Tag Archives: Pedro the Lion

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.”

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List-less

Isn’t it a little to early for those end-of-the-year or end-of-the-decade critics list? Didn’t September just roll around? August hadn’t even ended before Pitchfork rolled out it’s top singles of the 2000s.

Doesn’t it all seem a little too, well, soon? It’s still just September! There are four full months left in the decade! Some kid in the middle of Mississippi could be making the best damn pop tune of the century with a jug and Garageband tomorrow, but for some reason the lists are done. Final. Sorry jug players of tomorrow, today’s history lesson is over.

I get why people make lists. It’s not even necessarily about “being the authority,” especially these days where anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to string verbs, nouns, punctuation, and numbers together with a complete thought can upload their list to every foreseeable computer. (Though in some small sense, anyone who makes a list wants to be the authority on their list.)

In most cases it’s because making these lists are fun. How do you think the guys in High Fidelity manage to get along each and every day without going ballistic? Top 5 lists! I know it’s fun because I’ve done it (on this blog no less). It’s especially fun to go back and see what you thought was the end-all-be-all of a particular year and how your tastes have changed over time. These aren’t the final word on anything. No way, no how. (Though consensus always brings “the classics” to the public, and you can’t go wrong there.)

But of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t get flustered at some lists. Take this one by Stephen Ortiz which cropped up on UConn’s The Daily Campus site: “Great Emo Anthems.” Whilest asking himself what the best emo songs of the past decade were, Ortiz came up with this list:

1. Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without The ‘E'”

2. The Used – “The Taste of Ink”

3. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”

4. Senses Fail – “Can’t Be Saved”

5. A Day To Remember – “I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?”

Huh?

What?

Really?

There are always things one finds questionable with lists like these. But I have to wonder what Ortiz was thinking with this list. Let’s just take a think here for a second. Take out A Day To Remember, because, really, what? And as far as Yellowcard, they were always considered widely to be more pop-punk than emo; that’s the “all sensitivity is emo” argument, and in that style of pop punk, wasn’t New Found Glory always considered to be more “emo” than Yellowcard?

What’s left? Nothing I could really consider top 5 emo anthems. “The Taste of Ink” may have been a hit, but it doesn’t place anywhere near top 5 (I’m surprised the band is still around to be perfectly honest). But “Cute without the ‘E'” was always something of a tune beloved by diehard TBS fans. And Senses Fail… I won’t bother there.

But are these anthems? Take a look at the definition of the word:

1 a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause : the song became the anthem for hippie activists.

I’d hardly call any of these anthems. I can think of 5 emo songs from this decade that are more anthemic to the general population (nevermind emo fans) than these songs fairly quickly. Let’s take a gander, and in no particular order:

Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (really, that song was inescapable in ’02)

Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down” (wasn’t this the dude that made emo the thing at the start of the decade? Yes, I believe so)

Coheed & Cambria – “A Favor House Atlantic” (fairly inescapable in 03/04)

Say Anything – “Alive With The Glory Of Love” (is one of the few pop songs of the decade that had a 2nd life; once when it came out as a song on an independent record in 04, and then again when the album was reissued on a major label)

Taking Back Sunday – “A Decade Under The Influence” (dur)

See? Fairly easy. I even tossed in a TBS song more non-fans are probably familiar with. And this was all done without thinking what is a better song or a song I enjoy more, but instead what most people would call an anthem. There were so many great “emo” songs of the decade that any list would be missing some stuff. People will no doubt forget the Maritimes, Jeremy Enigks, Pedro The Lions, hell, even the Fugazis when making these lists… and well, that’s the way it goes.

I will probably make a list or two towards the end of the year. Probably nothing as monolithic as a “best albums of the decade,” because my rabid interest in music and knowledge of what was coming out every day wasn’t like what it is today. But, something will crop up. And I’ll be sure to have fun with it.

Way To Go Joe

Lally on bass...

Lally on bass...

I’ve got some more stuff over at Bostonist today, this time with some big names in emo and underground music history: Joe Lally and Glorytellers. The former is the bass player of Fugazi, the later is fronted by Geoff Farina of Karate (who I’ll be interviewing for America Is Just A Word when the tour wraps up). Also in on the show was The Soft Drugs, fronted by the singing drummer who goes by the name of TW Walsh (formerly of emo Christian-rockers Pedro the Lion), though I didn’t mention the band in my review, partially because my pics of them just weren’t up to snuff. What’s interesting was that between sets whoever was behind the music selection had an ear for Pedro the Lion-esq songs…

Anywho, for a recap, head to Bostonist. That’s all for now!

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):

Dear Science, I’ve Made a Mixtape for You

After a bit of a delay, I finally present to you my review for TV on the Radio’s Dear Science,. But I’ve decided to offer up something entirely different in the way of reviews by focusing on the one pitfall of music critique I cannot stand yet find myself using at times: comparison. It’s quite often too easy to draw comparisons to well-known music in the past to describe something unheard of in the present. When used sparingly, it can work well, but used to often and it just comes across as cheap. But I’ve decided to tackle this situation head on by combining it with the underlining theme of this blog; I will compare each track of Dear Science, with an emo song that shares some similar quality of its structure (lyrics, instrumentals, etc). It should have quite an odd result, but hopefully it will allow someone out there to either reconsider some song or band they passed over due to a label (emo) or consider a new song they might stubbornly dismiss just because. So, without further ado, here goes:

*”Halfway Home” = The Promise Ring – “Why Did We Ever Meet”

Both of these songs exercise a certain sense of juxtaposition by combining uplifting instrumentation with relatively dark lyrics about the death of/confusing state of a relationship. And with both singers (Tunde Adebimpe of TVOTR and Davey von Bohlen of TPR) taking on the between-lyrics vocal melodies of “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” (“Halfway Home”) and “do-do-do-do do-do-do” (“Why Did We Ever Meet”), it stretches those juxtapositions to pop power’s upper reaches.

*”Crying” = Egg Hunt – “We All Fall Down”

“Crying” details the trials and tribulations that people go through in life (drug abuse, disaster, biblical disasters, the works) and how they face those problems, often taken in the guise of releasing one’s emotions with crying. Egg Hunt, Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson’s post-Minor Threat studio project, crafted their sound in a similar light to what TV on the Radio do with “Crying”; that is, combine the gamut of pop influences into a powerful musical force. “We All Fall Down” does that, discussing the potential pain one endures in attempting to accomplish things and get somewhere in life, and all with a bit of funk that’s heavily imbued in “Crying.”

Unfortunately, no video/music presentation for this one – check the Dischord site.

*”Dancing Choose” = Atmosphere – “National Disgrace”

And they said emo-rap was weird. Here, TVOTR run into new territory as Tunde’s lyrics are delivered with the kind of spit-fire fury and speed of most hip-hop. With lyrics that portray an odd underbelly of society, it hearkens to Atmosphere, who’s place in the emo spectrum was one of many kinks in the genre’s definition but one that added some fluidity and originality to its constraints, and “National Disgrace.” Fueled with an overwhelming sense of anger towards America’s vapid consumer culture, “National Disgrace” recalls the same fiery passion of “Dancing Choose” by distancing the creator from the negative aspects of a culture they’ve become a part of.

*”Stork and Owl” = Cap’n Jazz – “Oh Messy Life”

TVOTR’s “Stork and Owl” is a dazzling and affecting start and stop song a la’ “I Was a Lover,” with an electronically-plastered back-beat and muddled lyrics about life through the eyes of a couple of animals. “Oh Messy Life” is a brash interpretation of life that’s no less affecting, with lyrical outbursts that turn into-run on rants similar to the section of “Stork and Owl” when Tunde delivers “it goes it goes it goes it goes.” It’s all in the stories of other individuals, and the quick snapshots seem to say a lot about life without ever pointing anything out in a cliched manner.

*”Golden Age” = Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down”

For those who’s only math involves the equation of “punk + crying = Dashboard”, “Hands Down” is perhaps the happiest song in Chris Carrabba’s canon. It’s simple, catchy, carefree, and yes, happy. It’s also easily one of Dashboard’s best-known songs. And here comes “Golden Age,” a simple, catchy, carefree, and happy song by TV on the Radio, a band that’s certainly known for addressing the negative undercurrents of society. And “Golden Age” looks poised to be one of TVOTR’s best-known songs, hands down.

*”Family Tree” = The Get Up Kids – “I’ll Catch You”

Here are a couple of songs that are almost a departure from these bands’ passionate, bombastic rock sound, but also happen to be just as affective as any ear-bursting blast (if not more) and more haunting than most other tracks. “I’ll Catch You” trades in The Get Up Kids’ usual pop-punk persuasion for a near-ballad, a piano-based ditty that flat-out addresses romantic love, while staying true to the band’s punk parallels with fits of guitar squeal. “Family Tree” is just as moving, letting TVOTR’s sea of feedback settle to reveal an affecting vocal performance similar to Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes‘ “Ambulance.” And it’s all about love, but not without TVOTR’s nom ‘de artiste, with the symbols of death and rapture close behind.

*”Red Dress” = Fugazi – “Nice New Outfit”

Here are two songs that discuss the nadir of society’s underbelly – war – with the symbol of clothing. TVOTR note society’s ability to ignore war, slavery, and pain with the line “go ahead put your red dress on,” while Fugazi comment how that “nice new outfit” with its “straight clean lines” was woven with fabric made of blood and war in foreign countries. And all over a jittery, repeated guitar squeal.

*”Love Dog” = The Appleseed Cast – “Hanging Marionette”

These are two slowly paced songs that seem to send shock waves with each painstakingly sung chorus (or lyrical break) and attain something of a similar melody. Their lyrical qualities can be seen as different sections of a long narrative. In “Hanging Marrionette,” the narrator is stricken by the loss and complete absence of someone near and dear, while light years later that person has transformed into a lonely little “Love Dog,” completely lost to the world.

*”Shout Me Out” = Brand New – “The Archers Bows Have Broken”

TVOTR’s “Shout Me Out” has the aesthetic ideal of casting off the ails of old, facing your problems, and defiantly shouting in their face, all to the tune of an electronically-inclined dance beat. “The Archers Bows Have Broken” is a song that builds and rises, with the characters/band overcoming the death of the old world and facing whatever adversity they had built in their minds with a defiant shout. And man are they a couple of victoriously-charged songs.

*”DLZ” = Jawbreaker – “Boxcar”

“DLZ” is an ambiguous indictment of hipsters/trend-chasers/whatever you want to call them, and the general “mess” they make of things. But when it comes down to it, there’s a certain amount of disconnect between their actions and the ideal they like to say they play out. So when Tunde shouts at the end, “this is beginning to feel like the dawn of the loser forever,” is he eulogizing the 90s punk ideal of loser that Jawbreaker was defending against posers over a decade ago in “Boxcar”? That just may be – both groups seem to notice how the out-crowd has been stifling with too many in-crowd seeking individuals, and are taking their frustration of their culture to the front-line, backed by some pop-friendly panache.

*”Lover’s Day” = Pedro the Lion – “Rapture”

Now, here are two songs about one of the three tenants of rock ‘n’ roll – sex. And while they have divergent views on the issue – TVOTR discuss it in positive terms, while Pedro’s take has a certain element of guilt as the song’s characters are having an affair – the ravenous description of “love making” ties the two together. TVOTR’s celebration of the act (“Yes of course there are miracles/a lover that love’s is one”) eventually meets the orgiastic height of Pedro’s heaven’s gates-as-sex narrative (“Oh my sweet rapture/I hear Jesus calling me home”).

And what do I think of Dear Science,? Well, I think it’s clear that I’ve always been a fan of the band. And this has just been another wonderful treat from a group that I feel like I’ve grown with. Simply put, one of the best of the year.