A few years back, it seemed as if The Gadjits were poised to take over their little skankin’ corner of the rock world. After getting signed by Epitaph/Hellcat and releasing 1998’s At Ease to critical praise, the band members built a rep as road warriors and were promptly rewarded with such promotional opportunities as appearing in one of Rolling Stone‘s many “Style” issues. Then, as they say, the bottom fell out. Not for The Gadjits so much as it did for popular acceptance of anything ska in general.
Unfazed, the Kansas City band kept touring, released a second full-length on Hellcat (1999’s Wish We Never Met) that was little more than a blip on the mainstream music press’ radar, and continued to wow audiences coast-to-coast with over-the-top performances. Then something started to change. Actually, a lot of things were changing, like listening habits.
“There’s barely five or six ska bands anymore that any of us can listen to or tolerate without being disgusted,” lead singer Brandon Phillips admits from a Laundromat in Berkeley, Calif., where he’s so road-weary that he doesn’t know the actual day or time. “We’ve all kind of focused on the other music we enjoy, like The Who and Kinks and Stones and AC/DC and stuff like that.”
The influence of stuff like that also led to some changes in The Gadjits’ approach to their craft, Phillips says. “I’ve been playing ska guitar for, like, seven years, so as a songwriter that becomes really restricting because every song you write has to have this tic-tic-tic-tic,” he says in rapid fire, “and I kind of have to break those chains.”
And so it was, with a quick declaration that went something like, “I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m a good fucking guitar player and I’ve got to do something fun.” The Gadjits threw off the mantle of ska kingpins, became a band committed to experimenting with new sounds, and rekindled their ability to impress even the most ardent punk rocker at Epitaph.
But, says Phillips, that’s really making too much of this. “I feel kind of weird saying we’re different now, because when bands say that, they typically shoot themselves in the foot. And it is different, but apparently it still retains all the essential elements of The Gadjits.” That’s an assumption Phillips bases on fan response to the new material over the past few months on tour. In other words, people aren’t as pissed when they don’t hear “Corpse I Fell In Love With” because Hilary Allen and the Phillips three avert riots nightly with something that has enough hooks to be pop and enough grit to be punk.
That said, the old stuff still holds a place in The Gadjits’ hearts, but it’s more like that piece of shit first car you had that ran like hell but you loved anyway. “The first songs I wrote were when I was 16, and we made our first recordings when Adam, our drummer, was 10 years old, so you can’t help but get fed up with what you were doing then really fast,” says Phillips. “It wasn’t mature, and it wasn’t developed, but that’s the fun part of this band is that we’re all growing up together, and it reflects in the music.
“But it’s still fun to play a show and have people ask for an old-ass song that you wrote when you were 16 years old. I mean, you never expect anything like that to endure the test of time, ever, but it does to a certain extent, and you enjoy it.”
And enjoy they do, which is sort of how The Gadjits avoided the pitfall of being a teenage band coming of age — usually the perfect recipe for a breakup, or at least a good excuse (à la Menudo) for all the band members to leave by the age of consent. Luckily, the good times kept The Gadjits rockin’, and there’s that blood thing. “It’s not like I can break up with my brothers,” Phillips says, adding that this whole thing isn’t supposed to be serious anyway.
“It’s not like some big pressure or something where the Smashing Pumpkins or Flaming Lips have to go reinvent themselves. It’s not like there’s any danger of some big artistic blowout. We just keep elevating our level of fun, for us, and it must translate well to the audience because people have had more and more fun at our shows since we started the band.”
Whether you shoegaze, skank, or mosh, the next chance to catch The Gadjits and their new material between long stretches on the road comes Monday, June 5, at the El Torreon Ballroom. After that, it’s back on the road for a month before returning to capture this “new sound” in analog.Pause for the cause
Some places are known for great music, the corporate slogan goes, and typically Blayney’s is one of them. But don’t go there expecting to find any loud rock like the Electrophonic Foundation plays. “It’s pretty cool actually, pretty funny,” the Foundation’s Ryan Ashmore says of the group’s short-lived set Friday, May 19, at Blayney’s, a show he would later call “the most fun we’ve ever had playing.”
With recommendations like that, you’d think rock bands would be beating down the door to play at Blayney’s cozy quarters in Westport with the Electrophonic Foundation leading the charge, but there’s more to Ashmore’s story than just a good time. It seems there was some miscommunication, and the owner of Blayney’s (Dick Schulte) didn’t quite find what he was looking for in Saturday evening fare when the boys took the stage and launched into their set before a packed deck, there to celebrate the spring edition of Friction Magazine (www.frictionmag.com).
“After the first song, the guy that owns Blayney’s (Schulte), he didn’t even come out; he just sent someone with a note on a business card asking us to turn it down,” says Ashmore, who admits the Foundation concurred for a few songs. Still, after the third song in the set, the messenger returned with another note warning the band members that this would be their swan song if they couldn’t keep it down.
“So we were like, ‘All right, this is our last song,'” Ashmore says with a grin you can feel through the phone, “and we turned it up and played like a 10-minute epic.”
While the band didn’t seem to mind playing an amended and now free gig, not everyone in the crowd saw the same silver lining to this cloud, particularly those who paid the $5 cover to see the band. But like the man says: My club, my rules.
“I don’t know why he (Schulte) was mad,” claims Ashmore, who probably knows exactly why the owner was upset. “I love (blues artist) Lonnie Ray, and we’re not Lonnie Ray, but he should have known that. When he agreed to let us play, you think he would have known.”
However, because a third party booked the band with Schulte’s permission — with the understanding that the music would be suitable for the venue — there was really no way for Schulte to know. And since the Electrophonic Foundation’s CD, Welcome to the Rock and Roll Machine (itself a myriad of contradictions: enhanced CD, recorded in “Tony’s basement,” contains a 7 1/2-minute video) is available only at Recycled Sounds and at the group’s shows, Schulte would have had a hard time previewing the music.
Still, Ashmore says, there’s no love lost, and very little opportunity. “(Schulte) was pretty cool, all things considered. He came up later and was like, ‘I hope you guys don’t ever plan on playing here again,’ and we don’t.”
They do plan on playing Friday, June 23, at Davey’s, and no interruptions are foreseeable even for 10-minute epics.
Natives of Colorado are proud of their birth state and don’t mind wearing it on their sleeves, backpacks, or rear bumpers. So when someone chooses to fly the serene coop of Woodland Park, Colo., for the cultural hotbed of southern Kansas as did singer-songwriter Terry Everett Quiett, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows.
Maybe it was that region’s zeal for organized religion and disdain for scientific theory that drew him in, but Quiett got enough of the former as a kid. According to his bio, “Quiett grew up singing in churches and participating in the circuslike atmosphere of tent revivals,” which Quiett claims inspired the song “Circuit Lines” on his solo debut, Paperdoll Spokesman (S3 Records).
And unlike many in his adopted hometown, Quiett is an advocate of evolution — at least in musical terms. His career as a singer in Kansas has already taken him from fronting the forgettable Wichita bar band Stone Owen to touring the country to perform in coffeehouses with a guitar as his only travel companion. So obviously something else drew Quiett to the Kansas hills, that something being a paucity of appropriate venues at which he could play in his old hometown.
“I have a show in my hometown tonight,” says Quiett, taking time from packing his car, “and this will be the first time I ever played there…. There just aren’t many places for acoustic music in Woodland Park, Colo.”
But he did find a suitable place for acoustic music in this state’s aural oasis, Winfield, Kan., where his compositions were performed by college choirs and in dramatic productions. Around this time he stumbled across Wichita’s electronic guru, Gooding.
“I’d been working on this record, and the original plan was to record most of it in my house, but things weren’t going well and I was getting pretty frustrated,” he explains. “Then I met Gooding after one of my shows, and he offered to record and produce the record at his place.”
Quiett and Gooding aren’t whom the audience would have chosen in a musical Love Connection, but the producers sent them on a date anyway, and things worked out (no thanks to Chuck Woolery).
“I had become a fan of his, and he started coming to my shows,” Quiett begins as a way of explaining the unlikely match-up between himself — someone who claims Ani DiFranco and Shawn Colvin as influences — and Gooding, the Moby of the Midwest. Still, Paperdoll Spokesman backs up Quiett’s claim that it all worked.
“Gooding is an incredible musician,” Quiett says. “He plays most of the drums on the record, and he’s extremely talented with numerous instruments over a wide range of styles. But I really wanted to keep everything focused on the vocals and the songs while I was in the studio, even though there were all these instruments I don’t normally play with. We basically did that by building on the structure I developed playing out live.”
Catch the Gooding-free live structure at Davey’s Uptown on Tuesday, June 6, when the paperdoll spokesman takes the stage with his guitar for an early set at 8:30 p.m. Also, until Quiett finds a station here that plays original, independent music, the only chance to hear his songs at home will be to buy the record at the show.
Missed flier-hanging assignments and missing bands didn’t keep Haiti Help from meeting its $500 goal at its most recent benefit show, at Harmon Park on Saturday, May 27, according to co-founder Lindsey Patterson. Among the musical highlights were a spirited set by art-metal veterans Element, whose DJ samples dialogue excerpts and death-metal vocals rather than provide his bandmates with beats that would inspire embarrassing forays into rap; funky folk covers of Public Enemy and 2 Live Crew tunes by an acoustic duo; and a writhing, manic performance by Brett Ray, the titular frontman of the grinding hardcore outfit Brett Ray Holocaust. As always, all of the profits go toward funding education for Haitian children, and past experience has proved that $500 is enough to put 30 children through primary school for one year and one young scholar through a year of college. For more information on Haiti Help and updates on its upcoming events, e-mail the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew Miller
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