US - North Carolina - Full Moon 65 - 01/28/02
- an interview with
Small stages, big emotions - an interview with North Carolina's finest
With four albums to their name, North Carolina's Jolene are still a well kept secret - at
least as far as mainland Europe is concerned. The first two albums - on legendary Memphis
based label Ardent and major Sire - helped building a reputation in the States and the UK,
but it wasn't until they signed a Europe-wide deal with German based label Blue Rose Records
that they managed to get a bit more popular in Europe as well. They recently followed their
more laid back, folk-tinged third album Antic Ocean with The Pretty Dive, a
record that not only harks back to the jangly guitar sound of the first two albums, but is
also quite adventurous with it's extensive use of cellos and violins. Jolene are currently
touring Germany and the surrounding countries as a seven piece band, playing great shows
that could probably best be described as "(early) R.E.M. in a shoebox" - absolutely
magnificent! Which doesn't mean that Jolene are R.E.M. clones, just for a start that should
give you an idea what to expect. You probably could compare the music to Travis (minus the
rock star bullshit) as well. Before the recent gig at the Druckluft Club in Oberhausen, we
sat down with main songwriters/guitarists/singers John Crooke and Dave Burris to find out
some more things about Jolene.
Luna Kafé: How is Germany treating you so far on this tour?
John: "It's been great. All the shows have been well attended and it's nice that
people are coming, even though it's our first proper tour of Germany."
Luna Kafé: Does that feel weird to tour just Germany (plus Austria and
Holland) for over three weeks? Because you're playing all these small towns that you probably
haven't heard of before. You actually play some cities I even haven't heard of before and I've
been living in Germany for almost 30 years.
John: "Yeah, it's kinda cool. For instance when we toured the UK, I noticed that a lot
of bands who tour there will only play London, Glasgow, Manchester, Oxford and that's it. We
played similar tours there to what we do in Germany, we played all the secondary markets and
I like doing that. You get to see a little bit more of the Country, in terms of vacation it's
nice, because you see a lot of places."
Luna Kafé: Do you really notice a difference in the audience between what
they call the media cities and the smaller towns?
John: "Yeah, and sometimes in the smaller markets the club is the only thing in town
and so you might end up with an even better show sometimes."
Dave: "Our best crowd so far was in Hameln [a tiny village near Hannover]!"
John: "Yeah, that was incredible, it was the first night of the tour and it was a big
club and a great crowd!"
Luna Kafé: You second album from 1998 [the excellent In The Gloaming]
was released on Sire/Warners - what kind of expectations did you have back then?
John: "Honestly, I think bigger expectations are always on the radar, there's always
that chance, but there's certainly more of a chance to completely crumble and sell ten records.
Because obviously, becoming a rock star and selling a million records is such a rarity. But
also, when we signed that deal, we had all been playing in bands for a long time and we knew
what we were getting into going in and we had complete creative control and made the record
that we wanted to make and we did a couple of tours in the States that were of good size
and we toured overseas once supporting a bigger band [that would be Hootie and the Blowfish
- Carsten's note]. I don't think we went in with unrealistic expectations. Basically we knew
how to do the label's job better than they did, so ultimately it wasn't any more of a success
than it was. But it's all hindsight at this point and I'm still glad we did the Sire deal, it
was a good move for us and it raised our profile and it helped our deal with Blue Rose in a
lot of ways."
Luna Kafé: What were your expectations when you signed with Blue Rose in
Europe? Especially as far the playing live is concerned, because I suppose a lot of similiar
bands do have their albums released, but they certainly don't follow it with a three week
tour with a seven-piece-band!
John: "When we came out of the Sire deal and negotiated our deal with Blue Rose, one
of the things that was a deal breaker for us... if we're gonna do this deal, we really wanted
to tour with the full band and work the record. What we agreed upon is to let the first record
happen and build some name recognition, generate some interest, sell a few copies and wait for
the second record to do the full band tour. I came over for an acoustic solo tour as support
of the Continental Drifters - again to get the band on people's radar. It was always part of
Blue Rose's plan to bring us over for the second record."
Luna Kafé: Does that have any influence on the new record that seems to be
more of a band/rock record compared to the quite sparse, more folk-oriented previous one
[Antic Ocean, the band's first album for Blue Rose in 2000]?
John: "Antic Ocean wasn't a calculated attempt at making more of an acoustic
record to fit what our reality with Blue Rose and touring would be like. We made that record
while we were still signed to Sire, but we didn't tell them about it, because we knew they
would take it. We recorded it in my house, in my studio, it took quite a while and it's just
the way it developed. Some of the songs were demos that I had done, that Dave just did some
things on and we just left them, because they felt really good. The Sire record was a dense,
thick guitar record and we wanted to incorporate some other instruments and some other
directions with the songwriting. It's just the way it happened and it was recorded even
before we signed with Blue Rose. We knew Antic Ocean was more of an acoustic driven record
and we just wanted to stretch it a little bit and get back to the guitars. 'Dreamy guitars'
that's what we kept talking about."
Dave: "With the body of material we had we easily could've made another Antic Ocean,
we got 12 or 15 songs that would fit the Antic Ocean mode, but we said: Let's a very
immediate record, let's do it within 15 days, let's pick 10 songs that are very immediate,
emphatic kind of rock songs, but that also have the atmosphere that we wanted to get across."
Luna Kafé: The last thing I want to mention is the cover, the sleeve for
the new album which I think is just great! How did you come up with that?
John: "Dave had suggested the still photograph from the film Rat Catcher...
Dave: "I had a published script of Rat Catcher because it was one of my favourite
movies of last year if not my favourite movie and the still was in there and when we were working
on the record I was just flipping through the book and that: THAT'S what the record is!"
Luna Kafé: What makes it even more special that the cute picture itself is
the colouring, though. It has got a '1960 New York folk record' kind of vibe.
John: "I was working on the design with the guy who did Antic Ocean with me and
we decided on the triptych idea and the colours are from an old folk record... and I can't
remember the artist... it was a record that my parents had and I saw it over Christmas and I
meant to write it down. With the colours it's funny because initially they don't really seem
to work together, but it still kinda fits. Also, with the design, we really wanted a lot of
negative space, we wanted to do it as clean as possible. The colours are just one of those
happy accidents in the midst of designing."
Dave: "In terms of the general design concept it's probably a little of a hold over
from our cello player's concept for an EP that never came out like two years ago. The idea
of a triptych and a lot of clean space."
John: "Yeah, our cellist had designed the packaging for an EP we were doing for Sire
that never came out... and I hadn't even thought about it, but that's probably where the idea
came from, that was probably stored subconsciously somewhere!!"
Luna Kafé: It's also nice to see that the same design was also used for
the tour posters - I gotta make sure I steal one of them after the gig...
John: Oh yeah, I gotta make sure that I steal one of them before the tour is over!
Check out official live MP3s from the
Frankfurt show January 13, 2002!
Remaining shows in Germany, Austria and Holland on this tour:
28.1.: Innsbruck, Cafe 10°, 29.1.: Tübingen, Parterre, 30.1.: München, Club 2, 31.1.: Langenau,
Fisherman's, 1.2.: Künzell/Fulda, Alte Piesel, 2.2.: Heythusen, Tom Tom Club, 3.2.: Heilbronn,
Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld (photos also)