Photos by Issac Larios, courtesy of Jail Weddings
The history of sleazy alt-AOR—or torchy goth, or Bad Seeds-core, or what have you—is written in the gutter. From kingless bards of yore to Sinatra in his fallow years to “Don’t Go Home With Your Heart On”-era Leonard Cohen to poor Deacon Blue dying behind the wheel all the way to The Flaming Stars and Crime And The City Solution and Gallon Drunk and a million other ne’er-do-well lounge rockers with unwieldy band names and even clunkier prospects, the landscape is littered with men and women dressed like noir extras crying their eyes out of at the end of the bar. One’s patience for this entirely nebulous and possibly non-existent genre depends entirely on one’s attraction to Tindersticks, hard drink, and pomade from a tin. You dig it or you don’t; but it’s an ethos of sorts, and god bless the grifters that embrace it.
Jail Weddings is an LA (of course) rock outfit that practices the genre better than most. Made up of former members of The Starvations and synth hardcore legends VSS, Jail Weddings has, since 2010, been making bombastic songs that walk the line between Nick Cave and Springsteen covering “Lipstick Traces (on A Cigarette).” It’s a party, of sorts.
In anticipation of the follow-up to 2014’s Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotions, Jail Weddings has made a video for their new single, the first taste of a very much still-in-progress album called Blood Moon Blue. The song, “Face of Kindness,” is a pleading rocker, and the video, directed by Matthew Eckholm, is a document of frontman Gabriel Hart’s wicked healthy band/personal dynamics. It’s a gas. Mr. Hart was kind enough to answer a few borderline rude questions about the band and their new music.
Noisey: It may be my stupid imagination, but the new song seems a bit more “rock” than the previous Jail Weddings songs, which were arguably more raucous goth girl group. Is that a fair assessment, and is that part of a conscious decision?
Gabriel Hart: It seems with these new batches of songs, each one is singularly unique rather than an overall re-run of that Jail Weddings sound. No regrets, but our last record was so over-the-top in that vein—and I think it absolutely had to be—but it was to the point where that I felt like there was nowhere else to go but to reassess what the band could possibly be within our corner we carved out. So yes, “Face of Kindness” could be considered our new “rock” song, but look what we did: We made a proper rock song without being totally lame, and I think that’s an interesting challenge to set yourself up for, if you’re anything like me and you fucking hate that very trail of dinosaur shit rock music has left behind itself.
Can you explain more about the band division? I saw the Facebook post about it being two bands now, but I’m unclear how that actually works?
I wouldn’t call it a division. For a minute there, I saw some stylistic changes, which didn’t leave a lot of room for the girls crying behind me on every song and lent more to me singing every song on the record. I usually have one of them take a solo on a song or two, as I always wanted the group to be a mini-Brill Building song factory where it was more about the song, not the singer, and I always loved mixing up the gender perspectives. But since I moved to the desert, I’ve been very much in my own head and working through these strange batches of songs that started out as these very romantic tributes to my girlfriend but then quickly detoured into musical wakes for my best friend Matty Rue, who passed away last year.
Considering the interesting contrast of reconciling co-existing with these two extremes, I’m taking this one—all of it. The girls will be on at least half the record; they are very much still a part of the band. But the three of us are going to record our own exclusive girl-group record called Sirens In The Night sometime in the future—the songs are already written for that and its going to be a doozy.
I’m not sure if you’re tired of the Gun Club comparisons (I was actually going to compare your singing to the dude in The Starvations, who I really dug, until I realized that you are, uh, the dude from The Starvations), but do you mind that? Do you consider that band, or any Kid Congo adjacent bands, a template or do you see Jail Weddings as part of a larger tradition? Does that shift or do you have certain musical goals with the band that you stick with?
One should never get tired of even the laziest comparisons, especially if they’re flattering ones. But what everyone should remember is that a person is only born with one voice, and if they are able to emote bravely with that voice, they’re are naturally going to find themselves in allegiance with others who are able to successfully communicate pain and vulnerability, usually torn out from underneath a thick skin they masquerade under as being “tough.” And I think that’s the operative word: pain. I believe a strong sense of pain is what makes the difference whether someone’s voice is actually convincing or not. So I hope to see Jail Weddings as part of that very particular lineage, whether or not you want to attach mere band names to that may be kind of trivial. The irony to all of this is that I ended up singing for the Gun Club for their surviving member one-off reunion back in 2006 at the Redcat Theater; so again, the cosmos is a cruel comedian.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but, when your operating in a tradition that is so dependent on tales of substance abuse, oversized broken hearts, dead friends, and wearing cheap suits, how does one avoid being a cartoon? Or do you just say, “fuck it”?
Given all the symptoms mentioned, I think it could all be summed up in one word: drama. And I say that reluctantly, being someone who people tend to reduce to as “dramatic.” But I always think: As opposed to what? What kind of life are you living if it isn’t dramatic, and your brain doesn’t act as some kind of eager seismograph processing it all? I don’t even see it as a choice you can make. I see it something we are doomed to live out, just for breathing. And to think that this generation coming up is having the least amount of sex than any one before it because they are taking fewer risks in general while losing intimacy with each other on a whole—those are the ones in danger of becoming the most unfortunate cartoon. Substance abuse and broken hearts and dead friends and cheap suits—these are all just very normal things.
In the same vein; lyrically how do you walk the line between talking about the past in an honest or compelling way and just waxing nostalgic about being fuck-ups?
Even when I was at my most youngest and dumbest, I always acknowledged that there was a special consequence for every thrill, and that was always just as attractive to me as the stunt itself. There is a precariousness to every little thing, and that’s always made my blood pump. Not once have I ever looked at all my friends and told myself, “We are all going to make it.” Living fast is actually exactly what it says—it’s a quantum leap, where you’re actually time traveling while shortening your very life by making memories quickly disappear just as fast as you are living through them. Exciting, isn’t it?
Upcoming Jail Weddings shows:
08/20 Los Angeles, CA @ Lost Knight Inn - Echo Park Rising
11/05 Los Angeles, CA @ The Redwood
11/10 Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy & Harriet’s w/ Drug
Zachary Lipez is a sucker for this shit. Follow him on Twitter.