Tag Archives: Joan of Arc

Interview with Darren Walters

I’m happy to post a selection from the ongoing email interview I’m having with one Darren Walters, co-founder of Jade Tree Records.

As a majority of my America Is Just A Word interviewees happen to be musicians, it’s great having Darren on board to give some perspective of the other goings on that helped transform emo through the decades. (Of course, an exception to all this is Ian MacKaye, who’s role as a musician and Dischord Records co-founder gives him a completely different perspective than most folks involved in the book.) When it comes to emo in the 90s, Jade Tree was one of the few places where things were really popping. The record label quickly rose to fame with The Promise Ring and continued to soldier on from there, releasing music from numerous indie emo “big names” (whatever that oxymoronic phrase means) such as Hot Water Music, Texas Is The Reason (a split with TPR), Lifetime, Jets To Brazil, Joan of Arc, Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz (the label introduced many people to the band with their double-disc discography) and many a popular non-emo act such as Fucked Up and My Morning Jacket.

But, I’ll let Darren explain it all himself. Enjoy:

How’d you get into music and, more specifically, punk music?

Darren Walters: “A few things happened around the same time that finally got my fully into punk once and for all.
I had been into new wave, alternative and the like and eventually met a few people who were also into the same type of music, including punk.  In and around the same time, my best friend ended up being sent to military school where he became immersed in punk.  His friends at military school helped him stock up on great records which he brought home during his breaks and left with me.  Him and I quickly became 100% into punk rock in about 1985 or so and began going to shows and seeking out as much info as we could on punk rock and watching movies like Suburbia and Decline of the Western Civilization over and over again.

What was it like growing up in Wilmington?

DW: “Wilmington is at the northern tip of Delaware and the biggest city in the state.  Essentially, it is a suburb of Philadelphia as it is only about 25 minutes outside of the city.

It was-and is, for the most part, devoid of any culture during my childhood and continues to be so to this day.  It’s basically your typical American suburb and it’s the place that I still call home and have form most of my life.

Having spent most of my life here I’ve come to like it, which is interesting considering I spent those formative punk years trying to think of a way to get out.  Growing older and being able to leave, I got used to the idea of being in Delaware.  It also became advantageous for Jade Tree to remain in Delaware as it was inexpensive compared to cities like NY or SF where Tim and I had often discussed moving the label to (in fact, Tim lived in NYC for many years).”

On the Jade Tree site, it says that you and Tim were pretty involved in the DC punk community. Considering Delaware isn’t exactly a walk away from DC, how did you balance a life at home with going to shows and building on a community in DC?

DW: “I was involved in the DC scene in the sense that I was going to shows an awful lot in the MD/DC/VA area and Jade Tree worked with plenty of bands from there over the years.  DC was one of our support systems and one of our scenes and we of course looked up to many of the people involved in it both past and present.

It was easy enough to go back and forth from DE to DC.  Tim had grown up in DC and still had family there, I had a girlfriend there at one time, Jade Tree had bands there, tons of friends and so on.  It was just something that we did without thinking.  And it’s less than 2 hours away.  I used to be able to get to the Damnation house in an hour and 10 minutes on a good day. Granted, I was doing 90+ mph, but the point is that this was a drive that Tim and I made almost weekly, or at least monthly, for years.”

How did you and Tim meet?

DW: “My best friend growing up attended college in MD and met Tim at a show in DC.  They started a label called Axtion Packed together and that’s how I met Tim, through him.

Once my label, Hi-Impact, was beginning to fall apart, coincidentally so was AP, so Tim and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we combined forces to work on new label.”

What was it like being in high school and then college, trying to balance the life of a student and the work needed to run a label (be it Hi-Impact or Jade Tree) and a band as well?

DW: “It was crazy of course!  At times it would be fairly simple because there wouldn’t be much to do in the very beginning.  However, when there would be a new release in production or a record would need to be mailed out to radio or to all of the awaiting orders, it would take hours, if not days, to do so.  That could be intense.  Especially because for the first few Jade Tree releases, many of the records were put together by hand.  You can imagine how long it takes to hand assemble 4000+ 7″s & CDS for instance.  We would enlist every one we knew to come on over and enjoy free pizza, get the latest release and help us out.  It was a community thing and it helped Jade Tree get off its feet tremendously.”

Kickstart My Rock ‘N Roll Heart

I got this in the mail today:

To explain, I was one of 382 folks to back record label Polyvinyl in their hopes to store/salvage 10,000 records using Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a new funding organization that helps artists, organizations, and individuals fund their various projects. It’s basically like a social networking site that allows creative individuals to connect directly to their base in order to get their ideas off the ground independent of the usual forces behind music, film, books, art, etc.

Anyway, people are encouraged to offer incentives for folks to fund projects, with different levels of donations come complete with certain “rewards.” The kicker (no pun intended) is that these are all pledges to pay: if a project doesn’t get at least 100% of its targeted goal, no one has to pay and the project gets zero funding.

There was no question that Polyvinyl would reach their goal, as it appeared like they were almost liquidating their stocks. The top pledges ($50+) received 26 CDs and two DVDs filled with various indie artists… and yes, emo musicians to boot. With Aloha, Decibully (feat. two members of Maritime), Friction (ex-Braid), Joan of Arc, and Rainer Maria, it’s quite an array of emo acts… and the old Of Montreal and Saturday Looks Good To Me… well, looks good to me (ok, pun intended).

Kickstarter is currently only invite-only for people looking to start projects, as it’s in something of an infant state. Depending on how things end up on the publishing end for America Is Just A Word when all is said and done, Kickstarter may indeed be a good place to take this project.

But, that’s a ways away. For now, I’ll just occupy myself with listening to some of these albums…

Decibully – “Somewhere In The World” (video):

Delaware Are You: An America Is Just A Word Update

I’m excited to announce yet another contributor to America Is Just A Word. Darren Walters, co-owner of Jade Tree records, has given me the thumbs up for the interview process, and his voice will be more a welcome addition to the roster of interviewees. Although most of the first-person interviews I’m collecting will be musicians, Walters’ input is very much appreciated, especially as Jade Tree’s impact on the international emo scene is nothing but important. Since forming in 1990, the label has signed/released music from many an important emo act: The Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, Pedro The Lion, Hot Water Music, Texas Is The Reason, Jets To Brazil, Girls Against Boys, Joan Of Arc, Owls, Lifetime, Juno, and countless others have released music bearing the Jade Tree logo over the years.

Walters’ own experience will be able to shed some light on the impact of emo from its point of underground popularity through its watershed moment and to the present, how it affected Jade Tree, and how it affected those who were assigned to the term, including Jade Tree. It’ll be another great addition to the book, which is really beginning to accumulate a number of great contributors!

The Promise Ring – “Is This Thing On?” (video):

Interview with Sam Zurick

When I last dropped in an interview with an artist that will be featured in America Is Just A Word, it was with Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison. Today’s post features selections from an interview with Sam Zurick, a multi-instrumentalist extraordinare of Chicago’s esteemed post-hardcore scene. Zurick is probably best known for his work as a bassist in the revered and short-lived Cap’n Jazz and his work as a guitarist in Joan of Arc, on top of his role in the massive web of Kinsella brother-involved projects ranging from Owls and Make Believe to Friend/Enemy and Ghosts and Vodka (and then there’s his solo project People Dick). Basically, Zurick has been an instrumental part in what’s been a creative, challenging, and inventive musical community that’s provided the seeds to numerous emo bands since Cap’n Jazz broke up.

Sam gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up for sharing as much of the interview as I please. Here’s a little sample:

*What made you want to pick up an instrument?

Sam: “I had no intentions of playing an instrument until I met Tim (Kinsella). We met Freshmen year of high school and became buddies. Whereas I was just a music fan, he wanted to dig in and actually make music. So, he brought me into his basement and showed me his guitar and amplifier. I soon started to roadie/dance for his band ‘Toe Jam’, and from there I picked up the bass and we started Cap’n Jazz.”

*I know there were several names for what would eventually become Cap’n Jazz, but who came up with that name? What were some of the previous band names?

Sam: “The only previous name I remember is Spazzmatic Jazz Machine…which Tim came up with I think. For whatever reason we thought Jazz should be in the name and we were eating Cap’n Crunch one morning and I was like ‘Cap’n Jazz’ and it stuck.”

*Musically, what styles or methods of songwriting influenced what you were making Cap’n Jazz?

Sam: “We fed off of Vic’s guitar playing mostly, he was classically trained and knew his way around the guitar much better than anyone else at that age. We knew we wanted it to be loud and aggressive, so I guess we were influenced by ‘Rock and Roll’ music?”

*How did Davey enter the Cap’n Jazz fold?

Sam: “Tim wanted to change the sound and add another element, and he was a fan of Davey’s band ‘Ten Boy Summer’, so he asked him to join us and it worked out.”

*Was the Chicago music community receptive to Cap’n Jazz, or did you feel that you had to build your own community?

Sam: “It was more of a suburban scene instead of a Chicago scene; we all lived in the suburbs and the scene we were in was very receptive to us at the time. There were Northwest Suburban bands, and Western Suburb bands, and we all were connected through basement shows, VFW halls, and skateboarding. The whole Chicago scene was out of our league, we were just teenagers and couldn’t get in bars even if we were asked.”

Yes, I Am Talking To You: An America Is Just A Word Update

More news on the progression of America Is Just A Word. Since the previous announcement of a few folks being involved in the writing process through personal interviews, a handful of other people have also shown their interest. New to the bill are Matt Anderson of Heroin and Gravity Records; Sam Zurick of Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, and Make Believe (among so many others); Rob Crow of Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, and Pinback (and countless others); and Geoff Farina of Karate. It’s a great feeling that all of these individuals are interested in the work and giving their feedback, especially when many are busy touring or working on various projects. It should be quite interesting when it’s all said and done!

Heroin – “Moving Parts” (Live):

Cap’n Jazz – “Oh, Messy Life” (Live):

Rob Crow – “Up” (Music Video):

Karate – “In Hundreds” (Live):

Amazon is soooooooo emo

Amazon released their list of the 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Times. As with any “definitive” list, Amazon’s has some flaws, and some seem to stand out like sore thumbs, especially moving from one individual’s taste to the next. As a side note, yes, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is a great album and will no doubt be at the top of many an end of the year list, but isn’t it a bit too early to put it in the category of top anything of all time? I mean, the album came out two months ago…

The rules and regulations for the list were rather confusing, and when you consider the concept of indie rock vs independent rock music (many an early blues/rock label were, by way of creation, independent, but there’s not a mention of any Chess Records release or otherwise on the list), it’s all the more perplexing. And, the list does bring to light the confounding question of “is emo indie?” which seems to be brought up more often nowadays in a fashion sense than a musical sense. Still, a good chunk of emo produced today is independent and fits into the ambiguous aesthetic of “indie,” and in the past, emo was a strong component of the 90s emo scene.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at where some big-name emo acts landed on the Amazon list:

84. Hearts Of Oak – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

83. Save Yourself – Make Up

80. The Ugly Organ – Cursive

78. Nothing Feels Good – The Promise Ring

45. How Memory Works – Joan Of Arc

31. Repeater + 3 Songs – Fugazi

29. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy – Jawbreaker

If you’re confused about the placement of some of these albums in relation to one another, you might not want to look at the full list… it’s rather… well, odd. But, I do have to give them some props for including The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good33 1/3, take a look at that list!

Taboo And Alphabets Too

Last night a bunch of my friends threw a show in their house… a comedy show that is. Whereas most young towns have a thriving music scene, the comedy community in Boston is everything that most insular scenes hope they can be; diverse, thriving, widespread, intimate, creative, and a network of people who are friends first and competitors never. And funny. Man are they funny. Everything from the quick-and-fast rules of delivery to hip-hop rhymes and beats about taekwondo to odd-ball rants by folks featured on Comedy Central, it was all enhanced by the intimacy of the tiny Allston-based house.

I capped off the night with what must have been an hour dedicated to playing the wordsmith worthy game Taboo. After some quick, catch-and-release trials, a group of us decided to play “hardcore,” where you could only give one clue in order for others to get the word in question in one guess. It’s a lot more challenging than the usual method of playing the game, but it sure is fun. In retrospect, the cap-off of Taboo featuring performers from the night’s previous comedy collaboration was odder than I had imagined at the time. Well, odder in recollection than experience; as most of us were all friends, it really wasn’t all that weird. But the boundaries that individuals often place on society with labels such as “performer” would elevate members of the community above others, when really it just provided for an interesting initial introduction for everyone present in the house. The atmosphere lacked any pretension associated with elevating members of the community, the intimacy of the event, the intelligence of the performance, and the humor involved made it all seem like any other night hanging out with friends… just some of those friends had the incentive to stand up and talk to a crowd for ten minutes.

Combining a general lack of pretension with musical intelligence, creativity, communal intimacy, and a warmth of humor is Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz. Though they broke up by the mid-90s, their impact has been felt throughout the emo world, most immediately in the then-growing presence of the Mid-Western underground emo scene that was about to reach a tipping point. Their influence had immediate impact with the culmination of post-Cap’n Jazz projects, most notably with 2nd guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s side project The Promise Ring coming to the focal point of the national emo community. However, brethren Mike and Tim Kinsella have also had their fare share of impact with acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls (as well as American Football and Owen), two highly experimental groups that aren’t as well known as The Promise Ring, but certainly have their fare share of influence. Still getting shout-outs in magazines such as Alternative Press (last month’s cover story on the 23 most influential punk bands of the last 23 years had a great spread on band), the Cap’n Jazz legacy was compacted into a singular double-album release in 1998, Analphabetapolothology (now there’s the Taboo-worthy word).

Cap\'n Jazz

Brimming from end to end with unmeasurable catharsis, Analphabetapolothology takes some getting used to before you can grab those nuggets of mid-90s emo gold. Then again, Cap’n Jazz were never shooting for pop gold, just music that challenged themselves, made the band members satisfied with their own creation, and had a particular subcultural connotation. It’s a bit of a continuation of the hardcore punk tradition (and hardcore can readily be seen as a starting point for the members of Cap’n Jazz, not to mention countless of other alternative bands that continues on to today), where the band wanted to make something profoundly different then what was being pushed out on the mainstream and have it mean something to their particular community. But, while hardcore became uniform in all senses of the word, Cap’n Jazz’s hold on emo was as angular as the guitar-work involved in it. They called in the horns, lyrics that weren’t all there (at least, upon first glance), gritty dynamic changes that recall Sunny Day Real Estate played by a garage band, pop-worthy harmonies, and song structures that subverted all forms of the norm.

The best and brightest of emo today have Cap’n Jazz to thank for the fuel of creativity that somehow manages to bubble up, as if untapped, while the rest of the world thinks of emo as simply shallow. Musically, you can hear Cap’n Jazz’s influence on a vast array of emo artists. Tim’s almost-whispered, rant-singing at the start of “Puddle Splashers” recalls a more musically ambiguous version of what Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara attempts to create, while “Que Suerte!” sounds like a messier, more cathartic mix of what makes Thursday’s work so captivating.

Yet beyond later influence was Cap’n Jazz’s immediate impact on the community around them. The band appeared at a time just before emo began to solidify its main aesthetic elements, and Cap’n Jazz challenged every idea of singular aesthetic until its end. The biggest acts of mid-90s, Mid-Western emo not only came from disparate places on the map, but had disparate ideas in their musical take on the sound that originally had been birthed in DC. But under the musical heretofore of bands like Cap’n Jazz, they helped open the community to anyone with any original and challenging idea of emo, not simply to those who had pretensions to how to run a scene. It was more about the people involved in the community rather than following a guidebook, and for Cap’n Jazz’s musical and personal role in the national scene, it’s much greater than the first listen of Analphabetapolothology might lead you to believe. In a world where a post-hardcore sound could share space with bands who brought hardcore, pop-punk, pop, and whatever rule-based genre to the table, it was Cap’n Jazz’s original blending of ideas that helped emo form so many different strands and creative impulses for years to come.

Cap\’n Jazz – Little League