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Published: 1999/07/15
by Anthony West

Jerry Joseph’s Climb To Safety

AW: So you think that you have become more aggressive and powerful as a result of this being your second go at a major musical endeavor?

JJ: I think now it has settled. I am just talking about the first year of being in the Jackmormons. Take Butte, MT 1879, that is a pretty aggro record lyrically and emotionally. I was as raw as I could be. The thing (referring and remembering the question about Jr.) Jr. stepped up to the plate on is that you never assume when you get older, you’ll ever get a chance again to play with people again like you did when you were 19. Where you all lived in the same dorm or house, or you all share the same experience and learn together. With Jr. I had a chance to start with somebody from scratch, with no preconceived conception of “this is the stuff I practiced” and bring it to the table. Jr. was totally wide open and new at it, for what I was doing. In a lot of ways this band has developed like young people, trial and error. Certain things happened, like Jr. opened his mouth (referring to Jr.‘s beautiful voice and lead vocals on the upcoming record).

AW: 9 months back Jr. told me through emails that when you brought up his singing lead vocals, he was quick to change the subject and felt that he was adequate at singing back-up vocals . So he does have quite a bit of lead vocals on the upcoming record?

JJ: Yeah he’s like the biggest, ugliest Emmylou Harris you could ever want, standing next to me smashing his instrument, then he opens his mouth and it’s beautiful. It’s pretty cool and he’s also been a good friend to me.

AW: So a brotherhood is what music is for you?

JJ: No, it is just being able to trust somebody. I am very gunshy of getting worked within and the 2 people I play with I love and they have tolerated me, which is a big task for a lot of people.

AW: Are the rumors true about your temper?

JJ: Yeah (laughing)

AW: Has it changed in a positive way?

JJ: I don’t know. I think when my feelings get hurt or when I’m scared of something that my reaction is aggressively. It is a weird personality trait and is about fear and self-confidence.

AW: As you should definitely have self-confidence today! There are many artist you have influenced in positive ways. This includes a band that has recorded one of your songs on their upcoming album (Widespread Panic recording “Climb To Safety”). What are your feelings and expectations on that?

JJ: No expectations. You can’t have any. Besides that, I am very flattered. I am a huge fan of that band!

AW: Is it a nice endorphin rush knowing that there will be at least 200,000 people buying this record with your song on it? Also the potential for more people being exposed to the Jackmormons?

JJ: I am honored. Anything else that happens is gravy.

AW: Could you please describe a Jackmormons live show?

JJ: This band has tried really hard to play a lot of different music. A lot of acoustic which is about being more in depth at the craft of songwriting. I think this band is best when we play a quiet song and are singing good and I’m not taking solos. We do this a lot. Electric: I think it is pretty much of an emotional rollercoaster. We look to bands like Sugar and Jane’s Addiction for that live edge.

AW: Like the Replacements minus the arrogance?

JJ: Kind of, but people would throw stuff at us when we take the guitar solos.

AW: On that note, do you think you have significantly improved as a guitarist in the past 4 years?

JJ: yes, I never used to take my guitar playing seriously. I used to have Stephen James of Little Women (whom I love dearly) tell me I sucked. Playing in a 3 piece and doing all of these solo acoustic shows, I think I have finally found my voice whatever that is. Right now it is a combination of muscle, melody, and guitar playing. I am a huge fan of Chris Whitley and David Lindley and I am also a big fan of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Mould. There is the stuff I grew up on like Santana and Keith Richards. I am also a little older now and can put some of those things that were influences into my guitar playing like Miles Davis and Stephane Grappelli. Being the only guitar player has made me step up to the plate. I’m never going to be a technical guitarist. I never though of myself as a player until recently I tapped into some level I had, which happened by chance. How good it is, I am not sure. It is geared towards live. I’m standing by myself and have to be interesting for 3 hours.

AW: So there is a conscious effort to mix up the material every night?

JJ: We’re working with about 120 songs right now.

AW: Is that to keep you interested or to keep people coming back?*

JJ: I think it is for ourselves. I would go nuts if I had to play the same songs over and over again!

*AW: What is the big goal right now?

JJ: To take care of my kids and afford a pony. Musically, I am 38. I would have thought a year ago there weren’t going to be a whole lot of opportunities and right now there seems to be a lot on my plate. I would like to make a record or 2 every year and sell them internationally. Enough people coming out to make some money and the next record, more people at the shows. i would also like to continue to tour and make records with a reasonable budget. I just want to be recognized as good (unquestionably) at what I do. If I get any success that is great, but I’d rip out my hair worrying about that. All I can do is be honest and play as bad ass as we can play.

2 quotes about bands that Jerry would like to reflect on.

1. Sugar: “They weren’t pretty, they weren’t big entertainers, but they would go out every night and tried to be the toughest rock band in the world”!

2. Jane’s Addiction: “They never assumed you were stupid”.

That is really important to me. There is a lot of music out there that plays to the lowest common denominator and it is supposedly all about a good time and easy to swallow. I am too old to care about that! I would like to assume that if you are standing there watching me play, that you’re intelligent. I can’t make you like me. Like any entertainer, I like the attention and want people to think I’m good. I certainly want people to have an opinion. I am singing about a lot of stuff: a mix of God, sexuality, and all of the artists I’ve really liked. Whether those artists are Marvin Gaye, Prince, Bob Marley, or Chris Whitley. All of those guys. Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley in particular had that nice mix of complex and simple things like making a cup of coffee that I aspire to. That is why I am so Psyched that Widespread chose “Climb To Safety” as a tune because it is not an easy sell. I am also a big fan of pop music.

AW: With the Panic crowd becoming younger has your crowd become older in comparison? Is there a different peer group grasping things?

JJ: I think we have a real cross-section of people coming out (21-50). The only thing I think about a crowd is I would like to think they are all smart.

AW: Do you think the off-beat places you have played have tapped into a market that other bands haven’t yet?

JJ: Those places (Moab, Logan, Ketchum, and Whitefish) are all within a circle of the region we play a lot. Jr. says that we play those places the best! I walk out there with the joy of being able to play for a living and being thankful for being able to do it, so there is no real favorite venue.

AW: Do you have any regrets musically?

JJ: Yeah a lot. I wish I would have focused more on the art and less on the clothes (metaphorically).

AW: So you don’t feel socially obligated after shows anymore?

JJ: No, there is no reason for me to be playing music except to be good at it.

AW: What about your current projects (The acoustic record Pete Droge is producing, Jackmormons record, and the Woody Harrelson/Rob Wasserman Project)?

JJ: We’re sitting with a lot of material we would like to get recorded. The record Pete is producing will probably be a Jerry Joseph record, it is all singer-songwriter type stuff and not a big electric record. The Jackmormons are ready to make another Rock album, like Achtung Baby!

AW: What about your older stuff like “Love and Happiness”?

JJ: I have never really listened to it because it was at a really weird time in my life. Speaking of regrets: I was in a position to enjoy making that record with Johnny Sandlin and all the great players, but I was caught up in whatever drama my life was at the time. I would still like to see that record get out on a larger scale.

AW: Do you want it licensed?

JJ: Totally, we want to re-release “The Welcome Hunters” and all the old Little Women stuff. I would also like to have the Woody record see the light of day and a broad retrospective record of all recordings and even recent recordings of old tunes, etc.

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