Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
How would you punish a song? Switches, belts and wooden spoons only work on soft and tender skin. A song has no skin or covering to affect, sting or swell. Sitting a song in a corner would be the same as grounding a child to a bedroom filled with gaming systems and wireless Internet - no punishment at all. A song will go along, playing itself away in the corner, just as content to be alone and staring at the wallpaper as it would be amplified for a crowd at Central Park, a la Simon & Garfunkel. You think "The Only Living Boy In New York" doesn't know solitude and appreciate commiserating time to itself?
Washing a song's mouth out with soap is also inane. It would be a misused tool because songs worth punishing at all are the ones you want to succeed and good songs often do what they're supposed to do by using simple poetries (ask those Beatles and Zombies) and are clean as a whistle already. It's the Puddle of Mudds of the world who score hit songs by singing things like, "She fucking hates me." (The only great song with the f-word in it, in the history of mankind, is Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," end of discussion). The soap punishment would not fit the crime. The way, and believe me when I say this, to punish a song is to night write it.
Those who don't write songs, don't have songs like the ones that Evangelicals lead singer Josh Jones has tearing around his head at all hours of the night, like spooks in a bowling alley. As a matter of fact, they probably don't have songs at all - not good ones nor bad ones, no songs whatsoever to listen to, humming their honey so loudly that it turns the whites of their eyeballs yellow. They don't know what it feels like to have them living in that purgatorial space between the living and the dead, the here and the never. They are the unrealized goblins that aren't chosen. They do the choosing, flying into the ears and putting together homes of mud and straw as barn swallows do in the eaves of lumbering dairy barns and corn cribs.
Jones' head must hurt more than the average man's, whose songs speak to him about their unhappiness in being where they are at the present time - unheard. The songs on 2006's Misra Records release, So Gone, are continually churning, kicking their legs like long jumpers nearing the sand rising to meet them, kicking their covers off because the cold night air will help them to move even faster and kicking the dust off of the easy conventions that state over and over that songs have to make perfect sense and behave a certain way to make any sense.
These songs bicker with each other the way George Burns does or should have done in "Oh God! You Devil," where the satanic can dance with the god-fearing calmness. On a dime, Jones' songs - with big Magic Johnson assists from drummer Austin Stephens' heavy drumming wrists and Kyle Davis' obediently game bass chugging - turn from strumming beach-like, oceanic songs into cosmic storms and the Northern Lights shorting out. They're bubble baths in dimmed light that then get disrupted when Jones throws a hair dryer into them. The nice thing is that nobody dies in the mayhem, they just get their bells rung.
Even when the coast is clear, it's never really clear. Once again, without warning, Jones could step upon a pedal of death and send the song hurtling into open road with no brakes and the speedometer needling as far right as it can go. A lot of the exploration in these songs comes in Jones' frantic guitar playing, which is a broken string or three waiting to happen. He sounds as if he may have some of the angst of a Robert Smith and his voice goes so far as to take off and resemble the mascara-ed God's inflections and tone. Jones says that he's had the hair, but nothing much else.
These songs that Jones refuses to offer desserts to because of their misbehavior, are trouble-making, but they have sweet hearts and they never mean to do any harm. They shouldn't be punished. They should be let out and they should continue to be written out onto papers by Jones. As one of the charter members (including Iran, Bishop Allen and The Dirty Projectors) to the newest Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar imprint Dead Oceans, Evangelicals - the pride of Norman, Oklahoma - will be asked to let the warring continue. Let the fights eat cake. Keep us all guessing where the bruises and the kisses come from.
The Daytrotter interview:
*What's your voice feel like at the end of a tour? I know you weren't feeling the best this day that we recorded.*
Josh Jones: Well, it depends... on that specific day I was sick and we'd been on the road for a few months so it was worse than usual. Also, my strict diet of candy and soda (Sour Patch Kids and 80% Diet Coke/20% Dr. Pepper) doesn't really help much. Usually it holds up pretty well though.
*Tell me about the recording sessions you're doing right now. What kinds of things are you writing about? Can you give me hints into subject matter?*
JJ: Well, we're getting pretty close to havin' the record finished, so right now we're at the stage of giving it to our friends and family for feedback. We record and mix our stuff so it's hard to be objective on certain things so giving the music to third parties is an important step. Just as long as none of those web-pirates go leakin' those undercooked nuggets on the e-net!!! The record is called The Evening Descends and, as the name suggests, it's a night record. Sorta "Rocky Horror Picture" show meets "Donnie Darko" meets "Beatlejuice" meets "Phantom of the Opera" meets "The Burbs." The subject matter -- let's see, well, I can say that the record should probably be listened to at night. Or while driving through the suburbs... at night. On your way to a party.
*Do you have a favorite place in the world?*
JJ: With the right person, any place can be the greatest, though I like all the big fancy places like New York and L.A. I've always wanted to go to the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco. We pass it every time we go to Austin and we've never stopped. Makes me thirsty just thinking about it!
*Can you explain your greenish-gray hair from that tour? Were you dared or do you I-just-feel-like-it dye a lot?*
JJ: Well, at the beginning of touring it was a brilliant blue but by the time we made it to Daytrotter it was that awful Swamp Thing color you saw. Sorta like that military issue green netting stuff they sell at Army surplus stores.
*How'd you meet your bandmates?*
JJ: Austin, our drummer, and I are townies so we've known each other for a long time. Recently, he was working the night shift at a convenience store down the street from where I was living at the time and him and I would sit up there and talk for hours about music and stuff and I would drink endless fountain sodas. I didn't really know Kyle, but I would see him around and actually, I asked him if he wanted to play bass over MySpace.
*After Wayne Coyne and you guys, who are the best songwriters living in Oklahoma right now? Have you ever met Wayne?*
JJ: There are a lot of great songwriters in Oklahoma right now. I would say the bands Student Film, Neon Signs Like the World Is Great, and Ghost of Monkshood all have great songs.... off the top of my head. But really, I could give a big-ass list. If people are interested in Oklahoma music they should go check out "Oklahoma Rock":http:// www.oklahomarock.com and click through some of the bands. Jesus... there are tons of great bands in Oklahoma right now.... I swear I'm not biased! I started going to Flaming Lips shows when I was 12 or 13 and I used to hang around and talk with Wayne and stuff. I attached a pretty funny picture from around 1995 or so. Since then we've played with the Lips and stuff and they've always been very kind to us.
*Your songs kind of act up, don't they? Is that the best way to describe it?*
JJ: In my head they make sense, but I've heard 'em a lot more than other people have. They are always causin' a racket and keeping me up at night though, and for that it's no dessert for them!!!
*Are you hyperactive and the songs just follow?*
JJ: I'm not as hyper-active as I used to be, but when I was a kid I was banned from a lot of other kids' houses for typical problem child-style stuff. The upper-decker and so on.
*What did you grow up listening to?*
JJ: 0-11 -- I mainly listened to stuff my parents and older brother listened to. Leonard Cohen, REM, Willie Nelson, Color Me Badd, XTC, Guns n' Roses, Weird Al, Church of Christ Hymnal stuff.
12-14-- I discovered Ween, Sonic Youth, Fear Factory, The Melvins, The Flaming Lips, Pantera, Snoop Doggy Dogg Smashing Pumpkins and The Chainsaw Kittens... the 90's.
15-18 -- Dated a few actresses... listening habits leaned towards the theatrical... Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Rocky Horror Picture Show... some weird horrorcore shit. Also T-Rex.
19-23 - "Serious music." Lots of jazz, blues, classical. Debussy, Verez... also Steely Dan, Prince, Tom Waits, Eminem. I pretty much missed all contemporary music during this time... notable bands I missed/ have only heard recently... Interpol, Modest Mouse, Broken Social Scene. What a dork!
23-present -- Pretty much whatever comes up on my computer or iPod... This week meaning Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory, 10CC's I'm Not In Love.
*How long have you had the pair of shoes you're wearing right now? What's the best thing you've done in them?*
JJ: My sister got me a new pair of shoes for XXXmas. They are black Converse looking things with a weird Skeleton dude on one side and some freaky looking Geisha looking lady on the other. Pretty crazy. I've definitely fallen asleep wearin' 'em. Give me some more time to come up with something cool... I've only had 'em a couple of months!
*Do you own everything Robert Smith's done?*
JJ: No, but, I used to have some pretty ridiculous looking Robert Smith hair a few years ago.
*What would you like to do without?*
JJ: Cold Weather. Cavities. Broken guitar strings. Headaches.