Just after their tour with Ben Kweller and The Watson Twins, all five members of Jones Street Station chatted with us.In the conversation, Jonathan Benedict (keyboards/vocals), Danny Ecker (guitar/banjo/vocals), Jon Hull (harmonica/accordion/vocals), Sam Rockwell (drums/vocals), and Walt Wells (bass/vocals) discussed their tour, their upcoming record, their currently once-a-month ‘Live From Down Home’ residency at Housing Works Used Book Café, playing Sundance Film Festival, their score & performance of The Twelve Ophelias at McCarren Park Pool last summer, doing “Tall Buildings” acoustic in big buildings, doing “Flyover State” in flyover states – and New York – and more…
Danny Ecker: Really great. Ben and the girls were really fun people to tour with. Ben definitely took us under his wing, gave us advice.
Sam Rockwell: And other than in maybe New York, we were playing to crowds who really didn’t know us, didn’t know our music. But I think we really fit on the bill – sometimes, like at say, Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review), you’ll be playing with like a speed metal band and some electronic group, and there’s no consistency, but we really fit with Ben and the Watson Twins.
Jon Hull: We played some amazing venues – 9:30 Club, in D.C., has to be, probably, my most favorite venue I’ve ever been in.
QRO: How did that come about?
Jonathan Benedict: Ben used to be a neighbor of mine; he used to hang out in the hallway and ask me, “JB, do you wanna hear some of the stuff I’m working on?” And I was like, “Yeah!” I heard a lot of great songs that way…And some of that stuff even found its way onto Changing Horses.
So when he called and asked me if we wanted to join him on these dates, we jumped at the chance.
QRO: Does he always travel with his son, Dorian?
JH: Yeah, his son and his wife.
SR: His son even has a soundcheck. First we’d soundcheck, then The Watson Twins, and while The Watson Twins were loading off and Ben was loading on, Dorian would play drums. And he’s scary good – and he’s only two…
QRO: How did it compare with your dates in the Midwest in January?
SR: [laughs] well, it was warmer [on the Kweller/Watson tour]…
DE: It was a much bigger deal since Ben was headlining. We can draw in the Midwest, because four of us are from there, but we were playing in much smaller venues – I think the most we drew was like 500 people in Chicago. It was still fun, but it was definitely more work to set up. With Ben, the whole touring apparatus was already in place.
QRO: How difficult is it to do “Tall Buildings” acoustic in big places like Town Hall (QRO venue review)?
JH: At Town Hall, it was easy, because everyone was sitting, and there were doors separating the lobby. But at a real, big, standing room ‘rock club’, like 9:30 Club, we have to earn the audience’s attention. ‘Cause people can talk to each other, get a drink…
Because most of the people had never heard our music, and in a twenty-five minute set, we had to get them to the point where they would stay quiet for us to do “Tall Buildings”.
DE: We’d always, before the set, prepare not to do “Tall Buildings”, if we didn’t think it would work, but there was never a point where we did that, or even felt iffy on it, “Oh, I don’t know if we should do it…”
QRO: Since you guys were playing first, did you have problems with people walking in while you were playing “Tall Buildings”?
DE: It’s a really funny thing – if you walk into a place, and there’s a crowd, and they’re all quiet, you shut up, immediately, and try to find out why everyone is being quiet. There’s no one who shouts, “What the hell’s going on here?!?” It’s a really interesting social phenomenon…
QRO: Do you have future touring plans set up yet?
JB: We’re in the process of scheduling new shows now.
SR: We just invested in a van, so now we’re going to be playing more. Certainly visit those cities we went to with Ben: Boston, D.C., Philadelphia… A lot of people heard us for the first time there, signed our mailing list. It’s kind of the quintessential mid-level rock band – we all have jobs, so we’ll try to play weekends, anywhere we can drive in a day.
QRO: How did ‘Live From Down Home’ at Housing Works Used Book Café (QRO venue review) start?
DE: Housing Works already does the ‘Live From Home’ series of concerts, and we were asked to play that last year by a friend of mine who works at the place, and they also asked us to curate a monthly series, where we’d pick another local band that fell under the general heading of ‘Americana’. So we played there last April for ‘Live From Home’, and then started the ‘Live From Down Home’ in June, and have done it once a month every month since, except for January.
QRO: Last year, you played at the Sundance Film Festival. What was that for?
SR: That was really random – and they paid for us to fly out there. We got this call to play for the NY Film Society, because they wanted a New York band, and then we also played that same day for the Green Film Initiative. We played this mansion party. We played while Sharon Stone’s brother read poetry…
DE: We’re not talking about Sharon Stone’s brother’s poetry…
WW: We also had like no sleep…
SR: Yeah – quintessential mid-level rock band again, but we all were working, and it was in the middle of the week, so we scheduled our flight so that we could all leave our jobs at a relatively normal end of work time, then jump in a cab for J.F.K. and pray rush hour traffic wasn’t too bad. And then when we got there, each one of us was ‘randomly’ selected for full screening, because we’re a band with lots of equipment.
Then we flew out to Salt Lake City, and met friends of ours who had already been at the festival and were on ‘festival time’, didn’t go to bed until like 5:00 AM, and they wanted to go out. And we did, but between that and the time change, it was like 8:00 AM for us when we went to sleep. And then we had to play at 10:00 AM, and then later that night. And we did!
Walt Wells: We were never hit by the jet lag because we never went to sleep…
QRO: Also last year, you scored & performed The Twelve Ophelias at McCarren Park Pool (QRO venue review). How did that come about?
JH: A friend of mine wrote this play, and had words to songs, but no actual music itself.
JB: We’d ask, “Who wants to do this piece?” and someone would raise their hand–
WW: Or not…
JB: Yeah, and then we’d say, “We need a nugget of something by tomorrow.” But we did it.
JH: And it we ended up playing it as well, which was really cool to do at the last year of McCarren Park Pool, in the round.
QRO: You seem to play at a lot of unusual places – bookstores, film festivals, abandoned pools… Why is that?
SR: ‘Cause we’ll play anywhere that’ll have us…
JH: There’s a lot of opportunities to play in New York, and we like to play at places that aren’t a traditional rock club, just to see how it can work, see how it looks and sounds.
QRO: How has making the new album compared to making Overcome?
WW: Oh, man…
JH: Night & day – we didn’t even have Sam when we made Overcome, except for on one track.
SR: Except for backing vocals on “Tall Buildings” – which took like eight hours to do…
JB: We were much more acoustic – our percussion was a cajon, this Peruvian box that you sit on and play by hitting the sides. It did really mean we could pick up and go anywhere, but we’re a different band now.
DE: We all sing, we all write…
SR: We all come in with ideas. The Twelve Ophelias could not have been done, had we not all been writing.
QRO: Is “Flyover State” particularly popular in the Midwest?
WW: It’s popular everywhere…
JH: It’s popular in the Midwest, but it’s also popular in New York. We always introduce it by saying four of the five of us are from the Midwest, and that gets a lot of cheers, even in New York – and then we add that Jonathan’s from New Jersey, which gets a whole ‘nother round of applause.
DE: We say we’re from the Midwest, and Jonathan’s from Midwestern New Jersey…
SR: New Jersey got a huge round of applause when we played Philadelphia.
DE: It’s ‘cause New Jersey is right across the river – maybe half the crowd was from New Jersey.
JB: But it was certainly a change from New York, where Jersey people keep their heads down…
QRO: You’re all from the Midwest (save one), play more roots/country music like “Flyover State” – yet you live in New York. Why is that?
JH: I didn’t play anything remotely ‘country’ until I moved to New York. I don’t think any of us did – but it came naturally.
WW: It was like having a skill you didn’t know you had in you.
QRO: Why the name change from ‘The Jones Street Boys’?
JH: Various reasons. There’s another band called ‘The Jones Street Boys’, and while that wasn’t the only reason, that was a factor. We also had really changed our band, so we felt like we change our name – not that much, but just a bit.
Also, when you play music and your name has ‘Jones’ and ‘Boys’ in it, people throw in a ‘Jonas’…
QRO: Jon [Hull], where did you get that satchel belt for his harmonicas?
JH: Best seven bucks I ever spent.
I had twelve harmonicas, and I looked everywhere for a belt to carry them in. I would go to all these surplus stores, try to describe what I was looking for, ask for an ammo belt – I would go to places I’d never been and discover a surplus store. I even looked into getting it custom-made, but it would have cost way more money than I could even think about.
Then, at this one surplus store, the old guy there said, “I think I might have something”, and pulled out this ammo belt with eleven packs – and my harmonicas fit in there perfectly. I was flipping out, “Oh my God! How much do you want for this?” And he said, “Uh, seven bucks?…”
I used to carry it around with me in high school – this was pre-Columbine. I can’t imagine you could do that now.
QRO: Has the worldwide economic collapse affected you guys at all?
[peals of laughter]
SR: No… It used to be there was the poor, and there was the rich – and now the rich are poor like us…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
JH: 9:30 Club, Town Hall, like we mentioned…
DE: St. Louis is great, Chicago…
JH: Smaller venues, Mercury is great, the Bowery [Ballroom – QRO venue review]…
SR: Pretty much anywhere under the ‘Bowery Presents’ umbrella, the people working there are great.
JH: The Town Hall show was under Bowery Presents.
Bell House (QRO venue review) and Union Hall (QRO venue review), those are right near where we live, great people who work there. And the Living Room (QRO venue review) is great, great sound. Plus Rockwood Music Hall.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
WW: All of them.
JH: We have too many songs that we like to play.
DE: When we did the tour with Ben, we only had twenty-five minutes, so we had to cut it down, and that was really difficult. We put real thought into what would work best, get the most bang for your buck.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
DE: When we played the 9:30 Club in D.C., Ben asked us beforehand to come on stage to sing with him on one song. So he told us to meet him in his dressing room before he played, and we were like, “Sure…”
SR: Actually, we were like, “Oh my God, that’s totally awesome!” We’re not that cool…
DE: True, we’re not that cool…
Anyway, we went up to his dressing room and entered, only to see this giant ‘contraption’. It was like a bench, with a bed above it. And Dorian was on the bed, completely naked, running around shouting, “I’m a mermaid! I’m a mermaid!”
Ben, other people in the band, people who worked there, were all standing around the bed, with their arms up, to catch Dorian in case he fell. Sam moved in there – and now Dorian had an audience, so he only did it more so…
When his mother entered, Dorian finally came down, and she tried to grab him and put some pajamas on him, and he was like, “No, mom – I’m a mermaid!” It was awesome.