The Joggers - Interview and New Music

So I've said, many times, my favorite group right now is The Joggers. And as I'm sure the rest of their tiny group of fans can attest, you can't listen to them for long without thinking, "Why the fuck aren't these guys more well-known?" When I bought my tickets to see them opening up for Stephen Malkmus a couple of months ago at Waterloo Records, THE independent music store in Austin, nobody there had heard of them. Yet in terms of sheer talent, there is not a more capable band in modern rock today. In terms of pushing what can be done with the standard guitar/bass/drums set-up, they are on the cutting edge few bands dare tread. The two guitars of the Joggers finger their way through chords and scales with such blazing technicality that it often sounds like several guitars playing at once. Their dissonant sound, based on a solid influence of progressive rock, was never going to sell a million records, but for them to be still virtually unheard of is a travesty. Hopefully opening up for fellow Portlander Malkmus will help spread the word.

I first heard of The Joggers on the old Pavement email list, around 2003, somebody mentioned their debut album Solid Guild. I found a mp3 of "Hot Autism", my jaw hit the floor (how could anyone's not?!?), I ordered Solid Guild from Startime, and I've been a disciple ever since. I finally got a chance to see them in 2005 when they played SXSW. I only saw the day show they did, but I'll never forget an absolutely smokin "Long Distance Runaround", and after their set I approached them, bought a replacement for the Solid Guild CD I had scratched to hell, out of the back of their van, and got them to do a radio drop for the station I was doing a radio show at at the time, and it was by far the best drop I ever got from a band:

And then I saw them when they came through Austin opening up for Pretty Girls Make Graves. They are as cool and friendly as could be, and we hung out and bullshitted a while. And we did the same after their show opening up for Stephen Malkmus on April 20. They're good friends with the guys that were in Sound Team, and we hung out with Jordan from Sound Team at the show and then went back to the audio-playground-compound called Big Orange and there was another Austin friend of theirs there named Paul, who thought he was the Joggers #1 fan (I forgot to mention I made their wikipedia page, Paul, I win, haha). Dan Wilson's a pretty crazy guy - I had told them my story about the first time I smoked salvia and Dan was all, "did you bring any? I'll smoke that shit right now, I'm only mid-twenties, I don't give a fuck," but I don't know if making him like THIS would be what he had in mind. All the guys in the Joggers have zero ego, which I guess is one of the bonuses of not having a lot of success. Jake wears a fanny-pack with confidence, assuring me that "the girls love it," and I gotta admit, even with cargo shorts I sometimes don't have the room to hold all my crap and I sometimes wish I gave a fuck less enough to wear one. I'm not quite their yet, Jake, but I salute you.

And then I caught Ben and Darrell at the tail end of the night:

FP: So, opening for Stephen Malkmus is pretty cool, how many shows are you going to be opening for him?

Ben: 10, out of about a three week tour. We're taking a few days and playing some shows not with him in Lubbock, TX, and Arcata, CA, and we did some on the way down, too. But opening up for Stephen Malkmus is exciting, he was a big fixture in all of our musical education, or diseducation or whatever, so it's really cool.

FP: I've read a couple of interviews where Stephen Malkmus says he plays softball with guys from the Joggers and the Shins.

Darrell: Yeah, we're called Disjecta. Jake and I are on the team, and Stephen, and a few other guys.

FP: What position does Stephen Malkmus play?

Darrell: He's the second baseman.

FP: And you and Jake?

Darrell:: I play third base, Jake's an auxillary guy, he'll sometimes play catcher, sometimes the rover, or fourth outfielder.

FP: How did y'all's team do?

Darrell: We won the championship game!

FP: And what are you called again, Disjected?

Darrell: Disjecta. It's an art studio that our friend Brian runs. It's like an.. art space, that moves venues, and they have exhibits and put on shows and stuff like that. And the other big team in the league is the Portland Free Mercury, which is like the local free press... and they have like the most badass team. Greg Glover, who does Arena Rock Recording Company, he's a serious fucking softball dude, but I think he retired this year. But anyways, their team's always been really good, and for as long as I've been in the league, for about three years, the Mercury's always the best, they win it every time. But Disjecta beat 'em twice this year and won it, so now we're the hated squad in the league.

[note: On the Portland Free Mercury Press page reporting on Disjecta's triumph (with pic of the team), as the page was loading I noticed something funny: the text description tag for the pic, that is visible for a split second before the image starts loading, described the picture as "Disjerkta"]

FP: What's the news on your eagerly awaited third album?

Ben: Well, we parted ways with our record label.

FP: Startime?

Ben: Well, here's where it gets confusing. We were on Startime, but then Startime was sort of bought by Vagrant, which is a bit bigger label. But then they themselves were bought, as far as I understand it, by Universal. So we were on a label that was a subsidiary of a subsidiary, and it got kind of convoluted. The guy who signed us originally, Isacc Green, who's always been a good friend to us in innumerable ways, he seemed to be kind of in the process of leaving Startime, as they became a part of Vagrant, and we put out "A Cape And A Cane" with them, with the understanding that if Isaac wasn't around, that we weren't going to do it.

FP: Isaac WAS Startime, was he not?

Ben: He is, it was his label. But from what I understand, they weren't doing super great in terms of dollars, so he went off, and now Startime is sort of in stasis.

FP: He did have some marketable bands for a while, the Walkmen, the French Kicks...

Ben: They did have some marketable releases, but they also had a lot of stuff that didn't sell. Including us.

Darrell: And he did some weird shit like put out that Northern State CD, it was like this female rap group that was so terrible. He was trying to bring in some funds, you know?

Ben: Specific bands aside, it just seemed like the original idea that he had for the label was changing in a way we weren't very comfortable with. And also partnering up with Vagrant was not that cool, particularly because they were owned by Universal. I'm not saying we're puritans, it's just that we didn't feel any camaraderie or kindred spirit with a lot of the bands on Vagrant. I'm not trying to slag them, it just wasn't our scene. And they had the option to put out our third record, but we asked to leave, and they said fine, they didn't put up a fight. Isaac runs another label called Almost Gold, that's what he does now. I don't know how much of that is his or how much he's an employee or what. And so we're looking. We're terrible procrastinators, and we have a really hard time finishing songs and recording when there's not a really firm deadline that a relationship with a label can provide. Particularly if they put some money down for a studio, you have to give them something. Whereas if you're just recording the way we have been for the last year - the occasional weekend here and there, in a friend's basement, an ad-hoc computer setup, it's very, very, very convenient to put it off. And I'm a constant ditherer. So having those deadlines was really productive.

FP: You do have a lot of new songs, though, that I've heard live versions of, there must have been half a dozen new ones tonight, and new songs you've put up on Myspace...

Ben: Actually some of them are old songs that we've not played for a long time, some are brand new. And we're still writing....

Darrell: And we also have a few new songs, too, that we just decided we didn't want to perform, that we just weren't in love with, so we're still kind of going through everything and figuring out what we like and what we don't.

FP: How much does Ben write songs and how much is collaboration?

Darrell: It's more written like he writes a lot of the parts and then we arrange them. It's like he's has a riff, and we just play all of these riffs together. A hundred riffs, And then we'll be like well, 'what if we put that one with this one, does that work?', you know, it didn't really work, and then we just kind of arrange them as a group.

Ben: Yeah, I'll bring in a lot of riffs, and then we arrange them together, and then usually vocals last. I've been trying to do vocals first, but it's never happened.

FP: Your lyrics are often seem abstract, kind of cryptic like Stephen Malkmus's.

Ben: I think he's a great lyricist. I don't intentionally try to be cryptic. To me, personally, my lyrics makes sense on a level that connects with me. I know it's not "I wanna sex you up" or whatever, or who knows, maybe I should write that, I don't know. A lot of my favorite bands have lyrics that are perhaps more abstract, that's just what I connect with more often. I like bands that are very literal with their words, too, but... I think Malkmus is a great lyricist, I think his lyrical innovations were just as strong as his guitar innovations were. And I think that's a part of music that's not fully explored, what lyrics can do. It's interesting to me how some bands try to do everything under the sun with their bass, guitars, drums, same standard setup, which we consciously included because it works, it's a very efficient thing, you have rhythm, high-end, low, there's a reason why it's it's a popular configuration. But I also feel it's amazing that bands spend so much time of their instruments and so little time of what to me seem like tossed-off lyrics, that are so cliched, you know? And I guess my hope is that even if my lyrics aren't good, at least they're not cliched. But... maybe I do that too, I don't know, it's hard to say

FP: Is it a relief having music not be the day job, with no deadline, where you just have all the time you want to work on your songs?

Ben: I thought it would be, but for me personally, I'm such a terminally ambivalent person that's it's not terribly helpful. Having this tour was really cool, because we worked really hard this last month to finish stuff, so we could have new stuff on tour. But without a record company it's hard to stay on track. When you're indebted to someone financially, you work a lot harder, if they're paying your bills. I'm not saying that's an ideal situation or whatever... right now Darryl works as a tile guy, I was working as a copy editor for corporate spam, Jake's a pizza dude, Dan's a coffee guy. Those are the things that pay the bills, so that has to be the priority. It's tough. I mean I'm 30. I'm not 40 or 50, but I'm not 20, either. I don't want to peg things to age, because it is largely irrelevant, but at the same time when you're young you can go through the kind of constant upheaval to employment, and housing, that touring often creates with a lot of aplomb, or grace, or obliviousness or something. But yeah, it's tough, and it makes you long for some form of just being able to pay the rent. And there are ways to do it in music. I've heard of bands that just tour for 300 days out of the year no matter what, but that's tough, too. I had to quit my job to go on this tour, so I have that to deal with when we get back, it's tough.

Darrell: But we just need more deadlines, we're more productive when they're in place. Otherwise it never ends.

Ben: And that's what the experience has been for the last year and half, or longer. I have at least two hundred riffs on my computer. I remember a quote from Lou Barlow, he said, "The only talent I have is finishing songs," and I love that quote because I think there's a real truth to that. Anybody can come up with some cool stuff, but taking that little bit and kind of bringing it through, to complete things, is a real asset in music. But I take a lot of blame for being really slow about things.

Darrell: You're slow about a lot of stuff.

Ben: Yeah, I know.

Darrell: It's just the way you cruise. And that's cool.

Ben: Yeah, I think we are slackers in a way. We've been together for what, seven years? Yeah, and it's always just been productive when we're under the gun. in a way we want that situation again.

Darrell: Well I think, and I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I think that Murphy did bring a lot to the table when he was in the group.

Ben: He did.

Darrell: And we might have had more ideas then. Not that Dan doesn't bring a lot of ideas, but Murphy was just really serious about spending a lot of his time coming up with stuff and bringing it to us

Ben: Dan's very much a part of the band, and is committed, but I think he enjoys more the performance part of it. Murphy was definitely more focused on the big picture and writing material and finishing songs.

Darrell: He and Ben had a competitive thing going, on many different levels, but seriously, I don't know if you feel the same way, Ben, but... he wanted to compete with the riffs that Ben brought to the practices. And he worked really hard to try and bring worthy material, and he did. But like if Murphy went out and bought a sweet amplifier, Ben had to go out and buy one that was even sweeter, you know? But the competitive thing was beneficial for moving forward, bettering the group.

Ben: Yeah, he was really great about having us being productive, you know? And you know... Murphy's a really good guy... and... basically I said I didn't feel comfortable playing with him any more, because the chemistry between us, it's a really long story, but it was off in some way, you know. It was a personal chemistry thing. It was never about his guitar playing or his commitment to the band, because he was great in those regards, but it just, it wasn't working. And I've questioned myself, on whether I maybe made him a scapegoat... and perhaps I did. It's hard for me to say. I do love Dan, I don't regret having taken him on. It's just personal chemistry.

FP: How did y'all hook up with Dan?

Darrell: Our friend Charlie, who's in the band Panther. Charlie at the time played in a band called The Planet The, and Dan's college band opened for them one time. After Murphy left, we put the word out that we were looking for a guitar player, and Charlie came to us and was like "this band opened for me, this kid is great, like he can play."

FP: What were they called?

Ben: They were called Workout

Darrell: Yeah, Workout. And Charlie was like, "he can play whatever you guys do, he can play anything," and we thought "oh, that's interesting," and asked him to play. He never heard of us, we gave him a couple of CDs. He was like "yeah, this sounds OK"... he wasn't even like "yeah, I want to do this, you guys are great," he was like, "yeah, that sounds pretty cool... whatever... if you guys are going on tour I'll go with you,"

Ben: That's pretty much the way it's been for the last three years

Darrell: But I think he's grown to really like it, like the music.

FP: Do y'all still talk to Murphy:

Ben: Oh yeah.

FP: What is he doing?

Darrell: He's in enginering school. He started a band after us called Ghost Money, they played for a while, but then he got really thick into school, and he got married, and he's got about a year and a half left before he's an engineer, and he's pretty happy doing that. But it takes up most of his time. When I see him, he's like, "I can only have a beer or two, and then I gotta go do homework. He's busy, just doing homework all the time, and working full-time.

FP: How's married life treating you, Darrelll?

Darrell: It's great, as great as unmarried life.

FP: Is this your first tour since you've been married?

Darrell: Um, shit, I think it is, yeah.

FP: She's not worried about Joggers' groupies?

Ben: She knows they don't exist.

Darrell: I don't know, I was talking to her earlier and she asked, "Are there girls around?" and I'm like, "No, seriously, it's just like nerdy dudes at a recording studio hanging out." But I've been with her since the Joggers first started playing, so it's really no different. She's great.

FP: I noticed you didn't have much problem playing tonight, your hockey injury seemed to be healed.

Darrell: At first, right after the injury, it felt a bit weird, but lately I haven't felt it, it hasn't been a hindrance at all.

Ben: Do you feel it a little?

Darrell: I'll feel it a little bit, like when I need to hold a note in a specific place, it feels different, but it doesn't hurt or anything.

Ben: Do you have sensation it in totally?

Darrell: No, it's numb in parts.

FP: But when are you going to use it to finish up that third album?

Ben: Would you say we're hoping to find a label?

Darrell: We're hoping to find a label we're thrilled to be on. And if that doesn't happen, it seems at least to me, I'm comfortable just doing what we're doing

Ben: Yeah

Darrell: recording on our own, and putting things out when we can get them done.

FP: Hopefully this tour brings you some extra exposure, as well.

Darrell: We have opened up on medium-big tours before, when Solid Guild came out we opened up for Hot Hot Heat. And we were really young and excited about it, and we thought we'd get exposure and people would love it, it just didn't really didn't happen that way.

Ben: What's exciting about Stephen Malkmus is like I was saying before, he's a pretty big part of a lot of our musical upbringing. So to play with him is pretty sweet. It feels like an honor, you know?

Darrell: It's great. And when we first thought we were asked to do it, we were all like "wow".

Ben: I was like softball must be going great!

Darrell: Yeah, we were like "If that could happen, it would be awesome." And then we didn't hear from anybody for a while, and we weren't sure any more. And then Jake ran into Stephen Malkmus at a coffee shop, and he was like "you guys are opening up, right?" So here we are.

Ben: My hope I guess is that when we play with these different bands like Hot Hot Heat, and that tour was them us and the French Kicks, and we love the French Kicks, we're really good friends with those guys, so that was fun on a number of different levels. And then for Cape and A Cane we went on tour with Pretty Girls Make Graves, and that was a situation that I wouldn't say was forced upon us, but it wasn't something we felt totally comfortable about, but we did it anyways. And I guess we didn't feel a great connection between our music and their music. I hope people can see that we're excited to be playing with Stephen Malkmus, and that this isn't another tour that's just glued-on the way that a lot of tours are put together. The Pretty Girls Make Graves tour put us off touring for a while, it didn't feel good, you know? And this band doesn't make any money, so if you're not making any money why do something that doesn't make you feel good?

FP: Well, there is something dissonant about your music that will never allow you to be poppy in a Hot Hot Heat sense, but that last song you played tonight did seem to have somewhat of a steady, disco-ish dance-rock feel.

Darrell: That's actually an old song

Ben: We've thrown together a bunch of old and new ones, and that one is - I'm a huge Polvo fan, so that was... when I've been influenced by their tunings that was one I wrote like that. I mean it's no Polvo tune, but...

Darrell: rhythmically speaking, it does have that kind of disco groove, though.

Ben: Well, but that song's five years old. I guess maybe we're more comfortable playing with older ideas now, I don't know. It just seemed like we wanted to bring as much fun stuff as we could, and that seemed fun.

Darrell: We have never recorded that song, but we've had it for a long time, and we were trying to get a setlist down for this tour, and it worked.

Ben: We called it Open-C Fast for years, and now it's called "I'm Ready For My Bath". It's weird to see old material surface.

FP: So is there going to be a third album?

Ben: I really hope so. I hope so. I hope that our doubts don't overcome our enthusiasms, which is sometimes the case. I hope we find a situation that will let us finish stuff faster, instead of doing it over seasons. It's not like we're trying to write "Dark Side of The Moon" or anything, or in the studio all day long. We just have limited time to throw at it

Darrell: And the amount of time it takes to come with it is substantial, so if you don't have all day to throw at it, there's only so much you can do.

FP: Have y'all considered releasing any singles or EPs?

Darrell: yeah, but I guess it seems like we want to hold out and wait until we have enough for a record, you know?

Ben: I think that's the thing, that we're so slow as writers that do to an EP or something, while cool, it's like "why don't we just wait until we have enough to finish an album"

Darrell: It feels like a copout somehow.

FP: So there probably won't be an album this year, then?

Darrell: I can probably guarantee there won't be an album by the end of this year.

Ben: I hope we can find a connection, within ourselves or some other entity that will make it happen soon.


At the merchandise counter, the Joggers had the T-shirt pictured at the top (epic logo, btw guys) and a tour-only CD, featuring their first released material since 2005's With A Cape And A Cane. Each one was hand-made and featured a different collage of pasted cut-up pictures and stamps. I had to go for the one I affectionately think of as "Elliott Gould Orgy". These two are definitely among the mellower tracks I've ever heard from the joggers:

And I've emailed with a guy who recorded both shows that night with a proper set-up, but I've so far been unable to get a hold of the recordings. Sorry for the delay in this post, I wanted to try to include the night's show in this post. I did bring a crappy personal recorder, so I'll share at least one song from the night, the closing track, again it's not a great quality recording, but since it may be the only live Joggers East Coast fans hear this year:

And if you don't own both of the Joggers' masterpieces, you can buy them direct from the band, and if you own them both, go get Solid Guild on vinyl (while you still can).

btw, thanks, Noah, for the heads up about the Cajun Gems. The indie-folk Joggers side project has, from comments on their site and myspace, apparently signed with NY's Partisan Records, who list Cajun Gems as one of their bands. The Partisan Records own site appears to be coming soon, and they write on their myspace blog: "The first 2 records on Partisan will be an expanded version of Holy Sons "Decline of the West" and the new Standard record "Swimmer"; both will be released in August." The Joggers as well as Cajun Gems are on the Partisan myspace page, so maybe Partisan is looking to sign the Joggers as well, but no word of a definite release by either of them at this point.


Garrett Sorrels said...

Thanks for posting this! Great interview and songs. Big fan of the Joggers. I try and share them with anyone I know who is a fan of indie music. Its very surprising they have caught on like wild fire. Hopefully they will soon.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Joggers are brilliant. PRAISE THE JOGGERS. How does one type like an evangelist? And the reason nobody at Waterloo has heard them is because they are just too busy being cool and sucking the dick of the Pitchfork top 100. No more vision at that store... unless you want some cheap toys and tacky key chains.

Anonymous said...

Great job, thanks!!!