When The Drums Kick In…Again; an interview with Andrew and Bryan of The Jazz June

TSR x CMJ

TSR x CMJ

During their six or seven-year tenure, Kutztown, PA, five-piece emo outfit The Jazz June emerged during a period when the rules of the game were quickly changing.  Grunge and alt-rock had come and gone, leaving their considerable mark on the MTV generation, and soon the A&R reps would be banging down the doors of ‘90s era emo bands still operating in the underground, dominating the D.I.Y. venues in both the U.S. and Europe, hoping to make them the “next big thing”.  Although the Jazz June flew mostly below the radar and made left a relatively small mark on the genre when compared to some of their peers, perhaps no other one of these bands left a larger impact Dayton, Ohio all-ages scene where this writer cut his teeth. 

Why were they embraced as readily and passionately by my peers and I?  Frankly, a combination of preexisting local friendships within the scene, and later the band’s growing love for us and our stomping grounds — which Andrew Low detailed in “An Afternoon In Dayton,” the poem in the liner notes for the Workshop Records release of The Boom, The Music, and The Motion — permanently endeared the band to our scene.  We loved them because they loved us and vice versa.  As a result, their local shows were legendary.

Disbanding originally in 2002, the band has reformed a handful of times – once in 2006 and again in 2010. In October 2013 the band will again take the stage at the Topshelf Records CMJ showcase on October 19 at St. Vitus in Brooklyn (also on the bill are Caravels, Enemies, Have Mercy and an unannounced special guest headliner).  Although for now this appears to be a one-off deal, Ghettoblaster caught up with singer/guitarist Andrew Low and guitarist Brian Gassler to discuss the good old days, AND the new material they’ve been working on.  This is what they told me.

Do I remember right that you were from PA or am I getting you confused with Ethel Meserve?

Andrew Low: Yes, we all met when we were going to Kutztown University. The rest of the band was born and raised in PA. I am from New Jersey and only lived in PA while I was going to Ktown.

What have you guys been doing for the last 11 years?

Andrew: A lot. For Dan, Bryan and Justin their biggest accomplishments have been getting married to beautiful women and having rad little kids. And for me, moving to London and falling in love with a Northern Girl. Musically we have all been playing in bands with and without each other over the years. Dan and I were in a band called Snakes and Music for a while, which Bryan used to play and record with from time to time. Bryan and Justin were also in a few bands together. I have been in about 50 bands since then.

Bryan Gassler: Justin and I played in a short lived skate rock band called Ready to Rip and Dan, Justin and I have played music together over the years, really just jamming of sorts, nothing serious. Other than that I have countless home recordings of songs and freakouts that no one will ever hear. More recently I have started up some internet collaborations that I hope one day someone might hear.    

I know you guys brushed off your equipment in 2007, but why is 2013 right for a reunion?

Andrew: We had a lot of fun doing those benefit shows for Adam and may have kept playing if I hadn’t moved to another country. We have the time, ability and technologically to write songs from different parts of the world now. I have been trying to get those guys to do it for years, but it was not until recently they got the equipment to do so. What happened was we announced on our Facebook page that we were going to be recording some songs together and Kevin from Topshelf Records reached out to us and asked us to play their CMJ showcase. I don’t know if we even thought we would play live, at least not for another year or so, but the TSR showcase is going to be too much fun to miss.

I think another main reason is that quite recently people started getting in touch with us about the newly emerging (or reemerging) DIY emo scene. When we stopped touring back in the early 00s it was partially due to the fact that there was a change in the way the bands, managers, venues and labels in the emo scene were operating because of major label deals. So the basement shows got moved to big rock clubs and it just wasn’t as much fun or familiar any more. We have been really inspired by the new lot of bands and labels who are doing it DIY again. Bands like Heartwell, Dikembe and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die are faithfully creating music to the same standards. The New Appleseed Cast record is also really, really good and takes that sound but moves it into the present. We are hoping to do a split release with them.

Bryan: Yeah, it would be cool to share some vinyl with the Appleseed Cast, a good friend of ours, asked if they were interested and they said yes, so will see……as for playing live this year, it’s not a reunion, it’s a spiritual rebirth. This band has always been about our friendship and the music is what we do when we were feeling creative. In the past few months we finally got with the times and started recording at home, sharing ideas, and building new songs, all without ever being in the same room together – technology is empowering, so we solved our collaboration hang up and the music naturally came back.

And social media, wow, what a game changer. We didn’t have this back in the day you know. Late last year I opened the bands twitter handle and this @washedupemo dude tweeted at us…said something about doing an interview for a podcast. I thought, yeah yeah, washed up, dude wants to make fun of us…but after digging deeper I found out, Washed Up Emo is thee curator of the scene we were a part of. Tom (Washed Up) affirmed the notion that there are people still listening to The Jazz June and that some bands of today were influenced by us. I couldn’t believe it, I never thought that any of our songs would stand the test of time, but it turns out, some have…this really inspired our creative side and fueled our desire to make music again.   

Do you still have all those beautiful Rickenbacker guitars?  Did you notice that a lot of bands switched to those after watching you play them?

Andrew: Well, I got mine after seeing Guy from Fugazi playing them, so I don’t know if we can take all the credit for that. They definitely have a great high end tone that works well for indie and emo music. Mix that with an SG or a Les Paul and you have a great dynamic range in your guitar sound.

Does this appearance signal a larger reunion run?  If so, can we expect a Dayton stop?

Andrew: That is such a hard question to answer. I live in London, Bryan is in North Carolina, Justin just started a design business that is really taking off and everyone is busy with families and life in general. I will say that if we do a larger tour that Dayton will definitely be on the list.

What do you remember about those Dayton stops in the ’90s and early ’00s?  In particular, what do you remember about Blue Ash Solution, Longwayhome, and the other bands you played with here?

Andrew: I remember having entire 2 week tours when we probably played Dayton 5 or 6 times. I remember all those guys and am still in touch with some of them. Nithin from Long Way Home plays bass for Marnie Stern now. My oldest friend Mike O’Shea went to Antioch and was in a band called Bondage Box with Andy from BAS, so we always came through town and played multiple shows in Dayton with them and the other awesome Dayton bands. The Antioch shows were always sick. We played several times in the SUB on campus, which was the maddest place on earth. They let the students do what ever they wanted so they spray painted the walls and had big shows and parties in there all the time. It was more like a squat than a college building. We also toured with Long Way Home a few times, so Dayton was always on the tour schedule. 

Bryan: We loved Dayton because of the people there. I remember playing at an outdoor arena in Antioch and everyone going off circle pit style. I also remember an Adam incident that I won’t put in words, but those who were involved will remember. Adam, we love you.

Those Antioch shows in the ‘90s were insane…

Andrew: Those Antioch shows were absolutely legendary. I have played many punk rock squats in Germany and other places in Europe and nothing compares to the insanity of Antioch. Yet I mean that in a very good and positive way. It was as if the entire school was some sort of utopian training ground for young artists.

I remember walking through the building and there would just be a room, which in any other college in America probably would have been a quiet study are a room, but in the Antioch Student Union Building it was an empty room, totally covered in graffiti  with only an old tv blasting static on the floor in the corner. Just a free space to be as creatively messy as you wanted to without consequence. Amazing.

Is it true that a picture from one of the Dayton shows ended up on one of your record sleeves?

Andrew: You would have to check with Dan or Bryan about that. I have a bad memory for these things, but it is very likely considering the amount of times we played there.

Bryan: It is true. I don’t recall the Dayton venue, but we were rocking out to “His Statue Falls” when someone snapped a pic that landed on the back of The Boom, The Motion & The Music…

Andrew wrote a poem about Dayton that was in the liner notes for that record too, right?

Andrew: I haven’t read that poem in about 10 years. I actually don’t even have a copy of that version of the CD anymore. Everything got boxed up when I moved to London.  But yeah, that is where the album title came from.

If I’m remembering correctly, there was a Mid Carson July, Jazz June love affair.  What was that about and do you still talk to those dudes?

Andrew: Yes we do. A few of the members actually played in a band called the New Bruises at our benefit show for Adam. The ‘love affair’ all started when I asked them to play a show in my basement back in Kutztown. It was probably only our 3rd show. They were a bit older and had been around a bit longer so they kind of helped us out and taught us how to book tours, gave us contacts and took us out on the road in the early days. We all got along really well, so we tried to play with them as much as possible.

Bryan: We had some many great times and tours with MCJ in those early days – it was something you knew you could never let go of. MCJ = great dudes. Over the years I have been following their bands and staying in touch. Recently I have connected more frequently with Bryon and Mike Schmidt through Facebook – Mike is a great follow (do it). These guys and Murray from the Grey A.M. are in a new band called Tiny Empires. Its aggro-indie-emo and I fully endorse them. I have been privileged enough to hear their new album which is coming out early 2014 and I recommend you pick it up on the release date.  

When I came back to Dayton in ’99 my dudes wanted to start a band with three guitarists.  I knew what they were doing.  Did you see a lot of mimicry back in the day?

Andrew: Well, we stole the idea from The Trans Megetti. Dan and I went to see them at the Brighton Bar in NJ on a break from Kutztown when we first started the band and were blown away by the sound that three guitars produced live. Bryan was also a very good friend of ours, so it was only natural to invite him to play with us. At the time we just wanted to be the loudest band ever. I don’t think that too many bands were doing it at the time. It ended up being a logistical nightmare because we had to jam a third Marshall half stack in our tiny van, so we eventually went back to two guitars. Later on our friend Tim Holland would play with us, but he wasn’t playing guitar on every song. He also played keys and trumpet on a few.

How do you feel about this latest wave of emo bands?  How about the Topshelf roster?  Do you hear your influence there?

Andrew: I can’t hear The Jazz June’s influence personally, but I see it mentioned in reviews from time to time. When I listen to the old Jazz June songs now I can hear elements from bands like Jawbox, Archers of Loaf and Superchunk that were direct influences on us. So I think it is more of a longer lineage that we were part of. There is something very unique about music from that time. It’s instantly recognizable. 

If anything it is a good thing. It is nice to think that bands today listen to records from that era and want to borrow from it. It means that the music has stood the test of time.

Bryan: I am really into Dikembe and have been listening to a lot of TWIABP lately. I have a natural connection to the music these bands are making, it’s angular and introspective and for me. I also came across Grey Gordon’s indie-emo Earth Crisis cover and thought, shit, this dude is crazy and has a great voice, so I started listening to him and exchanging twitter fodder.    

Is there a sense of pride in the mark you guys left on the music scene?

Andrew: I am very proud of what we have done as a band and that people are still listening and discovering The Jazz June. I can also say that we never entered into any situations or dealt with any people who we were not 100 percent comfortable with. The fact that we are all still friends to this day, after all the time we have spent together over the past 16 years is what I cherish the most.

Along those lines, someone sent us a YouTube video of a band in Japan who play about five or six Jazz June songs. We never played anywhere near Japan, so who knows how they heard us. But that is the beauty of the Internet I guess.

Bryan: It’s hard for me to believe that we left a mark on the scene, we were always the little band flying under the radar, occasionally crossing path with the big bands….looking back, I am proud of the way we chased our dreams and today I am proud that people speak about us as being influential or pioneering. I know how music affects me and to think we made music that has this effect on others is mind-blowing. 

Do you have plans to record together again?

Andrew: We recorded seven songs at Headroom in Philly, and are hoping to record a few more in the Winter/Spring. It is all a timing thing that comes down to when we can get together in the same room and record.

Bryan: If we can’t get in the same room together then we’re going to solve the remote recording process, which will make it easier for us to continue recording and releasing records.

The Jazz June recording

The Jazz June recording

Is a new Jazz June song going to be on the Topshelf 7″ they are giving out at the show?

Andrew: No, like I said, we recorded some new songs when I was in Philly this summer, but they are still being mixed (by Andy from Hot Rod Circuit/Sloss Minor) at the moment, so they won’t be done in time for a vinyl release at the show.

“When The Drums Kick In” and “When In Rome” are on the setlist, right?

Andrew: Of course. Our set would be incomplete without them.

Are you still going to be pumped if the audience is full of chubby, thirty something dudes wearing the Jazz June soccer shirt (like I would)?

Andrew: Ha! Yes, I am hoping to see a lot of old faces that I have not seen in years. Hopefully they can get babysitters for the night.

Bryan: We are going to be electrified and if our super-roadie can make the trip across the country to be with us it’s going to be absolute insanity.

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