About Flame Shark
Flame Shark began in the fall of 2004 when lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Justin Jahnke (29) said the hell with graduate school and moved 1,100 miles north from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Madison, Wisconsin. Friends and family questioned his move to such “Non-Southern” territories, but after quitting school and selling off…scratch this…I’m writing this thing, so I’m telling it like it is. Do you think an independent band has the money to pay for bio writers? We don’t.
I made my first full-length album when I was 19 and had been in bands and whatnot for many years, but it wasn’t until I quit graduate school and moved away from my home in Louisiana that I completely embraced music and art. Now, five Flame Shark albums later, I have not, for one second, regretted the decision to follow my instincts north and chase down the dream I’ve had since I was a teenager.
When I got to Madison it was frozen solid, but I hit the streets and through what now seems like fate I discovered bassist, songwriter and vocalist Mike “Goldenwings” Meske (27) and keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist Rusty “LaRue” Lee (24). We started out as a sort of gentle, low key folk-pop trio, inspired by more psychedelic country-rock bands like The Byrds, Rain Parade and Beachwood Sparks, playing our first gig to a crowd of 300 rowdy locals at the Hodag Country Pickoff in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We weren’t really country or great pickers, but we let loose what we had and I knew we were a breath of fresh air when one of the judges said, and I quote, “Boys, your harmonies gave me goose bumps.”
We pooled our money, bought a van, became close friends and confidants and played all over Wisconsin, in towns called Antigo, Plover, Wausau, Gleason and Eau Claire to name a few. Between gigs in Wisconsin, we drove back and forth from our homes in Madison to a Milwaukee studio called Transit Recording.
The studio, owned by our creative contributor and sometimes drummer Alex Boyes (29), is sort of a three story crumbly, ginger bread house, wrapped in vines, with two loaves of fresh baked bread always sitting on the kitchen table. Our efforts there produced the EPs Release This, You Bloodsuckers! (2006) and Vireo (2007) and the full length album Midnight On Pearl Beach (2006). Critics in Wisconsin took notice saying:
“If someone played this EP (Vireo) between acts at say, Bonaroo, a lot of college age fans would be scrambling to find out who recorded it.” -The Isthmus, Madison, WI
“With vocals like a younger and more decipherable Dylan, Flame Shark is one of the most promising new acts in town.”-muzzleofbees.com, Madison, WI
“Their record (Midnight On Pearl Beach) has a quiet, almost breezy feel, but when turned up a little louder reveals a band with a confident command of their own sound…gleefully weird rockers in the spirit of Viva Voce.” -The Onion, Madison, WI
“With artistry like this, Flame Shark wont go unrecognized for long.”
Forum Newsweekly, Shreveport, LA
On three national tours and about 150 shows played in Wisconsin we managed to sell out of all three albums, 2,000 copies in all. Since then we’ve been busy, just wrapping our second full length album RAW FLOWERS (release date August 25, 2009).
The journey to record RAW FLOWERS (a term lifted from my brother’s Japanese girlfriend) took us to New Orleans and back where we tracked ten songs in ten hours at the bordello-like studio Piety Street Recording. My old friend, drummer, percussionist and Louisiana native Doug Gay (34) manned the drums and brought his South Louisiana vibe to the session as well as his almost 20 years of live and studio experience. At that point we’d moved to Chicago and we gleefully let the sights, sounds and smells of the city soak into our music, embracing blues, R&B and soul.
RAW FLOWERS sounds like multi-colored Americana music played through the crusty speakers of a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado. Soulful, triumphant, heartbreaking horns wash over the album, Rusty LaRue’s dirty, powerful Hammond organ swells bring to mind a backwoods gospel session and his tinkling, borderline Barrelhouse piano jangles throughout the album giving it a sometimes plaintive, sometimes celebratory feel. I sung all the vocals live and felt honest, naked and happy as I interacted and communicated with a confidant, strong group of musicians. The band was so excited and happy about what we created in New Orleans, we kept riding our creative wave and went into Chicago’s Engine Studios a few weeks later to record another full length album.
We bought Doug a plane ticket and he joined us at Goldenwings’ family cabin in the North Woods of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. We rehearsed for a week and a half, bonded over beer, Monopoly and a party we threw before we left and did twelve hours in the studio the next day. We nailed ten songs in about eight hours and tentatively dubbed the yet to be released album FARM LIFE; a nod to our time spent at the cabin and Rusty’s farm raised upbringing, growing up in an unincorporated town the locals call Sleepy Hollow, Wisconsin.
FARM LIFE is a swampy, soulful, swirling blend of Louisiana culture, in all its’ dirty glory, the tangible, sometimes grungy energy that runs through Chicago and the peacefulness, tranquility and rural beauty of the Northwooods in Wisconsin. As of December 23rd, 2009 we’re currently in the process of wrapping up tracking for this new album. One of our biggest feats yet, we managed to get ahold of Marc Ford, formerly of The Black Crowes, Ben Harper, The Blind Boys of Alabama and now Flame Shark. Marc flew to Chicago and recorded guitars on six of the ten new songs. I must say, what an incredible turn of events for us. This is a musician I’ve grown up to, looked to for inspiration and been in awe of many times. Few musicians on this earth can truly access their souls AND master the art of their instruments and Marc has done both. He brought all his collective experiences to the recording session and created a vibe on the songs we could not have captured without him. The album is not nearly as straightforward as it started out.
In five years of doing this full time, making albums, writing songs, living on food stamps, sleeping in bath rooms on the road, cooking brats in a coffee pot, sleeping on a beach in Georgia, meeting hundreds of people, free beer, free food, scant pay, the wonder world of a studio and the satisfaction of playing a strong live show, I’ve never tired of any of it. My fascination and passion for creation has only grown stronger. I walk dogs to pay for this lifestyle, during the middle of Chicago winter, I walk dogs. Mike walks dogs. Rusty traps raccoons. I’m not making this up. We do what we have to do to keep making this music because have to. I’ve seen the romantic side of music and the reality of it too. The band is my family, we live together in Chicago and after this long together, we have found the keys to the vault and we’re using them every day.