I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my favorite bands, Blinker The Star is still making music: though no longer in the majors, BTS is nonetheless discovering new admirers everyday
through their official Bandcamp site. It was there I caught up on the band's recent output, and was able to get in touch with Jordon Zardorozny for an interview. We finally got a chance to sit down and talk about the music business today, Courtney Love (how could we not?), the watershed release, August Everywhere (a personal fave), current projects, and the meaning of life.
Just kidding on that last one, but we did discuss things that went beyond the confines of strictly
music, and I'm glad we did. It often inspired lively debate between us, but most often, it was
strange how we shared the same perspective on so many things. Too many things to fit into one
interview, so I will share our conversation in several installments over the course of the next several months.
David: I gotta admit, Jordon - I wasn't sure I'd hear from ya - I guess Bandcamp really is the site where musicians can engage with their audience....
Jordon: Yeah, I'm glad we were able to connect.
David: Give us a little backstory (for those who aren't familiar) with how you came to music.
Jordon: I was obsessed with music at a very early age, I started by learning piano at the age of two with my mom, then switched to guitar at about six, when rock'n'roll burst upon the music scene. That was the sound I wanted to emulate in my own music. When I turned 19, I was ready to move from my hometown of Pembroke to Montreal - it seemed the best strategy for me to meet other musicians and eventually start a band, so in that sense, music was the impetus for why I left home.
David: If you don't mind me asking, how old were you when BTS's self-titled debut was released?
Jordon: I think I was twenty-one - if memory serves, that album came out in 1994.
David : Take us through the recording process.....
Jordon: The first album was recorded from my parents' basement: in my teens I experimented with various instruments and began to understand the process that went into an actual recording. By age seventeen, I had acquired a reel-to-reel 1/2" machine - now I had 8 tracks to mess around with. I realized then I had the tools to start making an indie record. The learning process came from just doing it, and learning a lot along the way about sound, which took some time. When I listen to those songs now, I can't help but hear how some of the recordings were a little amateurish as far as production goes. It took some work to refine those early sessions in my parents' basement - still, I wish the general tone wasn't so lacking.
David: Hey, that lo-fi approach was very much in vogue back then, and critically respected for its authenticity. A perfect example would be the early albums from Guided By Voices.
Jordon: Yes, I'd have to agree with you on that one.
David: And essentially, the "band" is just you playing all the instruments?
Jordon: Mostly. A few of my friends played on a couple of tracks, but ten of the twelve songs that wound up on it was just me playing. My manager and I went through about 80 songs that I had completed over a four year period, picked twelve, then proceeded to remix them properly.
David: A four year period? That would mean some of the tunes on the album were written while you were still a teenager?
Jordon: Right - in fact, one of the songs on Side Two features my mother's Vienna triple-decker organ, one of several instruments she'd occasionally bring home from the store where she worked. That weird sound the organ made always reminds me of Christmas, for some reason.
David: I've always wanted to ask - what was the inspiration for the opening track, "J Bird"?
Jordon: That tune was basically a tribute to all my pals that I left back home. When I moved from Pembroke of course, I did meet up with some very talented musicians, but on one of my visits to see my younger brother, I noticed the music scene (which was essentially non-existent when I left) had grown into this uninhibited, imaginative, circus-like atmosphere: folks were getting into listening to lots of cool music, making their own music in their friends' basements, partying, smoking hash - just having a wild and crazy time. Musically, I think of it as kind of a party song, a song that my friends would enjoy - I knew they'd dig the chord progression, the jerky stop and starts, etc.
David: It may be a party song, but I found something in that tune that felt just a little bit dark. Was there an undercurrent of that beneath the party song element?
Jordon: If you ask me to break it down into specifics for you now, I honestly can't recall much of that - what I do remember was being attracted to that flatted five [which is often referred to as "the Devil's interval" - writer's footnote] as a contrast to the opening major key. As for the lyrics, they were literally a rag-tag pastiche of being a teenager in a small Canadian town, and referenced local spots and sayings that were popular at that time.
David: The first album was put out by Treat & Release. How'd you go from that to your sophomore release on A&M Records?
Jordon: What many may not know is that I was already signed to A&M, even before Blinker The Star landed - Treat & Release was one of their, shall we say "faux indie" subsidiaries. Basically the sub-label was run by just three folks from an office somewhere in San Francisco. So A&M was responsible for the distribution and promotion of that record. It was decided that our follow-up album, A Bourgeois Kitten would be released as an A&M proper recording. It was also a first in that we were able to expand our approach to making records. Though we didn't actually use one of A&M's state-of-the-art facilities, what we did was rent out this big space that David Baerwald had been using at the Television Center, right there in Hollywood. I moved the gear into the space.....
David: How did that experience of recording compare with your earlier one?
Jordon: The person who bridged the gap that took us from the basement to the studio is Ken Andrews, the producer of that record. I had met him before - many of my friends were huge fans of Ken's band, Failure, and we'd bump into each other by way of traveling in the same circle. After he caught us performing back in Los Angeles, we really pushed for Ken to be the producer of our next album: we just dug they way he recorded and the sound of his songs. Turns out we both started out from the same humble DIY beginnings, but by the time I met him (he was about twenty-seven) he already had a wealth of recording experience and acumen under his belt, so we were excited by the prospect of working with him.
David: You mentioned that the space's former inhabitant was David Baerwald - is that the same Baerwald of "Welcome To The Boomtown" fame?
Jordon: Of David and David? Yeah, one in the same. One of the reasons I wanted Ken was because I loved that album they put out - I was a huge fan.
David: So was I. I own the Boomtown LP.
Jordon: By the time we moved in to record, they had removed all of the audio equipment. The only evidence of Baerwald's presence were piles and piles of documents he filed that were acquired through the Freedom Of Information Act. He was quite obsessed with it - those files were the last thing he took from that space, as I recall.
David: And what are your thoughts now about that album?
Jordon: Here's the deal - they (they label) put us on the road for six months. Whatever downtime there was found me constructing the demos, then being flown out to record the thing: I was literally writing some of the songs the night before the recording started. In terms of songwriting, I would say it's not quite as strong as the first album, it feels disjointed to me in places. There are a few good moments on it, but it's my least favorite Blinker The Star record. However, when it came time to record the third album, by that time my rapport with Ken had really begun to gel, and we were on the same page in terms of what we wanted to accomplish on it. I see Bourgeois as just another part of the learning curve, as it helped me to develop a more discerning ear.
Next time out: Highlights of the second album, working with Andrews and David Campbell, and the resulting masterpiece, August Everywhere.