Johnny Whitney’s only just begun to look at DiS. Meeting the singer backstage at London’s Wireless Festival, he tells me: “I just looked at it for the first time this year – it’s a pretty big site”. A big site with a whole lot of love for your old band, sir: The Blood Brothers always did alright on these pages.
For those playing catch-up: The Blood Brothers blazed a furiously vibrant art-punk trail out of Seattle from 1997 ‘til their split last year, reported here. Among the reader comments: “Damn, I love pretty much everything they've done… This is pretty bloody depressing”; “I’m actually weeping into my tea whilst sitting in the dark listening to Burn, Piano Island, Burn”; “This is a tragedy of At The Drive-In Proportions”. A lot of love. Burn, Piano Island, Burn, the band’s third LP, came in at 26 on Our 66 of 2006, counting down DiS’s favourite albums since the site was founded, and their final album, Young Machetes, earned a 9/10 score here. Almost too much love, perhaps.
But that was then – joining forces with ex-Blood Brother Cody Votolato and Jay Clark, ex-guitarist with another of DiS’s favourite stateside acts of recent years Pretty Girls Make Graves (who also split last year, news), Whitney has formed Jaguar Love. The trio’s debut album is Take Me To The Sea, released via Matador in August; a self-titled EP served as a curtain-up last month. Wireless is the band’s first UK date, and while it won’t be fondly remembered by the players on stage – the core threesome are joined by a couple of stowaways from Head Automatica to flesh out their sound – as the festival’s third-tier tent is hardly rammed, it gives me a preview of what to expect from their bound-to-be-better club shows, as sponsored by DiS.
Remaining tour dates follow a Q&A with Whitney, below.
Jaguar Love (l-r): Jay Clark, Johnny Whitney, Cody Votolato
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That was a weird way to start your UK tour…
Yeah, it was just kinda… festivally.
Still, an easy way to get into the swing of things before your club shows here?
Well, we’ve been out for almost three weeks now, around Europe, so we’re pretty much ready.
How’ve those shows been for you guys?
The shows have been rad, especially for not having an album out yet. There have been a lot of people coming out, and the shows have been a lot of fun. We got to play all over – we were just in Prague, and Hungary. I’d never been to Hungary before, and The Blood Brothers only went to Prague once, and there were more people at the Jaguar Love show than there were back then. That was pretty unexpected.
I guess many people who came out were fans of your old bands – plus you toured with Pretty Girls a couple of times, right?
Yep, we toured with them a couple of times.
And this is how the seeds for Jaguar Love were sown?
Jay was on tour with us when the band broke up, doing guitar tech work with us for about three months. We toured with Pretty Girls twice, but I’d never really become that close with any of them until Jay came on tour with us.
Was Pretty Girls’ split a friendly one?
They broke up pretty amicably, yeah.
And you guys? There didn’t seem to be too much drama to the dissolution of The Blood Brothers.
Oh, yeah? Well, we kept the drama to ourselves, but there was a lot of it. That’s all I’ll say on that!
Okay. You worked with Mark Gajadhar, drummer in The Blood Brothers, on your Neon Blonde album Chandeliers in the Savannah (review here) while the band was still together – was that the trial run, of sorts, for Jaguar Love?
Uh-huh, yeah – the Neon Blonde record, to me, was an opportunity to do everything, to arrange everything. I’d written a couple of songs in The Blood Brothers, but at the time that was it. That was a test of the water – I was having a lot of problems with my role in The Blood Brothers at that time, so it was to show myself that I was capable of doing something like that. In The Blood Brothers there were very concrete roles – I wrote all the lyrics, Cody wrote all the guitar parts, Morgan [Henderson] all the bass parts. There wasn’t room for me to do anything else.
And now there’s a better songwriting system in place?
Now we only write as a three-piece – it makes things more elastic. The other two guys, the guys who’re playing with us live, are radical though. We hung out with them at our ‘welcome to Matador’ meeting in New York, and then they became involved pretty much out of the blue.
What’s it like to be part of the Matador family?
It’s awesome to be on a record label that isn’t going to fall apart! We’ve had awful luck with labels in the past… I think we’ll probably be the band to bring Matador down, actually. The Blood Brothers actually tried really hard to be on Matador after ArtistDirect went under (after Burn - Ed), but it didn’t pan out. I really wanted to work with them, though.
It’s a shame you broke up when you did, really, what with you just signing to Wichita.
Wichita would have been rad, for sure. They’re solid.
Onto the album: Take Me To The Sea sounds a lot richer than Blood Brothers records, in terms of its depth and layers. There’s a lot in there, swirling around the place.
Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with Jay, that’s his style. I wrote most of the keyboard parts, and Cody wrote the guitar parts and some of the basslines, but everything else Jay was in charge of. His mind works in… like, sometimes I think I’m two-dimensional and he’s three-dimensional, his mind is very expansive. I think a lot of the depth on the record can be attributed to him.
Any nerves in bringing in musicians who weren’t involved in the writing of the songs to play them live?
Before we started playing live as a five-piece we played five shows with Queens of the Stone Age, and we’d play with a computer up there. There’s still some stuff we need a computer for – Jay’s in charge of it – but back then we had bass coming out of a bass amp, but there was no bassist! It’s rad in a way because it sounds so perfect, but there’s that risk that something’s going to go down. So it’s less stressful having the musicians with us.
You mentioned when we weren’t recording that this felt like a real fresh start for you – is there no baggage at all from your past pursuits?
Oh, yes and no… I think that it’s inevitable that there’s going to be like 35 to 40 per cent of people that hear this band because of The Blood Brothers, and then aren’t interested because it’s not a metal band.
But The Blood Brothers were never a metal band, really.
Well, no, but I mean we were rooted in hardcore. We played pop music through the filter of hardcore. The thing with that band, our records were always met by comments that they weren’t as good as Burn, Piano Island, Burn! People always wanted us to repeat that record. It’s great that it can be a way in for people, but that was certainly baggage for us. Everybody’s favourite record is always the first one they listen to, but whatever. Y’know, for someone in my position, someone who’s toured a lot, my new work is always going to be seen through the filter of what I’ve done before. But I feel like there’re opportunities with this band that we never had with The Blood Brothers, in terms of reaching a number of people.
You feel there’s a greater pop edge to Take Me To The Sea than on any other record you’ve been involved with?
There’s definitely more exploration on this album. I’m more interested in pop music nowadays, too, than punk music.
And lyrically, is it more personal? It sounds to me like you’re not dressing up your stories with detailed imagery quite so decadently.
I’ve tried to be more personal on this album, but it’s hard to sing certain things about your life. I always thought the lyrics with The Blood Brothers could paint a very vivid picture, but I wasn’t always sure what it was. There are certain songs that draw from people I know, experiences and tragedies… it’s a challenge to write about these things and keep them fresh in an artistic sense. It’s a bit more revealing.
You’re a married man – was your wife not annoyed after the break up of The Blood Brothers that you decided to get right back into the touring swing of things with a new band?
She’s really supportive. We wrote 80 per cent of this record in one month, after Jay and Cody moved into a house that my wife and I had bought. They moved in back in August, and my wife cooked every meal for us while we worked on the record. She’s like… she’s really been supportive, and could not be happier.
Finally, are you going to be back after these July shows for a tour after the album’s out?
I’m really looking forward to these club shows, and then we’re looking to come back in the autumn. We’re touring the States right after these dates, a headlining tour, and then we’ll come back here.
Video: 'Highways Of Gold' (live)
Video: 'Man With The Plastic Suns' (live)
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Take Me To The Sea is released on August 18. Find Jaguar Love on MySpace here and see them on their DiS-sponsored UK tour as follows:
Wondering what the other three members of The Blood Brothers are doing? Find Jordan, Morgan and Mark (and early BBs member Devin) here.
Photos: Michael Lavine