6 August 2012
Jason Noble died of cancer this past weekend at the age of 40. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the influence his art had on my path in music and my path in life. Below I’ll reproduce a long interview with him and his frequent musical collaborator, Jeff Mueller — which I conducted in 1995, but published in 1998 in the Jaboni Youth zine I did throughout college.
Rodan: “The Everyday World of Bodies” (1994)
First some perspective on his importance to my present day self over fifteen (!?!) years after I met him. Way more than other musical influences — the influence of Jason Noble was one that I lived rather than one which I acquired through clicking links on the internet or picking up albums in record shops. I was in my early twenties when he was in his slightly less early twenties. I got to see his projects evolve in the flesh at a most receptive age. Discovering the music he made in groups like Rodan and Rachel’s wasn’t just research into the history of music — it felt like a kind of mentorship at a (very slight) distance. I had the privilege of watching him living a life in art, hearing how his musical interests evolved over time, and learning that as your interests shift you could still maintain an unquestionably strong dedication to making art in a way that was humble, fearless and true. In this age of Spotify, there’s dozens of places you can start exploring his music — and I’d recommend starting with the album that made me fall in love with his work, Rodan’s Rusty (1994, Quarterstick/Touch & Go) — but this download of Rodan’s early demo tape Aviary, is another excellent way to begin.
It would require a long stretch of contemplation to fully unpack what I admired so much about Jason, what drew me so strongly to his music in those years. But rather than pretend I can come up with a comprehensive list on the spot, let me just dive into some uncollected thoughts. I remember how he seemed to be at the center of a Lousiville, Kentucky music scene that was disconnected from everything else going on in the world. I admired how he and his peers in projects like Slint, Gastr Del Sol, Palace Brothers and The For Carnation created their own universe. I particularly admired the frission of unlike sensibilities in his own musical projects — classical but punk, composed yet unleashed and, always, both beautiful and idiosyncratic. I was drawn to his sense of personal style and sensibility — how the almost forgotten art film he starred in, Half-Cocked, seemed to translate the wandering American possibilities of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Robert Frank’s The Americans into the modern age. I was emboldened by the fearless way that Jason absorbed and reformed the art he loved — from Neil Young’s epic 70s rock to hardcore punk to minimalist classical music to Egon Schiele. There was no anxiety in the way he integrated his influences. He just listened and loved and regurgitated those influences in new forms. “When it comes right down to it I guess we could be confused as having too many interests,” he told me back in 1995, “but I’ve always thought if you didn’t exercise ’em you were just kind of scared of them or something.” I liked how Jason was proud to be a “lifer.” He wasn’t making art to get rich or be cool or get girls; he was making art because he had to. And I liked the way his most profound insights about that life quest were stated with humility.
In any event, when I was coming up in the music world with my own little clique, what Jason did had opened up a lot of room for us, rooms we’re still exploring, space we’re still coloring in. And his help was also literal. I can’t recall all the dates or the bills, but a few of our artists’ earliest shows were opening slots for groups from his Louisville clique. I know it’s hard to imagine a co-bill of The National and David Grubbs today, but it happened. And though no one knew it at the time, the final show by Rachel’s was a co-bill with Clogs at New York’s Merkin Hall. Most excitingly, Rachel’s didn’t exactly “break up” in the traditional sense — it’s just that all the members, who continued to collaborate in various iterations afterwards, got busy with other creative possibilities.
Frequently, it’s obituaries which seem to pull me back to blogging. Odd that, but not dissimilar to the way death will make music fans around the world re-examine an artist’s discography. If this blog post gets you to check out Jason Noble’s recorded history for a few hours or even days or weeks, my job is done. Let this be the beginning of your own exploration of Jason’s work, and of your own creativity, rather than an end.
Without further adieu here is the interview. And just so I don’t give the misimpression that Jason was some po’ faced artiste — it’s hard not to take yourself too seriously when writing about someone’s death — I’m also going to reproduce the photo that accompanied the Q&A, a shot of Jason being fearlessly groped by Jeff. It was a pisstake, but it gets across one of the important things about Jason. That, for him, art was a way of grabbing life by the balls.
In 1992, Jeff Mueller, Jason Noble, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Kevin Coultas, all members of Louisville, Kentucky’s vibrant punk rock scene, joined forces to form the band Rodan. These four youngsters, all in their early twenties, were not particularly skilled at playing their chosen instruments. Rodan, however, did not take the easy path. Instead of pumping out easy-to-play tunes and following in the tradition of recent trends in popular music and especially “indie rock”–getting by on style rather than sound, faking emotional naiveté to match a lack of instrumental proficiency, simplifying songs and getting by on “catchiness” alone–Rodan chose to do things the hard way. They melded the thuggish brutality of punk rock, the gentile tact and thoughtfulness of classical, and the complexity, listener unfriendliness, and bombast of progressive rock into an entirely new beast. They toured relentlessly and soon enough found themselves signed to Quarterstick, a division of Touch and Go Records, the Chicago label which “discovered” bands like the Jesus Lizard, Big Black, Girls vs. Boys, Slint, and the Butthole Surfers. Rodan continued to tour and tour and tour, playing songs which ranged in tone and length from two-minute blistering hardcore songs like “Shiner,” to delicate, classically derived instrumentals like “Bible Silver Corner,” to twelve minute, multi-part, ornate motherfuckers like the still mindblowing, obnoxious, and unfathomable “The Everyday World of Bodies.”
In 1993 and 1994 I saw Rodan four times in four different states, drooled over their first full-length record, Rusty, and became downright obsessive about the band. Although their music could be described as willfully cryptic, their fans began to pop up in the most unusual places and the converted began to take upon themselves a particularly onerous and Grateful Deadhead-like level of dedication. Well, fuck me the band was getting somewhere. Soon enough Jason, Jeff, Tara, and Kevin were getting their mugs plastered everywhere whether it be in the form of messy xeroxes in zines everywhere or in big time mags like Rolling Stone.
1995: The band dissolves due to personal difficulties (i.e. band members going insane; people deciding to move on to other cities; I’ve heard gossip), abandoning a rumored double album of prog-punk goodness.
Fans everywhere were flummoxed. A fellow fan came to my freshman year dorm room in a drunken stupor, briefly hid behind my curtains, and asked if I would accompany her to the band’s last show in Chicago the following week-end. People were just that obsessed. Kindly declining her offer–I had work, my car just wasn’t that dependable, what if we couldn’t get tickets–and polishing off a short paper, I became a little upset. Goddamnit I really did like that band.
A year later, however, offshoots began to flower. Tara Jane O’Neil went on to release records as part of the somewhat underwhelming outfits Sonora Pine and Retsin, but Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller took the Rodan spirit and neatly bisected it: Mueller formed a fairly traditional four-piece, June of 44, which pushed the envelope on anal retentive, super precise “punk” while Noble’s “classical” leanings found an outlet as his Rachel’s project began in earnest. Both groups continue on in the Rodan tradition of ornate song structures and fan obsessiveness.
The Rachel’s especially have made many fans of independent rock reconsider what kind of music is cool, trying to push the definition of the term beyond punk rock’s three-chord-kitchy-T-shirt-comfortable-cords-and-a-bowl-of-watered-down-ramen aesthetic. Taking the form of a small chamber orchestra ensemble which has a core membership of three conceptual leaders–Noble, viola player Christian Frederickson and pianist Rachel Grimes–the Rachel’s swell to as many as eight in the live setting and seventeen or more on record. Putting aside questions of why the Rachel’s have done so well–do the kids really like them or are they just trying real hard–the band has brought some interesting things to the indie rock table: They use bows on their stringed instruments! Their songs are longer than three minutes! They write songs about people like Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo, and Louis Daguerre! They’re like a Kronos Quartet for the slacker generation! (The band even contributed an excerpt of a song to a recent Nike commercial.) The Rachel’s should hardly be listened to instead of classical music–they’re just not the same thing–but for many folks used to sweaty rock clubs, they’ll likely act as an introduction to a whole new world.
In the last two years or so the Rachel’s have released three records, June of 44 four–each one packaged in lavish and unusual paper envelopes, bringing the art school backgrounds and relative tastes of Jason and Jeff to the fore. While Rachel’s records have been packaged in baroque, understated foldovers, June of 44 has gone the way of letterpress envelopes shaped like matchbooks and the like. Both bands are quite excellent on record and in the flesh.
Since the break-up of Rodan, Jason and Jeff also appeared in Half-Cocked, a very low budget and vaguely autobiographical film about touring with a young band and the punk rock life. Now Jeff and Jason are playing together again under the name the Shipping News, a project that began in November 1996 when Jason and Jeff composed some background music for National Public Radio’s This American Life program. Both men also continue to produce, uh, “product” in the visual realm. I talked to them about art, life, and the like. This conversation happened a ways back–late 1995, these things take time–but I think it’s still relevant.
Rachel’s: “Water from the Same Source” live at Cactus Cafe, Austin, TX (2005)
Jeff: I’ve spent many days in New Haven for random reasons. I saw Barbara Krueger’s show at the Yale gallery. Whatever that space was called.
Alec: Probably the Yale University Art Gallery.
Jason: My father studied Korean at Yale because he was going to the Korean war. Not that I speak Korean. It didn’t pass down. It’s not genetic.
Alec: First I wanted to ask you about your art. What you both do? Do you both sculpt or are the definitions of what you do a little more fluid than that?
Jason: It’s not necessarily sculpting. Jeff, take a swing at this one.
Jeff: Well, it’s very ironic that you ask that question because I’m in the process of creating some of my actual artwork–as opposed to the record art which I guess is pretty much in tandem in many respects. I’m working on getting a piece of artwork done at a local Louisville organization. There are general ideas that come across in both mine and Jason’s works of art that are sculptural, painterly, drawing oriented, but conceptually we both do work that is about decay, things dying, things that go away and never come back, nightmares … Jason likes deer and cows a lot whereas I’m much more into the boat aesthetic. Well, actually, we’re both into the boat aesthetic
Jason: The boat aesthetic is pretty hard on our life right now.
Jeff: The boat aesthetic is generally where I’m going. The piece that I’m working on at this place called the Louisville Visual Art Association is a sculpture of a forty foot high boat.
Alec: Of what? Made of what?
Jeff: It’s gonna be made of concrete.
Alec: How did the whole boat aesthetic have to do with the nautical and sailing themes that have run through the music and packaging of June of 44? Is it the root of the band’s theme?
Jeff: It does stem from one of the major premises of the idea behind boats, boat things, but, really, the musical aspects of June of 44 are abstracted from what’s going on in my own art right now. I guess it does come from some of the same sources in some regards.
Alec: Well, when it comes time to do record cover art, are the images and themes outgrowths and derivations of your art or do you start from scratch?
Jason: I think it’s pretty much the exact same thing, even the aesthetic of having hands-on elements to it: tactile versus glossy, personal versus produced, those kinds of differences. We, of course, tend towards the non-glossy, non-produced side of things. I think the interest in stuff like bookmaking, craft, and other things is really evident, although with record packaging you are trying to serve the record itself. So it’s not just like, oh I’m going to attach all the things I’m visually into onto the record, because these are not just our records. Rachel’s and June of 44 are groups and it is the whole group of people we are trying to represent.
Alec: Regardless, haven’t you two been the main forces in establishing the visual themes that have run through the work of the bands you’ve been involved in from Rodan onward?
Jason: Well, yeah but…
Jeff: That’s a good point in that that is true in some respects, but it’s not authoritative or dictatorial. Neither myself nor Jason are people that would lay down the law and say that this is the way something is going to be. We bring an aesthetic.
Jason: Among the people that we play with, Jeff and I are the most consistent visual artists, either in professional life or outside of it, just doing visual or written work or whatever. Because we are most accustomed to that milieu, to the elements of production and stuff, we gain a certain amount of control just because we might be a lot more used to doing it than the other people we play with.
Jeff: We can bring an aesthetic to a record and have it be completely rearranged and reorganized to make sure that everyone is happy. But in the same light, I think that the people we choose to work with have the same aesthetic approach in many regards.
Alec: Would you say that with both bands–where there is a great deal of actual geographic separation between many of the members–that the aesthetic actually develops out of how the bands operate?
Jeff: Totally. Entirely. We are all around the country. Fred [Erskine, June of 44’s bassist] and Doug [Scharin, the band’s drummer] are on the road half the year playing in various other bands. I just recently moved to Chicago. Sean [Meadows, the band’s other guitarist] is living no where in particular.
Alec: So the ship theme is more specific to the band than to you?
Jeff: I am the one who has had an obsession with sailing for about five years and for me boats do represent all the things Jason and I were just talking about, archaic technology, things that die, things that get overlooked, things that pass away. But, also, a lot of the boats that appear on our records are like pirate ships and in a weird regard I think that pirates are the punk rockers of the sea. But I wouldn’t even take that too far. It’s funny, I had to do this interview with this guy in Detroit who asked all these questions about pirates and booty. The whole fucking thing was about booty! Like his first question to me was like, “If June of 44 was a band of pirates instead of a band of musicians where would you hide the booty?” I was like, what the hell are you talking about? I said the booty would be in Doug’s dungarees–in Doug’s pants. I couldn’t believe that one when I read it. It had nothing else in it. Not a squirt of piss about the music. It’s like, what are you doing?
Rodan: Live at the 40 Watt, Athens, GA (July 1994)
ART AS LIFE
Alec: Are you both full time artists, do you have jobs that go in tandem with your artistic interests, or do you work at jobs completely unrelated to your art?
Jason: What I make my living off is doing commercial artwork, sometimes it’s painting murals, sometimes it’s recording radio spots for people…
Alec: Hello, I’m still here.
Jeff: I think Jason might have just lost the connection. Hey Jason. Did your phone just explode? Is he there? I think he’s just gone off into the land of mystery phone 2000.
Jason: Sometimes it’s kicking the phone out of the wall in a way that virtually makes it impossible to reinstall it. Uh yeah.
Jeff: I’m moreover unemployed right now. Frivolously poor, broke and not necessarily sad or scraping, but at the same time just not with money. You know I have definitive aspirations to be able to survive on my own accord but at the present time it has caused many stresses. My financial life has always been a disaster and I guess this is how it’s going to be for a while. I’ve got a ten point plan to become Donald Trump but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.
Alec: Do you both hope to make your livings in art?
Jason: Right now, I do function. As opposed to several years ago, the jobs that I do now, most of them do pertain to art even if it’s just designing for people, computer stuff. Most of the work I do to make a living at least concerns the same interests. The difference is that I don’t care about the commercial work as much as I do about my more personal projects. At least in my mind the benefit of this is that the projects like our bands and other stuff that’s much more personal doesn’t have to be turned into something that’s trying to scrape any kind of commercial crust. I’d be glad to do other projects that aren’t as intimate or personal, and I can get the same amount of satisfaction out of some commercial work, but in some respects it’s just not at all the same thing.
Alec: Do you just feel as if your art is something completely separate from whatever financial remuneration you gain from it? Is it just something you do because you have to?
Jason: Sure I mean we wouldn’t change any of the music our bands create to make the check. Both Jeff and I. Let’s say the inception of Rodan was probably the time when Jeff and I were washing more dishes then ever in our life and it was great because you could do that job and take pride in it or wait tables or whatever and it didn’t effect the sincerity of anything else we were doing. I work presently for a commercial agency and in a way it just inspires me more and more to never have my job connect to my creative work. I’ll sometimes write music for those purposes, either for a soundtrack for somebody or something, and it’s an interesting challenge but, you know, by necessity it keeps the part that’s really personal away from the final product. Thankfully, with our bands there’s not somebody calling and saying, you know it’d be really great if you did this kind of record or something like that.
Alec: How long have you been doing this stuff? How old are you guys?
Jeff: I’m 24.
Jason: I’m 23. [It’s been slightly more than two years since this interview was conducted.]
Alec: What’s the extent of your college education
Jeff: Both Jason and I met each other in high school and we graduated in 1989. I went to college at Kansas City, Missouri at the Art Institute of Kansas City for 2 years.
Jason: I went to the Maryland Institute in Baltimore but neither of us graduated. Both of us left school, came back, and started recording. I don’t know what it was, a mass fallout suddenly from college. We just both wanted to work.
Alec: Do you think most of your artistic and musical talents are self-taught or did you learn anything in college?
Jeff: One of the most beneficial things I learned in school was that, for me, I didn’t necessarily need college to insure that I was going to be making things. I was doing essentially the same thing, living the exact same lifestyle in art school as I would out of art school. If I had stayed the only difference would be that I would have left with a $20,000 bill as opposed to a $10,000 bill. I mean art school was good in some respects in that it showed me that what I was doing before I came was essentially what I should be doing. Many art schools are geared towards specifically getting people to work, basically rigging things so that you get a general idea of how a work ethic is supposed to be organized and how time constraints and schedules and what not work. In many respects it was something I was accustomed to already, but at the same time I didn’t know that’s what art school was going to be like until I was there.
Jason: I mean going to school was a totally different environment. My impression was always that it was easier to be in school and working and have a receptive audience for art and writing. I was afraid that when the time came it was going to be much harder in the real world to do it. I guess we both felt like trying to get the jump a little bit.
Jeff: I mean there are certain things that could only exist at art school. You can’t do certain things outside of that world. It’s a pretty euphoric, expression dream palace.
Jason: It also kind of makes you understand who’s on your side and who isn’t. You go into it, and you’re relatively young, and you see the people either you’re going to be like or you’re totally not going to be like. And there’s just some people in there, you just look around in your class or whatever, and you get really tired of the people that you knew were not going to be doing art in four years or five years. They would only be interested in some stable existence, essentially in something that just didn’t involve the lifestyle of being a painter or a musician or whatever. It clarifies what communities in art you really want to deal with. If I hadn’t gone to art school, I wouldn’t necessarily have the aversion to much of gallery life and things like that. It taught me to think of art the same way I think about music. In the same way that I wouldn’t want to try to make music that I didn’t think was a right, real expression, I don’t want to paint in a way that I don’t think fosters real expression. There’s plenty of people that just factory farm it.
Alec: Is most of your art impossible to transport? Is it all constructed on a larger scale?
Jeff: Well, that’s actually kind of the problem. There are artists that make things that you can say hang above a sofa and will look fantastic…
Jason: …especially if it was made of carpet Jeff.
Alec: And you’re more installation oriented?
Jeff: Yeah, I guess. For example, there’s no physical or monetary way I’d be able to make this piece that I’m getting ready to work on if I didn’t have independent money to pay for it. I just don’t have the funds for it. I definitely haven’t sold enough artwork to be able to bankroll a project like that. But I guess where the will is there is a way. I depend on persistence, and somewhat of a feeling of desperation.
Alec: Are there any artists that you kind of look to as inspirations? On the first Rachel’s record there are songs named after Kahlo and Daguerre and they were hardly artists who did modern installation type stuff.
Jason: There are people whose work inspires you because it just does something for you and not because it reflects on what you yourself create. Using art to get inspiration is sort of the point of much of what Jeff and I do. I think both of us often try to encourage people through what we’re doing to kind of do their own thing, because there’s a certain level of folks around us that tend to think most of what they really want to do in their life is just really impossible. Maybe Jeff and I show that you can do it, even if it’s in a rather scraping, difficult, and day-to-day way. It is still possible. I don’t know how that necessarily relates to that question but… Well, for example, those artists you mentioned didn’t have the easiest of lives in every regard.
Jeff: Exactly, I mean Frida Kahlo! Do you know the train car story? That whole thing in itself is enough.
Alec: What is the train car story?
Jeff: Jason you know about that.
Jason: I have no idea about the train car story.
Jeff: Well, the whole thing is fairly intricate but essentially she was on this bus which collided with a train. She was pierced straight through the abdomen by part of the railing from the train car. It crushed her body and made her unable to walk, and this was when she was like eighteen years old. Then she began to paint. She definitely had a tragic life. The thing about those kinds of artists for me is that they just evolve out of their tragedies and continue to work. The thing that I love is the impetus to continue working as opposed to realizing how impossible certain things can be and just, you know, forgetting it and just scrapping what you love.
Jason: In my opinion, as a record package goes, you’re trying to sum up something and when we create our record packages we try to fully integrate everything we are thinking about. I think that’s important. Case in point, the only reason you’re talking to us right now is that you got these little objects that we tried to do our best with and you got some idea of some of our personality behind it and maybe you felt some kinship with those ideas. People like Frida Kahlo, Daguerre, and the like are part of what the band is about although their influence may not be completely obvious in the every aspect of the band. I think that if someone’s packaging a record, or putting a book out, if they do it right, you will get some idea of what inspires them on a day to day basis, what they hate, everything.
Alec: So do you think your record packages say everything…
Jason: Not exactly, the packages don’t necessarily sum up everything, but they definitely strive towards doing that. Even outside the band, Rachel, Christian, and I share many things that are totally not music related. We send each other writing, art, and the like–our relationship is just a general atmosphere where it’s not always about the band, it’s more like about some of our general tastes or our lifestyles. We try to bring some of this out in the Rachel’s. Still, there are many writers who aren’t included in that package. Our records are not definitive lists of what we care about. But when we quote Pablo Neruda or Raphael Berte or when we name a song after someone, you know that that person had some prevalence to what was happening around the music and the record. The record that we’re doing now that’s coming out in January and that is just getting packaged is all about this painter Egon Schiele. It’s something that Rachel wrote for this live theater and dance performance that was in Chicago so it’s pushing it even farther into, I guess, getting people to think we’re some kind of art farts but at the same time it was directly inspired by this painter Egon Schiele. He had a fairly brief life and he was fairly controversial but he was an amazing artist and it goes into those inspirations. He lived from like 1890 to 1918, basically, you know, a turn of the century type. You could even say that the music on the record is reminiscent of older music–it’s not very contemporary classical music–but you could also say that it was just sort of in the spirit of it.
Shipping News: Live at Touch & Go’s 25th Anniversary, Chicago, IL (2007)
RODAN, PROJECTS, SIDE PROJECTS
Alec: Are all of your projects, musical and otherwise, ongoing?
Jason: June of 44 and Rachel’s are totally ongoing and we have our agendas and we record a lot and we’re touring together in November .
Alec: I had an understanding that June of 44 was a temporary thing.
Jeff: The way that we worked last year was that we weren’t a full band until roughly the 25th or the 26th of November. We rehearsed for two weeks and on the 10th of October we went into the studio. I mean all the material on that record was worked out you know everyone kept their components for that music. We did that brief tour and then came home and then that record came out on the 19th of June this year and we did a national tour, and that’s our work ethic. We’re getting ready to get into it again…
Alec: So rather than being a consistent project the band is about short spurts of work?
Jeff: Well, the short spurts are gradually turning into longer periods of time. This winter, the time being spent on June of 44 is nearing two and a half months.
Alec: Is that a problem since your homes are all quite far from each other geographically?
Jeff: Well, there’s that, and Doug is in a band called Rex and that’s his mainstay project in many regards. Plus Fred is in a band whom you may or may not have heard of called the Crownhate Ruin who are from Washington, DC. Between all this, things can get pretty crazed. Just an example of how things can be, we did that month long tour in June, Fred left for two and a half months with the Crownhate Ruin only three days after we got back, and now June of 44 is getting ready to record a song, go on a tour with the Rachel’s band, rehearse for a month, and then record another record all in a stint of two months.
Jason: Rachel’s recording sessions have always been strange because the band is composed of a large group of people all of whom live in different cities. We’ll get together in Chicago or get together here in Louisville or get together wherever we can just to get the players together in the same room, but, at the same time, there’s kind of a governing cast of people that kind of stays true to the project and always stays fully involved. Basically, that’s Rachel, Christian, and me. We’ve been figuring out how things work within the band since Rodan broke up. As opposed to June of 44, which is able to exist in spurts, Rachel’s can’t really exist without a full time commitment.
Alec: How are things going to work with the Rachel’s since you are so spread out? Is the band going to be orchestra sized or are you touring with only a handful of people?
Jason: Generally the line-up is going to be about six or seven. The main people are Christian who plays viola, Rachel who plays piano, me playing bass and guitar, Eve Miller playing cello, Bob Weston playing bass, and John Upchurch playing clarinet and other instruments. Off and on, Kevin [Coultas, of Rodan–ed.] has played with us and I guess Doug Scharin from June of 44 is going to help us with some stuff during the trip. The Rachel’s have definitely become a full time thing.
Alec: Would you call it a chamber orchestra?
Jason: I don’t like label because I don’t know if it’s quite accurate for what we do. Just a small instrumental group is what I hope we are.
Alec: Do you want to talk at all about Half-Cocked? What was your role in it besides acting?
Jason: We just gave several weeks of our lives to our friends to do with as they wished and that’s what they got. It was fun. It was very interesting because we were very interested in movies and movie making and but that’s about the extent of it. There’s a big part of our personalities in it but it’s the worst parts and the weak, sort of loser parts which is part of the joke.
Jeff: That movie is really strange. I am extremely glad and happy I was able to help out because it was a fun thing to do, but at the same time, being a character in it was a bit difficult. I know in a fiction you’re not supposed to document the truth but just by virtue of the fact that three-fourths of Rodan were in it, that it was about a young band, it’s just kind of…it’s somewhat misrepresentative of what the actual truth is. But basically, it’s a good first movie. It was a massive undertaking for Mike and Suki [cinematographer Michael Gallinsky and director Suki Hawley] to make that movie. For a first time project I think it was a good piece. I think they learned a lot…as did I.
Jason: We just wanted to stay away from it being a Rodan movie because it had nothing to do with how Rodan was. We weren’t like that. Maybe we were like that when we were a lot younger, and we were sort of playing characters that were younger than we were.
Alec: I haven’t seen it. Is it wacky or is it?
Jason: It’s brooding in a humorous way. We fail a lot in the movie. We just really can’t get it together and we try and there’s some how-to-have-a-misadventure type stuff and generally we’re just not very good at what we’re doing in the film. The idea, though, is that we’re trying to do something, as opposed to sitting around…
Alec: What’s your opinion on traveling, especially with Rodan?
Jason: That’s part of being in a band. It’s the best way to see people reacting to the creative work that you do and the best way to be able to just experience stuff that you find on the road. That’s the absolute payoff of traveling.
Jeff: Traveling is also about ugh, I’m filthy, my balls itch, I feel so crunchy, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for six days…
Jason: Sure it’s difficult and it takes a lot of energy and whatever but it’s still an incredible opportunity. You know, I can’t think of a better way to just go and look around either the country you live in or other countries.
Alec: What is the rap thing you did a while back?
Jeff: KC and the J. Crew.
Alec: Was that done in any seriousness.
Jeff: It was a very serious thing…
Jason: Have you heard it?
Alec: I’ve heard parts of it. I haven’t sat down and listened to it.
Jason: That was something we had done for fun, kind of just like a party band, something we did while farting around. We had just stopped going to college and we wanted to do something together and it was a good excuse to learn how to record music at home because that whole record was recorded on eight-track cassette. Thinking about it, that project has actually influenced future recordings quite a bit. There hasn’t been a record since then, Rodan or Rachel’s or otherwise, that wasn’t partially recorded at home. The thing about that record was that mainly people didn’t get some of the humor we intended with it, and at the same time it is kind of one of those secret treats for certain people. I don’t know. Jeff and I seem to really like it. It’s always been the thing people thought, whatever, are they trying to be some Red Hot Chili Peppers band or something?
Alec: Do you think living in Louisville is a strong impetus to do the creative work you do and to take on multiple projects?
Jason: Well, it’s a good homebase in many respects. It’s close to Chicago, and both Jeff and I have to go to Chicago at least once a month, usually more.
Jeff: Louisville is about a million people that live in the county, Jefferson County, and Louisville is right in the middle of it. There’s about 400,000 people in the city and there are a few people here that are doing really incredible things. There’s a powerful feeling that the punk rock mafia in Louisville is pretty mighty. That feeling stems from the fact that Louisville is not of the size where there’s something going on every night. There’s not like this party fiesta ten thousand environment. Both Jason and I have said this before. There are lulls and their are cracks and creases where you know people are just kind of going, jeez, I’ve got time, I can do things. And in some regard there are specific things, like that rap project for instance, which are just basically designed to entertain…
Jason: …our friends.
Jeff: You know, because nothing else would be happening we would start working on projects of that sort just because we could. In fact, I think a lot of things here get started just because the lack of things to do forces the people that want to do things to be inventive and to move into new creations and to try different things.
Alec: Is there some kind of overall plan with you guys, going from goofy rap to punk to classical? Do you see these things as separate entities or is there some grand design here?
Jeff: It’s not like we just go from doing one thing to another. I mean we haven’t been the sole forces in beginning and ending all the projects we’ve been involved in. I mean Rodan, for example, just broke up on really odd terms.
Alec: What exactly was the reason for that?
Jeff: It’s a really detailed, complex, and strange thing. Basically there was just a general feeling of discontent, an unenchanted feeling. And the way things were working, just the general work ethic was getting sluggish. Moreover there were different tastes in music running around. I guess there was also another element. Somebody went crazy–not necessarily someone pertinent to Rodan, but someone lost their mind for a spell and that was pretty much the ace in the hole, or the knife in the back, that pretty much exploded everything.
Alec: Is there any remaining Rodan songs of any lying around and if so is anything going happen with that on Touch and Go? At one point I heard that there was going to be a double album.
Jeff: Well, prior to our break up we had talked about that double record being the last release that we would have incorporated under the name Rodan, but it’s very strange. When you were desperately trying to get a hold of us an hour and a half ago Jason and I were… Well, Jason go ahead…
Jason: Yes, we have some for-real recorded stuff. When you were trying to reach us we were having a multi-band talk with Corey [Rusk, owner and operator of Touch and Go Records] about the issue of releasing that material and different stuff because, the way it works at Touch and Go, it’s almost a co-op in a way. We monitor our own things and make sure we’re doing things affordably. It’s not as if we’re on a label that just advances us bags of money and says do whatever. We can’t just call up and say we’re recording next week give us some money. We work together in a friendly and considerate way. The story is we did a Peel Session when we were in England not last June but the June before that. It was only really an EP’s worth of stuff but it turned out that that was the last time we recorded in a studio, in a big situation. It’s not the definitive recording or anything or equivalent of a final cut, but it is material that’s representative of the time and we’ve been thinking about putting it out. We, that being all four members of Rodan, haven’t sat down and said that the idea is completely kosher. We’re not sure what we’re going to do.
Jeff: Everything is pretty much up in the air. It’s just being discussed right now. We were trying to stay away from releasing it and making it look like we were trying to follow up interest in Rusty or something. Knowing we broke up in September of last year, we didn’t want to capitalize on our split. There was no reason for it. We were all really bummed out and we didn’t want to make it into a money making venture. As it stands we’ve been toying with the idea of doing it as something that was a benefit record or something. It’s not because we’re worried about what people think, it’s just somewhat weird because it’s not a living band anymore. Also, with BBC [British Broadcasting Company, the British national broadcasting network] recordings, things are weird with issues of ownership. They take a certain percentage of things sold when it’s stuff that was recorded there. So, it would most likely be a non-money making venture, but it would be nice because then we wouldn’t have to keep taping those songs for people. It’s really a labor saving device for us.
Alec: You want Touch and Go to save your tape heads.
Jason: Yeah, that’s the idea.
Alec: Well, getting back to my original question, where is all of this music, film, and art going? Does it have a direction?
Jeff: Regarding the projects that Jason and I are working on now, they are seen as long term projects in that we’re not planning for either of them to have a finite life. In no way are we the chief creative leaders of these bands, but we are the chief organizers of what’s going on with things and in that regard much of the art related stress, which is quite stressful, and the overall status of putting out records falls back on to us and I think we’re both built to spill in that regard. We are able to handle that kind of stress, and that keeps the life of a project running for a longer period of time. What were you going to say Jason….
Jason: Well, Rodan was a long term thing. It was three years. It was something none of us intended to lose. We had really finally been able to start doing it the way we really wanted and gotten over all the rough, really rough edges that any first band goes though. If you’re looking for a timeline, the same elements have evolved throughout everything we’ve done. Even before any of the rap stuff, before Rodan, the first Rachel’s recording session happened with me and Christian in Baltimore, Maryland in April 1991, so I’ve been just doing that on and off for years. Then we did that rap stuff, which is still probably way more punk than Rodan was. But essentially that was just a recording project where we played shows off and on and we’d do these theatrical performances out of it. It was always just a fun, interesting thing to do. Then there was Rodan which was really my first band. Rodan was our full time life. You know we’d go and do that and it omitted the rest of what we could do and it made us unable to have straight jobs or anything like that. The general atmosphere of it was to get closer to the music that we really wanted to play. We couldn’t play our instruments when we first started, we didn’t know how to write a song, and we didn’t even know how to get a half decent sound out of our stuff. That ended and Rachel’s and June of 44 began. Throughout everything there have been similar elements. Take KC and the J Crew. It definitely had a lot of hardcore stuff and it had elements of sound construction and all that. That element has always been interesting to me and has a lot to do with what happens in the Rachel’s. As it stands now I feel like especially June of 44 and Rachel’s have a lot to do with the same kind of elements people always talked about with Rodan–pretty heavy on instrumental leanings and not really that conventional. When it comes right down to it I guess we could be confused as having too many interests but I’ve always thought if you didn’t exercise ‘em you were just kind of scared of them or something.
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis