The Jazz June Frontman Andrew Low On the Band’s First Album In 12 Years
The Jazz June were ahead of their time in the late '90s, and then a minute too late just a few years after that.
Playing their own amalgam of earnest indie rock and frenetic post-hardcore, the four-piece assembled out of Philadelphia in 1996 and toured relentlessly in support of four albums and an EP before quietly disbanding in 2004. Although their 2000 full-length, 'The Medicine,' proved popular with fans, the Jazz June never really stepped into the spotlight and were gone by the time second wave emo became huge in the mid-'00s. But as fans grew ravenous for anything resembling the band's former contemporaries like Braid and Mineral, the mystique around 'The Medicine' gradually grew, and the Jazz June began being posthumously acknowledged as innovators of the contemporary emo sound.
With the world is currently in the midst of an emo revival headlined by the reunions of bands like the aforementioned Braid and Mineral along with those by the Promise Ring, American Football and countless others, the Jazz June figured it was an opportune time to start their second time around. Although frontman Andrew Low (above, second from left) lives in London now and everyone has their own respective day job, the band released a split 7-inch with Dikembe earlier this year via Topshelf Records and are back this week with 'After the Earthquake,' their first full-length since 2002. We caught up with Low the day after the band played alongside Mineral and Knapsack at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, and he told us about what the Jazz June have been up to for the past dozen years -- and why the time was right for a comeback.
How was Fun Fun Fun Fest? Fun?
It was f--king sick, man. I mean, we weren't quite sure what it was going to be like because [the Mohawk in Austin, Texas] is huge. It’s like three tiers. We were like, ‘Are there really going to be this many people coming to see Mineral?’ It's funny: We're always a bit shaky right before a show because we only play every once in a while. I kind of tried to overcompensate by being really animated and I f--king took a total spill right into the drum set. [Laughs] I fell backwards, my strap came off and the guitar went one way. I had to put my shoe back on. [Laughs] It was fun, though. Knapsack were amazing and Mineral were really, really good.
Did you play with those bands much the first time around?
Yeah, we played with Mineral in the very early days. We also played with Knapsack right when they went on tour with At the Drive-In, just before they got f--king huge. So yeah, we played with them maybe once or twice. You know what I was thinking, like, because all this crazy emo revival stuff has been going on? It’s like, ‘Why is it all happening now?’ But after seeing Knapsack again, I was like, ‘It’s just because this music is f--king good. That's why people are listening to it again.’ It's really cool that a lot of people are more interested and now get a chance to see these bands if they missed it all the first time around. I know a lot of people who saw us back in 1995 still come out when we play. We've just got to be careful we don't end up on some package tour of Knapsack, Mineral and the Jazz June playing, like, county fairs. [Laughs] I don’t want to take it to that level.
If you keep it to just a couple of shows every once in a while, it’ll probably be OK.
Yeah. That’s manageable. The club was f--king packed when Mineral played. There must have been over a thousand people in there. It was insane. I flew over [from London] just for the gig.
When did you move to the U.K.?
Eight years ago now. I've got a permanent visa, so I can stay and work. I can't vote, but I can stay as long as I like. But I met my fiancee there and everything. I've got a job I like. When I was living in New York City, I was working at a s--t job and it just seems like whenever you move somewhere, it makes you do s--t and actually put an effort into doing something. I said, ‘I want to change s--t when I get to London’ and it’s been cool.
Where are the others guys living? Still around Philadelphia?
Yeah, Bryan [Gassler, guitar] was living in Philly for a few years, then he moved to North Carolina, but he just moved back to New Jersey. We're actually getting a practice space there now, we're going to share it with this band Beach Slang. But the guys are going to play all the time, write new stuff and I'll come in and work on some s--t from time to time.
So what have you guys been up to during the past 12 years?
Let me just summarize. [Laughs] I guess the story is that even after we went our separate ways, we were always gonna play more music. We wanted to do it in 2006 after we got back together for a benefit show. We were like, ‘Let's write some new music.’ We were working on new stuff and practicing loads, then right at that minute, I moved to London. Bryan's wife was pregnant and it was like, ‘Oh f--k. We've got to put this on hold for a while again.’
I started playing in some bands in London a lot -- like garage rock and punk, really fun Friday night music. But [the Jazz June] basically started again last year. We met up in Philly at a place called the Head Room and recorded an EP. Then the Topshelf guys were like, ‘We'd love to hear an album.’ So they sent us back to another studio with Evan Weiss from Into It. Over It., and we basically hung out with him for five or six days and worked straight on the album. That's the abridged version of what we’ve been up to.
What caused you guys to break up in the first place?
We all graduated school at the same time, did a really big three-month tour of the U.S. with Elliott and then when we got home, it was like, ‘Well, we're either going to go on tour again or we're gonna have to get jobs.' We were going to need to do it full on or not at all -- none of this bulls--t touring every once in a while. We just all got busy, had kids and stuff. It started to get hard to schedule time even just for practice. We just needed a break. It wasn't like we came to a head over artistic differences or anything.
I guess about two years ago, Bryan started saying, ‘Listen, guys, we can totally record stuff together online now.’ He was like, ‘Let’s f--king do this now.’ Then we found out about all the Topshelf bands playing together again and, with the way [the industry] is now, it’s more like the scene when we were just starting out. For a while, it was like this major label invasion and you couldn’t even get a show without a manager and a PR agent. Now we can do it all on our own again. That’s good because we don’t work well with people. [Laughs] You can ask our manager who already dropped us once and we had to beg him to take us back. Hopefully we’re wiser for it.
When you guys were together the first time sleeping on floors on tour, you probably didn't feel like you were going to be all that influential …
Yeah, man, totally. The whole thing is bizarre. From our perspective, it's like, ‘So I guess this is what it’s like to have an album people still actually listen to.’ Seems like every once in a while, there’s a new generation of kids listening to ‘The Medicine’ and that's just really f--king cool. It might only be 20 people, but that's fine with me. [Laughs] It’s a record that sticks with people and that's the best thing that can happen. Who knows what will happen with this new album. Hopefully it’s something that when someone gets into our style of music, people are like, ‘If you like that band, check this new Jazz June record.’ That's the way I look at it.
Was it ever frustrating to watch other bands playing your style of music taking off after you guys broke up?
Oh yeah. After we did our last tour, I got a job in New Jersey at a concrete company because I had no experience at all and had to take anything I could. I remember riding to my sh--ty job and hearing f--king Thursday on the radio and being like, ‘Oh f--k, man. That sounds like way more fun than going to schlep it at the concrete job.’ [Laughs] But you can't really look at a gift horse in the mouth. It's such a cool thing that we were able to get back together and do another album and play shows. I'm not like, ‘Hey, you people here now, thanks for watching but where were you 10 years ago?’ I'm actually like, ‘Bring your friends! The more the merrier!’
Had you all been writing stuff you thought might work for the Jazz June throughout the hiatus?
You know, I was playing more Misfits, punk-type stuff, but then maybe two or three years ago, I must have been writing and I was like, ‘You know what? I need to start writing some music kind of like the Jazz June again because I miss it.’ I'd been doing totally different stuff for, like, eight years or something. So I wrote this song and I was like, ‘Yeah, that could be a Jazz June song. Then I wrote another. I was listening to the whole Guided by Voices catalog at the time and I was getting inspired by little riffs and stuff. It all kind of felt like the Jazz June again.
I turned to the guys and it all fell right into place. We took it slow. Used to be if you had a manager or a booking agent, they wanted you to be making a record right away. That's how they made money. But the thing is, nowadays labels and people understand you don't make money selling records, so they don't expect as much from you. We're trying to do as much as we can and still juggle all the family and home stuff.
What’s been the biggest change to the industry you’ve noticed?
I couldn't say just one thing because it's all so f--king different. You might not even release an actual physical product anymore, but everything is so online that you have to be doing s--t all the time. We're just a little band that had an idea to put a record out. But now I get 40 e-mails a day about it. It's so time consuming. But it's also much easier that you can be on your couch doing it as opposed to before where you’d have to call a band meeting and physically be somewhere to talk about things. It makes it where you can do more and be all over the world, too.
Did you guys ever worry that coming back and writing new music would somehow change people's perceptions of the earlier stuff?
I don't think it matters because there are a lot of people who never knew who the f--k we were anyway. It was such a small amount of people who came to see us before. If we were touring all over the U.S., there might have only been 15 kids at a show and that was a good show. I think [changing perceptions might apply to] bands like Mineral or American Football -- bands with these huge followings. We don't have that, so we could’ve totally changed and not many people would have even known. [Laughs] I always say that the people who like our band like all the same bands we like. So even if we sound like Jimmy Eat World one week and then Teenage Fanclub the next, our fans like both bands so it doesn't really matter. It's not like we're gonna go, like, funk-jazz.
You recently told Pitchfork you’ve made negative dollars being in this band. What do you say to anyone who says you guys are back together just for the money?
I’d say, ‘You can say that as much as you want, but we’re not making any money.’ I haven't made any money at all. Maybe other bands might, but for us, it's not even a consideration. But I'd love to make money! Please! Bring it on! I'll take the burden of making a lot of money! [Laughs] Right before our last tour, I was working at a coffee shop and someone was like, ‘Hey, can you put on some Built to Spill?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I love Built to Spill. We were fortunate enough to open up for them a couple months ago.’ The person was like, ‘What band are you in?’ and, after I said the Jazz June, they were like, ‘You’re in the Jazz June and you have to work?’ [Laughs] But honestly, we don’t even think about money. We have enough to keep it going and that's all that matters. But hopefully we can have another conversation in a year and I’ll tell you about all this money we made. [Laughs]