Sweatin' to the Oldies
"Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription... is more cowbell!" Those immortal words spilled from the mouth of Christopher Walken as Bruce Dickinson, Blue Öyster Cult's producer, during the now-famous Saturday Night Live skit in which Will Ferrell's overenthusiastic playing of the instrument in question threatened to ruin every take of "Don't Fear the Reaper." Jake Morris, drummer for Portland band the Joggers, knows all about the heat Walken's packing. "I'm a huge fan of '70s soft rock," Morris says. "And yes, I most certainly do have a cowbell." But the band is much more than four pretty faces and some sweet, sweet cowbell. The Joggers -- with Morris on drums, Darrell Bourque on bass, and Murphy Kasiewicz and Ben Whitesides on guitars -- have another secret weapon. They all sing. And they don't sing over one another in a nonsensical, cacophonous jumble. They harmonize. We're talking four-part harmonies here, kids! "We initially started doing the harmonies to fill space in the songs," Morris explains. "But gradually, the vocals became more of a focus, even though our songs are still pretty busy."
The band formed in Portland four years ago and released a self-titled album. After months of touring and playing the typical first-round string of less-than-stellar shows ("We played the Elks Lounge in Rock Island, Illinois," Morris recalls. "We rolled into town, and it was like we had walked into a Bruce Springsteen video. We also played a Halloween show in Arkansas, which I don't recommend."), the Joggers struck gold at last year's CMJ marathon when StarTime Records offered them a record deal. "We had sent Isaac Green [who runs StarTime] our first CD, and he hated it," Morris laughs. "Then we sent him the new one, and he loved it."
At first glance, the cover art on their latest offering, Solid Guild, looks like an art-school project gone awry. But once you get past the image of their cut-and-pasted faces cascading down a majestic mountain like some punk Mount Rushmore, you realize these guys aren't joking around. The Joggers sprint from spastic, screechy guitar riffs to mellow pop ditties with irresistibly catchy choruses. Theirs is a sound that cleans up the polluted rock landscape with a capella indie-rock swagger. But at the same time, Solid Guild is a beautiful mess; synchronicity isn't important, and at any given time on the record, you can hear four people making four different noises.
The Joggers have toured with Hot Hot Heat and the Decemberists, and they have just embarked on a national tour with the always amazing Ted Leo. "Those afternoon gigs under fluorescent lights in the lobby of the Hilton and playing in other nonrocking environments pays off in the end," Morris says. "We haven't had to do anything humiliating just yet." And as long as they stay away from matching striped vests, they shouldn't fear the indie-rock reaper.
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