Citing influences as vast and varied as The Band, Explosions In The Sky, and Andrew WK, one does not know what to expect in a Jones Street Station album. But the weird thing is that after a couple of listens, it kind of starts to make sense. You're able to feel them consciously shuffle from genre to genre, sometimes from track to track. Sometimes it's just verse to verse. The boys from Brooklyn deal with largely with folk, but the other influences are never too far off. The varied style of songwriting may have to do with the fact that Jones Street Station has no central lead singer, and no sole voice. Instead, they write as a collective, often trading songs between four main singers, each one bringing their own unique perspective to the table. It often works beautifully, but they admit that it can be a challenge at times with so many hands in the pot. We recently sat down with singer/bassist Walt Wells to discuss songwriting tactics, Danny Pudi, and ethnomusicology, whatever that fancy college word means.
For those who aren't in the know, can you tell us a little about Jones
Street Station? How did you form? What were some of your major influences?
WW: Jones Street Station started as a largely acoustic group, when Danny and Jon sought a vehicle for songwriting outside of a traditional bluegrass group they performed with. JB and I joined Danny and Jon for a month of performances and the chemistry was immediate and palpable. In the next few years we worked with a few very talented percussionists and plugged in our instruments and began to let rhythmic nuance and amplified sound guide us in new musical directions. Our love for vocal harmonies and our passion for song craft was the rudder that kept the project on course. A list of our collective influences would be massive, but here's a few major touchstones: The Band, Depeche Mode, Explosions in the Sky, The National, Bill Monroe, Paul Simon, Muddy Waters, Dawes, Andrew WK
Jones Street Station has four lead singers. Singer Danny Erker has said that "We've [all] got different skills and tastes." Is it easy writing songs with so many people or does it ever turn into a "too many cooks in the kitchen" situation?
It's not easy, but that's part of the beauty of collaboration. It's like when we're writing, each of us is enough of an individual that we would often come up with things that none of the others would find on our own. From that you get songs that are uniquely Jones Street Station. Each of us tend to have really strong opinions, but we also all have excellent bullshit detectors. If we land in a place where we're all satisfied with a song, then there's a pretty good chance that the song is strong enough to stand on its own two legs and make it in the world. I think over time we've gotten very good at realizing that compromise is important. So we work hard at not taking things personally. One of our biggest collective mantras is "whatever's best for the song." Fortunately, we also trust and love each other a lot, so it all tends to work very nicely.
You guys jump from different styles and genres in almost every track. Is that something you have to make a conscious effort to do or is it the natural end result of having so man strong voices in the band?
It's not a conscious effort to genre jump, although I think we do consciously work to not shy away from it. And yes, it's definitely tied up in having so many strong writers/voices that work so well collaboratively. More, I would suggest the changes from song to song that the listener hears are a result of our band-wide dedication to craft and to the needs of a particular song. We're really just slaves to the songs in our collective heads. With each individual song we strive to find the setting in which the song can ring most true.
Bassist/singer Walt Wells has been called a "part-time ethnomusicologist." Can you spell out what that means for us and tell us how it comes in handy when you're writing?
I got my BA from Indiana University in Ethnomusicology/Folklore (it was one of the few places in the country that offered a BA in that field). That education afforded me the opportunity to not just think about culture and the way different people approach music and listening, but also the opportunity to perform in some pretty unique settings like: western classical music, mariachi, african mbira and marimba ensembles, irish set music, jazz, gospel, reggae, electronic, rock, and most recently, bluegrass. While having a wide range of musical experiences and a background in ethnomusicology has influenced my taste and ears in the writing process, I think the biggest single influence on the band comes from having had an academic approach to understanding music and having a musical vocabulary to communicate with musicians of varying experience and training levels.
You just released "The Understanding" single. Should we be expecting a full-length release sometime soon?
Absolutely. We've got a great new record coming out soon we're really proud of. You can already hear a number of the tunes (including "The Understanding") during our live shows.
As a Community fan, I have to ask. What was it like working with Danny Pudi on the video for "The Understanding?" Would you ever consider teaming up with his co-star Donald Glover and doing a track with his alter-ego Childish Gambino?
First of all, it was an absolute pleasure working with Danny Pudi. He and Danny (Erker) have known each other for years. The man is not only ridiculously funny and talented, but he is also one of the most generous people I can think of. He was even so kind as to join us down in Austin for SXSW this year where he kissed a lot of hands and shook a lot of babies. And yes, we think very highly of Donald and all of his many projects and alter-egos. I mean, seriously, he wrote for some of the best written comedies on TV (Daily Show, 30 Rock), and now stars in one of the funniest. If he asked us to jump, we'd gladly say "how high?" Heck, maybe we'd cover House of Pain's "Jump Around" together...
What's next for Jones Street Station? Any upcoming shows?
We're currently planning a tour in late September of the Midwest based around an appearance at the Midpoint Music Festival, and then we'll be back to our Brooklyn bedrock, trying to run down the source of the songs that float through our heads and keep us deprived of sleep.
Grab a copy of the band's new single "The Understanding" now on iTunes.