The Musical World of Xander Harris : A Conversation with Justin Sweatt

By J. Hubner

Photo by Victoria Renard Photography

In just a very short amount of time the music of artist Xander Harris, known to friends, family, and his high school Marching Band instructor as Justin Sweatt, has made a pretty huge impression on me. Starting with his most recent album, 2017s Transmission Dust, then working my way through The New Dark Age Of Love, California Chrome, and Urban Gothic, I was floored by Sweatt’s constant evolution with each record. He runs the stylistic gamut on his four full-lengths; from sleazy giallo to dark techno to ambient to dystopian dark synth. There seems to be a constant push to change up what he’s doing each time out. Rather than sit comfortably on top of a single musical trend, Justin Sweatt takes the music of Xander Harris into new territory each time out.

Like I said, it’s been a fairly short amount of time that I’ve been privy to the musical world of Xander Harris, but I’m happy to have finally stumbled into his records. Whenever I come across an artist that is always moving forward, I want to ask them what pushes them to create like they do. What drives their creative mind? Where do they pull inspiration and influence from? Sometimes these artists are up for some questions and sometimes they’re not. Fortunately for you(and me) Justin Sweatt was happy to talk to me about the musical world of Xander Harris.

J. Hubner: So where did you grow up?

Justin Sweatt: I grew up in Midland, TX.  It’s in the middle of nowhere out in West Texas filled with social conservatives, oil fields, and a totally flat desert environment.

J. Hubner: Was music an important factor in your life growing up in West Texas?

Justin Sweatt: Music was definitely important to me out there because there weren’t that many people I could relate to and it seemed like a doing music was a way out of the area.  Truthfully, I have a love/hate relationship with West Texas but I think it has more to do with my general love/hate relationship with life.

J. Hubner: So music was a constant for you in your formative years?

Justin Sweatt:  I was always interested in music as a child. My childhood friend Joel had a piano and I’d plink around on it.  I had a little record player when I was about 5 I would take everywhere  that my grandmother gifted me when I was little.  She gave me a bunch of 45s but the Beach Boys “Surfing USA” 45 was the one I would listen to constantly.  It began a life long obsession with Brian Wilson, weirdly enough.

J. Hubner: Besides Brian Wilson, was there any other artist that hit you hard when you were growing up?

Justin Sweatt: Like all teenagers during my era the most important band for me was Nirvana.  Cliche but it’s true and Nirvana was the gateway to everything else as far as forming my listening habits.  80s music was a constant as a kid as well, my mom always jammed the Eurythmics, Thompson Twins, and stuff like that.

J. Hubner: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?

Justin Sweatt: First album I ever bought with my own money was a Tears for Fears CD.

J. Hubner: Growing up in West Texas did you often haunt the local video store for classic 70s and 80s American and Italian horror films? 

Justin Sweatt:  I did scavenge VHS stores as a kid for horror stuff but it mostly consisted of Carpenter and Hellraiser, mainstream horror titles.  Most video stores in West Texas didn’t have any of the Italian directors when I was a teenager.  It took me moving to Austin before I was ever able to have an opportunity to watch any of those films.

J. Hubner: So how does cinema play into your work, if at all?

Justin Sweatt: Frankly, film isn’t incredibly influential to my writing process.  Certain soundtracks are in there but I am mostly inspired by works of horror/weird/sci-fi fiction.  Reading has always been more of my thing and more rewarding as far as jump starting the imagination.

J. Hubner: I think there’s a lot to be said about inspiration through the written word. How it works its way into your music I find pretty fascinating. So you’re reading all these books growing up. When does your interest in electronic music come in?

Justin Sweatt: Electronic music was explored in my teen years, especially the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, but it was through discovering industrial music at the record store I worked at that made the biggest impression.  My boss gave me a copy of Chris Carter’s “The Space Between” and I’ve been obsessed with that release ever since.  I own multiple copies of that album.  Skinny Puppy is a huge one, my best friend was always having me check out Front 242 and everything else in the industrial genre from the 80s.  We geeked out on it pretty hard.  She had an Oberheim synth and we played music together so I was really impressed with everything she recommended.

J. Hubner: It’s great having that one friend that puts you onto bands and artists you’d otherwise not know about. I’ve got a old friend that put me onto Skinny Puppy and Ministry in high school, then Boards Of Canada when we were older. Not sure I could ever repay him enough for that.

Justin Sweatt: I’ve never found anything on my own, I’ve always looked at my friends’ collections for finding new music.  Now I just have my friends share their Spotify playlists with me so I can keep up with new releases. There’s a part of me that wishes I could be a tastemaker but it’s just never been my forte.

J. Hubner: So has keyboards always been your instrument of choice?

Justin Sweatt: My primary instrument is drums.  High school life was marching band and then I went to college for sound engineering and music.  My desire was to be the next Steve Albini but that didn’t really work out. My family isn’t well off so I never had the capital or investors to open a studio like I’ve always dreamed of.  The construction of sound and the way records are made has always had an appeal to me.  Recording basics was something I learned with a friend’s four track and then started learning how to play other instruments to learn the way each instrument works in terms of composition and sound.

J. Hubner: A lot of the electronic musicians I’ve talked to came up in the hardcore scene. Were you ever in a punk band? 

Justin Sweatt: I wasn’t a hardcore kid, I wasn’t any kid to be honest.  I played drums in metal, punk, jazz, country, all sorts of different bands.  I’ve never been a one genre kind of guy, I’ve always really liked all music. Hardcore is something I love but I was never tough enough for that scene nor was I into being extreme in my appearance.  At that time I had long hair, a Black Flag T-shirt, and a pair of jeans.  Bands that looked like someone who worked at a janitor’s office were more appealing to me.  Even with goth, I love the look but I’ve never been compelled to wear leather, make up, or be outwardly anything other than a black jeans and a t-shirt guy.  The only thing that hardcore made an impression on me was be cool, be a part of your community, and it made me pretty radical in my politics. The DIY aspect of that community has always appealed to me but the fast and angry thing not so much, even as a teenager.

J. Hubner: What was your musical life like before Xander Harris? What other projects have you been involved in?

Justin Sweatt: Life before Xander Harris was interesting as I mostly just played drums or did noise duo material.  I have played in probably 100 bands but mostly bands that never did anything outside of the area where I was living.  All different styles but nothing really in print anymore.  Band names like Kosmodrome, Scab Sand Witch, We Can Cut You, Dry County, Bella, Skiesfalling, Red Ox, just to name a few.  In Austin I was in a couple of projects before trying to live in Los Angeles last year that have releases coming out.  I played drums and synth in a kraut rock band called Future Museums, which is still going strong.  Neil, who heads up Future Museums, just put out an album on Holodeck Records (Adam from Survive’s label) that I did some production work on.  Holodeck is also releasing a record this year from my friend Nicolas who heads up the project Single Lash.  It’s a goth-y shoegaze-y band that I played bass and synths on the record that’s coming out. I’m quite proud of it and I think Nicolas will be one of those house hold names in no time.  For Xander history, Nicolas painted the cover for California Chrome and he’s one of the most talented people I think I’ve ever worked with.  I miss being in Single Lash but we all have our things we have to do.

J. Hubner: Going thru your discography, from 2011’s ‘Urban Gothic’ to last year’s ‘Termination Dust’, you seem to have evolved your sound with each successive album. You’re not sticking to just a horror/score vibe or straight up 80s dance nostalgia. ‘The New Dark Age Of Love’ sounds completely different from ‘California Chrome’. And ‘Termination Dust’ sounds completely different from ‘California Chrome’. What’s your writing process like?

Justin Sweatt:  I try to go out of my way to make each record completely different.  Honestly, I love Urban Gothic but I doubt I’ll ever make another record like that ever in my career unless I was hired to do a score in the vein.   I don’t really care abut horror scores much these days and it’s not much of an influence anymore.  I feel like it’s better to try and grow your sound and push yourself into new territory.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

J. Hubner: Going into an album, do you have a certain theme or concept you want to stick to?

Justin Sweatt: Every time I write I always have about 5 grandiose ridiculous ideas that only make sense to me.  Much of the music I write is composed in my head when I’m at work.  After my shift I’ll come home, fuss with the notes, the chord changes, the key, and the sound a bit and start tracking but most of it is already stewing in the brain.  My brain is always on, sometimes for the better, sometimes not for the best.  The new album is all internal narrative and it’s the first one not inspired by works of horror fiction or books in general.  In fact, it’ll be the least nostalgic and horror-esque thing I’ve ever done.  I was quite happy with California Chrome and Termination Dust so I’m going more in that vein where I follow more my own internal narrative than anything. Termination Dust is a celebration of the author Laird Barron but it’s also a celebration of philosophy of Thomas Ligotti.

photo by Pagan Gold

J. Hubner: Since you brought it up, let’s talk a bit about your latest album Termination Dust. It’s an amazing piece of work, btw. How did that record come together? 

Justin Sweatt: Thank you. The influences for that one are all over the place.  I had originally pitched “Carrion Gods” and “Jaws of Saturn” to GhostBox in the UK as a 45 but it didn’t happen.  I had put up a couple of songs on Bandcamp during those sessions and made an EP couple with the Carrion and Jaws.  Eventually I was approached by Data Airlines to release it on vinyl if I could record more material to make it a full length.  I did the sessions for the rest of the album in about 3 days, which is pretty quick for me.

J. Hubner: As far as the sound of Termination Dust, it definitely sounds distinctly unique to your other albums. Who or what were some influences on the overall sound of the record?

Justin Sweatt: At the time of Termination Dust I was listening to a lot of Broadcast, BBC workshop material, Roedelius, Advisory Circle, John Bender, simpler electronic releases that were more about heavy emotion and less layering. I’ve always had an affinity for krautrock so there was a lot of that on the phone soundtracking the walk to work during those sessions. I wanted simple and effective but wanted to mix in acoustic instruments more like electric piano and real bass.

J. Hubner: I love the combination of organic and electronic sound. 

Justin Sweatt: The mix of acoustic with electronic is something I’m exploring heavily and in more detail on the next album.  People who are really into Urban Gothic are probably going to dislike the next one. It’s a nod of the hat to a lot of different genres, influences, people, all stirred up in my weird stew.  Nothing on the new album I’m working on would be considered horror though. Perhaps Drive-esque in parts (and only on maybe two tracks) but it’s definitely going in a totally different direction.

photo by Nicolas Nadeau

J. Hubner: You recently moved from Austin to New Orleans. How has the change of scenery been?

Justin Sweatt: The change of scenery has been fantastic, I’ve always liked New Orleans and it definitely feels like home. I’ve wanted to live in New Orleans since I was a kid the city has always held a fascination for me.  My only wish is that Trent Reznor would move back and help start a crazy electronic scene.  Having said that there are some great electronic cats here.  Joey from Pressures, who also runs one of the best record stores in America called disco Obskura, has always been here in New Orleans and incredibly supportive.  My friend Justin Vial, who used to be in Kindest Lines, also does a lot of electronic work here in New Orleans that is stellar.  I recently saw a performance of Andy from Thou and his electronic work is amazing.  A friend got me to come out to that and it was a pleasant surprise.

J. Hubner: Austin seems to have a pretty amazing electronic music scene, with Holodeck Records and Mondo located there as sort of flagship spots for all things synth-related. But sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing for re-starting the creative fires. 

Justin Sweatt: Austin is a great place but it hasn’t felt like home for a while for a myriad of personal reasons.  That’s not a bad thing, sometimes you need to move on in order to jump start the next phase of life and I felt like my time in Austin had come to a close.  I’m grateful for the relationships and experiences I have there, the music community in that city is like nothing else.  Austin’s music community is a true community whereas a lot of places I’ve been to just view you as competition.  That’s the great thing about Austin, and even New Orleans, is that people do give a shit on a human level that is quite rare.  There are still ties, I’m part of a cassette label out of Austin called Somatic headed up by my friends Michael and Lee. I do a lot of mastering for the releases and feebly attempt to get PR for the artists.

J. Hubner: So what do you have coming up next? What does 2018 hold for Xander Harris and Justin Sweatt?

Justin Sweatt: I’m working on a new record but I have no idea when it will come out.  I’m toying with it being a double LP as I have a lot of songs at the moment in various states that I would like to finish all at once and then decide if I’ll split it up or keep them all together.  I don’t know if people’s attention spans are up for it.

J. Hubner: Has New Orleans had an impact on the sound of the next album?

Justin Sweatt: New Orleans has definitely made an impact compositionally, I don’t see how you could avoid it if you walk around and listen.  I’ve always been a big fan of old funk and soul music so I listen to a lot of WWOZ, a local radio station here. Watching the drum lines here is fantastic so the city is definitely having an influence on the new material rhythmically and the drummer in me is squealing with joy.  The bass lines during the old New Orleans soul days are ridiculous so I’ve been thinking of ways of incorporating some of those ideas in terms of bass lines on the synth with a sense of melody into the new material.


Go check out out the work of Xander Harris, aka Justin Sweat, over at his Bandcamp page. And to keep up on all things Xander Harris, give him a follow on Facebook here.

White Denim : Stiff

White Denim are one of those kinds of bands that just make you want to drive insanely fast and punch the air with your fists. They make this kind of uptempo, good time rock and roll that is a little more caffeinated than your average fun time rock band. Another thing about White Denim is that they’re incredibly talented musicians. Singer/guitarist James Petralli is a force to be reckoned with. Besides being this guitar wizard he sings like he was a sixties soul singer in another life. Bassist Steven Terebecki and drummer Jeff Olson lock into grooves like some of the best Stax players. Guitarist Jonathan Horne fills in the spaces the other three don’t creating this musical fabric that’s as rich and deep as the musical history these guys borrow from and make something wholly original and ever so funky. Their newest record, Stiff, adds on to what they’ve been doing for a decade. There’s the southern flair(they are from Austin, Texas you know), but punk, fusion, soul, prog, experimental, psych, and classic AOR rock all influence White Denim and the songs on Stiff. It’s a hell of a ride.

“Had 2 Know(Personal)” blows up like the Dixie Dregs, the Allman Brothers, and Stiff Little Fingers turned into a Voltron-like music monster. White soul pours from Petralli like sweat off of Meatloaf in 1977. Good time riffs and a pumped up groove get the record off to a great start. “Ha Ha Ha Ha(Yeah)” is so groovy it should be illegal(I think it is in Oklahoma.) White Denim make the kind of music that bridges the gap between young and old. I could see folks ranging from 16 to 65 getting funky to this song at a White Denim show. Like listening to James Brown, Ray Charles, or Curtis Mayfield, you just can’t help but crack a smile and tap your foot as Petralli and company let loose. “Holda You(I’m Psycho)” sounds like the Allman Bros and Green Day went through a particle accelerator at the same time and this song is what was the result. A rock and roll monster of epic proportion.

I can only imagine how insanely good a White Denim gig is(watching their Austin City Limits set only solidified that thinking for me.) They do bring things down to a soulful breeze, like on the excellent “Take It Easy(Ever After Lasting Love)”. It’s like Al Green possessed the body of this southern white guy and the band is Muscle Shoals ready here. Swinging soul. Baby-making, booty-grooving music right here. Album closer “Thank You” sounds like a Soft Machine rev up before shifting gears down to a rock and soul groove out ending. Soulful backup singers and wiggly synths turn this song into something not quite of this earth. Timeless and yet timely.

White Denim are a band like AC/DC. It doesn’t matter what’s going on or what mood you’re in, you throw on one of their records and the day gets a little better. They’re always themselves. There’s no trends being followed or current styles being imitated here. White Denim make good time, solid records that appeal to both the folks at the party drunkenly grooving in the middle of the room with the opposite sex, as well as those lonelier souls sitting on the couch being amazed at the guitar dexterity coming out of those speakers. Stiff is that record for the loved, lusted, longed for, and those folks that are just plain ready to get down. Dig in.

8.2 out of 10

 

There And Back Again : Clint Roth and Big Jaw

ClintRothNov2014

 

by EA Poorman

Can you remember that first record that blew your socks off? You know which one I’m talking about. It was the first time you heard an album, or just a song, that stopped you dead in your tracks and made you, by unforeseen force, sit and listen. That record that changed you, man. “Thriller was the first record that I remember being enthralled with”, says Clint Roth, the man behind the rock ‘n roll machine known as Big Jaw.  “The next record that had such a big impact on me was years later when I was about 12 and I found AC/DC’s Back In Black in my sister’s cassette collection. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t ever remember her listening to it. I had never even heard of AC/DC up to that point. I think listening to that tape at that time had just about as much effect on me as any piece of music could have on anybody. That record completely changed how I felt about music.”

Clint Roth, in his own way, is making the kind of music that will someday fall into the hands of some kid living between “nowhere special” and “nothing doing” and will change that kid’s perspective on life and open his eyes to the world of rock ‘n roll. Roth is the mastermind behind the modern-rock-alternative titan known as Big Jaw. As Big Jaw, Roth makes music that lies somewhere in that realm of heavy rock where Queens of the Stone Age like to dabble and cover Zeppelin riffs in street grit and glitter. Where Stone Temple Pilots and Sly and the Family Stone get together and trade riffs and shots of Maker’s Mark. Roth’s own take on the heavy groove and even heavier riff is a magical one. But none of this musical goodness was instantaneous. Like everyone, Clint Roth had to start somewhere. “I am from the Fort Wayne area”, says Roth as we talk about his formative years near Fort Wayne. “I grew up in Leo and lived there until I went away for school in Florida.  After school I moved back to Fort Wayne for a few months, then headed out to California. The plan was to move to L.A. and try to intern at a recording studio or a label. While I was at school in Florida I made a friend who was moving to San Francisco after graduation and he and his fiancee invited me to visit them for a few weeks so, they being the only people I knew in California, I took them up on that.  I stayed with them for about three weeks and while I was there I made phone calls to every recording studio I could find about interning in San Francisco but had no luck. So, I got a number of a friend of a friend in Pasadena who was willing to let me stay at her place so I decided it was time to pack up and head south. I told my friend I would be leaving at the end of the week and the very next day I went out to my car to go buy some LA maps (this was way before smart phones and GPS) and found that my car had been stolen. The cop that came to write the report told me to write it off and forget about it because it was more than likely parts in Mexico by then. So, I lived in San Francisco for two years.”

But, with just a chance encounter the former Hoosier saw his life begin to change. “One of my Dad’s friends was very good friends with Kelly Harris’s (Von Iva) parents and without knowing me, she took me in”, said Roth. “She let me stay on her couch. She fed me. She introduced me to her friends. She was great. One night she took me to a warehouse party and on the way we stopped to buy booze and I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark. On the way into the party she stopped to say hi to one of her friends and she introduced me. It was producer/engineer Billy Anderson and I recognized his name from the credits of a Mr. Bungle CD I had been listening to and reading the liner notes of just the day before. I asked if this was him and he said it was. I told him about not having any success getting any recording studios to talk to me and I asked if he had any advice. He told me if I shared my bottle of Maker’s with him he’d tell me whatever I wanted to know. I never made it inside that party (as far as I can remember) but we sat outside and drank whiskey and talked. He gave me a phone number for Toast Studios and the managers name and told me to call and tell them that Billy Anderson said to hire me. I called the first chance I got and got an interview and that turned out to be an amazing experience. I learned just about everything I know about recording there assisting for Jacquire King (who went on to produce Kings of Leon and a million other things), Jason Carmer (who produced Third Eye Blind, Kimya Dawson ,Explosions In The Sky and million other things), Chris Haynes (Grammy nominated mixer and also the guy who mastered my EP and mixed “Calling Out”). By the time I went to LA two years later (after they found my car in Napa) I was 23 and already up the ranks as a first engineer on a few major label projects. Rising up the ladder in LA where you can expect to answer phones for a few years before you get your big break to be an assistant and possibly never rise above that unless your lucky, I hit the jackpot by having my car stolen and being stranded in SF where there was considerably less competition but still some big projects being done.  Possibly one of the most fortuitous car thefts of all time.”

By simple twists of fate, Clint Roth got in on the ground floor to some amazing recording projects(thanks in no part to someone stealing his car), but I’d wondered when he’d gotten the itch to make music of his own. “I think I was trying to play music before I even really understood what music was. Not that I really understand what music is now but I have a little bit better grasp on the concept of the world and the things in it than I did when I was six. Or maybe not. When I was five or six, my Mom started sending my older brother Duke to piano lessons. I don’t think it took very long before I made it heard that this was something I wanted to do, too. My Mom was all for it. We took lessons from a woman named Nancy Coolman. Her family ran an apple orchard outside of Leo so there was always apple cider in the mix as well. She taught kind of her own version of the Suzuki method which, in the beginning at least, emphasizes learning music by ear rather than reading notation. I think this had a really great effect, good and bad, on my life as a musician. I have never had a strong grasp of music theory. I still, embarrassingly, couldn’t tell you the names of the notes on my fretboard without counting and only a handful of years ago learned about common chord shapes and the names of the chords (some of the chords) I’ve been playing for years. If you talk about any kind of music theory, no matter how basic it might seem, I’m usually pretty lost. Every few years I make a big push to try to learn and I usually glean a little bit of information that sticks with me but it is a huge effort. On the flip side of that, I’m very appreciative for being trained to focus on hearing what’s happening rather than focusing on the math of written music at such an early age. When I started getting interested in guitar around the time I was 13 or 14 I had even less patience with learning anything that wasn’t directly related to making the sounds I was interested in. I skipped learning scales and modes and guitar theory (which I couldn’t really grasp) and instead jumped in and tried to learn Metallica songs by listening to the tapes. So basically, Metallica taught me how to play guitar. For the first few years I played and learned by listening, reading tabs from guitar magazines, and getting occasional pointers from my friend Jason Howey (Autovater) who was a grade above me at Leo and was a big inspiration while I was learning to play. Later on in my teens I did have the honor of briefly studying with the late great George Ogg, but we focused more on the feel aspects of guitar than the technical. Even more recently, just a few years ago, I had the pleasure of studying and picking up some tricks with the amazing Kenny Taylor.”
So at an early age, Clint Roth gets the bug for music, and by the time he’s in his teens he’s teaching himself to play guitar thanks to Metallica and Guitar World magazine. Then by the time he’s 23 years old he’s pushing faders on some pretty swanky records. When does Big Jaw come into the equation? ” I moved back to Fort Wayne from L.A. in 2006. At the end of my time in L.A. I had pretty much stopped engineering records and was writing music for commercials. I kind of had this idea that I could do that from anywhere and wanted to be back in Ft. Wayne where I could be near my family and friends and live for cheap while I spent some time exploring making my own music after about a decade of recording music for other people. I messed around with a bunch of ideas and then finally got serious about making an actual record around 2008. While I was visiting friends in Toronto for Nuit Blanche, I got inspired to really commit myself to the project and get it done. When I got home I started writing Appetite for Construction and started Big Jaw. My initial thought was to play everything myself but after awhile, I wondered why I, as a mediocre drummer,  was playing drums when some of my best friends are great drummers. So, I enlisted my friend Adam Aaronson to play drums on my records.  He’s a really amazing drummer. When he was young he studied with Tony Williams and went on to play with bands including My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, and most recently We Are Scientists. I would love for him to be an official member but he’s not so interested in touring anymore and that’s the next step for me. So, right now, Big Jaw is just me but I am not Big Jaw. I am Clint and I have always intended for Big Jaw to be a band and accrue other members along the way.”
Roth just released his second Big Jaw album called Photophobia. It’s a great little nugget of crunchy riffs, catchy hooks, and some truly impressive production work. I asked Clint about the time between the releases and differences between the two albums. ” Yeah, this record took a very long time to make.  A little over a month after I released Appetite for Construction I lost a close friend in a car accident and everything flipped upside down for me. It was an intense period and one of the ways I tried to work through it was by playing music. Which helped until it didn’t and then I stopped. I left the music alone for awhile and when I came back to it I found that I had started all this hyper-emotional music and I didn’t know what to do with it because I’m a fairly private person. It was really very uncomfortable for me to open that part of myself up for criticism, but that’s art I guess.   Now that I have put myself out there in that way and that part of my brain that freaks out over things like that can see that it’s not the end of the world to show that you can be vulnerable, I hope I can be be free to say what’s on my mind and in my heart without so much of an internal struggle next time.”
Besides his amazing songwriting prowess and studio wizardry, Roth is a damn fine artist as well. I asked him about the album artwork concepts for his musical projects. “For Appetite For Construction my initial plan was to do a very basic cover for the CD along the lines of Muddy Waters Electric Mud. One day I was randomly looking around some art sites and stumbled on a feature about an artist named French. He did some really great pencil drawings and one in particular struck me as a great idea for a record cover and that was the rooster standing on the skull. I emailed him and told him I was self-producing a record and paying for it myself and asked how much he would charge to give me the rights to use it on my cover. He responded and told me to go had and use it, no charge. It still amazes me how generous that was that a stranger would just say ‘go ahead and use it’.  Then my friend Tim Litton, who is a professional graphic designer,  helped me put it all together and took photos for that first record.
For Photophobia I wanted to commission my friend Brian Phillips to do a painting that I could use as a cover. He agreed and made a really great painting but I kind of had him do it prematurely. By the time the record was finished it was evident to me that what I asked him to do really didn’t fit with how the record turned out, so I’m hoping to use that painting for the cover of the next project (which I already have a title for.) In the end I used one of my own paintings for the cover. I was kind of hesitant to use my own art for the cover because I’m not  as confident about my art as I am my music so I was afraid that if I did the art I might decide that I don’t like it later on. But I felt like this painting really worked for this record so I went for it.  I’m not a graphic designer or anything but I have been painting for a handful of years on my own and I really love it. I started painting about the same time I started Appetite for Construction and it has really become a part of my life. The past year or so I’ve mostly been doing mixed media pieces.”
So what’s next for Clint Roth and Big Jaw? “Next for me is getting a live show together and starting to try to get the word out in earnest. I love playing live and interacting with people and I’m looking forward to getting back out there. But where its truly at for me is recorded music.  I love listening to records. I love making records. It is the form of creativity that is the most meaningful to me. The most exciting part is that by making my records and putting them out into the world I have become a part of something that I love and that can’t be undone.”
Check out Big Jaw’s music at http://bigjaw.bandcamp.com/, and you can check out Clint’s art at http://www.clintroth.com/. Keep up on all things Big Jaw at https://www.facebook.com/bigjawband. And when Clint hits your town, get out there and see Big Jaw.

Big Jaw :: Photophobia

big jawHow dare Clint Roth, aka Big Jaw, write music like he has on Photophobia well into the 21st century. What kind of music am I referring to? You know, the kind with big, meaty guitar riffs, mammoth drum beats, and that thing called melody. It goes completely against current music standards. In particular, Music Standards 4.1 which states, “Music shall not be titillating, spine-tingling, or have any semblance of groove.” Has he not read the Brooklyn Music Accord of 2007?

Well, I suppose since we’re here we might as well discuss this slab of gutter pop and dirty glam rock called Photophobia. Fair warning though, once you hit play on this one you will uncontrollably tap your foot, play air guitar, and generally want to just rock out like a fool.

Back in the 90s there were a handful of bands that appeared on the music radar for a short time that made extremely catchy and heavy rock that you could play and not feel emasculated if you were caught listening to it. Bands like Dovetail Joint and Big Wreck made big, heavy, riff-laden music that was equal parts Electric Warrior, Physical Graffiti, and Are You Gonna Go My Way(and not in that order necessarily.) You can throw Stone Temple Pilots and Imperial Drag on this list as well. It’s that kind of rock that appealed to the stoners, rockers, preps, and greasers(basically the cast of The Outsiders and Dazed and Confused could all jam together here.) Big Jaw keeps that catchy metal flag flying high on Photophobia. “Walk Away” opens this album with some serious Queens of the Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures strutting, Roth himself even having a Homme-esque snarl in his vocals. It’s a killer riff and killer tune. “Never Coming Home” has riffs and attitude for miles, and something the old timers used to call a “guitar solo”. There’s talk of drinking whiskey and forgetting names. This cat is lovelorn and is wearing his heart on his torn, bloodied sleeve. There’s a “Custard Pie” vibe in the groove and guitar riffage here as well. This is the kind of music you crank through your Pioneer speakers as you cruise in your 1974 Chevy Nova. Hell yeah. “This Is All There Is” stomps and rocks into your brain. This is the kind of track Lenny Kravitz used to write before he got concerned about the fashion runway and Oscar nominations. It’s got a classic glam crunch in the guitar that harkens back to Dean DeLeo, circa 1995.

Besides some serious riff ‘n roll going on, there’s some moments of weird and cool experimentation, like the short “Not Who I Will Be”, which has some backwards voices and what sounds like German being spoken, which leads into the deep and soulful “Calling Out”. This is yet another violation of current music standards, in particular Music Standards 5.3 which states “Artists shall not, in any circumstance, write any music remotely resembling heartfelt, earnest emotion without including ironic undertones.” Roth shows some serious studio prowess besides serious songwriting and arranging prowess throughout this record, and this song is a culmination of those strengths. “Light” ends this album on some serious vocal work and starry-eyed wonder.

So, if you want to be non-compliant with current music standards then give Photophobia a spin. You’ll find yourself sucked into the riff-heavy world of Clint Roth and Big Jaw. Just be prepared to not look back and to say the hell with those standards, Brooklyn be damned. You know what? Forget the standards. Hit play on Photophobia and turn it up as loud as it’ll go.

7.9 out of 10

The Black Angels- Indigo Meadow

indigo meadowAs soon as those tribal drums start in and that Psycho-esque dissonance pipes up you pretty much know what you’re in for throughout the next 45 minutes or so. Indigo Meadow isn’t any great leap for The Black Angels. Did you like Phosphene Dream? Well you’re probably going to like Indigo Meadow just fine. All the hallmarks of a Black Angels album are here;  BRMC posturing, Nuggets borrowing, cult-ish vibe and dark psychedelia. Add just a touch of pop seasoning and you have yourself a plate full of goodies that aren’t good for you, but they taste pretty decent going down.

“Indigo Meadow” starts things off like a Black Angels album should start; complete with big drums, “evil”-sounding guitars, and Alex Maas singing “Lay your hands, on my chest girl, you’ve been a problem since the moment I met ya“. It’s a sound that’s permeated every album The Black Angels have put out since 2006. Nothing more, nothing less. A noticeable difference is the production. It’s much cleaner and polished than previous albums.  This may be good or bad, depending on how you like your psychedelic rock delivered to your ears. “Evil Things” goes a little more metal with an almost Black Sabbath feel until the bridge when it stops momentarily for a quick ‘flower power’ moment. Pretty soon the organ comes in and it sounds like Tony Iommi jamming with The Doors. “Don’t Play With Guns” is the biggest change in their sound, with an almost pop feel to it and Maas sounding as if the spirit of Black Francis took over his body for the recording. This song at times has a Pixies sound to it, though I don’t think that was a conscious decision on The Black Angels part.  Just happenstance I suppose.

A band that never seems to get mentioned as an influence on so many of these stoner/space/psych rock outfits is The Doors. Maybe it’s just not cool to mention the ‘Lizard King’ anymore, I don’t know, but listening to quite a few of these songs on Indigo Meadow I’m reminded so much The Doors that I feel I must mention them. “Holland” would’ve fit just fine on Waiting For The Sun, for example. And “Always Maybe”? There’s an empty spot on Strange Days where it could’ve sat. But The Doors aren’t the only band I hear in the distant and gloomy echo of the Fulltone Tape Echo and the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb. “Love Me Forever” sounds like a Byrds and The Animals collaboration until the fuzzed-out riff comes in to remind us that these guys like things loud, too. And there’s still plenty of Strawberry Alarm Clock and 13th Floor Elevators acid-tinged tracers, err, I mean traces. Closing track “Black Isn’t Black” is the best of the lot. A doom and gloom dark blues psych monster of a track that -to my ears- sounds like a band not wearing their influences on their sleeves, but a band taking their influences and making something completely their own. Here’s hoping “Black Isn’t Black” is the jumping off point next time around.

The Black Angels have taken their sound not a step up, but a good few steps forward at least. The sound is brighter, but the haze lingers.

6 out of 10