THE SCREAMiNG JETS
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS JASON HEATH
ROUGH AND RAGGEDAs with many an Americana act, there is always the tendency for folks to throw in the tried and true DYLAN comparison, but ex-SPINEWIRE vocalist JASON HEATH and his band of GREEDY SOULS owe more to the their punk leanings, which is not to say that the bandís debut CD ĎTHE VAIN HOPE OF HORSEí (STILL SMALL RECORDINGS) is a mere collection of punk anthems gone acoustic and topped off by YSANNE SPEVACKís remarkable fiddle playing. Produced by SHADWRACK (HEATH himself) and MIKE FENNEL, ĎTHE VAINÖí is a musical journey through the harsh, hostile landscape of the human condition (namely on the tracks ĎAMERICAN JESUSí, ĎKEROSONE DREAMSí and ĎTHUNDERSTRUCKí). With guest appearances by NELS CLINE of WILCO, WAYNE CRAMER of MC5 and TOM MORELLO of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, Ď THE VAINÖí is the most intriguing brand of Drugstore Cowboy since COWBOY JUNKIES released the ĎTRINITY SESSIONSí. This is the one and only time where a stripped-down version of OZZY OSBOURNEís ĎCRAZY TRAINí is ever going to be taken seriously.
JASON HEATH OF THE GREEDY SOULS
TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THE ALBUM THE VAiN HOPE OF HORSE
WORKiNG WiTH TOM MORELLO AND NELS CLiNE
AND REMEMBERiNG DANNY FEDERiCi
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with JASON HEATH over the phone. Here is how it went.
THE VAIN HOPE OF HORSE is wonderful CD! Now that itís out there for everyone to hear, how do you feel about it?
I feel good about it. We worked hard and we did our best. I think we made our mothers proud. There is not too much I would change. The whole album itself is more of Ďgenesisí of sorts. It didnít start out being a record and JASON HEATH AND THE GREEDY SOULS werenít actually a group. Most of the guys and I were in another band called THE TELEGENIC which was more of a rock outfit and I had all of these songs that I thought about recording. So I went into the studio just to make an acoustic record. It was essentially going to be demos of me singing and playing guitar. After a while, I thought about putting another acoustic guitar on the recording so I got MATT who is also from THE TELEGENIC and I started thinking about putting in some drums and an accordion and it wound up being the same group of guys. The rule, as the project progressed, was that we werenít going to put anything electric on it. We tried keeping the album as acoustic as possible but then WAYNE KRAMER wanted to play guitar and it was difficult to get him to play an acoustic, but he did in some parts of the record anyway. So because of WAYNE that was the first electric instrument and then we thought about putting some organ on it and NELS CLINE played the electric lap steel. There are a few moments where electric instruments make an appearance but other than that, everything on the album is acoustic. Iím really happy with the record.
The title of the album is curious. Could you explain it?
It comes from the thirty-third Psalms where it says that ĎNo king is saved by the size of his army. No warrior is saved by his great strength. A Horse is a vain hope of deliverance. Despite all of its great strength, it cannot save in the endí. At that time, the horse and chariot was equivalent to the tank or the stealth bomber that we have today so it was kind of a commentary. As we were making the record there was a lot of talk about war and I saw the parallel between that and the vain hope of tanks and bombers and war machines or industrial military complexes if you will. I just like the way the title sounded and it seemed to fit the album.
How did music begin for you?
Iíve always been drawn to music. When I was very young, at about five or six, I was listening to the radio and buying records. I didnít understand the difference between genres or pay any mind to what was cool or not. I was into things like CHEAP TRICK, VAN HALEN, THE VILLAGE PEOPLE, THE BEE GEES, and PEACHES AND HERB. Iíd go into a record store and people would be like ĎWho is this kid coming in here?í Around the age of eleven, I first heard THELONIUS MONK and started buying his records. Iím sure everyone thought I was a little strange. I was always drawn to music form an early age. In the sixth grade I met the drummer that I still play with to this day named ABRAHAM ETZ. We both just loved music and neither one of us could play anything so we thought weíd start a band where I would play the guitar and he would play the drums. Weíve been at it ever since. You get better at it just through the sheer tenacity of wanting to stay with it. We had to write our own songs because we were so horrible that we couldnít play anything. Songwriting started very early for us. It was much easier to write my three chord songs then to try to figure someone elseís more intricate songs. Thank God for THE RAMONES, otherwise I never would have believed that we could do it.
So at the age of eleven you became the songwriter as opposed to simply being the listener?
Yes, it was right away. I was always drawn to the kind of music because of the storytelling. DYLAN was a huge influence. I would say that writing songs was something that I did before I could play. I was learning to write songs as I was learning to play because I couldnít play anyone elseís music and I just had this fire to play a song so badly. The punk thing made that all possible. You could be a songwriter immediately. You could get two chords together and get a bass player to match them and you have a song. That is the kind of songwriter that I am. This JASON HEATH AND THE GREEDY SOULS album is more in the genre of the folk and singer/songwriter. This is a new sound for me. It has just been within the past year and a half that Iíve been exploring that sound extensively.
Talk about THE GREEDY SOULS.
I started with ABRAHAM in the sixth grade. Besides being a musical cohort, he is also a brother and he knows me very well to put it mildly. He brings a genuine passion for music to the table. He and I have been doing it for so long with marginal success so you really got to love something and itís got to be deep in your soul in order to keep doing. All of the guys in the band have been doing this for a very long time and we all share that. I think that there is a reverence for music and there is a deep need for honesty and integrity. That is what we as people appreciate about music. That is what we aspire to. Musically the guys in this band are really some of the most natural musicians that Iíve ever seen. I donít think that anyone in JASON HEATH AND THE GREEDY SOULS is a virtuoso at their instrument, but there is definitely a lot of soul which is really important. I could have a song idea and present it to these guys and know that it is going to get done. This record is a testament to the fact that all of the players play with a lot of passion.
Explain if it can be explained, how songwriting works for you.
If I could figure that out, I would tell you. I have no idea. Itís rare for me to sit down and say ĎIím going to write a song about this.í Iíve probably done that a few times but rarely does that happen. For me there are reoccurring themes that I write about. The things that move me as a songwriter have to do with justice and the human condition whether its social economic justice or romantic justice. That is something that has always interested me, whether itís in life or in songwriting. From there Iíll get a couple of words for a chorus like in the song ANARCHIST GIRL. Once Iíve got the words, Iíll sit down and come up with a melody. Iím not super musically educated. A lot of times I donít even know what chords Iím using. When Iíve got a song down, I present it to the band and that is where the arrangements get finished and all of the guys put their two cents in. A song is never really finished until we record it and itís mixed. Iíve got songs in my head that have been there for about two years now.
In listening to the album it is strange for me to hear TOM MORELLO on such a stripped down project as this.
Itís not much of a stretch if youíve listened to THE NIGHT WATCHMAN. Have you heard that album?
He has an alter-ego called THE NIGHT WATCHMAN where he does some DYLAN-esque folk-political songs. If you ever get chance, grab it. Itís a great album. TOM and I have been friends for many years. ABE and I used to have this band called SPINEWIRE and we played much noisier, and angrier songs when we were younger. Our political leanings and our sound brought TOM onto our radar and us onto his. He wound up producing that one album for SPINEWIRE. Over the years we just became great friends. When he started doing this NIGHT WATCHMAN thing, I started doing this folky sound. Weíd go out to coffee houses and work on folk songs with different bands. We would al show up and takeover the open mic night. We did that for about a year and half. So it really wasnít a stretch for TOM MORELLO to be doing this kind of music. He is a fan of all kinds of music.
And I can only assume that you knew NELS CLINE from the coffeehouse circuit.
That was interesting. Years and years ago I used to work at this record label. This was about seventeen years ago. The label was called MESA BLUE MOON. It was out here in Burbank. It was a jazz label owned by RHINO RECORDS. I worked in the mailroom and they had acquired this catalog from this German jazz label. NELS CLINE had a record on this label called SILENCER and it was just amazing. I heard it and it blew my mind. I had never heard of him before that nor had I ever met him. The album sounds like what JIMI HENDRIX would be doing if he were still alive. The album blew mind so I would always bug the guys at the label about how great it was. They had picked the album up from this distribution deal and they wouldnít work it. He would come by the office and he and I had become friends just because I loved this record so much. Working in the mailroom I was able to distribute copies for him to sell at shows at a very low price if nothing. It was all under the table from the label. He would come by and I would give him CDs out the back door. He and I had stayed friends for years. I had always been a huge fan and had always wanted to work with him. Finally I was doing something mellow with some slide guitar and he had the time and he came in and did some amazing stuff on the album. It amazes me where he was able to take a song like TIME IS DEAD with just a lap-steel.
One song of note for me off of this album was the song THUNDERSTRUCK.
Yeah, that was one of those stream-of-consciousness songs. I kind of didnít know what I wanted to say with the song at first. In putting a song like THUNDERSTRUCK together it started to seem like I was talking about people who are victims of hates crimes and that was where I started molding it consciously towards things like MATTHEW SHEPARD and JAMES BIRD. It happened pretty fat. That song was actually written very quickly. I wrote it as I was making the record.
So it wasnít one of the initial demos.
It wasnít. I donít even recall which songs were form that initial demo.
Another track is the opener AMERICAN JESUS.
Yeah, that was the fun.
I can tell. It kicks off the album and you think the song is a hint of things to come but it isnít.
Not quite as much. It sets a tone and after that it doesnít ever really get back there. That was why I thought about putting it first. He song is pretty self-explanatory in terms of what its talking about. It doesnít have much to do with the current political climate.
But itís got more to do with the past eight years.
Yeah, with the former administration and how JESUS became synonymous with war and how all of these people claimed o know what Jesus stood for and how God is always on the side of American foreign policy. The song is about the notion of JESUS carrying an M-16.
Iím sure JIM CAVIEZEL does but not JESUS.
That was my commentary on that idea. There is a book that I found at the bookstore called AMERICAN JESUS which actually delves into the whole psychology and evolution of how JESUS s viewed in the country. Itís pretty fascinating. Of course, Iíve got to bring up the OZZY OSBOURNE cover.
That goes back to talking about learning how to play guitar. BLIZZARD IN OZ is one of my favorite albums and I remember thinking that if I could ever learn to play that riff from CRAZY TRAIN then I am a guitar player. I practiced and practiced it and learned it but Iím still not a guitar player to this day. It didnít work out that way. I was one of those strange kids who actually listened to lyrics. They were as important to me as the lyrics. I always thought the lyrics were very insightful but no one could ever tell you what he was saying because the music was so intense and riff was so great. So, I figured Iíd slow the song down and make it a little more of a country ballad and maybe, people will listen.
You worked with MIKE FENNEL in producing this album. What was it like working with him?
Heís great. Iíve been working with MIKE for years. Weíve done some scoring and songwriting in the past. Itís like the right hand and the left hand. He knows exactly where Iím going. Heís really helped me over the years. I wasnít as good as I am now which may or may not be good but itís better than where I started. Heís played a big part in that. He is practically a part of the band.
This coming weekend, you guys are going to be doing a benefit show in memory of DANNY FEDERICI of THE E STREET BAND.
We are. That is something that had just come together in the last month. It is something that we had been talking about doing and this girl that I had met through our publicist happened to be a fan of the band. She was perusing our MYSPACE page and found that we had some links to DANNY FUND Ė The Melanoma Research Fund that JASON (FEDERICI - the bandís organ player and son of DANNY FEDERICI) started for his father. She e-mailed me and said ĎIronically, I have melanoma! Wouldnít it be great if we did some sort of fundraiser of sorts.í So we decided to do it. April 17th will mark the one-year anniversary that DANNY FEDERICI lost his fight to Melanoma. We though it would be great if we get it to happen around that time. It was a lot of work but we sold THE TROUBADOUR out in seventy-two hours. This thing is taking on a life of itís own. Weíre going to try to do something similar on the east coast but weíre not sure exactly when or how. We definitely want to make this an annual thing now. If we had more time to prepare, we couldíve done this thing on a grander scale. Right now a lot of people have ideas to do another either here in L.A. or on the east coast. We are really excited about it. This was something that DANNY really wanted to get up an going but he didnít have the time to do it. Now his son JASON is bravely taking it on and the guys in the E STREET BAND have been great at helping him get all of this stuff rolling with the DANNY FUND. Weíre all very excited about it.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard ĎTHE VAIN HOPE OF HORSEí?
Well I hope that they get the name right.
It doesnít roll off of the tongue easily.
Itís like who and what?
Oh the band name isnít a problem. The CDís name is hard to remember. I came up with ĎHOPE THE HORSE VAIN SOMETHINGí.
As long as you get the bandís name right, then thatís not so bad. I hope people enjoy it. I hope they feel the honesty and the sincerity that weíve put into it.