to release?
AL: I think initially when we first started writing songs (because this is the first band that I actually sang and wrote lyrics for) I was 18 . I’m 38 now. It’s been a long process of learning how to have an actual emotion, something you feel that’s worth singing about, whether it’s something you think you can relate to someone else, like a hardship that you’ve gone through, or a positive thing that you want to share with people and be like, “Hey man, things aren’t so bad; let’s look at the positive side of things,” to frustrations you have.
When I first started off, I was very much writing in a code that only I could understand. Now, I’m still getting those emotions out, but I feel like this is worthy of speaking about. I don’t want to write a song about waking up, and going to work and going to sleep, you know? Now I try to write more of where people can understand the themes a little bit better. It takes a lot of work to take thought in your head and make it into a sentence that makes sense to someone else that doesn’t know you. I think lyrically, it’s a bit more upfront and honest about what I’m talking about, whereas before I was like, “Oh, I don’t want them to know what I’m talking about. I’m just gonna make it sound kinda weird.”
The whole “After The Earthquake” title comes from a theme that goes through a lot of the songs, which is figuring out how to move on after some crazy, life changing thing, which could be good, bad or otherwise. Every one of us in the band has had these things happen to us. They all have three kids each, I moved to another country, I’m now having a kid, they’ve had things happen to them, good or bad, and we all sort of lived through 9/11 — you kinda just kinda try to take something positive from them, even if it’s a bad thing or a good thing and just kinda go, “Okay, what was the significance of this?”
JA: Like the light at the end of the tunnel?
AL: It doesn’t necessarily have to be a really positive thing, but you kind of have to reflect on it and kinda go: “How am I going to now move on with my life after this has happened and try to make the best of the situation,” or, “Wow this is great, how do I maintain this positive feeling?”because sometimes that’s hard. It’s not like we’re trying to write some self-help album for depressed people, but I guess it’s just sort of the band itself . We’ve been together for 20 years, you can’t help but to reference these crazy things that have happened.
JA: So you just performed at CMJ. How has coming back to the live scene been?
AL: It’s really hit or miss for us because we don’t get to practice very often. Also, now we’re playing clubs that all have sound systems and a sound guy. We used to just play in a room with all our amps and a vocal PA. So now, if like Justin’s there, my guitar amp is over there, so we’ve got to tell the sound guy there to make my amp louder than the bass that’s sitting right next to him. Sometimes it can work out great, but sometimes it can be a disaster where the drummer can’t hear anything but the bass and himself and he can’t hear the lyrics. Because we don’t have our own sound guy we’re not very used to an environment where we can’t just all hear each other. When it’s right, it’s great, but even if we sound good it’s like ah, I just couldn’t get into it because of the stage set up and stuff.
We played a show the other night with Mineral, there were like 700 people there and it was all a bit shaky, but the thing is, these are all the things that in the band, we know. But no one else knows, so it’s just kinda like a really self-reflective thing.
JA: But I think that’s part of the beauty of live shows; you get to see the realness of the music, rather than it being pristine.
AL: Even like Dinosaur Jr. last night; amazing band, love every song [but] the sound was kinda s***, and it was like “this is weird…,” but it made me feel better, like we’re not the only ones. I’m not comparing us to Dinosaur Jr., but they’ve been around for just as long. Some nights, it just doesn’t work, you know?
Sometimes I try overcompensate by being animated on stage and that becomes a thing that makes it fun, you know? Like, okay, the sound’s s***, but I’m just gonna go for it and go nuts, and it makes it fun. I think we all at a really early age in the band realized that you have to be interesting on stage or what’s the point? I hate going to see bands who just sit there. It’s like how am I going to get into your music if you’re not into it? You have to be the most into it, and I’ll hear a song that I want to dance to because I see you doing it.
When you’re in a band, the most fun part is playing live. Recording is fun but it’s stressful, and you’ve got everything perfect, but live you just have to have fun with it. You could be on a tour for six months and every night is the same, but you’re also like, “I’ve got 20 more of these ahead of me and 10 behind me, it doesn’t matter if I messed up one song.”
JA: Has working on other musical projects in between this album and the previous album influenced the band’s sound in any way?
AL: Yeah, I think so. Like I was saying before, my friend in the Spider Bags in between The Jazz June 2003 and now, I played a lot with him and another friend of ours, Greg, and they were much more garage-rock, almost country-ish kind of stuff, like old-school blues stuff, like Waylon Jennings. A lot of that music is very basic in song structures, but it’s got key sounds to it, like the guitar twang or something like that. I think I brought a lot of that kind of sound into the new Jazz June stuff. But, as I would play a part in a certain way to Justin our drummer, he would be like, “Can we make that less country and more Superchunk, more ’90’s?” And I’d be like okay, cool, so then you both come together with an idea. Dan, he’s more into Chicago-y, Stereolab, kind of bass-y kind of thing; Bryan, he plays guitar sort of like bend-y, lead-y, Dinosaur Jr., Jay Macis kind of stuff. So I think all of our influences come together at a certain common ground where I might say, “I want this to sound like Waylon Jennings,” “I want it to sound like Radiohead” and then somehow “how about it sounds like Yo La Tengo?” “Yeah, cool!”
JA: Make a love child out of all of those?
AL: Yeah, exactly! I like having things change. If I were to write a song and play the drum part to it, it would be very simple. But if I bring it to Justin, our drummer, same with guitar or bass, they do something that I would have never thought of and it just makes it sound better. I don’t care what direction it goes into, we’re all happy.
You have to be interested in the music you’re playing and want to play it over and over again. That’s really what it becomes. As soon as you put out an album, you’re f*****; you’ve got to play those songs maybe for the next 20 years, so you better enjoy them and better make them the best that they can be.
JA: Where can we follow more of The Jazz June?
AL: We’re pretty active on Facebook and Twitter. There’s also the Top Shelf website that always has the newest songs, and straight-up you can buy a shirt and CD here. We’re always on Twitter and Facebook, mostly. I mean, today someone who had said, “I’m coming to Fun Fun Fun Fest to see The Jazz June,” and then a few hours later I was like, “Hey, let’s go meet for a beer,” so we met up and had a beer. It’s a really cool thing in the modern age of music — you can connect with your fans because they’re people you’d want to hang out with anyway. So yeah, we’re pretty active on Twitter and Facebook… until it changes to the next thing.
Stream The Jazz June’s new album, “After The Earthquake,” on Top Shelf’s Soundcloud