Interview | Jerry Joseph Still Singing In The Rain

By Team JamBase Sep 17, 2014 1:00 pm PDT

Words by: Chad Berndtson

:: Interview :: Jerry Joseph Is Still Singing in the Rain ::

I asked Jerry Joseph about the new, expanded Jackmormons lineup he’ll debut at New York’s Mercury Lounge just a few hours after our interview. Most musicians would take a question like that and turn it into a string of positive, reinforcing platitudes like “new energy” and whatnot.

But Jerry?

“Well…I don’t know how the new lineup is working. I think we’re going to find out in about five fucking hours how the new lineup is working. So let’s give it a try.”

Joseph remains a singular presence in a scene somewhat starved for iconoclasts. But to describe his music – or his personality –purely in terms of its rough-edged, cynical energy is to miss all the tenderness and soul in it. And his long-running Jackmormons are an extension of that personality: a hard-rocking, ferocious thing that long ago mastered how to balance poignant folk rock with Crazy Horse-style abandon –aggressive and insistent, and yet in no hurry.

The Mercury Lounge show is a scorcher, even though, at just over an hour, tantalizingly short. And if you didn’t know any better, there’d be nothing to suggest that with the Jackmormons’ 20th anniversary in sight, a few things have changed in the band. But they have.

Junior Ruppel, who anchored the Jackmormons since its 1995 founding, has left. Instead, Joseph has hit the road with a refreshed lineup that combines him and drummer Steve Drizos with bassist Steve James Wright – a longtime compadre of Joseph’s since his days in Little Women – and a second guitarist, up-and-comer Jeff Crosby, whose 2013 EP was the first non-Jerry Joseph release ever put out by Joseph’s Cosmo Sex School Records.

Here are excerpts from our conversation with Joseph, who with the Jackmormons will release a new album, Singing in the Rain, on October 21 and who among another 2014 adventures, spent time teaching music and performing in Afghanistan at Rock School Kabul.

JAMBASE: The last time I spoke to you at length you were still living in New York. Lots of water under the bridge since then and now the new Jackmormons lineup you’re taking on the road this fall starting with the New York show. Tell me about it.

JERRY JOSEPH: New York is the place to try something, I guess. So the last couple of years, me and Steve Drizos have lived in Portland [Oregon], and now we’re coming back with Steve James Wright, who played with me in Little Women and who I’ve known for 30 years and is a guitar player and also a fucking great bass player.

It’s where we’re at now. Junior lives in Salt Lake and doesn’t want to fly in all the time. So we kind of lucked out that Steve knows us and has been in the middle of it all. It’s good – it’s different. Junior was coming from a more missionary punk rock thing – the thing that made him cool was that he didn’t have that training to know how to play. Steve knows how to fucking play. You can show him something and he’ll know how to play it in like two seconds.

But overall, you know, I don’t always think of it in terms of Jackmormons or not: it’s just shows we’re doing when I play with Steve or he joins us, and he’s joined us on guitar a bunch before. He’s got a lot of history in reggae with me, for example, a lot of history.

JAMBASE: And Jeff?

JJ: It’s always a little nervewracking changing stuff around because I’ve been shouting across the world for how long about how if there’s a better three-piece I haven’t heard it. But sometimes Steve has joined us as a second guitar player and with him moving to bass, I was like, why don’t we just bring a second guitar player out? Why not?

I’ve been waving the banner of this kid Jeff Crosby for a couple of years now. I put out his record and I think he’s the real deal. I don’t know if playing with me is the smartest move he could make [laughs] but he’s fucking awesome.

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Jackmormons. We have a new record coming out in a few weeks called “Singing in the Rain.” Junior’s moved on, but it’s not like we could really stop this thing. The joke with our fanbase was always that Junior quits every six months and then he comes back. Something tells me this time it’s permanent but we’re trying to keep going.

JAMBASE: Is it a tough adjustment for you having a second guitar in the band? You’re used to holding that whole space on your own in the trio format.

JJ: It’s something I always would have liked. Things like Stockholm Syndrome had it, and while I don’t really give a fuck about endless guitar solos, what I really like is heavy rhythm. I grew up listening and playing so much reggae and most of those bands had three guitars on stage. Ron Wood and Keith Richards, what they have is always more rhythmic than anything. As a singer it’s awesome because I get to front the band more and really think about the song.

I don’t want to say it’s going to be great – I have no idea how it’s going to be. But sometimes we take a second guitar player or a keyboard player or both and make it bigger. We’ll have to see how the fanbase likes it. Hopefully both of them like it! [laughs]

JAMBASE: You have a bunch of Europe dates coming up. How’s it been building a fanbase over there? And I’m curious about that specifically because you guys have a class of fans that’ll follow you to Kathmandu and all kinds of far-flung places anyway.

JJ: It’s building. When you look around and you find that you have fans, and then you have 1,000 to 2,000 hardcore fans, you’re saying, how do we expand that? I’m not sure the way for us to do that is to play the 1 p.m. slot at the Good Vibe Jam Fest, you know? The one thing I love about Europe – and I put a lot of effort into this international stuff mostly because I want to go to places like Lebanon and Southeast Asia – is that people seem to take to coming in in small groups, almost person to person, and be a part of a fanbase. It’s a unique thing.

The European fans are the same fucking lunatics our American fans are, though. Maybe it’s 5 p.m., and the gig’s at 6 p.m., and they’re just rolling in to Northern Germany having driven up from Rome that day. And if it’s me alone you do get 300 maybe 400 people who might come in and listen to your song and pay attention.

JAMBASE: You seem to be balancing Jackmormons shows and other commitments with a lot of solo shows, and reworking a lot of your back catalog for that format. What do you like about the solo performance?

JJ: For me, it keeps me in the song. The Jackmormons are this thing that’s on overdrive, so it’s fun for me to do it quietly. I always say that I don’t write on a laptop – I’m not up late at night ripping off Massive Attack beats and doing a bunch of effects, mostly because I don’t have the technical skill to do that, and also because most of what I write is on an acoustic guitar. It keeps me aware. I’m starting to get to that age where I forget things – so I feel fortunate that I can do both things, the band and solo. And hey: I’m the only one I’m paying on the solo tour. My wife is a big fan of the solo tour!

JAMBASE: You mentioned Stockholm Syndrome. Have we seen the last of that band?

JJ: I wouldn’t know. It’s kind of out of my hands. Dave [Schools] is playing with Hard Working Americans and I think that stuff is a lot more palatable for those guys and the audience. I think he’s really enjoying it.

Stockholm Syndrome was kind of a beast. It was a lot of egos and a lot of money to move it around. I live in a world where a couple thousand for a show is a lot of money. For Stockholm, that’s how much it cost to play the show. It was very different. For us [in the Jackmormons] we’re moving forward into next year, and working out the details of taking the band to some of these weird markets like Bangkok and Bali and Mumbai. I want to go back to these schools and places I’ve been, I was in Afghanistan this year. I don’t know; maybe it makes me a more interesting person at cocktail parties.

JAMBASE: Was Stockholm Syndrome a positive experience for you?

JJ: Sure, it was. But it was also super frustrating. There was a shit-ton of money spent on it, and then it was like, we’ve done all this in the band and we’re not going to follow it up? But like I said, that’s out of my hands. Stockholm Syndrome was really turned over to peoples’ personal managers to work out.

It’s hard to tell sometimes when things are organic or by design. I think that band was kind of by design, so maybe it ended by design when it was supposed to end, but I’m not privy to those conversations or memos, if there were memos. Me and Dave are really good friends. I see those guys and I think we’re all like, what the fuck happened? But I’m used to being a Napoleon control freak in my own little world, so I’m not at the center of the circle of that.

JAMBASE: I read your blog posts describing some of your experiences in Afghanistan. What do you take away from that experience?

JJ: It was really mixed. The teaching part was amazing, but it’s…it’s war, you know? A lot of those kids I think were worried to have their name on the Rock School roster depending on how the political winds in that country blow. Most of the ones I was dealing with were about 16 or up into their early 20s. They all want to learn metal. I mean, wow, huge fucking Megadeth fans over there.

But I’m sitting there, and I have these too heavy guitar strings to play those kinds of solos, but I’m talking to these kids and finding out what appeals to them, and in the middle of all this you’re hearing these Blackhawks and Chinooks going in the air all the time. They’re constantly in the air, and it’s that loud, constant sound. That sound is the soundtrack to these kids lives, you know? It’s the sound of their city.

It was crazy. We did a couple of shows and they were great, but it was no expats. All the expats, when I was there, were in super crazy lock-down because the Taliban had stepped up the execution-style attacks. So my shows would be all Afghans and they’d come in with their security detail and it was cool.

But the work that some of the people I was with are doing…you know, I’ve always been chasing my own monthly nut since I was in the music business as a kid. I haven’t had a lot of time for other things, but going to these places you get this glimpse of the effect you can have, not just from music but also NGO groups, like this whole other life I could have lived. That’s a million miles away from who’s going to be playing bass with me at the Mercury Lounge, you know?

But it was cool. I’ve been in war zones before, and usually it involves a lot of people running in one direction and not paying any attention to me.

JAMBASE: What got you interested in doing these things?

JJ: I met the guy, Patch Adams – they based a movie on him, with Robin Williams – and he was trying to get me to do these things with him and go into huge slums around the world and put on clown noses and administer medical treatment to help kids. I was going to do that, and then came this opportunity to go to Afghanistan, and people told me, no one will come and oh by the way they’re shooting doctors there. And there’s me, and I’m like, yeah, I’ll go!

JAMBASE: Would you do it again?

JJ: In a second. We’re already trying to figure that out. Maybe it’s just a good time for me to take a month or two and go teach these kids some Dave Mustaine licks, you know? Maybe that’s an important thing.

Jambase | Singin’ in the Rain
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