JamisonParker may boast the least creative band name in music today, but this could all be on the account of the creative juices flowing through their music rather than their band name. In July, Jamison Covington and Parker Case released their much anticipated full-length album titled Sleepwalker, and have been touring to promote it ever since.
In person Jamison Covington comes off as an introverted young man who almost seems uncomfortable with the undivided attention thrown his way. Once he starts to talk about music that unease melts away, and it becomes easy to discern that this timid frontman is one of those musicians whose passion for music exudes into everything. So many musicians come off as arrogant or cynical, leaving music listeners with the feeling they are merely getting a half effort. One conversation with Covington has me convinced that he is not and probably will never be one of those people who put music into the world that he isn’t satisfied with. Talking to him is a breath of fresh air for all the people who are jaded by the quality of music today.
How did you first get involved in music?
Covington: My dad was a drummer growing up. He played in a band, and for the fun of it, I wanted to learn to play drums so we got a drum set. From there I got into just other instruments. I started playing guitar and that was kind of more my thing. I was in random bands, and didn’t really like the music that we had made or didn’t necessarily get along with the people in the bands. I started writing music myself and then moved to California to start a band, and was introduced to Parker who was actually playing drums at that point. If nothing else I needed to find a drummer to work with, because I am not a very good drummer at all. He was actually introduced to me as a drummer first, and then he and I just kind of started working together after that.
How did Parker go from being the drummer to playing guitar?
Jamison: He had been playing guitar for a while too. When we started I had a handful of songs that ended up being the majority of the songs on our first EP, that I had written a year or two before Parker and I had met. We got demos together and decided to revamp those songs and start demoing those. He started to play guitar with me on the demos and stuff. We kind of almost got put in the position where we didn’t have another guitarist, and then he and I started playing things together. For one reason or another we just kind of mutated into the two of us playing guitar.
When you were recording Sleepwalker, what kind of artists or musicians were influencing you?
Covington: Pretty much the same bands as always; Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure and I guess a more recent band like Jimmy Eat World are a big influence. There are a lot of things that when we listen to that you may not hear anything that is an exact pull from one of those bands. Then if you listen to those bands and then you listen to our album again, you can more or less cite influences. I’m not really a fan of saying I love this band so let’s use this exact guitar chords, and just rewrite a couple of their songs with lyrics changed.
[On your biography] You talk about a notebook with pages filled with tuning, and just generally how much effort you put into making music, what drives you to push your music to the level it’s at?
Covington: I don’t know, I guess I get really frustrated when I hear a lot of stuff being played now. It’s not even to say that anything that I’m writing is any better than anyone else’s stuff. It’s not an attack on anyone; it’s just my personal taste in music. Seeing the way things are unfolding with bands and with this whole scene that’s developed in general. It just kind of frustrates me. I’m not really that familiar with many of the [new] bands. I don’t hear a lot of the bands until we tour with them, because I’m kind of out of the loop with all that stuff. But it kind of starts off with me hearing some type of modern music and I’m just like I don’t like that, so it always pushes me back toward listening to all the old bands I really love. And then those bands are bands that if you read anything about them, that’s just kind of the work ethic. It’s always trying to push boundaries, and make some new type of music. This album that we have now was done; we finished that mixing it all that was a completed process last October.
The stuff that I just actually recorded some more last night, I’ve been demoing and the stuff is just so far past all that now. The next album is going to be in a whole different direction. I can’t see sitting down and just writing a song, there has to be more to it than that. You have to put everything that you can into it. I guess when I put everything I can into it, I can’t just write something that is just going to fit into what everyone else has, I know that the music fits in but at the same time its got its own personality. It’s just one of those things to me, where I listened to an album and it sounds like they set up a drum kit, used the same drum kit the whole recording, used the same guitar, and then finished all the music up and then recorded the vocals and that was it. I can’t handle all the songs having the same sound and none of them having their own personality. I kind of think about all the things that I really wish I could hear in music again that’s not being done, and so that I can one of these days be considered a part of the whole genre that pushing things forward.
I agree- music today is frustrating; you can’t listen to radio because everything’s exactly the same as what’s played before it.
Covington: I’m always curious as to whether people love what they love because they don’t know anything else and that’s just what’s given to them or that’s just because that’s easy and accessible or that just happens to be what the majority of people’s taste is. I’m confused on that. It tends to always be called indie music, but there’s not really anything independent about any of this. It’s weird; I always try to stay away from that when people ask what kind of music we play. You’ll never hear “indie rock” come out of my mouth. There’s nothing really independent about any of this anymore. Even the labels that people think are indie labels are all funded by somebody with money, some corporation is behind everything. The most you can hope to do is just make the music you love to make, and hope people enjoy it, and maybe you’ll change something in the process.
A lot of the lyrics on Sleepwalker have a romantic kind of tone, but instead of coming off cliché or sappy, they sound sincere. Is this something you are really aware of when you are writing songs?
Covington: I write about whatever is happening to me at the moment. And that’s just kind of the spot I’m in when I write that song, I don’t really think it out too much. It took so long for us to finish this album, but the songwriting is actually always the quick part. It is more of like the things like the tones, and the actual tracking, and setting up, because we try so many things, we like to expand it with a lot of different sounds. But the songwriting, the songs usually come out really quickly. A lot of the stuff is an hour or so tops for writing a song. Just grab my acoustic guitar, and write down what’s going on in my head and then it’s done. When it comes to the actual recording of it that’s when we spend a year working on things. As far as thinking out how I want a song to feel I don’t know, I mean just grab a guitar and start strumming chords and singing along with it until something clicks. When it clicks I just go with it.
“Don’t devalue someone’s real problem with a publicity stunt. It’s just kind of like we all know that certain bands write songs about being depressed or being dark or whatever, we don’t have to play the roles too. If you’re like that, just be yourself and it’s going to come out. If not then don’t fool everyone into thinking you have issues. Issues aren’t fun, and it’s not fun to deal with…”– Jamison Covington
You write very personal songs, are you extra sensitive or aware to people’s reactions to your music?
Covington: It’s funny because I definitely write personal, and everyone always wants to hear more details. I’m constantly telling people that I don’t talk about what my lyrics are about that’s left up to interpretation. It’s weird, I have split personalities about things like that, there’s one side of me that I definitely acknowledges how sensitive a situation is where if someone comes up to me and tells me the song I wrote is dog shit, then I will be “this is how I feel” and “this meant a lot to me,” so this person is telling me my train of thought, my thought process, is dog shit. But then a few seconds later it clicks in my head that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it. First and foremost, you have to write songs for yourself or you’re not going to write anything honest. It’s kind of like the whole if you can’t be happy with yourself than you can’t make other people happy. I try to focus on what I want to do first and then afterwards I hope that other people enjoy it and they find something important within that.
You’re a more subdued, timid type person- what do you find is most difficult about having such an attention focused career?
Covington: I don’t know … everything? It’s pretty strange because I’ve always been the kind of person that likes my privacy, I prefer to sit at home or sit away from the crowd. It’s kind of how I’ve always been, I enjoy being by myself, but at the same time it’s a wonderful thing to be able to meet new people and to go all these different places. I don’t know- it’s just one of those things you have to figure out for yourself. I think the fact that I’m not terribly open about a lot of my personal life helps the situation.
I’m not trying to name any names or anything but I read this article and this guy was just spilling his guts about how he’s on tons of medication and wanted to kill himself. I’ve read a few articles from different bands like that and I’m just kind of like you’re giving all these people who have real problems that have something to focus on and work out. It’s almost like you’re mocking them. Everyone has their things that they need help for or whatever the case may be. Don’t devalue someone’s real problem with a publicity stunt. It’s just kind of like we all know that certain bands write songs about being depressed or being dark or whatever, we don’t have to play the roles too. If you’re like that, just be yourself and it’s going to come out. If not then don’t fool everyone into thinking you have issues. Issues aren’t fun, and it’s not fun to deal with- I don’t understand why you’d want to let everyone know all those things. It’s not something to be proud of it’s something to work on. It’s not something to be ashamed of either. Maybe these people do have real problems and they’re just really open. It kind of becomes like the cool thing to be weird and crazy. When did it become cool to have some type of psychological issue? That’s not cool, it’s sad.
In some ways it’s almost become a trend to do things like self-mutilate or things such as that.
Covington: Honestly, I’m a culprit myself- I have lyrics about that kind of stuff, and honestly if I knew then what I know now, I would have never written those songs. I feel like me airing out my personal business in that way almost puts me in that same category with the people that frustrate me for saying those things. I wish I could take it back in a way, because I don’t want to be one of those guys. I’d rather get away from feeling that way; I don’t want to dwell in it. Anyone who deals with those problems on a daily basis aren’t the ones wearing it on their sleeves.
What defining factor do you think has made Parker and you such a strong musical team?
Covington: Probably because we’re complete opposites. We are so completely different; we have absolutely nothing in common except the fact that we like to make music. That probably has something to do with it because Parker tends to be the logical guy, and kind of keeps everything grounded and he tends to be the more down-to-earth guy. Things just happen to balance each other out because of our different personalities, and just the dynamic of our relationship.
Was there a period of time where you and Parker first started working together where it was more difficult for you to write songs with him? When did the comfort level increase?
Covington: It’s kind of been the same since we started. We are a little bit more open to argue about things now, whereas before we would kind of tiptoe around things with each other because it was so new. We’re not as afraid to just say things. We’re both critical of our own work and critical of each other’s. It’s definitely an upside I believe. As far as the writing dynamic goes it’s kind of been the same since the beginning I usually bring the songs to him with just the guitar, and we from there go into production mode and turn it into a full band song. The structure possibly can change going from acoustic to full band, that’s where both of us come into play. The initial song I end up bringing to the table and we work from there.
Where do you think your music is going to evolve from Sleepwalker?
Covington: I don’t know, I just keep writing period whether it’s ever going to be used for this band or one of these days for something totally different. I can’t ever really say. A lot of the stuff as far as lyrically is a little bit more toward the poetic side instead of just saying it straightforward. Anything new that’s been written tends to be on the poetic side. Music wise I don’t know, all the stuff I’ve done thus far has been just demos. Especially this tour we’ve been out with Waking Ashland for like a month and everything written in the last month is all acoustic. It’s hard to tell musically what direction it’s going. A lot of this stuff is getting more towards the sound of the last song on our album or track number four which is “Tearing Through Me.” Getting a little more dreamy and spacey sounding. You never know where it’s going.
What have you been listening to lately, and what book have you been reading?
Covington: I was actually just listening to the Tremolo EP by My Bloody Valentine. Do comic books count? I just got the whole series of the Walking Dead comics from Image. I haven’t read a book yet on this tour. I usually read, but this tour has been so insane with the schedule, we’ve had 32 dates and we did 16 in-stores, so half the tour we were doing two shows a day. There’s really been no time to do anything but play and sleep.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.
Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.
You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?
Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”
Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”
Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?
Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.
Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?
Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.
Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.
How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?
Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.
Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.
For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?
Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?
Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.
Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.
How many bands are you in now Mike?
Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.
Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?
Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.
I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?
Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.
Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.
Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?
Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.
Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?
Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present. When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland.
Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.
Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.
Is there a new full length on the horizon?
Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.
Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.