Right after returning from Europe, and right before playing Coney Island, two-thirds of Portland’s newest act Jaguar Love sat down with QRO. In the conversation, guitarist Cody Votolato & drummer J Clark discussed Europe, America, opening, headlining, the Siren Music Festival (QRO recap), the difficulties dealing with France – Air France, their upcoming debut full-length, Take Me To The Sea (QRO review), the newest Jaguars, jellyfish-infested Norwegian waters, and more…
QRO: How was your recent tour of Europe?
Cody Votolato: It was great. First time over there, new band, no record – it was pretty awesome, actually. Headlining shows were pretty small & intimate, but really fun. The festivals were really cool.
QRO: Were you all over Europe?
CV: Pretty much, yeah. We went to like twelve countries or something.
J Clark: It was fun.
QRO: How did European audiences compare to American?
JC: The one difference is that people that liked our previous bands [Votolato & singer Johnny Whitney – Blood Brothers, J Clark – Pretty Girls Make Graves] in America more people that come just based on that. The shows are the same, but that’s the only subtle difference.
QRO: How do you make sure such equipment isn’t broken or lost when you fly across the Atlantic?
JC: Funny you should bring that up…
CV: You don’t make sure – they lose it, and they break it.
All our guitars lost. One of the pieces that did make it coming back, my pedal board, is ruined. It looked like someone tried to rip it apart. The thing is built to be thrown around – you have to try really hard to do what has been done to it. One of my guitars was packed in its case, but with this little panel open – it was forced down. Thankfully, it was not broken, but I’m sure it put some wear on it…
I don’t know if they’re just like, ‘This is musical equipment I’m loading,’ or…
JC: Just as quick as possible. Everything is treated the same.
CV: This is the second time I’ve ever had gear lost. This is the first time I’ve ever had something come back broken, and they don’t make it easy for you to get reimbursed. You have to take the piece to this luggage place to examine it, and then they make a call to the airline to say that it is damaged, and then I have to now go onto the Air France website and remake a claim, and wait for them to respond. I went to the website, and I couldn’t even find a damage report. They don’t make it easy…
JC: I think that, in the future, we’ll choose to ship it, get insurance. We’ll pack it up, wrap it on a pallet, put it on a cargo airplane…
QRO: What do you do for Siren?
CV: Siren, we have rented backline.
QRO: Is Siren your first date back in The States?
QRO: Do you do anything differently when you play outdoors, vs. indoors?
JC: Depending on how much time we have to play, sometimes, we cut the slow songs. Especially for festival-style things, to keep the energy up. People want to have rock and have fun. Not that you can’t have fun with slow songs…
QRO: After this, you’re going to be touring with The Faint next month. How did you hook up with them?
CV: We kinda all know some of them from the past, as people, and when we were looking for management, their manager was someone that we met with, and so there was kind of that connection. We came together sort of through that.
CV: No. We’re not playing that show, because we’re doing Siren. Some political thing – no shows a month before or after…
We are playing somewhere, in New York. I can’t remember exactly where…
JC: Oh, we are now?
CV: I think we’re gonna play somewhere… maybe. You have to play in New York. You can’t not play in New York.
QRO: Last year, you toured with Queens of the Stone Age. How was that?
CV: It was cool. It didn’t really feel like ‘a tour’, because we came down to Los Angeles, we played a show, and then it was a couple of weeks later, we played two shows in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle with them. It was very short, but it was still a West Coast trip. It was great. Those guys are totally awesome, super rad dudes.
Those were interesting – making new fans is always a challenge. I think, overall, it was pretty rad.
QRO: How did you get in touch with them?
CV: Johnny & I had met them in Europe at a couple of festivals in our old band, so there was a little bit of a connection, but the main connection was through our booking agency. Gave our demo to their agent, who gave it to Josh [Homme, QOTSA singer/guitarist], who was like, ‘Check it out – if you like it, need an opener for the shows,’ and dug it, so…
QRO: How did you get Rob Pope [Spoon, The Get Up Kids] on bass for that tour?
CV: I’ve known Rob for years. Before Spoon, he moved to Seattle – actually the same week that J & I moved to Portland. But you know, he just hung out a bunch, and we needed a bass player, and just asked him if he was interested…
QRO: Do you prefer opening at larger places, or headlining at smaller ones?
CV: It’s always nice to be in a place where everyone’s there to see you, but I like getting in front of new people…
JC: I will say that I prefer smaller, ‘cause opening, sometimes, it’s like work. It’s hard to not let it bother you at the time. Especially when you’re dealing with a full tour, and it’s people–
CV: Every night…
JC: ‘Boo! Bring on whoever!’ Fuck you, just have my time… It’s thirty minutes, that’s it – it’s not that rough…
CV: It makes it more difficult, too, because, generally, you only get to see the first four rows of people, which are the die-hard fans, and you’re just seeing faces of just complete apathy.
JC: I also think, too, more, playing in general,
A lot of that affects performance.
QRO: What was the recording process like for Take Me To the Sea?
JC: For the most part, it was just the three of us. I engineered it.
Probably, I think, for all of us, it was the easiest recording process. Six weeks, there was no real pressure, no real worry about what we should do. A pretty simple process…
QRO: Was it in Portland?
JC: It was in Seattle, in this place called ‘Two Sticks’ that a friend, Jason McGerr, who’s drummer from Death Cab For Cutie (QRO album review).
QRO: How did you end up Matador Records?
CV: Pretty Girls was on Matador, so there was that relationship. When we were writing our songs and talking about labels, they were kind of the top of list of what we wanted to be on. So we called Chris [Lombardi, Matador Records co-founder]… and that was all she wrote…
JC: He came to our very first show.
QRO: Have you written any post-Take Me material?
CV: I think everybody’s got some ideas laying around. Also, we’re in the midst of recording a b-side. It’s already been written, but it wasn’t like a song yet. It’s definitely turning into something different than what it started as.
QRO: How did the band all meet?
JC: Years and years of bands touring together. My old band played with Blood Brothers. I went on tour with them as a guitar tech. I knew Johnny, but I didn’t know him that well.
QRO: Why did your last bands end and decide to make this band?
JC: Johnny & I had talked about doing a group together, and J was with us, I was like, “We gotta get J!” So we asked him, tricked him…
‘Cause we weren’t originally going to stay in Portland. We kind of got stuck there.
QRO: On your last tour, did you have someone else playing bass, like Rob Pope did?
CV: Yeah, this guy Craig Bonich is playing with us, and this guy Jessie Nelson’s playing keyboards. We’re a five-piece right now.
We’re doing it at Siren, and on The Faint tour. Hopefully, things go well, it can be permanent.
QRO: Is there an ‘Antoine’ of “Antoine and the Birdskull”?
JC: In Johnny’s mind…
CV: It’s not a real person, no.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
CV: Yeah – I’ve really been enjoying “Antoine and the Birdskull”, actually, it’s been really fun. There’s still a few songs for me I’m trying to get used to playing live. I enjoy “Georgia”.
QRO: After the tour with The Faint, and the release of the record, are you planning on doing any headlining tour of your own?
CV: I think we’d like to. It’s kind of up in the air – the clock’s ticking, and we’ve got to figure out what to do.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, don’t like to play live, or just don’t play anymore?
CV: We play every song on the record in this set.
JC: Technology, there’s nothing stopping you, to be honest. Some of the songs adapt a little bit different to the show, but we definitely play all of our songs. But I actually want to play some of our b-sides.
QRO: Do you guys ever play or get requests for songs from your old bands?
CV: Definitely don’t play songs from our old bands. There’s been like only one or two times I’ve heard someone yell out…
JC: Actually, surprisingly little. I’ve never heard anyone.
CV: There’s been like one show where someone yelled out a Blood Brothers song. But there are people out there who think that you might do it, because I definitely got asked, at one festival, I was down, talking to some people, “Are you guys going to play any Blood Brothers songs?”
I can see with a solo artist, it making more sense. Dave Bazan plays Pedro the Lion songs, but for someone to yell out [Pretty Girls Make Graves’] “[Speakers] Push the Air”, you know, it’s just a different band…
QRO: What venues have you really liked playing at?
CV: The place that we played in Prague was really cool. The sound on the stage wasn’t very awesome, but the stage set up was like these two circles and this bigger circle – you felt like you were on a TV show or something.
QRO: Like one of those old-school sixties TV shows…
CV: So that was really fun. I always like playing Neumo’s in Seattle; it’s one of my favorite places to play.
QRO: Are there any cities you particularly like?
CV: San Francisco, always have a good time in San Francisco. Always have fun in Los Angeles, lots of friends. Any major city…
JC: To be honest, it’s like, wherever you have a bunch of friends. Almost like you’re at home, just hanging out.
QRO: Why did you guys play Europe seemingly before you’ve played the East Coast?
JC: Just worked out like that. Summer festivals are happening – which actually I’m kind of into, because we got our feet wet in a non-judgmental environment, in a sense.
QRO: You say ‘non-judgmental’, is that because it’s a festival with a million bands, or because it’s Europe?
JC: It’s a festival with a million bands, and there’s a million people. Festivals, people are there, and if they like what they hear, they bob their heads, or they’re there to hear something in particular. You never really feel bad, someone’s watching you, or maybe not, but it’s never really ‘bad’.
It’s not like if you play your own show, and maybe twenty people come, and then…
QRO: You guys had toured before in other bands, but only recently in this one. Does that mean you were more concerned, more worried about how you’d play on stage, as opposed to first-time things like the van or what have you?
CV: I don’t think we were worried about it.
So that was a worry, sure.
QRO: Where did you find these guys?
CV: Originally, the bass player Craig was just an old friend of ours. Came out, played with us for a week, and we were like, ‘Okay, this is awesome. Let’s do it!’
He came back out to rehearse with us more, and we were just having a keyboard be the computer, and he’s like, ‘I have this guy, I think he’d be really good if we brought him out.’ Even bought his plane ticket to Europe, ‘cause he wanted him to come, ‘cause we didn’t have any money to pay him.
Brought him out six days before the West Coast trip [before the Europe trip], and the first practice we had, he already known like half the songs. Great! So now we have a keyboard player…
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
JC: I’ve got a lot that are not going to get told…
CV: We played this festival in Norway called ‘Hove’. It’s on an island, and they were super-rad. They arranged it for us so we got driven out on this wooden boat, this speedboat, went to this other island, and walked around, it was beautiful, and they drove us back. Played the show, it was great, the food was great…
Jessie, our keyboard player, and I jumped in the water, “We can get in! It’s not that cold!” We jumped in, and both immediately were like, “AAAAH!!!”
Swimming back, swimming back, and as soon as we get out, the captain’s like, “Yeah, there’s jellyfish everywhere.” And we look in the water, and there’s all these jellyfish.
“Fuck it; we’re gonna jump back in! One more time!” Did it once, ‘Watch out for jellyfish…’ Jumped in, screaming, “Get out!” Just shaking cold – but it was totally worth it, jumping into jellyfish-infested Norwegian seas.