Established 1996 in the sleepy college town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, The Jazz June didn’t expect to be relevant in 2014. The five undergrads spent years playing opening slots at basement shows, discomforting hardcore bros with their unusual, experimental brand of punk driven by weed, Coltrane and Dischord Records. But they would unknowingly steer the trajectory of emotive hardcore for years to come; particularly via their deeply ruminative, acclaimed 2000 release, The Medicine.
Long after their 2002 release Better Off Without Air, The Jazz June now joins the recent wave of comebacks by late ’90s-era bands, resulting in dozens of new albums and reunion shows that fans never hoped to witness. What’s been heralded as the “emo revival” of the past few years once seemed like the sole venture of punk musicians too young to have witnessed the heyday of recently reunited OGs like Braid or American Football. But it’s safe to say these bands may not have resurrected without the enthusiasm of this new generation of musicians, who now get to share stages with their heroes.
Among the most prolific artists of this new generation is Evan Weiss, a Jazz June fan and multi-talented machine of a man behind Chicago indie rock project Into It. Over It. With his production chops, as well as the support of indie label Topshelf Records, The Jazz June would reconvene to record their first album in 12 years, After The Earthquake.
According to lead singer and guitarist Andrew Low, the band never actually called it quits; it was around 2004 that things began to taper off. “After our last tour,” he says, “Our money was gone, our van was broken down, and we were a bit broken down too. We started playing less and just drifted.”
Hot on the heels of their set at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, I interviewed Low about the new album and the current generation of emo bands.
How was Fun Fun Fun Fest? It’s three Funs, right? That’s so tedious.
Oh yeah, it was fun. But I feel pretty damaged and worn out. We played at a club called The Mohawk, with Into It. Over It., Mineral, and Knapsack. We played second, and it was already packed. At some point during our set I looked at Dustin, our drummer, and I was like “Whoa, there are way too many people here already.”
Have you played with any of these bands before?
We played with Knapsack back in 1998, right before they hit it big and went on tour with At The Drive-In. Then we played with Mineral once in Maryland, but I never actually got to see them! I had to get home early to go to class the next day. I never actually got to see Mineral until two days ago. Luckily they got back together and we could play with them.
Ah, the cons of being a touring band in college. How did you decide to revive The Jazz June after 10 years?
We got back together briefly to play a benefit show in 2006. It was for our roadie, Adam, who had a brain tumor [and later recovered]. Then I moved to London about eight years ago. We’ve recorded some demos since then, but worked on them all online. I can just sit in front of my computer and record guitar and vocals to a click track. On a computer you can record 250 guitar tracks and just pick the best one. Back in the old days, you had only one or two chances to get it right. There’s nothing like playing live with a band, but the internet makes songwriting easier.
Your sound has definitely evolved. I noticed you’ve opted for a heavily lyrical, more pop sound in After The Earthquake. What prompted you to shift from the more dark, winding quality of your past work?
When writing our last album, Better Off Without Air, I would write along with the band. But in Earthquake, I started with vocal harmonies. You know that time in the morning when you’re half-awake, and half-asleep? I’d get this phrase or melody stuck in my head and I’d record it on my iPhone before going to work. Then I’d come home, singing the melody until it turned into a chorus. And from the chorus I’d build the rest of the song, and share it with the band later.
In the ’90s I just listened to a lot of hardcore, straight edge punk, but at some point my punk blinders just flipped off. When writing Earthquake I listened to a lot of Teenage Fanclub, Built To Spill, Superchunk. They all have great pop melodies.
What’s inspiring you to write songs now? As opposed to what inspired you 12 years ago?
I realized in college that I was really sheltered for most of my life. I lived in an affluent area of New Jersey. Everything was great, nothing bad happened. Then after college everything started to spin: friends went to jail, people started doing weird drugs, 9/11 happened. It was a massive dose of reality. When I first started writing songs, they were very much in my head. It was all personal and very abstract, like I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. Nowadays my songs are still personal, but they’re more about what’s happening around me, outside my head.
The song “Short Changed” was about the London Riots [of 2011]. Everything was crazy, helicopters were flying over our heads, and buildings were burning nearby. I wasn’t sure if I could even go outside. People were just going out, smashing up shops. Obviously, they were protesting. A man was killed by police and it was all very sketchy. They thought he had a gun, but then he didn’t. What you read in the paper is not always the truth. I was like … “Is this the end? Is everyone just gonna kill each other and burn everything down?”
I saw your reunion show with Braid at St. Vitus last year. I enjoyed the meeting of old and new emo bands. Jazz June and Braid were the veterans, and then there were newer bands like Enemies, Caravels and Have Mercy, who all play their own variations of what you do. What kind of differences do you see in music today?
It’s funny to see us being referenced by newer bands these days because when The Medicine came out 14 years ago, it wasn’t a big deal. It was such a slow burner. When we started out everyone knew each other, we played in basements for people we knew, with local bands that sounded a little bit like us. Then in the 2000s, some bands started breaking out, playing on the radio, and getting money and managers behind them. You couldn’t even play certain clubs without those. But now we’re back to the old days — except now with the internet, getting [music] out there is easier. Apparently there’s even a Jazz June cover band in Japan! But people are befriending each other, booking each others’ bands, playing basements. Kids aren’t playing music to get rich, they do it because they wanna play music.
Now that you’re back in the game, what do you look forward to most in the future?
Right now, it’s just good to be hanging out with my buds.