Photo by Marina Chavez
Congrats on having the sexiest elbows in rock!
Thank you. It wasn't something that I foresaw, but it came my way and I decided to embrace it.
How did that come about?
I found a (former band) Jason & Alison publicity shot from when I was 23 - it’s the black and white photo in the video – and it looks like I’m leaning over and lifting up my shirt sleeves. Something triggered in me thinking, “Well, wouldn't it be funny if I had a manager when I was young who said that my music was ok but that I had the most attractive elbows in rock and that I should put those front and center in every publicity photo. And then it spiraled into the idea that the elbows had become more popular than me. We were shooting videos for a serious “the story of Split Single” doc and I had a couple people comment about that; one of those was Bob Mould and his line was just so funny that I thought maybe we should start asking other people and just take this further. Jason, it was like 6 weeks and we were done – it was fucking CRAZY! And the weird thing was, I ran into Fred Armisen in Chicago…we've known each other a couple of years, not super close, but we’re in touch…he came up to me and told me he follows me on Instagram and how funny it is, which took me aback. I am just this musician-guy, and the fact that he took the effort to say that meant a lot to me because I respect his comedy and his art. So I just asked him if he wanted to be a part of this and he immediately said yes and four days later we were shooting in LA and got four-and-a-half minutes of Ian Rubbish (Armisen’s British punk character). From there everybody just fell in and got excited about the idea. So, I am thrilled with it…I think it’s funny (laughs). It’s so absurd and it’s such a different thing for me to do something like that…it was really fun!
It seems to have caught the zeitgeist right when you have this new Split Single thing coming out – there seems to be a lot of traction now for the new band, based on something that probably was just a laugh for you guys.
It really was. I think the most amount of time we put into it was in editing it – 15 or 16 edits – and once we had edited it a couple of times we realized, “we worked hard at this…this could really be something”. It was otherwise really easy and fun to make. The editing was tedious, but it was something new for me and I really learned a lot about when to cut away, and how much time is spent on a particular scene or joke, making sure the story is moving forward but also making sure it doesn't stay around too long…it was a process. Little things mattered: like, I didn't want to use the word “elbows” too much. I thought if you used the word it would kill it by like the 30 second mark (laughs), and if you watch it only Tim (Meadows) and Bob (Mould) say the actual word. And I think that helps it. I try to say everything BUT that, you know. For example I say something like “no one knows what it’s like to walk into a room and have everybody look ‘down there’” and “they wanted to see more skin, roll up your sleeves”, just kind of dancing around it.
Honestly, I lost it when the interview says “so, can I see them?” (laughs) and the look you gave.
Yeah, you don’t want to resolve it too quickly and I was conscious of trying to be sensitive about the objectification, because that can be a real problem. That was the director’s idea to say that, and the idea for that came up because the stool I was sitting on squeaked and it was really funny. So the idea was that he would just ask me something and I would turn and it would squeak.
Awesome. With Split Single this is the first time in a while that you have been back front-and-center as a singer-songwriter. What brought you back to being a frontman?
In December of 2011, I was in no bands except for Bob Mould’s. I was done with Telekinesis, and Bob was going to be making a record but we hadn't really started on that yet. I had downtime for the first time in a really long time, and a friend of mine in Chicago asked me to play a show with him at Schuba’s, and I was excited. And I thought, you know what, I’m not going to play Verbow or Jason & Alison stuff, I’m going to write an entirely new setlist in 6 weeks, and if it sucks it sucks, and if it’s great it’s great…but I’m going to take that risk and challenge myself. And I just called up a couple of friends, a drummer and a bassist, and said that I am going to make these songs really easy – that song “Love Is You” is three chords. So they just needed to play the three chords and I would play stuff on top of it. And it went pretty well, so I demoed a couple of songs and sent it out and by July we were recording. It was a really fast process. As I've gotten older I have just learned how to be more efficient with my time. I just go downstairs after I put the kids to bed and write for an hour. I get a lot more done in that hour than when I was 23 years old and working at a coffee house and had all day and night to write (laughs). Sometimes when you have too loose a schedule you don’t get enough done. So, the record came together really quickly.
As far as your songwriting process, is it something where you are constantly writing? Do you go into writing with a specific project in mind or is it just as inspiration hits?
This particular thing was wide open. I just wanted to write again – I didn't have any idea about it being a band. Really it is a solo project with a band name, which is how I’m defining Split Single. One thing from a composition standpoint was that I wanted to write a little more simply than I had in the past. Some of the Verbow stuff, there is like five different parts and twists and turns, and that’s fine. I remember Brad Wood saying to me “If you just give me three chords, I can do a lot with that”. And I only did that once with him on “Whiteout”, but I thought maybe I should just try to do that. That song “Last Goodbye”, the whole things is just three chords. “Waiting For the Sun” is just five chords. So, it’s just about laying down that simple template and then creating other things that are engaging around that. I’m really happy with the songs that I was able to do that with.
Do you go into writing and recording your own project differently than you do for, say, Bob Mould or Superchunk or the seemingly hundreds of other bands you play with?
Hey now! It seems like I need to show you a list of bands I said no to! (laughs) From the standpoint of being a bass player in other people’s bands, I really only work with bands that I like their music and like them as people. Not that some of the bands I have said no to aren't great people or make great music, but I’m not a hired gun. There have been bands that have offered me a lot of money that I have said no to…for me, if I am going to get on stage I have to really be into it. With Bob Mould, he’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time, that’s easy for me – I know the language and the history and what his vision is. That music just means so much to me. And we’re great friends; we've known each other for such a long time. We work well together on and off the stage. With Superchunk, that sort of came out of nowhere. No one expected Laura to have this thing with her ears, and for her to call on me to sub for her while they’re touring. It’s pretty loose and fun. Again, I have known those guys for such a long time and it was a really comfortable situation to jump into. I just think when you are singing and it’s your songs, it’s completely different. Plus I’m playing guitar, so it’s a different instrument and role. I have to think a lot more (laughs), and it’s more physically demanding because I am singing the whole time. It takes a lot of energy to push that much air out for an hour, compared to standing there playing bass and every once in a while stepping up to the mic and singing a background vocal.
You and Jon Wurster have logged a lot of time together as a rhythm section with Superchunk, Bob Mould and Robert Pollard – what is it about that relationship that is so creatively fruitful for you?
On one end, there is the musical chemistry that just immediately fell right into the pocket and seemed right. Jon and I first worked together with Bob Pollard, and we had so many songs to work on – Pollard would give us 60 songs at a time! When you are working on that much music, you really start talking about arrangements and when you are going to pick your moments and when you are going to step back. So, we learned how to work together musically in a pretty intense environment there, and then you realize, wow I can sit in a van with this guy for a very long time and it’s comfortable (laughs). Or I can room with this guy, and we just respect each other’s space. Jon is a very private, shy person, which would probably surprise some people, but he’s unto himself and I respect that. All those things come into play when you are touring with somebody. You could have the greatest player on any instrument in the world, but if they are a pain in the ass to be around, you probably won’t call them for a tour, you know? And so, when I am being a band person, I make great effort to be a team player and roll with whatever and just be supportive. It’s already stressful touring, dealing with travel and different cities and food issues, you don’t need to have weird demands or quirks to make it even more stressful for everybody else. So I just try to be a good team player in that role, and Jon and I are just super compatible that way. So, when he had the Pollard thing, he was nice enough to suggest me as a bassist. And when Bob Mould needed a drummer, I returned the favor. When Laura brought my name up, Jon said, “you know how much I like to work with Jason”. It’s my turn now. (laughs)
So there’s no jealousy when Jon goes off with the Mountain Goats? (laughs)
No. I love those guys too and they’re super nice guys, but I am really comfortable where it is right now. I’m not looking to play in another band
So what’s next for you?
We’re doing a record release show in Chicago at Schuba’s and right now I am knee-deep in press stuff. We’re finishing the bio video and there’s a video for “Last Goodbye” that’s coming out. There won’t be a lot of touring for this band, because I have commitments with Bob Mould and Superchunk. Until more people know who Split Single is, it doesn't really make sense for us to go on the road and play every club in American for fifty bucks on a Sunday night. We’ll do our best to make Midwest appearances and we might hit the coast, but I’m not sure how that’s gonna roll out.
Are there plans for a follow-up record?
Well, I've already recorded more songs but my mind just isn't there yet as far as doing another record. I’m continuing to write and record, so I feel like Split Single is the outlet for my songs from here on out, but there aren't any specific plans for what that’s going to look like.
We just got back South By Southwest and did the two-week Workbook tour before that – the Workbook tour was totally sold out and at SXSW we did two Split Single shows, two Bob Mould shows, the Bob Mould band shot a video down there…it was crazy busy, but in the best way! The elbows video came out this week and it’s really finding an audience. I'm flattered. It’s really exciting.