The Luxury TPB Interview: Girly Drinks, Gaiking Tattoos and All “In The Wake of What Won’t Change”
7 July 2009 No Comment
Fried Pickles, anyone? Steve Borek and Jason Dunn. Photo: Jessie Rogers.
Chowing Down with the Luxury! From left: Justin Day, Steve Borek, Jason Dunn. Photo: Jessie Rogers.
The past year has been a good one for the Luxury. Between playing for a packed house at the BankNorth Garden last August while opening for Coldplay, snagging the spotlight and the coveted title at WBCN’S reputable Rock N’ Roll Rumble and putting the finishing touches on In the Wake of What Won’t Change, their highly anticipated sophomore album, this Boston-based Brit pop quintet is in a prime position for musical prowess of epic proportions. The Luxury will be celebrating the release of In the Wake of What Won’t Change this Saturday, July 11th, at the Paradise Rock Club. A gig at the Paradise is, in itself, a dream come true for Jason Dunn, the band’s frontman. “We’ve always wanted to play the Paradise Rock Club and all of my favorite shows I’ve seen have been there,” says Dunn. “I just wanted to make it as big as possible.” Big, to the Luxury, means blasting through a high energy set of their latest material complete with films created expressly for each song being shown on screens behind the stage to achieve “that whole Pink Floyd thing” level of showmanship.
Before taking the stage at the Paradise Rock Club this coming Saturday, Jessie and I were fortunate enough to sit down and scarf some deep fried pickles with Jason, bassist Justin Day and keyboardist Steven Borek at Cambridge Common on a rainy evening. After downing a Chocolate Kiss martini or two (I won’t reveal which band member had a sweet tooth), the guys of the Luxury opened up about their songwriting, their influences and what it is that makes them think of Boston as the most “excitable” city in the country. It’s clear to see that these Boston boys are on the up-and-up, but the most refreshing thing about the Luxury is that this is a group of good dudes who are eternally grateful and thoroughly excited for the adventures they have in store together as a band.
OPENING ACT: THE TEAPARTY 10
What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?
Jason: Cinnamon Life! I LOVE it. The thing I love about it is that when you first put milk on it it’s too crunchy, but if you leave it for a minute and make some tea or something by the time you get back it’s PERFECT.
Justin: I like plain Life. I’m not into the Cinnamon. My real favorite is Peanut Butter Crunch. Actually, my favorite breakfast cereal is to go down to the diner and get a breakfast sandwich.
Steve: I find these cereals both boring. I’d go with Cocoa Pebbles, actually. You wanna talk about getting the cereal in the beginning? You need to start biting into that stuff right away because it gets soggy real quick. If you leave it too long it just turns into this hardened resin of like, rice.
Who would you rather punch in the face: Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” or Mouth from “The Goonies”?
Jas: Neither of them. I can’t answer this question, although there are definitely some people I’d like to punch in the face.
Jus: I love Mouth! I don’t want to punch him. I love him, but he’s no Chunk. Chunk’s my man. I guess I have to go with Long Duk Dong.
S: I’ve only seen “The Goonies” once… I guess Mouth? I’m ambivalent.
If you were a kitchen appliance, what would you be?
Jas: You know what, the first thing that came to mind is one of those hand-held eggbeaters….
Jus: That was the first thing that came to my mind too!!!
S: I was actually thinking of a Kitchenaid Mixer, the big mother electric bowl in the different colors.
Jas: WE’RE ALL MIXERS!
You go to bed, wake up the next morning, go to brush your teeth… and you realize that you’ve morphed into one of Jim Henson’s Muppets overnight. Which Muppet are you?
Jas: Oh, Jesus Christ. Gonzo. I’m Gonzo.
S: I’m gonna go with Sam the Eagle. “You WEIRDOS!” I actually have a Sam the Eagle figure on top of one of my speakers at home.
Jus: I was gonna say Zoot, but… I would instantly morph into Zoot or Floyd, one or the other.
After a raucous night out, you wake up at some point the next day and you realize that in your fit of crazy you got inked. What tattoo did you wake up with?
Jas: Oh God.
S: I’d get a Megaman tattoo of him, like, jumping in a tree.
Jus: I’d get something similar: GAIKING, on my back. If you’ve ever seen Gaiking, this is a cartoon that was on in the early Eighties as part of the Force Five series that played at 6pm on weekday afternoons. Every day out of the week there was a different cartoon, and there was the Star Avengers and the Spacekateers and there was Grandizer and then there was GAIKING. Gaiking was the most bad ass of all of them. He was this giant ROBOT DRAGON that the HEAD shot off of! And then the MOUTH of the DRAGON would open up and the bottom half of the robot shot out! And it would come up and JOIN up the other part of the ROBOT you know?! So, like, his WHOLE CHEST was this SKULL from the DRAGON! And his head had the giant dragon on it because his head POPPED OUT of the SKULL that became his CHEST! And I want that on my back.
[Justin’s emphatic gesturing was very, very enthused throughout the previous explanation and Jessie nearly hyperventilated from giggling so hard.]
S: … That sounds like Voltron on LSD.
Jus: He’s like a thousand times more badass than Voltron.
Jas: I’m not gonna answer this question after that. I’m sorry, but no. I can’t follow that.
Would you rather be a rodeo clown or a sumo wrestler?
All, simultaneously: SUMO.
Jus: Yeah, there are no bulls coming after you.
S: You could fall from the third story of a building and still be fine if you were a sumo wrestler.
Jas: Plus, you’re rewarded for being immensely fat and WOMEN LOVE YOU.
If you had to be a kind of cheese, which cheese would you be?
Jas: Smoked Gouda.
Jus: Brie’s not bad… But I’d be Velveeta.
If you were a style of facial hair, what style facial hair would you be?
Jas: A moustache on a woman’s upper lip (Laughs).
S: Yowza. I’d do the ZZ Top full on beard.
What’s your quintessential “I’M GONNA DANCE AROUND MY APARTMENT IN MY UNDERWEAR AND LOVE LIFE!” song?
Jas: Kasabian, “Shoot the Runner.”
Jus: “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic.
S: “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock. I don’t know! I don’t really do that!
What’s your favorite word?
Jus: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It’s the real name for Black Lung. It’s the disease coal miners get.
Jas: Phonetically I have a favorite word but it isn’t coming to mind right now… I’m drawing a complete blank. Let’s go with “fellatio”. I’M JUST KIDDING! I say “Awesome” a lot.
THE MAIN EVENT: THE LUXURY TPB INTERVIEW
Hey guys! For the record, can we get names and where you guys are from and what you play in the band?
Jason: I’m Jason, and I’m the lead singer, and I play guitar. I write most of the songs. I grew up in Vermont in Burlington but I was born in Boston. I’ve been playing music since I was 11 and I play eight instruments, I just kind of picked them up, like, every couple of years I would grab a new one. Guitar was the third; singing and piano were the first two. I’ve been in a million billion bands.
Justin: I’m Justin, I’m the bass player and I’m out of beer. (Laughs) I started playing music at about eight or nine I guess, and I picked up the bass at 15 and I’ve been playing in bands around Boston since probably around ’95 or ’96.
Steve: I’m Steve. I play keyboards in the band, and I’m from Worcester. I’ve been with the band for a couple of years now. I’ve been playing since I was eight, self-taught; I primarily played keyboards and a little bit of guitar on the side just for fun. I played saxophone for a year once. Jason has an immense hatred for the saxophone that he has yet to provide a logical reason for.
Jas: Yeeeeah, it’s the Eighties, man. The Eighties just killed the saxophone dead.
So, let’s talk about the [WBCN Rock N’ Roll] Rumble. First off, congrats on taking it this year! I feel like playing the Rumble is a right of passage for a lot of local acts.
Jus: It is more or less, yeah.
Jas: I mean, there are 3,000 bands in town and WBCN picks the 24 that they think are ready to gain the most out of it and who they think will play the most interesting shows against each other. It’s an honor to be selected, really. We didn’t think we were gonna win, I’m just gonna throw that out there. We were out in the second round, then we were the wildcard in the semi finals, and then we won.
How did you guys come to make music together?
Jas: I came [to Boston] with the Halogens, and around 2005 it just wasn’t any fun anymore. My friend Moose had been forming a band and needed a name, and I picked up a Marillion CD and saw one of the top tracks on it was “Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury”, so I suggested that, and he took it. In the back of my mind I was like, “Aw, man. I wish THAT was the band I’m in, I’m getting sick of the Halogens.” I wound up playing with a bunch of dudes from Baby Strange in a one-off cover band, but it was more fun playing with them, so I ditched the Halogens, asked Moose if I could use the name, he said yes, and the first lineup of the Luxury was formed and lasted about a year because none of them wanted to tour. So, the drummer and I essentially let everybody go, so then we found Justin, our original keyboardist Brooks and Daanen, our drummer. Brooks is way too talented to be backing up a bunch of jack-offs like us and left to pursue other goals, and we met Steve through Craigslist of all things, and he turned out to be exactly what we needed with less piano and more kooky sound effects.
[The martinis and fried pickles arrive at the table in the crowded dining room of Cambridge Common. Jason takes a bite.]
Jas: JESUS CHRIST THESE ARE AMAZING.
Yeah, they’re pretty delicious.
Jas: Anyways, Steve was the last addition to the band, and we’ve been in this lineup for about two years now. Two years is enough time to really craft a record and I think the new record shows everybody off in nearly every song, which is great. The voices in the band are very different musically and we all come from different musical backgrounds. Well, except for Justin. He listens to everything, apparently.
What are those musical backgrounds?
Jas: I’m a big, big pop fan. Always have been. Some of my earliest favorite bands were Queen, Elton John, Debbie Gibson, Fleetwood Mac… We’re talking, like, when I’m a kid, you know? Mister Mister. My favorite song when I was ten was “Broken Wings.”
Jus: I have that album!
Jas: That’s a good album. So, that’s where I come from: Big hooks and big melodies. It works for me. Daanen is kind of like, a guitar player’s guitar player. He delves deeply into the hard rock Guitar Hero world, a world that I do not understand (laughs.)
S: I’m into a lot of classic rock myself, and some progressive rock and jazz as well.
Jus: Classic rock, modern and indie rock, Golden Age hip hop, Sixties and Seventies soul, you know, traditional country… I grew up on like, thrash metal and British heavy metal. I like a little bit of everything. My girlfriend won’t let me listen to Guided By Voices anymore in the house because she just hears to goddamn much of them (laughs).
Can you take us through your creative process?
Jas: I would say that about eight out of ten songs start with a demo that I’ll just give to everybody. I have my own recording studio, so if I have a musical idea I’ll pick up a guitar and throw down a fake drum beat and play it and see how far I can get with anyone else’s help so I get as much of my vision together as possible. Then when I hit a wall I’m just like, “All right! Send it to the guys!” and I’ll get their input and have them check it out to see what they think. Then, they’ll either shoot it down or we’ll start playing it in practice. Steven and Daanen bring in ideas every once and again and Daanen will mostly bring in riffs, and then Steve comes in sometimes with little ideas and sometimes with complete pieces. I write almost all of the lyrics, and there’s one song on the album that Steve Foster, our drummer, wrote. Other than that, the lyrics have been all me. The lyrical process is interesting because I either take from a personal experience and exaggerate and extrapolate it to make it dramatic and to make it flow like a song, or I’ll have absolutely no idea what I’ll write about and it’s kind of an abstract thing, and then I’ll just hone it. It’ s either building something up with clay or chiseling away at something. That being said, it can take me half an hour or three or four months to write a set of lyrics.
Are there any songs that you feel particularly connected to?
Jas: All of them.
S: Everything is a joy to play. There isn’t a song that I don’t love playing. I try to make the songs as fun as possible for myself and for the audience.
Jus: There is a couple that I could take or leave in a given set now, but that’s just because we’ve played them so many times.
Jas: Because of the two different ways I approach it as a lyricist, there will definitely be some songs that are deeply connected to my life, but in terms of what songs I like the most they’re very seldom the same things. Some of my favorite tunes that I feel the most attached to have nothing to do with my own life, they just sound awesome and I love what everyone’s doing on it. If we were looking for examples, I’d say that “Rockets and Wrecking Balls” off our first album, it’s sort of a page of my life and I feel like the melodies really came together nicely. I think the new record is still too new for me to comment on which songs I feel more attached to; that’s going to come to me in about a year.
I feel like a huge part of the songwriting process also has to do with playing your songs for people live and gauging their reaction and your reaction to how it feels, too.
Jas: Yeah! Another thing about playing live is it’s not just about whether the audience responds to it or not, because frankly, I think we’re a little past that point. We’ve found, to our thankful delight, that there are a lot of people out there that like what we do, but we do it for ourselves and then just put it out there and see what people think. Playing a new song isn’t testing how an audience like it, it’s more about how it feels and clicks with us.
Jus: I always fight tooth and nail against putting the new songs in the set because I feel like Jason always wants to throw them in the set way before they’re ready to be played.
Jas: Oh, absolutely!
S: It’s often excitement versus whether or not we feel comfortable putting the song out there.
Jus: It’s turned into a disaster on one or two occasions, but not much beyond that (laughs.)
Jas: The reason why I do that is because playing live in front of people is part of my writing process. Like, that’s why I do that; I don’t do that because I’m like, “THIS SONG IS FRIGGIN’ AWESOME! I WROTE IT FIVE MINUTES AGO! LET’S GO!” I do it because it’s gotta happen before I’m done with it. I don’t think there’s been a song that we’ve played out live for the first time that I haven’t taken and changed afterwards.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys onstage?
Jas: I’d say that crazy things have happened multiple times, especially at the end of “Next in Line” Justin will climb up on top of Steve’s drum set and then jump off during the drum fill, and I’d say ten times out of ten he lands on me while I’m trying to sing (laughs). That’s not that crazy anymore, though, because I know it’s coming. I now know to brace myself towards the end of the song to feel the full force of Justin or his bass.
Jus: There are a lot of near misses with me almost clocking Daanen in the head (laughs).
In terms of influences, we’ve talked about what genres you guys love. Are there any standout artists or bands whose music has helped cultivate your creativity, as a band or individually?
Jas: I always just jump up and credit the Beatles for everything. I think that if there’s one band that we could all agree on that has influenced all of us, it would probably be the Beatles even if that statement was met with resistance from other members of the band.
Jus: Well, certainly in your songwriting.
Jas: You don’t feel that the Beatles have influenced you musically?
Jas: Really? Because I hear it in your bass lines.
Jus: No, I don’t listen to his bass lines at all.
S: (Sigh) Poor Paul.
Jus: I’m not really terribly interested in him as a bass player and never have been…
Jas: Well, well, well!
What are you guys listening to right now? What would we find on your “Recently Added” playlist on your iPod?
Jas: The new Kasabian record. It’s on heavy rotation at my house. I love what they’re doing and they started out doing something I already love, which is like, a Brit Pop/Trip Hop combination where it’s really danceable and hypnotic with big melodies and stuff. Then, they went glam on their second record, and their third record is just BIZARRE. Just really fucked up in a great way. It’s got great beats on it and a lot of hooks with a lot of strange things, like broken instrument noises and random stuff like that.
S: Recently? David Bowie’s Low is in the CD player at home. I’m definitely a Bowie fan. Everything from Steely Dan, to Thelonious Monk, to Pink Floyd, to Neil Young… my influences are all over the place.
Jas: All over the place, but it’s still all Seventies classic rock (laughs).
Jus: I’ve got the [Rolling] Stones and Guided By Voices in heavy rotation. I mean, in the car it’s been the Kinks, and when I go out running it’s Judas Priest.
So, on to the new record: How is In The Wake of What Won’t Change a departure from previous material undertaken by the Luxury?
Jas: It’s a huge departure. Basically, I had four or five years to write the first record, and all these ideas, it’s a great collection of songs but it doesn’t really sound, to me, as cohesive as this new record does. The material is stronger than the first record, in terms of the song writing, but the music is exponentially stronger because it’s actually five musicians, not just people backing me up.
What are your favorite venues in Boston? Do you prefer certain ones for playing and seeing shows?
Jus: My favorite room to play is Upstairs at the Middle East. That’s always felt like home to me for ten years. As far as going to see those I probably like going to see bands at TT the Bear’s Place, depending on who it is. If it’s a local band that we’re friends with, I feel the most comfortable standing around and watching a band at TT’s. It’s nice, it’s dark, the bar’s close and it’s packed in tight in front of the stage where you and all your friends can hang out and watch your other friends play.
Jas: My favorite venue to play at is TT’s because they’ve been soooo good to us. My favorite place to see a band is the Paradise Rock Club by a long shot, just because there’s not a bad seat in the house. It feels big but it’s small enough that you never feel too far away from the action.
S: Favorite place to play? I like Church a lot actually, and I like the Middle East Up[stairs] as well so I’m kind of torn on that. Church has been surprisingly fun, we’ve had a couple of great shows there and it’s been really enjoyable, whereas at the Middle East you feel like you’re maybe a little more engaged with the crowd, whether it’s the proximity factor or there’s just not that much to do in the background.
When you’re building a lineup for a show in Boston, do you prefer to stick with local bands?
Jas: Yeah, generally speaking! In general I feel that the local bands fill the clubs the best. I would say that when we put together a show, we put it together with local bands and maybe we’ll bring in one out of town band. I’m very much about building Boston’s awareness of how much music in this town is worth going out and listening to, and there’s a lot of it. When we did the Rumble, we saw 23 other bands play and they were all great.
Any standout acts? What bands do you really, really love that are coming out of Boston today?
Jas: I mean, how much time do you have? Grave Haven, Thick as Thieves, Everyday Visuals, Me and Joan Collins, MidAtlantic, the Motion Sick, Lights Out, Reverse…
Jus: Motorcade Five!
Jas: Yup, and Gene Dante and the Future Starlets, there’s a brand new band called Silent Century and they’re AMAZING. When people hear them they’re gonna be blown away. You do realize that I can just keep listing great Boston bands, right? We’ve played a zillion shows and we’ve met a lot of great bands. Seriously. I’m hesitant to answer this question because I know that as soon as I get home I’m going to realize that I left out a really great band.
I feel like there’s a very distinct track in Boston where you have the indie circle in Boston, which you’re a part of, that sticks to the Middle East and TT’s and the like, and then you have the blues/jazz/folk/bluegrass/singer-songwriter circuit playing Atwoods and Precinct and the Cantab Lounge. I think it’s interesting that there are two comfortable niches in Boston’s music scene that are supportive of each other. Are there any artists from that track that you listen to?
Jas: Yeah, there’s another band I recorded called Broken Blossoms, they’re a folk band that I got to record in a church and they’re amazing. Other than that, Three Day Threshold, but they kind of crossed the rock/folk line a little bit. Girls, Guns and Glory is a really good band, too.
Jus: I haven’t been to Toad in a couple of years, but I know a bunch of my friends play there on a regular basis.
What about your relationship with Boston’s clubs and their owners? What do you like and dislike about the business side of things in Boston?
Jus: We get treated really well in Boston. We don’t get treated especially well anywhere else, but we don’t necessarily get treated badly.
Let’s gush about your Boston fans for a little bit. Do you guys have regulars that you see at your shows?
Jus: Oh, yeah!
Jas: It’s funny; a lot of them have become our friends now.
Jus: I don’t really call them fans, per se. They’re people that we know.
S: Friends of the band are friends of ours, you know?
Jas: I don’t think it’s necessary at the level that we’re at to keep up a wall at all. If we got huge or something I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to answer Facebook wall posts and IMs from fans and stuff, but at this stage it’s really nice. Our fans are great. We had a ton of people singing along with us at the Rumble, and that’s just the best feeling in the world. If you wrote a song and out of a crowd of 500 people there are 50 people singing your words back at you? That’s fantastic. I mean, our fans seriously mobilized and got all of their friends and family members and everyone they’d ever met to vote for us to open up for Coldplay last fall. That’s the kind of fans we have.
Do you think that kind of fierce loyalty is a Boston-specific thing?
S: It’s probably not a unique thing, but Boston is definitely a passionate city. People here are pretty passionate about the things they like AND dislike (laughs). You can go to other cities and they’re more like, “meh”, about the things they’re indifferent about. Not here.
Jas: Boston’s pretty excitable and ready to have a good time.
Jus: I think Boston’s ready to have a good time, but I think you’ve really gotta fuckin’ impress before you bust out of your shell.
Well, let’s talk about playing your dues. It’s no secret that certain venues won’t give you the time of day if you haven’t built up a bit of street cred first.
Jas: Well, playing a place like TT’s for example, that’s easy: Get 80 people to come to your show, get them to swear on it, call the club and say “Hey! We’re bringing in 50 people.” If I were to tell a band starting out how to make your mark as a Boston band, it would be to put together your own shows. Don’t ever call a club and be like, “Hey, do you have anything coming up we can get in on?” If they don’t know who you are that’s just stupid.
Jus: All you’re gonna get is Tuesday night after Tuesday night.
Jas: And also, you’re gonna get on their nerves, frankly. What you need to do is go out to other band’s shows, find other bands whose styles you think fit with yours, give them a CD, tell them you’d really love to play a show with them some time if you really WOULD love to play a show with them sometime, don’t fuckin’ schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. When the show actually comes together, promote the living hell of it through all the bands on the bill and make sure everyone’s working and the show will be a success. That’s how you play TT’s; that’s how you play anywhere. There are definitely some band cliques in Boston and I think that that’s sad, but, you know, there are also a lot of bands that refuse to be part of a clique, and I think this kind of anti-cliquery is on the rise. The Rumble Class of ’09 is a really good example of that: We were all good friends with each other by the end of it and it just transcended any social boundaries.
Jus: You’re gonna catch all of us out at each other’s show from now until whenever, from the metal bands to the pop bands, and whatever, just a total crossbreeding of fanship. Everybody became big fans of everybody else.
Jas: We’ve had a pretty damn good year. If you think about what we were doing at this time last year, I think we were just trying to hammer out votes for Coldplay, so then August, we opened up for Coldplay and played for 10,000 people at Boston Garden, which was amazing. Then, we took the money that they gave us and it paid for our plane tickets to California, where we played eight shows in ten days. Awesome. Then we hunkered down, played some smaller shows, worked on recording the album, and then we got in the Rumble and friggin’ won it, which is still kind of shocking.
Jus: We’re in much better shape for having all this free swag thrown at us (laughs).