With 2014 coming to a close, it’s safe to say it’s been a year full of reunions and new music from old favorites. With the release of their new album After the Earthquake following a split with Dikembe, The Jazz June proved they are still a force to be reckoned with. Last month, I caught up with frontman Andrew Low to talk about the writing and recording process, their new sound, and the fate of the emo genre. Huge thanks to Andrew for taking the time to chat!
The Garden Statement: You guys stopped playing music as The Jazz June back in the early 2000s, started back up again in 2013, and then had a split come out at the beginning of this year. What prompted you guys to released music again as The Jazz June?
Andrew Low: We’ve actually been talking about it since 2006. We stopped playing officially in 2000 and we got back together for a string of benefit shows for our roadie in 2006. Ever since then, we were like ‘Hey, this is a lot of fun. Let’s get back together and play some new music.’ But, at that time, I was moving to London and Bryan had his third child, his daughter, so life kind of got in the way. It wasn’t until 2012 that we were actually like ‘Okay, guys. We’ve been talking about writing new music for six years. Let’s make it happen.’
At the time, we all figured out how to record music on our laptops because, you know, before you needed a whole studio to record an album but nowadays, you just need a microphone and a laptop. It’s the technology being a lot cheaper and six years of slacking off, but finally being like ‘If we are going to do it, let’s do it now.’ We had a Facebook page and we put out a post that said we were thinking about recording some new music. The guys from Topshelf got in touch and said ‘oh, we would like to hear it.’ So we sent them some demos and they invited us to play their CMJ showcase last year. It all just happened like that, a bit of a random occurrence of things that lead to us getting back together, playing some shows, and then recording an album. It started because we wanted to work on new songs but we never imagined we would actually have a record label put it out. We thought we would record it ourselves and put it on Bandcamp or something.
TGS: This time around, did you do the writing together or was it more of digitally sending clips of what everyone had back and forth to each other?
AL: The demos, it was just sending stuff – at the time, Bryan was in North Carolina. Dan and Justin were in Philly, and I was in London. We were sending each other little recordings off iPhones and stuff we recorded on laptops. But we recorded it all to Click Track, which keeps everyone in time. So I could record a guitar part, send it to Justin to record drums, and then we could put it all together and mix it. Those were the early demos. We were able to work on songs to the point where, when we finally got to the studio, we had 75% of an outline for a song. Then, we got to the studio and worked it out. We were able to record them as a complete song at that point. With any recording, it’s not actually finished until you press record and are forced to make decisions. But, up until that point, we had about two years of working on the songs to get them to their completed point.
TGS: So let’s talk about the new music that has been released. To move chronologically, there was the split with Dikembe that was released via Tiny Engines and Topshelf Records. How did that split come about? Why did you choose this split specifically as your way to come back?
AL: As I said, Bryan was living in North Carolina and lived down the street from the guys who do the Tiny Engines label. When we first started talking about putting out new music, he was talking to them and would go hang out with them, get a beer and stuff. The Topshelf guys got in touch with us around the same time. At that point, we are talking to both labels and the guys from Tiny Engines said ‘This band Dikembe would really like to do a split with you.’ I guess they knew our music from back in the day. I hadn’t heard them, but when we started to listen to them, they sounded really cool, really liked their sound. We decided it would be an appropriate thing – it’s always better to have two labels working on something than one. We just dipped our toes back into the music world with a band that we liked, that was new but still playing solid music that was kind of like what we were doing back in the day.
TGS: Well the split was very cohesive. The tracks from both bands worked very well together.
AL: Yeah, I really liked their song too. When they sent us their song, we genuinely really liked [it]. We had recorded a few songs that we just thought would be an EP or just demos. But when they sent their song, we really liked it and automatically took the best song from the recording session and used that for the split.
TGS: That track was “Over Underground.” So the first time we heard it was one the split with Dikembe released in May. It’s also the lead-off track for the new album you guys just put out, After the Earthquake.
AL: That’s a funny one too because the guy who produced our album is Evan Weiss from Into It. Over it. We had fifteen songs we could’ve potentially put on the album. He was basically like ‘Let’s do ‘Over Underground’ again, but I think you should do it in a new way – faster, a bit different vocals.’ I guess he just really liked the song. He thought he could have us do it in a different way and that’s why it ended up on the album. I think it was a good choice. I like both versions. It’s a great way to open the album.
TGS: How was it working with Evan Weiss? He is a pretty big name when it comes to today’s emo genre.
AL: It was cool. He is a bit younger than us but not too much younger. He grew up in South Jersey as well so he knew a lot of the same bands we knew from the old punk and hardcore days, the early days of the emo scene or whatever. When we got into the studio with him, we would say we wanted the same guitar sound from some obscure album from 1998. He knew exactly what we were talking about. It ended up being a really good fit for someone who was up on the new – we were very old school in the way we used to do things. Everything we used to do when we recorded albums is on these big tape machines with these big consoles. The way you record now is all through computers. He is very much familiar with the new way of recording. He helped bring us in to the modern day and held our hands all the way. We were like ‘we don’t want to use all these new computers. We want to do it old school.’ But he helped us realize that we could actually get good sounds with new equipment.
TGS: While we are talking about sound in general, the albums The Jazz June put out in the 90’s had a lot more raw fuzz to them. There was a bit more angst, and the post-hardcore influences were a lot more prevalent. This new album is a little more smooth and melodic. Did you purposely try to pull away from the sound earlier in your career or was this a natural evolution of sound?
AL: I think it was a combination of a few things. I think A) the recording used back then – that was 12 years ago. Think about the TV you had 12 years ago or the cell phone you didn’t even have. Cell phones were the huge, bulky, massive things and they didn’t sound great. Now, you’ve got this tiny, little iPhone that sounds great and really crisp and clear. I think that is very similar to the recording equipment, where it was very big and bulky and hummy and buzzy. There was a lot of hiss in there from the tape you were recording to. Now, the digital stuff is very clean. It’s easy to get everything where there isn’t a lot of background noise and things like that, from a technical perspective.
As far as the songs themselves are concerned, in the break we had – the 12 years off, we all still played music and, myself particularly, really worked at writing songs. I wasn’t playing with bands. I was sitting in my room with an acoustic guitar, working on songs and figuring out how the verse goes into the chorus and the bridge and those kinds of things, as opposed to being in a loud practice room, where you are shouting over a drum set because it’s really loud. It really affects the way that your songs turn out because if you’re in a rehearsal room playing with a loud band versus in your bedroom with an acoustic guitar, it’s going to turn out totally different. There’s different things that you’re focusing on when you’re writing songs. Also, when we were nineteen writing the record, we were very much coming from a punk rock/hardcore background. We were into that raw, heavy stuff, as opposed to now, where we probably listen to – we will still listen to that stuff, or I mean I do – but we listen to a whole lot different kind of music and there are a lot more influences coming into it.
TGS: You guys released a music video not too long ago for the title track off After the Earthquake. The cinematography was absolutely stunning. Who came up with the idea? Tell us a little bit about making this video.
AL: That was actually one of the coolest things that’s ever happened for the band. Like I said, we had been putting out Facebook posts about everything that we’re doing. One day, we got this email from this guy Eric Bader, who is an amazing cinematographer/video producer out in LA. He just said ‘Hey guys. I really like your band. I’ve liked you for a long time and I’d like to do a music video for you for free.’ And we’re like ‘Yeah, okay!’ He showed us his demo reel and – oh my god. He produced some really incredible work already. He’s done some stuff for Pissed Jeans, and he’s done some actual movies. The guy is an actual professional. So we were like ‘Yes, please! Do whatever you want.’ We sent him the album and said ‘we are leaning toward the song ‘After the Earthquake,’ but I’d like you to pick whatever song you think you have a vision for.’
He ended up doing ‘After the Earthquake’ because he got the same feeling off of it that we did. I mean, he has professional actors! The girl who stars in the video has been in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and all these shows. It’s this crazy thing where you’re like ‘I don’t know why you’re doing this, but thank you so much.’ This is the thing and again, this is comparing now to the early part of The Jazz June. It used to cost a million dollar to make a music video. But now, all you need is some good camera equipment and a laptop and you can make an amazing quality video for free, as long as you own the equipment. I guess that’s saying something again about the technology.
TGS: So the last thing I have for – looking back on the emo genre as a whole, this year especially, we’ve seen a whole bunch of emo bands from the 90’s come back with albums, reunion tours, and the like. Did that impact the way that you wanted to release this new album or the timing of this release at all?
AL: As a band, personally, it didn’t. To be totally honest, it might have affected Topshelf, our record label. We are definitely in a different situation than bands like American Football and Mineral coming back. They just sold out three nights at Bowery Ballroom. They’re definitely a lot bigger band. They’ve had a huge impact on the scene, and their records have done probably a lot better. They probably got back together because people were just like ‘Dude, if you go to New York City, you’re gonna get 3,000 people at your show.’ And for any musician, it’s like ‘buy me a ticket. I’ll be there.’ You obviously want to play to as many people as possible. We are in a slightly different position where we got back together because we just really wanted to play and write new music. That’s kind of how it started. At the same time, I think that this kind of music – this emo revival – I think it’s probably, how you were touching on earlier, it’s more of a media thing. These bands have been around. Evan from Into It. Over It. has been touring since 2003. There’s a bit more attention being paid to it.
At the same time, when I was down in Texas and we played with Knapsack and Mineral, I was sitting there, listening to these bands and just thinking ‘This is just really, really good music.’ At the time, I think it started from a post-punk, hardcore thing, but it turned into something that combined the best parts of a lot of different kinds of music. Certain people just really latch on to that. I think right now, people are just noticing again this kind of music is just really – I am not even including The Jazz June in it because, like I said, there’s some other bands that are a lot bigger and a lot more people like. It was just a really cool time in the history of whatever, punk rock, that people were taking a bunch of elements and different sounds and putting it together in a new way that people are really psyched about. I think that’s just happening again.
When we played in Brooklyn a few weeks ago for CMJ, a lot of the people who were watching us were probably between 18 and 25 years old. That’s when people are really the most into music because you’re either out of your parent’s house, you’re able to go to shows later or whatever, or maybe you’ve got jobs and can afford to do it, or maybe you just got a car and can go see bands. That’s when I was the most into music. Everything comes in circles and I think the people who are really into going to shows and into music right now are probably at the same age as we were when we were starting the band, just really connecting to that sound. It’s not pop music, where the lyrics are all just about partying. People are singing about intimate personal experiences, and it’s things that people can relate to. I just think it’s a style of music that will always be relevant because there’s a lot of substance to it.
TGS: Definitely, that was very well-said. That’s all I have for you. Is there anything you want to end this with: final comments, messages to fans?
AL: We’ve got a few shows on the East Coast coming up. On December 27, we are playing Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. Then, we go down to DC to play a show at a place called DC9 on the 28th. Then, we are playing in Boston on January 2nd and playing two shows on January 3rd. One is a matinee, which is all ages, and one is at night, which I guess is 21 and over, at the Boot and Saddle in Philly. So any in the vicinity, we will be playing a couple shows just after Christmas. Again, the new album is out on Topshelf Records, called After the Earthquake. You can listen to it on Spotify or YouTube or iTunes. You can buy the download. We’ve also got a lot of cool vinyl colors that it’s come out on so if you’re into that, then definitely check it out. I think it’s little to a thousand press so it’ll be gone. If you’re a vinyl freak, you’ll probably want to check it out.
Another big thanks to Andrew for the interview! Check out the links below to check out The Jazz June on social media, pick up some cool vinyl, and buy tickets to their upcoming East Coast shows.
Brooklyn – December 27th
Washington D.C. – December 28th
Boston – January 2nd
Philadelphia – January 3rd