Thursday, November 19, 2009

CB Q/A #25: Josh Jones of Evangelicals

I've been blogging about the upcoming Evangelicals show all week long now - actually, even longer, since I started talking about it last week. By this point, if you've been following along, you know the deal with the poster series, you know about how great both these bands sound, you know how thoughtful and interesting the lead dude from opening act Holiday Shores is, I don't need to rehash.

Instead, I'm gonna give you some insight into the mind of Josh Jones, the main man behind the dreamy fuzzy psych soul grandiosity that is Evangelicals. Actually, I'm not gonna do it, I'm gonna let him do it himself.

Continuing with the wonderful series of CB Q/A interviews I've been fortunate enough to have conducted, I chatted with Jones the other day while he was driving from a gig in DC to one in Philly. We had a great chat - almost an hour long at the end - and before getting into the meat of the interview (and trust me, there is some deep-thinking red meat in store for you, steak and lots of it) we chatted about things like the failed Browns season (our conversation took place on Tuesday and began with him offering his condolences about the MNF performance), Big 12 football (he's a Sooner man through and through, whereas I did my grad schooling at Texas A&M), the best bars in Philadelphia, how awesome pro sports luxury boxes are on those rare occasions when regular members of the hoi polloi like us are able to sit in them, and his affection for the Thunder (though to be honest, reflecting back on our conversation, I can't remember if he means this Thunder team or this one!).

We also spent a lot of time talking about the band's upcoming album, to be released next year, his thoughts on rock critics and art scenes, and he came up with the best ever answer to what his dream bill would be for Evangelicals to play onstage with. Check it out, and be sure to watch the video from the band's recent European tour, set to the sounds of "Party Crashin'" off 2008's tremendous The Evening Descends.

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Walters for Spin.)

1) One of the things I often wonder about is how a band’s community shaped their development. Oklahoma isn’t exactly Brooklyn or Portland, yet it certainly has its fair share of bold-faced indie band names. How has your scene, such as it may be, influenced your art?

My thoughts on scenes and how they work and all that is that they are all the same, in the sense that they all have the same sort of wellspring. Whether you are talking Brooklyn, Portland, Austin, Oklahoma, Liverpool, whatever, it isn’t so much that there is this mystical fog in the air and everyone breathes it in and decides to get creative all at that same time. Usually, in my opinion, you have 2, 3, 50 highly motivated people that happen to be in the same place in the same time, and that is usually what gets the ball rolling. They begin to do stuff and accomplish things and other people can look at it and say “oh, that’s how you do this” and sometimes that’s all it takes.

When you are growing up in a small town, you don’t know what is out there, and a lot of times it takes your older brother or your sister’s boyfriend or someone who just knows a little more about what is out there to show you the way.

With a scene, if one band gets signed or goes on tour, all the other bands don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do what that other band did. So whatever scene that we came out of, there were these other bands making records and going on tour and we were observing them and saying, “Hey, we can do this, too.”

It is not so much that people are hanging out at the same crazy parties and getting together and jamming. It’s not quite like that, at least for us. Maybe that’s the way it is in other places. For us, we were working hard and other bands were working hard and that’s the scene right there. I think scenes are most enjoyed and talked about by people from outside rather than those people that are supposedly in one.

But certainly there are infrastructures that have to be present in order to move forward. A good record store and a good venue provide young bands access to information to a world they may not have known existed. Having these kinds of cultural centers to build on is what makes going forward possible.

2) Your last two records have received very strong critical support. To what extent does that shape what you do for your next album?

Criticism of any kind can go both ways. If the critics like what you are doing (or don’t), both can be double-edged swords.

If they love you and you aren’t careful, you can sit around and say “I’m fucking awesome” and you can get an inflated ego and go around acting like a jerk and get lazy, which, of course, can have negative repercussions.

On the flip side, if everyone tells you your art/music/movies are no good, you can say to yourself, “What’s the point of going on? Everyone hates what I do, I’ll just spare myself and my friends who support me the embarrassment and just call it a day.”

So they both can hurt you if you aren’t careful. I think that certainly artists and bands pay attention them because they have to, because if you get a good review you use it to get shows and sell records, but paying too much attention to it is something to be wary of. Because if you are making music or art so that people will praise you or to be cool or whatever, you are probably setting yourself up for an emotional meltdown sometime. You are gonna make a bad record eventually, and you have to have a solid emotional foundation at that moment so that doesn’t completely knock you off your tracks.

So I say pay attention to the critics and use what they say to help your band do what it needs to do, but I don’t think you use that to make yourself feel good or give yourself value or worth. And you try to keep going and make art. That’s what you do. That’s your job.

If you don’t believe in what you do and critics say you’re shit, then you’re gonna start chasing your tail at that point, and that’s no way to be, so you gotta do what you do, work hard at it, and if you fail, you fail on your own terms, and you don’t feel like you sold out or watered down. I think if artistic change is coming from a positive and true place, the artist will be resilient no matter what.

3) What bands do you listen to? Old? New?

A lot of this woman Betty Davis, a funk artist from the 70s who was briefly married to Miles Davis. This label Light in the Attic just reissued two more of her records and they are great.

I’ve been listening to this metal band Bathory, particularly a record called Hammerheart. For anyone listening to metal, that’s a classic one. They are Norweigian metal pioneers from the 80s.

Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B singles, specifically early 90s New Jack R&B; not necessarily artistic specific, but just a lot of singles from that era.

What else? As always, David Bowie. Station to Station.

4) If you could dream up an dream bill for Evangelicals to play on, what would it be?

[Long pause] That … is a … good question. I mean, are we talking alive or dead? Active or retired?

CB: It is your fantasy, man.

To make it easier on my brain, let’s make it active artists, so I can begin to whittle it down.

How about this lineup:

-Antony and the Johnsons backed by Kronos Quartet.
-Sinead O’Connor coming out of retirement or whatever she’s doing these days and bring the Revolution out of retirement and have Sinead fronting the Revolution for like two songs.
- Scott Walker singing over the top of a high school drum corps

CB: Wow. I’d pay a lot of money to see that show.

Yeah, me too.

5) What do you think about playing covers? Any songs/artists you’d love to cover down the road?

Playing covers is a great thing, it absolutely helps you become better as a band. Usually, when a band is playing their own original material, they only ever learn to play stuff that they’ve written, so to learn how to stretch the mind, playing covers is a great exercise. It is a great way to go about learning how other bands do things, make up their songs. It is also a chance to reinterpret songs, and if you look at any of the great bands out there, they’ve all done lots of covers. I figure they were doing it for a reason and that’s probably because it is a good way to learn.

Right now, we are covering a Bowie song called “Be My Wife” and also some nights we do this Echo and the Bunnymen song, “The Cutter.” Last year, we covered “I Put A Spell on You,” as well as a Bjork song.

I’d like to cover some Patty Smith tunes, and this song called “Dreamer” by Tiny Vipers – there are a lot of things out there I’d love to cover. That song “Lady in the Radiator” from Eraserhead, the Pixies also covered it, and any number of Van Morrison songs. One of my favorite bands growing up was Chainsaw Kittens; there are a bunch of their songs we’ll get around to cover one of these days.

6) What’s life on tour like? Anything special you do to break up the monotony or enjoy time when you are in certain cities?

Tour is pretty busy, especially with the way we tour. We stay at friends’ houses and with people we meet at venues to save money, and also so we meet people and don’t get isolated. Trying to find a place to crash after a show is a great way to get to know a city and to experience the things you want to do even before you go on the tour, those experiences that remind you that you are a rock and roll band. Part of the whole point is to have fun and to live an accelerated life that is fun and interesting. Having said that, we stay busy and have a sort of complicated live set-up, so a lot of the time is filled with setting up and sound checking and just driving.

A real positive thing about touring is that it gives you a lot of time to listen to music, in some cases stuff you’ve been trying to find time to listen to for a long time. It is kind of hard to get into new stuff when you are home, listening to stuff you already love and keeping up with new material when you sit down at your computer, but you are able to listen and pay attention to things in a different way when you are cruising down the road. There have been times when I’ve said, “I really want to check out this band, or this genre,” and you have the chance to listen to several albums in a row in a way you never would have been able to before.

7) I saw that cryptic “from the desk of” video that your label released. My appetite is totally whetted. What’s next?

The new record is more metal for sure. Of course, our last record was no metal, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a heavy metal record, but I think that there are going to be heavy metal things, both musically and lyrically, explored on the new record.

8) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?

Yeah! For sure. We played a Barack Obama rally in Cleveland in early 2008 when it was still the primary season. We were on this weird bill, with Arcade Fire in the big room and we were in the small room, so I always tell folks we played a show with Arcade Fire.

We are all big political junkies, so even being peripherally involved with that election was awesome for us. We also got to hang out with Win after the show and he was super nice. That was cool.

For the love of all that is holy and, better yet, unholy, will you please make up your mind to see these guys live on Saturday already? Did you read these answers? Or these? These dudes are thoughtful, cool, and rock!

In case you were fuzzy on the details, Evangelicals and Holiday Shores will be playing the best room for rock in all of America, the Beachland Tavern, on Saturday night. Doors are at 8, tickets are $7, and if you are thinking about stopping down a little earlier, please do! I'll be screening one of the best movies in the world, The River's Edge, at Low Life Gallery, just a block down Waterloo, at about 7:30. You don't want to sleep on any of this.

And if you liked this Q&A, consider checking out others I've down with musicians like Tim Rutili (Califone), Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, Menomena), Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Neutral Milk Hotel), Paleface, Seth Olinsky (Akron/Family), Eddie Argos (Art Brut), Andrew Kenny (Wooden Birds, American Analog Set), Andrew McKeag (The Presidents of the United States of America), Ken Seeno (Ponytail), Frank Funaro (Cracker), Brandon Welchez (Crocodiles), Nathan Pemberton (Continental Divide, Holiday Shores), Clare Manchon (Clare & the Reasons), Nicole Atkins (Nicole Atkins & the Sea), Cale Parks (Aloha, White Williams), Jesse Elliot (These United States), James Elkington (The Horse's Ha, The Zincs), Matt Drenik (Lions), Lawrence Daniel Caswell (This Moment In Black History, National Suicide Day), J.R. Bennett (Unsparing Sea), and Leia Hohenfeld (Afternoon Naps).

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