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Rainbow Jackson: The Crucial Cut Interview

Rainbow Jackson
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Bo Jackson was great at two things — three if you count selling sneakers. The first and only athlete to make the all-star team in two major American sports (football and baseball), Jackson was one of the most famous athletes of the early ’90s. According to TV spots popular at the time, “Bo knows” how to do just about everything. It’s from this multi-talented running back and outfielder that Rainbow Jackson get their name, and while this L.A. foursome may only excel one thing — playing “scuzzed-up power-pop,” as their bio puts it — it’s a skill that won them Diffuser.fm’s latest Crucial Cut of the Month contest.

More than 39 percent of voters picked the band’s tune ‘Flamingo Starr‘ as the best free MP3 we gave away in April 2013, and it’s easy to see why. Rainbow Jackson deliver perky, punky ’60s-inspired rock ‘n’ roll, and on tunes like ‘Flamingo Starr,’ they even throw in some smart, inspirational lyrics. In that sense, these West Coast transplants are good at two things — words and music — and responding via email to questions for this piece, Chad Carlisle (vocals, guitar, bass), Sam Dagger (lead guitar), Laith Khalaf (vocals, guitar, bass) and Andy Ford (drums) also proved our favorite type of interview subjects: witty, insightful and not at all miffed that a Diffuser.fm profile is the only real Crucial Cut prize.

Read on to find out when the Rainbow Jackson formed, how they fit into the local scene, why they like living in a rowdy house overrun with animals and fellow musicians and where they see themselves in five years. And if you like ‘em half as much as we do, why not surf on over to Near Mess Records and order up a copy of ‘Freckles,’ their brand-new split 7-inch with pals the Hindu Pirates?

How’d you all end up in L.A.? Why there instead of, say, NYC?

Chad Carlisle: We are from all over. Sam is from Portland, Laith is from Hawaii and Andy is from Illinois. At least that’s where we spent most of our time growing up. We’ve all lived a handful of places.

Sam Dagger: I ended up following a couple of friends from college to L.A. because I was bored. Then I found myself in a rock and roll band.

CC: I was living in Memphis, Tennessee, and had never been out to the West Coast, so I pretty much loaded my car with gear and set out on a surprisingly well-scheduled solo tour. A lot of people told me I would hate L.A., but once I got here, I got a really warm reception from strangers and met a lot of cool people. It took me two years to make the move though. As for NYC, the weather. Definitely the weather.

Laith Khalaf: I was going to school in Maryland to study journalism. Before long (not too long) I got bored and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue music. I figured it would be best to do something I love, since being bored your whole life isn’t any fun. I spent most of my life growing up in California and Hawaii. New York didn’t even cross my mind as a place to live. I prefer to visit.

Andy Ford: Moving to LA was a choice I made to pay my bills via recording songs, skateboarding and playing my SJC drums for as many people as I met. L.A. weather over NY weather any day.

What was the attraction to Bo Jackson? Nostalgia for the early ’90s? Those “Bo Knows” ads inspired us to buy at least one pair of brightly colored sneakers back in 1992…

CC: I grew up going to Kansas City Royals games with my family. I don’t recall whether I actually got to go to a game while Bo was still playing for the Royals, but my older brother and dad were definitely fans of Bo. And as a kid who watched way too much TV, I’m sure the “Bo Knows” ads got through to me.

LK: Aside from [the Nintendo game] Tecmo Superbowl, I didn’t have much to attract me to Bo Jackson. I just know he was an extraordinary athlete, and that I like puns, so when Chad suggested the name Rainbow Jackson, I was all for it.

The house you share with Vanaprasta sounds like a pretty crazy place. Does the raucous environment inspire the music? How long do you see yourselves living like that?

CC: The house is actually thinning out a bit. Cam from Vanaprasta moved out, but we still share a rehearsal studio with them. Having another band around gives us a rad opportunity to explore a lot of different musical possibilities. And we all like to jam out and have a good time (see: Knuckle Tat’s). As far as the house is concerned, its a constant flow of creativity, and it does get pretty crazy, and we’ll probably be living like this until we can’t anymore.

SD: I also play in a side project with Cam that has had a big influence on my overall guitar style (see: FACIAL).

LK: The living situation does inspire the music to a degree, in the sense that we keep each other moving. There is always something going on, so being stagnant is never a problem. I imagine we will stop living the way we do when we make money and find a bigger place to support our antics on a larger scale.

Have your families come to visit? What do they think?

CC: Sam’s parents are coming down to see a show soon. The rest of our parents have seen us, and we get a lot of good support from them. They’re all sweethearts.

LK: My parents still love me, so I don’t let them near the house. My mom has been to a couple shows, and she said they were really good. I suppose that’s what mothers are for.

What’s the scene like in L.A.? Do you feel like you’re part of a community of likeminded garage bands? If so, what are some other artists we should look out for?

SD: We’ve really fallen into an incredible community of bands here. Instead of being competitive, we’ve found everybody to be really supportive. We got our start by being given shows by our friends bands who were just excited to help us out. The three bands, whose new material I’m most excited about, are Vanaprasta, TS & the Past Haunt’s and Summer Darling.

CC: We’re as excited about a lot of our friends bands as they are about us. It’s really nice to be able to play shows with bands that actually are some of our favorite bands. We just played a show with the Hindu Pirates, the Blank Tapes and Beach Party. All bands I really love seeing. I do think the L.A. scene has too many synthesizers.

LK: The scene in L.A. is very wonderful. As far as I can tell,  the bands are all supportive of each other, and everyone loves to have a good time. I have met some very talented musicians and songwriters out here. I wouldn’t know where to start or finish telling you who you should look out for, so I will just leave it at that.

AF: L.A.’s music scene is weird and talented, my favorite breed. I’d watch out for John Wayne Bro, Burning Jet Black and James Supercave — sharing the stage with these bands absolutely makes me and anyone at the show feel a part of the community.

What’s the most “L.A.” thing about you guys? The least?

CC: The most: living in a house packed like a sardine can. The least: enjoying living in a house packed like a sardine can.

In terms of songwriting, tunes like ‘Freckles’ and ‘Leave It to Me,’ both on the new EP, are fairly light and poppy, while ‘Flamingo Starr’ deals with somewhat weightier topics. Is that dichotomy something you strive for?

CC: All of the songs typically reflect whatever mood we were in while we were writing them. Sometimes, it seems like the songs pop out of thin air and we don’t even know what they’re about yet.

LK: I wouldn’t say we are striving for anything as far as the dichotomy of our songs is concerned. It is all more a spur-of-the-moment-type thing. It depends on the mood or the situations we are in. I don’t like to think much when I play guitar or write a song, so whatever happens is just the way it is; aside from some grand scheme one of us is striving for.

Describing ‘Flamingo Starr,’ you said the message is, “If you have something to offer, get off your ass and make it happen.” Is that a fair summation of the band’s ethos?

CC: Because we enjoy most of what we’re doing, it never seems that hard to get off our asses and make it happen. We work a lot harder than it feels like, but we play pretty hard too.

SD: If I have something to offer I’ll get off my ass. Some days I just don’t, so I prefer not to.

What’s next for you guys? At the risk of sounding like a potential employer or high school guidance counselor, where do you see yourself in five years?

CC: We’ve got a lot of fun shows coming up this summer. We’re hitting San Diego and San Francisco for the first times with Quiet Company. Five years from now? Hopefully a house with a pool.

AF: Playing shows and traveling, mostly. Five years from now, I’ll most likely be an astronaut.

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