2016: The Year In Music

The Jazz June Talks Comeback Album 'After the Earthquake' and the Emo Revival

Mike O’Shea
Jazz June

Jazz June frontman Andrew Low is the first to use the phrase “emo revival” in speaking with Billboard, so he’s clearly been paying attention to his band’s career arc -- whether he admits it or not. Truthfully though, Low comes off as accomplished and well-adjusted as his band’s excellent new album. After the Earthquake (out Nov. 10 on Topshelf Records) is their first album since 2002 but it doesn’t sound like a nostalgic victory lap; if the Jazz June were a bunch of 20-somethings putting it out as their debut, they’d be getting called a “buzz band.” This is tuneful, winsome indie rock written by adults who still deal with personal strife, and have come up with many more ways of conveying it musically since their lengthy hiatus.

The one-time Kutztown-based band called it quits shortly after all its members graduated from the university, calling their last full-scale U.S. tour a “financial disaster.” For over a decade, the Jazz June remained largely inactive, though its members finally regained the itch to record again when a new breed of emo-ish bands just happened to be finding their records as inspiration. Scene leaders Top Shelf Records came calling and Into It. Over It. frontman Evan Weiss volunteered to handle production. Billboard chatted with Low about the resulting album, one of alt-rock’s most pleasant surprises this year.

Take me through the process of breaking up and reforming the band. 

We stopped touring and we did not a reunion show, but a benefit show for an old roadie, Adam, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And since we were playing it was like, “Oh, we should write some new stuff.” And that was like right when I moved to London, so that made it sort of drag on, but we kept talking about doing stuff on the internet. I’d been using Pro Tools and computer recording equipment for a long time, but the rest of the guys in the band were really late to it. So it wasn't until (drummer) Justin (Max) and (bassist) Dan (O’ Neill) finally caught on to using GarageBand, the free software that you get with Mac, that they were like, “Okay, we can actually do this, this is not as hard as I thought it was gonna be.” And (guitarist) Bryan (Gassler) had moved to North Carolina and he was really like itching to play again ‘cause he didn't know anyone down there, so he didn't have anyone to play with. So he was like, “It’s time to get this Jazz June stuff written and start doing it online.” So at first it was a bit weird -- basically I would record a song acoustic to a click track and then I'd send it to Bryan. He'd record his guitar, then Dan does bass and keys, and Justin does drums. I guess it was like early on, I got some of the recordings back and it sounded so good. I had played a lot of different kinds of music with different people over the years, but it was something about playing with those guys that really put a new dimension to some of the songs that I was writing and that Bryan was writing. So it was like all right -- let's do this -- let’s actually go in and record an album since we've had all these sort of internet demos. Two years ago we did a demo at a studio in Philadelphia and then played it to the Top Shelf guys and they really liked it. So they then sent us into the studio last April in New Jersey, and we did tracks there. It's weird to have the songs not played live until we went into the studio. But the producer, Evan, he really helped us figure out the arrangements and structures. He was kind of like a fifth member, really helping us figure it all out before we laid down the tracks.

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How did you come to work with Evan Weiss from Into It. Over It.?

Bryan was doing some work up in New York City, and we became friends with Tom (Mullen) -- who has the Washed Up Emo blog -- via Twitter. He's a really cool guy, and then Bryan said, “Oh, I'm going up to New York,” and there was a Their / They're / There show, which is one of Evan's other bands. And Tom said, “Oh I'm going to this show, why don't you come along?” So we went with them and Evan after the show Tom introduced Evan to Bryan, and Bryan was talking to him about the Jazz June and recording. Evan had started producing and he'd done a few records that we really like, like the You Blew It! record, and he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to work with you guys on the new album.” And the guys from Top Shelf know him pretty well and liked his work and liked working with him… And he's also reissued The Medicine on vinyl with the Top Shelf guys, so he knew the Jazz June from a long time ago and liked the stuff… I didn't meet him until the day we walked into the studio.

Yeah, I follow Tom's Washed Up Emo playlist on Spotify and it's gotten to be really big!

I know! It's funny. He just posted something today that Buzzfeed did -- this “23 Songs That Every Former Emo Kid Will Never Forget.” Tom posted about how these guys are way off. They put things like Linkin Park and all sorts of weird things and when Tom put it up there were like, 70 comments. He's great man, such a nice guy. He also DJs at all these reunion shows -- like for the American Football reunion he was the DJ there. He really knows... he really loves the music. He's really helped -- he gave us a podcast.

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As far as the writing process, do you ever worry that it's not as organic as it could be, doing it in person?

To be honest, I prefer it. I've never been a fan of endless jamming, which is what happens a lot of time. You'll write a really cool hook or a simple song and you'll get into the rehearsal space and everyone's like, “Oh, maybe you should do this”… And sometimes that original idea was the magic part about it, and sometimes it gets diluted… I would write the vocals and the guitar part together, and I would structure it so like everything flowed together so that the bridge went with the chorus. And because we didn't have the time to sit there and jam, they just kind of had to play to that structure, so a lot of the songs I was writing were very vocal-driven… it gave them more of a simplicity than some of the stuff on The Medicine where we were extending parts with these long jams.

I chuckled at this line in “Edge of Space”: “Sponsors keep calling, gotta push the brand real hard" -- What are you singing about there?

That song is about this guy Felix Baumgartner; he basically jumped from about 25 miles in space and he broke the world record for a free-fall jump. They put him in this space capsule and he went up 25 miles and jumped out. And he had this special equipment, this whole huge crew, this special team, and it was this amazing feat of human accomplishment. But the whole thing was sponsored by Red Bull so that’s kind of where that came from. I was imagining him going through this thing that’s one of the most incredible accomplishments that humankind has ever been accomplished, but I'm sure there were some marketing guys at Red Bull going like, “Make sure his helmet is facing the right way and you can see the Red Bull logo when he's jumping! And probably being like, “25 miles? Why don’t you go to 30? That'll give us a lot more social media coverage.”

Living in London, do you notice any interest in this sort of emo music right now?

There's a band called Nai Harvest. I know they're from Brighton, and I was talking to Evan and he said Into It. Over It. does really well when it comes over here. I haven’t noticed; there's a couple bands that sound like some early Dischord stuff, but nothing like '90s emo… I go out a lot and try to keep up with stuff, so I feel like I would know if something is going on.