Happy Jawbone Family Band’s Luke Csehak requested a comic strip about the band from the Boston Hassle. But this is what he got from me. An interview before the show (they play tonight, 10/4, for the first night of the New England Underground Music Fest).
By Jonathan Donaldson
Jonathan Donaldson: So you’re from Brattleboro. What’s the connection to Boston?
Luke Csehak: We’ve had a lot of friends in Boston when we were starting out. In Brattleboro there is not much of a live music scene. There’s not that much going on. The only place we got DIY shows at first was in Boston, like at the Butcher Shop back in his hey day. It has a real rock & roll energy.
JD: Are you guys a younger band? Early 20s?
LC: I don’t know…we’re kind of 20s/30s.
JD: So what brought you to the DIY scene as opposed to the more mainstream indie rock scene?
LC: Probably a certain level of taste and a certain level of laziness working hand in hand.
JD: But it sounds like you also wanted to put on shows with your friends.
LC: Yeah, yeah!
JD: And where did you make your new record, Happy Jawbone Family Band?
LC: This last record is a real studio sort of record. We made it in New at Mexican Summer’s Studio Gary’s Electric Studios. And we had a producer. Jarvis from Woods. It was very different from most of our records that we record in our basement. But it was a really cool experience.
JD: So are you guys like the Monkees? Do you have a band house?
LC: Yeah, sort of. But not everyone lives there. We just sort of record and practice there, and congregate there.
JD: So in recording the album in a studio, were you at the mercy of a producer, or did you have an idea of what you wanted to do now that the money is there?
LC: Oh yeah, I had a very concrete vision of what I wanted to do with the album, and I think that the others did too. I’m surprised how much everyone’s visions were really shared. It was a true collaboration and a rare opportunity.
JD: How many people are in the full band?
LC: Well currently there are 5 people who will play shows and then there are other people that will play the odd show in Brattleboro. You know it’s always been sort of flexible. I’ve played shows by myself sometime. We’ve got side projects and stuff.
JD: Are you sort of the main songwriter dude in the band?
LC: Me and Francis . But I do most of the lead vocals.
JD: And play guitar too?
LC: Yeah, and play guitar.
JD: So how many people were involved in the recording? Was it the core five?
LC: Yes, those five. And then we brought in a couple other people. A sax player who plays with this band Quiet Hooves. And we were going to try and get a children’s singing group to play, but they all had too much homework to do!
JD: How long did you spend working on it?
LC: We spent two or three weeks. But I spent nearly nine months—before that when we found out that we had an opportunity to make it writing a lot of songs—culling just the best ones from the group—parsing down the songs, restructuring them, changing the lyrics, trying to find the essence of each song. Really crafting to a level that I’ve never crafted on any artistic project before.
JD: Wow, that sounds really, really exciting! But it also sounds like something that could have gone really badly.
LC: Hahaha. There was a lot of pressure involved, and pressure can kill a project. You’d be surprised how much pressure you can put on something.
JD: Are you guys peaking right now?
LC: No, I feel like the next couple of albums are going to be the peak of the career. We are going to head back to our old style of our first two albums where we have a lot of quick-paced songs that aren’t completely developed, and are sort of developed as the album goes by and are sort of reprised in different ways. Our next two albums will be even better than this. I’ve only just glimpsed how much you can craft an album. I recently got the complete SMiLE sessions (the Beach Boys), and I’ve always been really into SMiLE and checking out all the different mixes of it, like the fan-mixes. It showed me what level of craft you can put into a project and that brings up the pressure thing again because the pressure just got to him and ruined his project. But at the same token it really made it something other-worldly. But I’d like to experiment more with that. To go deeper.
JD: And so, did you guys make a lot of progress as a band in the process of making this album.
LC: Oh yeah, I mean, we played for eight hours a day. We didn’t take many breaks, because our schedule was limited, so we were playing until our bodies were sore and aching. And then we’d just go right to bed on someone’s gross floor. Ashtrays by our heads. Disgusting! Bless the souls that housed us.
JD: Probably a lot of the bands that I hear in the album, I’m guessing are probably bands that you guys aren’t into. Are you curious to hear what I thought?
LC: I mean, to a certain degree. But I don’t usually go much for band comparisons. It feels like a false analysis of a project.
JD: Well, I think you guys sound a lot like Rush. No I’m just teasing you.
LC: Hahaha. I’ll give you a rush!
JD: It sounds very English.
LC: Oh yeah, that’ll happen.
JD: It sort of reminds me of the Mekons and other bands that were part of the smaller, literary, folk-punk scene.
LC: Yeah, the literary thing is big for us. We want to be thought of as a “lit band.”
JD: And I think John Peel would have liked your band.
LC: Does he do American bands?
JD: Yes, absolutely. He’s dead now. But one of his favorite bands ever was the White Stripes.
LC: Oh, really. That’s funny. They are a really good band. Yeah, I guess that’s because I because I listen to a lot of British bands. I really let my pants down there!
JD: So when are you playing back in Boston?
LC: The fourth! We are going to be there for the New England Underground Music Festival.
JD: And the album’s not out yet.
LC: Nope, October 15th.
LC: Yeah, it does look a little bit of that. What do you think of that? Do you like the cover? Do you think that it’s cool?
JD: Yes. But I thought the other picture was better.
LC: What other picture?
JD: It was like on a bridge.
LC: Oh yeah! The back cover! Well, you know, it’s like, you can’t tell which one is the back cover and which one is the front cover. There are old albums like that.
JD: The first time I saw a promotional email about the album, that was the image. It’s just such a strange band name that it’s just interesting to see who are these people?
LC: What a weird band name! I still can’t figure out if I even like it!
JD: It sort of reminds me of, like on that TV show the Little Rascals, if they would have had a band.
LC: That’s great!
JD: They probably would have put “Ye Olde” on the beginning of it. And you guys have a bunch of records out right now. That thing that came out last year was a comp, right?
LC: Yes, that was a compilation, sort of a “Greatest Hits.” We thought about calling it “Happy Jawbone’s Greatest Flops.” But this will be our eighth full-length original album—not including that Greatest Flops album. We have a lot under our belts. To varying…I don’t know. I stand behind it all!
JD: And then there’s a Christmas album?
LC: Yes. That’s album number six. We made that in 2011 for the Christmas season. That’s my favorite album of hours actually.
JD: Did you write original Christmas songs for it.
LC: Yes, in fact, it’s mostly original Christmas songs. In fact there are only two covers. One of them is “Deck the Halls with Gasoline.” We like those really obscure Christmas songs. I like the classics too, like Johnny Cash. But I like those weird Beatles’ Christmas singles. Our record is sort of modeled after that.
JD: Well, I really loved the new record even from the first listen.
LC: It’s built to like indefinitely, so hopefully it will invite another listen.
JD: Well, it’s telling if the first listen is really terrible…
LC: Hahaha. Well some albums that I really hated, I really ended up liking a lot after a while. But that’s a whole other road to go down. We’ll save that for our next interview.