The First Thing: The Jazz June
Posted on November 10, 2014
November 10, 2014
by Ryan Kendall Barnes
Prior to their performance at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, NY, I spoke with the members of The Jazz June about their origins and development as musicians. Their first new album in 12 years, After The Earthquake, is out November 11 on Topshelf Records.
The Runout: So where’d you guys all grow up?
Andrew Low (vocals/guitar): I’m from the Jersey Shore [and lived there] pretty much my whole life.
The rest of you are all PA dudes, right?
Bryan Gassler (guitar): Yeah, Andrew’s the only Jersey dude. I’m from a small town near Stroudsburg, so Poconos.
Justin Max (drums): Philly ‘burbs, Doylestown.
Dan O’Neill (bass): Philly ‘burbs, too. Flourtown.
Andrew: But we all met in Kutztown, where we went to school. Which is also in the middle of nowhere.
Did you guys have DIY scenes in your towns growing up? Obviously Doylestown and Jersey Shore do now, but what about way back when?
Dan: We had a bunch of bands from my neighborhood – Ink & Dagger, Atom & His Package…but it was really small. They were all “Philly bands” but they came from the towns surrounding.
Bryan: I grew up in the Lehigh Valley. There was a punk scene, Weston was a big band we’d go see all the time. There was also a lot of straight edge hardcore where in my teenage years I’d go see a lot of shows. Lots of skateboarders and stuff.
Andrew: We had really big straight edge, hardcore, vegan scene in Jersey. And we had this guy Josh Grabell, he used to have shows in his basement. All these really heavy bands. Earth Crisis, Disregard. And then Middlesex County College they’d have these huge, loaded shows with like 15 hardcore bands. All the big ones, like Mouthpiece and Resurrection. I went to a lot of those kind of shows. Mostly really fucking heavy hardcore stuff.
And then there was another scene, bands like Heroin. The Gern Blandsten bands, more towards the DC hardcore type stuff. A lot more political. That was a little more North Jersey I think.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
Andrew: It was a CD, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising.
Bryan: I bought Run DMC on cassette. Tougher Than Leather.
Dan: Mine were all hand-me-downs from my older brother. I think the first one I actually bought was like, Velocity Girl.
Justin: You guys were all way cooler than me. You remember that song “Electric Avenue?” That was the first piece of music I bought.
Oh man, was that like a cassingle?
Justin: No! It was actually a 7-inch record. A 45.
Andrew: I actually stole, when I was really young, David Lee Roth’s first single. A 7-inch record, I think it was “California Girls.” And my brother ratted me out that I took it. I didn’t even know what shoplifting was, I just like, took it and put it in my jacket. I walked out and was like ‘Hey Eric, look what I got!’ and he was like ‘Mom! Andrew stole a record!’ So I guess that was my first foray into punk rock. [laughs]
I feel like Diamond Dave would have appreciated that. On that tip, did any of you guys have embarrassing music phases that you look back on and think, ‘Fuck, what was I even doing?’
Andrew: I don’t know if it’s embarrassing but I always really liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My parents used to play The Beach Boys and The Beatles a lot. My mom loved Englebert Humperdinck. So it was mostly pretty good stuff. But my brother was older, so he’d give me all these hardcore records. And Dan kind of had the same thing.
Bryan: I grew up on classic rock, and Sabbath. My sister listened to hair metal, like Ratt and Whitesnake. And I was like ‘Fuck that, I’m not listening to that shit.’ So I got into hip hop. Like Das EFX, Naughty By Nature, De La Soul, and Beastie Boys of course.
Andrew: Oh yeah I was really into Cinderella, Poison, and all those bands. But so was everybody in my school.
Bryan: That’s a Jersey thing. Jean jackets. Patches on the back.
Andrew: I used to try to dress up like that, but uh, didn’t quite look the part.
[To Justin] You look like you have some dark secret to let out.
Justin: Yeah…I had a lot of bad music choices. Let’s see, I don’t know where to start. Like, KLM, the industrial band. And Ministry, but they’re kind of cool I guess.
Did you have a goth phase?!
Justin: Noooo [laughs]. I got into hip hop too but that wasn’t embarrassing. I had the Batman soundtrack. With all those Prince songs.
How did you guys start playing music? Did you play in school?
Dan: I wanted to be like my brother. He was in a punk band. My friends just kind of emulated all of his friends, who were in bands. We started trying in junior high, which came out horrible. Then in high school, we got better at our instruments. And we started playing with guys who were good, then college guys who were better than that. And that’s where Jazz June came around.
Andrew: I just bought a shitty Strat copy, and started learning power chords. I think I tried to play saxophone in band, but they made me play the tuba. And it was so heavy I couldn’t play it at all. I like, couldn’t read music, I’d just sit in the back at the Christmas concert pretending to play and making absolute noise.
Bryan: I always wanted to play, but I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was 18. I think going to those Lehigh Valley punk shows I saw kids playing and thought ‘I can do that.’ The first song I learned was Inside Out’s “Burning Fight.” And I was 18, I’d only played for like a year and a half when I met these guys. I was like, ‘I’m going to play, I’m going to get a sick guitar, and if I don’t play at least I’ll have a sweet ass guitar.’ [laughs]
Justin: Mine was a lie. My dad’s friend managed a band called Aviator. And the drummer gave me his kit. But I never really played it, it just sat in my basement. Then I met these guys and I said I played drums. So then we had practice scheduled, so for two weeks I just bashed away at the drums. But we all sucked so it was okay.
Andrew: At that age, anybody who had a kit was immediately in a band.
Justin: I didn’t have a high hat, I just clicked on the side of the drums.
Was the Jazz June pretty much the first band for all of you guys that you played out with?
Dan: I toured with a couple of bands before. I was in a straight edge hardcore band called Disregard, that played Philly and Boston. Then I was in a band called Mandela Strike Force. And we toured for a while, then when I went to college we broke up and they became Ink & Dagger.
Bryan: Andrew, you going to talk about Deez Nuts?
Andrew: That’s the one I played drums in. We only played one show. It was a hardcore band, it was right when Snoop Dogg was really big.
I was in a lot of shit hardcore bands, where no one really knew how to play. The first show I ever played was at Long Branch High School, the whole show was people doing more R&B. Then we were the last band up. We put out our first note, the whole place started screaming and most people literally ran out the door. Like fucking running and screaming. The rest of the crowd started doing like, funky hip hop moves.
Bryan: So I was in a hardcore band called Atari, before The Jazz June. Andrew was in it as well. I played bass, and I was straight edge at the time.
Dan, you mentioned you got into punk through your brother. How did the rest of you get into it?
Andrew: Through my older brother also. There were some really good venues by me, that bands like Sick of it All would come down and play. I think the main one was called Fastlanes, in Asbury Park. So my brother would go to all the gigs, and bring home records and play them for me. And I thought it was the craziest thing in the world.
Justin: For me, my town had this fantastic record store. Siren Records. I used to just hang out in there and listen to records.
Bryan: After being into hip hop, I got a summer job working outside. And that summer we listened to like, Slayer, The Misfits, Black Flag, Jawbreaker, Samiam. And I was like, ‘Alright hip hop, we’re kind of done. Something new here.’ I was 16 at the time.
Do you remember which record you heard that really fucked you up for the first time and hooked you?
Andrew: Probably the first Sick Of It All record, Blood, Sweat, and No Tears. I was obsessed with New York City because it was only an hour away and there were all those bands. I guess it was like, them and Warzone.
Dan: My first hardcore band was definitely Youth Of Today.
Andrew: Yeah, I definitely had Break Down The Walls.
Justin: I was definitely late to it. Mine was 13 Songs.
Dan: My brother brought me to see Fugazi in like, ’88 or ’89.
(Here, I let out a sigh that can only be described as the sound of 1000 balloons being deflated.)
That hurts my heart hearing that.
Bryan: Were you born?
I was like, two years old.
Dan: That was like the first really awesome band I saw play.
Andrew: My brother was a dickhead—he never brought me to shows!
What was the recording process like back in the day for The Jazz June? I’m sure it’s changed a lot currently, with you guys being spread out.
Andrew: We used to just rehearse in Kutztown, and go in the studio and play live. This time was the total opposite, where we wrote it all online then didn’t play it together at all until we went in the studio. Justin did all his tracks by himself, and then we added our stuff in after that.
Justin: This was one of the first times we did digital, we’d usually record tape.
Bryan: Except Better Off, that was digital. But back in the day we’d record live, and the engineer usually didn’t give a shit about us. He’d be like ‘you kind of hit that note wrong…eh whatever it’s OK.’ I think today it’s way easier to get better quality recordings than it was then.
Andrew: There’s a lot of nostalgia for the sound of those old emo records, but if you want us to sound like that buy us a time machine. We’ll go back to where we used to record, and get everything to bleed into each other. It’s funny if you recorded like that now people would think it sounded unprofessional without the lens of nostalgia.
Was writing happening in the room? Or would you have stuff structured already?
Bryan: Andrew would kind of write something on an acoustic and pass it around. And we’d gradually add to it, sending little demos back and forth. It’s nice to have that space, where we’re not all together noodling. I think going forward we’ll be a little closer together, because the most recent record I was in Charlotte, Dan and Justin were in Philly, and Andrew is in London. I’m back in Philly now.
Andrew: It was good this time that Evan (Weiss, of Into It. Over It.) was there. He really helped us with arranging the parts, and really quickly. He’d sit down and say ‘put this there, do it this many times.’ It helped a lot.
Bryan: Back in the day, nobody worked with us like that. And now we’re more deliberate and calculated.
Andrew: We worked with J. Robbins before, he was probably the closest to that. He definitely knew our style of music the best. But he was also doing everything, recording and producing. J was the first one who would really get into tone and trying weird little thrift store amps and stuff like that.
It was good with Evan because he would chop out all the fat. Shrinking things down, telling us not to repeat the choruses so many times, etc.
Do you think it informed it a little bit that Evan’s a little younger, and grew up on your generation of music?
Andrew: Yeah, I think so. He sort of knew all of the specific references for sound and where we were coming from.
Bryan: We pounded out a record in a week with Evan. He’s really efficient, and he was really into the early demos so it was a nice fit. He knew the gear in the studio really well too, so he had all these ideas for different guitar and amp combinations. Every song had a tone. I’m proud of it.
Do you think it’s affected your songwriting at all that you’re in London?
Andrew: No, not really. I’ve been in a bunch of bands since The Jazz June, playing more punk rock type stuff. I joined this band called Black Time, which is that type of stuff. So when we got together to write songs, I had to slip back into Jazz June mode. So it was a different style.
There’s not a lot of British indie bands that I like, I’m more into the American stuff. Like, the fucking Libertines, I can’t stand them. And The Arctic Monkeys and The Kooks and that shit. Nobody really knows who like, Mineral or American Football is over there. It’s a different thing.
Ryan Kendall Barnes also thinks The Arctic Monkeys suck. You can tweet him to tell him why you think he’s wrong or to tell him where the best burrito in Brooklyn is @BigBodyBarnes.