-Interview- Jagged Lines (10/6/14)

San Diego, CA rock band Jagged Lines talks about the LA music scene, getting into music and their upcoming plans.
From: San Diego, CA
Sounds like: Rock

(All answers by frontman/guitarist Dre Carrera.)

1. How did you get started with music and how did you develop your sound? Who thought of the name “Jagged Lines” and is there any meaning behind it?

My grandfather played me some Beethoven when I was two years old, and I can still remember feeling something intensely powerful. The Rolling Stones, Guns 'N' Roses, the Velvet Underground, the Clash, and Robert Johnson similarly made big impressions on me later, too. I grew up in Connecticut, listening to a lot of obscure indie rock and rock 'n' roll. When I was 12, I became obsessed with the idea of playing guitar, and my mom finally broke down and got me a classical guitar on the condition that I take flamenco lessons and play "real music." It turned out to be a huge favor. I got into a lot of folk and classical guitar music of Spain. When I got to high school, the school band got me into playing electric and upright bass, which got me into classical, jazz, and most importantly, blues.
During college, I moved to New York and made great friends with a guitarist in my psych program. We developed a great, dark project with me on bass. After college, he moved to San Diego and built a home recording studio, and I stayed, tending to my brokerage job, parents, and long-term, marriage-bound relationship. My college friend and I had always dreamed of starting a band, though. I went back to guitar and started singing to take full ownership of my musical ideas, starting a solo project called the Film Noir. I was also writing music reviews for a fledgling online music magazine, but ironically I wasn't creating as exciting music myself like I was in college. Then my life unraveled. My girlfriend and I broke up. Two more big, failed, tragic relationships later, my firm was purchased, so I was also out of a job. I went to Spain for a while and realized then that nothing was going to replace my need to make inspired music. Tired of self-imposed obstacles, I came home, abruptly broke up with my then-girlfriend, sold everything but my instruments and some clothes, threw what was left into a Volkswagen hatchback, and drove across the country to finally start that band with my friend in San Diego.
Once there, I moved in with my friend to start a band, only to find that the magic was gone and that he'd lost his creativity. Whiskey got in the way, and the girl he was after took a liking to me, and soon he and I were done. I moved to a new place across town, and months later, a new roommate moved in. He was my age, and was the frontman of a band. Before long, though, he'd tired of San Diego, and when he moved to Seattle, I saw the opportunity to acquire a great rhythm section. I'd met Bill before, and recognized him as an excellent drummer. Jared, the defunct band's bassist, was young, energetic, and bursting with talent. Bill, Jared, and I had our first band practice in October of 2010 at Little Italy Music Studio, a pedicab driver warehouse that also hosted bands at night. Jagged Lines was thus born.
Bill grew up a metal head, and Jared was into punk, so my old downer solo indie rock stuff wouldn't swim in these harsh waters. I was also tired of being depressed. All of that loss back east made me want to rage and riot now. Melding together a number of musical influences, we distilled our sound into a distinct, supercharged, hard-hitting brand of rock 'n' roll. In those early days, we'd practice for hours at that warehouse, learning each other's strengths. It was a great time and place for us. (They even had a vending machine that sold beer for a dollar a can!) Pedicab drivers stored their bikes there and hung out to catch us play, becoming our first regular fans. I developed this rule back then that if it didn't burn like whiskey and sting like a switchblade, we wouldn't play it, and that's helped guide our sound from the beginning.
As for our name, back in my review-writing days I used to write and read a lot of music reviews. I remember reading an album review by Jesse Ashlock in which he perfectly described this band's music as frenetic drums and searing vocals over "jagged guitar lines of sound." That also came to define the vision of what I wanted us to sound like. As a reminder, we named the band Jagged Lines.

2. What do you want listeners to take away from your music?

I'd love for people to relate to the lyrics and have fun with the intensity. I write about a lot of dark themes like addiction, alienation, and loss, so I'd love for people to embrace the dark sides of themselves and not feel alienated by that, but empowered to be better. Ultimately the songs will belong more to the listeners than they will to me, amd they'll do what they want with them, so I just hope people take something meaningful away from Jagged Lines that they can't too easily find elsewhere.

3. How would you describe your music to the average listener?

Most people know nothing about the bands who've influenced us, and since objectivity is the artist's scourge, I usually tell them what other people have told us. Our latest producer, Eric Greedy, described our sound as a supercharged AC/DC but if Ray Davies (of the Kinks) was our frontman. I swooned, but I suppose that made sense. It's supercharged, no-bullshit rock 'n' roll!

4. What can people expect from your live show?

They can expect a riot. We take our live shows incredibly seriously. People don't go to shows to get Wednesday afternoon; they come to get Saturday night, and even if it is Wednesday afternoon, we'll give them 11:30PM on Saturday. We have one shot every time to show new people what our band is about, and we don't plan on wasting it. I tell Jared and Bill, "Play this show like we're going to be murdered 5 minutes after it's over, and this is the last thing anyone will ever remember you for." I grew up going to shows in New Haven, New York, Boston, and Albany, and live rock shows in your teens in the northeast are a religious experience. Everyone must give everything every time, band or fan. If you're not exhausted at the end of the show, you did it wrong. I know SoCal isn't as wild, but I've come to love that. If we can rile up this crowd with our energy, I know we're doing something right! Rock 'n' roll should always be a little dangerous, and I like a strong element of unpredictability at shows. I'll do anything to get people going: run around the stage, push Jared around, dive into the crowd, dance with girls, and invite people close to the stage. We treat every single show like a party, we play like it's our last day on earth, and we commit ourselves to making sure everyone has a great time. I never sleep better than after I do after a show. The complete exhaustion is how I know we pushed ourselves.

5. Who are three bands you’d like to tour with?

If we're allowed to dream, we'd love to tour with the Bloody Hollies, a truly rockin' band from San Diego. Jared and I recently saw legendary San Diego band Drive Like Jehu's reunion show, reminding us that it's been survived by two of that band's members in the band Hot Snakes. I think it'd be great to tour with Death From Above 1979, too.

6. Any crazy show stories?

As a tradition, I never play without a set amount of Jack before each show. There have been occasions where I've overdone it, though. One night, we had a heckler who called us a bunch of "racket-making ass holes," to which I held up a beer and replied, "That's a compliment where I come from, motherfucker, so cheers to you!" He and the crowd loved that, and he ended up buying us rounds of beers and shots. It put me over the edge, and interestingly enough, his smack-talking ways got him into trouble with a certain motorcycle gang that happened to be there. I usually love having bikers at shows because we support them, and they're typically very into what we're doing, but that night it got complicated. I blacked out, and so we played through what ended up being a rowdy beat-down at the bar. Security stopped it before anyone got killed, but I suppose I could've done something to diffuse it a bit had I noticed, particularly because our instigating crowd member had just become such a fan. I still feel a little guilty about it. We played a hell of a set, though!

7. What’s your take on the current state of rock?

Gene Simmons recently said, "Rock 'n' roll is finally dead." I vehemently disagree. I think it takes MORE passion to do this now than it ever has because there's less of a payout, no one expects any David Geffens in the crowd anymore, and the radio doesn't support new music like it used to. Rock is thriving, and bands are doing some incredible things, but there's no media outlet to spoon feed anything to the masses anymore. It's a D.I.Y. scene now, and though that means people are listening to a broader range of things than ever before, it also means it's harder for fans to find something to connect to and that there's more difficulty for artists in "getting noticed" in the traditional sense of a label contract, radio play, touring, and promotion.
Our second single off our current album is called "Harlot Radio," and it addresses the huge issue I take with the current state of radio. As the lyrics state, I think our generation has been robbed of a common soundtrack to now. Music is one of the most culturally unifying forces out there, like the protest songs of the '60s, disco or punk in the '70s, hair bands and hip hop in the '80s, grunge and gangster rap in the '90s...and then there's this mysterious void where syndicated radio just froze. "Modern rock" stations are playing Nirvana intensely, even though their last album was released 20 years ago! It's criminal with so many great artists around right now.
In my opinion, I think the deliberate suppression of rock 'n' roll is a part of the suppression of all things dangerous to the state. It's much easier to control a population that has no spokespeople. As a society, we do not champion an intelligent, enlightening media. It's not in the interest of those in power to rile anyone up. There are lists of songs that are banned at radio stations. We're given Linkin Park, Nickelback, and Coldplay to try to convince us that they still keep some guitar-based stuff on the air, but it's a lie. It all boils down to the fact that real rock 'n' roll is still potentially dangerous, and in a country where there's so much censorship and desensitization, it takes guts to still want to do it despite the many new obstacles in the way. People are doing it, though, and the fire with which they are is impressive. I invite Gene Simmons to go to the next Jagged Lines show to see what passionate fury for music's sake looks like. No one is funding fireworks, makeup, or stacks of amps for us, and we don't need any of that shit to blow the roof off a place and make a lasting impression on an audience. You can't be too upset at people for not knowing what they're talking about, but the world would be a better place if more people would support music and get off their asses to find what's relevant now, rather than saying that at some point everyone collectively agreed to stop making good, relevant rock 'n' roll.

8. What’s the current music scene like there in California, both locally and statewide?

I moved from New York to California because I was tired of the way the scene worked in NYC. In New York, many bands want to reinvent music and be juggernauts of avant-garde creativity. They end up sounding similarly weird in my opinion, though there have been some truly brilliant, mind-blowing artists to come from that scene. In SoCal, things are different. Here, people start bands with the idea that they're going to start a rockabilly or punk or metal or rock or reggae band, and that's what they do, often with great results. It seems to me to be a more practical and fertile platform for the exploration of creativity when the focus is shifted from having so much to prove to seeing what you can do with a handful of musicians and instruments.
The obvious place people ask about in California is Los Angeles, and to be honest, you can keep it. LA and Orange County are overly-saturated with musicians, so bands don't seem to connect with as many fans there. The competition is fierce and the attitudes are radically different than in San Diego. SD is community-based, and you get a chance to connect with people much more intimately than places north of here. There's also a lot less ego here. LA is obsessed with itself. Image is huge. Everyone there has their elevator speech ready for you, and they can't wait for you to stop talking so they can tell it to you so you know how amazing they are. I'm beyond grateful that San Diego isn't like that. San Diego specifically is a funny town. I mentioned before that compared to other places, its audiences are noticeably more laid-back. Some artists have gone so far as to say things like, "San Diego is fired!," meaning that they don't plan on playing here because of tamer crowd responses. The truth is, though, that San Diego's music scene is much like its weather: both are so consistently good that people take them for granted. There's an abundance of talent here, and frankly, San Diegans have a higher standard of what they'll go crazy over because of it. I saw a mob of kids almost tear the Casbah apart when the Queers played here. The Queers are ridiculously great live, though, aside from having a time-tested catalog to draw from. A new, out-of-town band shouldn't be shocked if a roomful of buzzed, crossed-arm adults doesn't do more than gently bop their heads in time to their music here. If you want a strong reaction in San Diego, you'll have to work hard for it. The Creepy Creeps, for instance, are a local horror surf-rock band, and they consistently get the crowd going, but they also work hard to do it, bringing dancers, interacting heavily with the crowd, and even donning costumes. I'm not saying that you need masks and go-go dancers to get a crowd going here, but the visible effort counts. San Diego has a uniquely great scene, you just need to know how to work with it.
That being said, I miss the hardcore of the east coast so badly! "White boy reggae" is king here, and if California ever seceded from the union, Sublime's "What I've Got" would be its national anthem. On the other hand, psychobilly is amazing here, and punk, thrash, and southwest country blues have respectable scenes here, too. I may miss Hatebreed and Sick of It All, but I get some good things in exchange.

9. What’s your take on legal/illegal music downloading?

We live in a revolutionary time. Illegal downloading is an unstoppable force at this point, so Jagged Lines embraces it. We as a band spend thousands of dollars on equipment, practice, recording, production, and getting back and forth to make this band happen, and what is our biggest hope? We just hope that someone somewhere illegally shares an mp3 of a Jagged Lines song with another like-minded music fan. It's a compliment, and so few people expect to pay for music anymore that we just hope we end up on people's playlists one way or another. The three of us still buy CDs because we're all audiophiles, and because we were the kind of kids who grew up reading liner notes, but we understand that that's not the norm anymore. Nowadays, "making it" means your music is on Pirate Bay!

10. What’s next for Jagged Lines?

I've always just been about making great records of music I'm proud of. That's all I've ever really wanted to do since I was a kid. Playing live is a dream come true, though, and now we're addicted to it. In the immediate future, we're planning to release an acoustic EP, and we already have ten songs slated for a second record. We're really excited about it, and we feel it'll be a strong album for us. We're also discussing a west coast tour, and have even lent thought to playing New York, Boston, and Milwaukee. We also want to do some more music videos, since we had such a blast making our first one.

11. Any shoutouts?

We have a lot of people that we're thankful for, like Aaron Witheril who is this band's oldest friend, Rachel Chloupek who is the greatest fan and friend I could've hoped for, and Bruce Haines, who has been our hero in times of trouble. We have huge respect and gratitude for Eric Greedy, our most recent producer who's helped us out a lot with our sound. We also love Mike Kamoo of Earthling Records. We recorded our great-sounding album there with him.