Want to know their secrets to musical success? Their thoughts on the flourishing DC music scene? What life on the road is really like for an up-and-coming band? Ask them anything. If these groups’ lively music and charismatic stage presences count for anything, their answers are going to be pretty great.
That's' all the time Le Loup, These United States, and Jukebox the Ghost have for us today. Thanks for all the questions, and thanks to the bands for chatting! Our next music chat will be Travis Morrison this Friday; submit your question for him in advance here.
Tommy from Jukebox the Ghost: No.
Sam from Le Loup: that depends on how you're using the term 'sweet.' if you mean it in an 'awww, that's sweet' type of way... one time i saw a chimpanzee cuddling a kitten on a rainy day, and it warmed the cockles of my heart ALMOST as much as jim's mustache does. or do you mean it in more of a 'wow, that's a rad mustache' sense? because this other time i saw barack obama ride a wild grizzly bear through a flaming hoop, set over ten junked cars (also flaming), and jim's mustache is twice sweeter than that. so... i guess the answer is no, no matter how you cut it, there's nothing sweeter than jim's 'stache.
Jesse from These United States: that's true about Barack Obama. hope! unfortunately, Sam neglected to consider my beard. my beard will duel with Jim's mustache at high noon on Wednesday. unless Jim's mustache is busy. in which case, Jim, have your mustache's secretary call my beard's secretary, and we'll see if we can't work something out.
Jesse from TUS: I could easily have Sam Simkoff killed. if that is what you mean by Underground Network, then Yes. Sam, please remember this next time you answer a question about what is sweeter than Jim's mustache. in all seriousness, as in any place, it seems to me that there are two dozen different intermingled scenes. Tom and I hang a lot with the whole Gypsy Eyes and Federal Reserve crowd, except when they're busy quitting our band. which is every 4 or 5 days. you can usually find us all in some form or another at Iota or the Black Cat or when we wanna get away from live music (who in live music doesn't wanna get away from live music every once in a while?) at Pharmacy Bar or around a campfire at Josh Read's house. sometimes I see Jamie of Greenland on a random street corner, and we perform a secret handshake and move swiftly on, without a word being spoken.
Tom from TUS: I think bands in general are pretty friendly people - and given the amount of musical cross-pollination going on right now in DC, it seems like everyone is somehow loosely involved with everyone else's projects. Which makes people extra friendly. There is also a secret handshake involving sending Jesse Elliott a Friend Request while making the sign of Jim's mustache. In Rondo form.
Jesse from TUS: I think Sam was drunk when it happened, and he's probably drunk right now as he's answering this question. don't trust Sam's answers. clearly Le Loup and These United States played together at SXSW. I think there's even photographic evidence of it on your website, if I'm not mistaken...
Tom from TUS: TUS and Le Loup have played together a few times here in DC...and we all keep sneaking into each other's bands. Sometimes Dan sets up his amp outside my house and funks out on bass into the wee hours of the morning. Its a little strange.
Tommy from Jukebox the Ghost: I've heard people say that about us before, but I try to remind people that we were a band for three years before we started playing successful shows, or even considered recording an album. It was good to have a few years to get ourselves together and write some good songs. So while it may seem like a very short trajectory to the outside world, we've been playing music together since early 2004. But as far as our progress in the last year goes, we've been incredibly lucky --- and the credit for all of that would have to go to our incredible manager, Seth Kallen. Hardest workin' man in the biz. We also made a deal with satan.
Sam from Le Loup: in our case, yeah, i feel like things moved pretty quickly. although, honestly, we have a long, long way to go. if you go on a national tour, and there are shows in several cities where there are thirty people in the audience? there's always another step to take. but yeah, that initial step is a big one. and i'm not entirely sure how to give a good answer to that question. i think maybe we're all sitting on the cusp of a new model for distribution, advertisement, etc. in the music biz. what with the internet being as big as it is these days (i mean, it's EVERYWHERE!), and technology both for recording music and putting it out on the internet being increasingly easy to procure and navigate, maybe bands just make it to a certain level faster. we certainly had a lot of help from our friends, initially, and our label eventually, and touring like a demon does wonders in general, i think, but the real kicker will generally be blogs and blogs and blogs. they now determine who's gonna be a buzz band, who's gonna be nothing, who's gonna be huge. look at what a pitchfork review will do for a band. a favorable one will cement you into the scene. a poor one will bury you. so in terms of initial national buzz, we owe a lot (or have to blame) the online community. the hard part these days isn't getting there. the hard and scary part is trying to figure out a way to stay there.
Jesse from TUS: we have been scraping and crawling and kicking and bleeding and begging and cheating and stealing and crying our way to the ...uh, where are we now, Tom? I think the "4th from the bottom" level... for the last 3 years now. there are only 42 levels in this game. shouldn't take too many more decades til we get to the top.
Tom from TUS: We made it to the 4th from the bottom rung? I'm going to celebrate by illegally downloading the Le Loup record again.
Tom from TUS: There are so many good locals at the moment - Le Loup and Jukebox the Ghost (and not just because they're reading this). Georgie James is great, and I've had the privilege of playing with Laura on a few of her solo sets, which are equally inspiring. Roofwalkers. Kitty Hawk. Vandaveer. John Bustine. Revival. Greenland. The list goes on and on...its a great time to be playing music in DC right now. Pick a venue. See a show - you'll be amazed.
National acts - I was amazed by how many great national bands we played with on our last tour. Its really humbling to realize how many good bands are out there - my favorites (in no order) The Triceratops, from Birmingham AL. The Peekers, Shreveport, LA. The Lisps, from Brooklyn. Musee Mechanique, from Portland. The Scourge of the Sea - Lexington, KY. Pretty and Nice, Boston. The Shot Heard Round the World, Brooklyn. And - Baltimore's own Wye Oak.
Jesse from TUS: Two Sheds. Rafter Roberts. The Childballads. Frightened Rabbit. WHY? David Dondero. Buck 65. Purr Bats. The Scourge of the Sea. Rachel Ries. The Cotton Jones Basket Ride. those're the CDs that're literally sitting on top of my CD player, waiting their turn in line - lots of the bands we played with along the way on this last tour. trading CDs with bands you play with is one of the most fun parts of playing music. except when those bands suck. or you suck. both of which is always a possibility. that is the risk you take. we live life on the Edge. this one guy we played with in the UK, in Manchester, calls Tom "The Ridge." because he looks like The Edge. that's amazingly funny.
Tommy from Jukebox: I'm LOVING Why?'s new album, "Alopecia" and These United States' new record. Those would definitely be my top two right now.
but you can't think of it on purely a profit-driven level. it'll forever and always drive you crazy. the artist is always the one that's traditionally screwed financially, right? before, it was record execs taking the big piece of the pie. now it's the fans. better the latter than the former, don't you think? and most of us (i like to believe) aren't in this for the paycheck anyway. we're in it because we want to share our music with people, because we think we have something to contribute. and on that level, it's an amazing form of distribution and promotion, and i'm just happy people love music and listen to it that much. it's unfortunate to our label, though, who we love very much, and, as a startup label, can't necessarily afford to take big hits.
Jesse from TUS: Sam is correct. except our album sales are different.
So I'm still learning to play pedal steel, but have reached this point mostly through the advice of my peers, the inspiration of my elders, and the supreme tolerance of my house mates.
Jesse from TUS: I don't believe there's EVER actually a specific "sound" to one particular place at one time. there's always many, many, MANY sounds - history just gets to decide what the most influential one was, and then slaps a tag on This Place at That Time. that used to take a couple decades to decide. now it seems to take 6 months. we'll say what Future Historians of Six Months From Now say about Our Times, I suppose.
Tommy from Jukebox: If the bands participating in the discussion today are any indication, there's definitely not a unified sound. But that's kind of a cool thing. It seems like a lot of the major rock bands in DC aren't working within the Dischord/Fugazi framework. It might have to do with the transient nature of DC residents --- I'm just taking a guess here, but it seems like a very small portion of people in DC bands right now actually grew up in the area.
Jesse from TUS: my favorite new band is The Cotton Jones Basket Ride. this changes every day, but today, that is they.
Tom from TUS: Favorite New Bands: The Tom Fun Orchestra (and not just for the name). They're Canadian. They're playing in Glasgow, Scotland tonight. If you're free.
I also love the Felice Brothers (unfairly trashed by Pitchfork). As an unrelated sidenote, Jesse now hates the Felice Brothers, as a result of it being the only record to be agreed upon in the traveling vehicle.
Tommy from Jukebox: We used to go under a different moniker, but a year and a half ago we decided to change our name. We were all brainstorming ideas and trying to think of good words to use. I was listening to Captain Beefheart's incoherent ramblings on the Zappa album "Bongo Fury" when I heard the word 'jukebox' -- Ben wanted 'ghost' in the title from the Nabokov novella 'Pnin'. And Jesse wanted us to be a 'the' band. So we sandwiched it in the middle. Kind of a lame story. I hear there's an episode of Happy Days that has something to do with a ghost in a jukebox, so feel free to use that explanation.
Jesse from TUS: to answer the question from the Jukebox the Ghost fan... Jukebox the Ghost stole its name from These United States, which used to, in its formative days, be called 'Jukebox the United States of American People Which is Awesome.' Jukebox called that whole idea ghastly, and a ghost was born.
Tommy: That's true. Way to call us out on our interview fib in public, Jesse GOSHHHHH. "Jukebox the United States of American People Which Is Awesome" was a major influence on our sound early on.
Sam from Le Loup: wait, who's got a job? how can i get one of those? i will take literally any job you offer me. any paying job. no questions asked.
music doesn't make us money. especially when there are seven people in the band. even if we get paid well for a gig, each individual cut might buy each person a sandwich at the end of the day. but a discount, day-old sandwich.
Tommy from Jukebox: Because we have less than half the number of people in our band, we can buy each person TWO day -old sandwiches when we're on the road.
Ben from Jukebox: I was actually raised on nothing but two day-old sandwiches. But honestly - i have piano students. or had them. but i have travelled so much i have lost them all. Except for one. That i am terminating this afternoon. In the business sense.
Tom from TUS: I'm the one in TUS currently employed. I'm lucky enough that my job (at a non-profit theater in DC) allows me to take my laptop on tour with me. Its a delicate balance - and I realize how lucky I am to be in the position. Although it'd be much nicer to just have a significant other who totally took care of me (I have no moral objections to being a kept man).
Tom from TUS: I played onstage wearing a pink muppet jacket once. Does that count? Jesse is also probably going to mention me in his response, i'm sure.
Jesse from TUS: all the Drama Queens of the DC scene work for These United States. seriously - come see a show some time! people quitting! amplifiers being dragged out into the street and hurled angrily! twelve drummers fighting! a partridge in a pear tree! etc!
Tommy from Jukebox: I think we can all vouch for this -- One time I saw These United States break up and reunite 5 times in one show.
Tom from TUS: Sidnote: It wasn't an "angry" amp-hurling. I mean, I guess I was angry. But it was also fun. In an angry sort of way. (I guess I just outed myself as a drama queen, huh?)
Jesse from TUS: I mean, I think EVERYbody has had a "real" job at SOME point, right? I started working when I was 13, at a video store. then for an auctioneer, furniture moving company, newspaper, library, international war crimes court, New Jersey deli. I've worked with the best and the worst of em. no difference, really. the world of music work is just an exaggerated version of all that. it's still a job, too, especially these days. it's funny that people often see it as such a separate world, even though it's integrally tied into our everyday lives. people work to run music venues. people work to hock stuff to Grey's Anatomy. people work to just record music, even if they don't do all that additional stuff with it. for better and for worse, we all still use USD when we go to the corner market for a day-old sandwich.
Sam from Le Loup: Q for jesse: what was tougher, working at an international war crimes court, or the deli? i mean, when you're working at an international war crimes court, i suspect you have to deal with all sorts of existential issues and tough political quandaries, but when you work at a deli... hoagies. heros. thousand island dressing? half-sours. discuss.
most of [Le Loup] had jobs before doing the band thing, yeah. only one of us managed to keep a job throughout our last two month tour. when you're going to be gone for that long at any given point in the year, it's hard to keep a steady, serious job. but you have to prioritize. it's so easy to think that once you're out of school, you need to buckle down and grow up. but we're still young, and there's no better time than drive around the country playing music than now. i want to ride that wave as long as it goes, and worry about money later.
Tommy from Jukebox: Right now, none of us in Jukebox have jobs. We've had to quit them all with our constant touring schedule. But as I said before, we manage to buy at least TWO day-old sandwiches for each band member, so that helps take some of the individual financial burden away.
Tom from TUS: As far as "revitalizing" the music scene: Half the musicians in this city are "in" These United States, and Sam employs the rest in Le Loup. I try to weasel my way into session work with the remaining stragglers. Jukebox the Ghost were actually about to be assimilated...so they packed up and split. We know where you live, guys.
Jesse from TUS: I really don't know. I wasn't here then. I do think Tommy pointed out something really interesting in his previous answer "It might have to do with the transient nature of DC residents --- I'm just taking a guess here, but it seems like a very small portion of people in DC bands right now actually grew up in the area."
it cracks me up every time someone's like "weird! These United States doesn't sound like it's from DC!" which happens a ridiculous amount of times, actually (see Washingtonian.com SXSW wrap-up ;) the short answer is: well, we're not. we're from Illinois and Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and I personally have spent more time in Europe and Iowa and Mexico and Michigan than I have in the District. music in general is so transient these days - and so is DC. and that combo is what makes things so eclectic around here.
Tom from TUS: I'm also always curious as to what the DC "sound" is. In the 1930s DC was a center for Jazz. in the 40s bluegrass made its way from the hills and spread via the DC airwaves. In the 50s this was a center for country music. In the 80s - punk/hardcore. and in the 90s we had bands like Q and not U and the Dismemberment Plan (to name 2) who were keeping DC on the musical map. It changes and mutates and grows.
Jesse from TUS: don't forget all kindsa "urban" (do they really call it that these days?) music, too! hip-hop, soul, R&B -- DC's always been fertile ground for LOTSa genres...
Sam from Le Loup: how'd we get together? i dunno... something about myspace... something about craigslist... met up and started a band... playing for a year...
Tommy from Jukebox: Jukebox the Ghost started as "The Sunday Mail" at GWU. Ben and Jesse were neighbors in their dorm. They used to have another guitarist, but he left the country after freshman year. I had put up signs around school trying to start a band, and got a call from those Ben and Jesse dudes. We've been married ever since.
Tom from TUS: Wait - TUS aren't a totalitarian state? Oh...the Country. Er...I'd venture into electronic pop music - have you guys heard of Hot Chip? I just discovered them...they're rad. If i knew anything about making electronic music i'd trade in my instruments tomorrow.
Jesse from TUS: agreed. if Tom knew anything about electronic pop music, I'd trade his instruments in tomorrow.
Tommy from Jukebox: Jukebox the Ghost would continue to play zydeco, because you can't outlaw zydeco.
Jesse from TUS: oo. zydeco. good one. damn. that'd be up there for me. really, tho, Electrified Street Thumb Piano. no, seriously. check out Konono No. 1 - http://www.crammed.be/konono - if you've never heard of them. part of an amazing movement of African musicians. Africa is the birthplace of everything. damn. I wish Africa would be the totalitarian rulers of this new anti-folk thing we're talking about.
incidentally, one of the best quotes ever about music, from Louis Armstrong (or was it Big Bill Broonzy, Wikipedia forces me to ask myself?!) -- "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song."
Tommy from Jukebox: Shit, that sums up everything.