Milwaukee-based indie rock outfit Jaill has proven in the decade they’ve been together that bringing your band to the spotlight takes serious, hard work. But with the release of their newest album, Traps, last week, two years after they signed to Sub Pop, it only appears that a decade’s worth of rotating members and realizing they don’t know the music industry as well as they think they do has made them a much stronger, more cohesive band.
Drummer Austin Dutmer spoke to us right after having lunch with his two-year-old son, Orson, posting him up in front of reruns of Inspector Gadget so he could snag a few minutes of quiet time.
Paste: It’s been two years since you’ve signed to Sub Pop, and since then you’ve lost a band member. As one of the two members that’s been with Jaill throughout its entire existence, I was wondering what it’s been like to watch the band evolve over a decade.
Austin Dutmer: Everything has taken on sort of hazy memories of different eras of the band. The band has always been evolving, like you said. There’s been about a dozen different people for this band at least, and without getting into too much about past eras, or past band members, or what people used to contribute, I will say that one thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately happened after the release of That’s How We Burn. It really made Andy, Vinnie and I hone in on what I guess we’d been doing for the last six plus years, the three of us. It really forced us to look at each other, and contribute to each other differently than we ever had before. Even though it’d been the three of us, there’d always be one or two other people. it’s always been shifting or changing, so we never really locked in on what the three of us had been intending to accomplish. And without going to the extent of being a three-piece I don’t think we ever would have gotten to that point. Especially touring Europe as a three-piece, touring the country as a three-piece, having to fill out the sound just the three of us. And listening to each other, and bouncing all ideas off the three of us, it really has gelled us into a much stronger unit than we’ve ever been before. And since that, we’ve added two other guys on guitar and synthesizers, and I don’t think without having gone the route of being a three-piece it would have been as successful this time around.
Paste: You called Traps a “mangled masterpiece,” which I thought was really interesting. It seems a lot more poppy than your previous work, almost more garage pop than garage rock. Was this a conscious decision?
Dutmer: There’s never an effort or an idea with anything we do. Just doing what comes naturally to us. There wasn’t ever a “let’s sit down and achieve this.” With this record, and especially our memory that came out of it is pretty mangled because for a lot of it… Some of those songs we were half way through the recording process before Andy and I heard them, because Vinnie was still working on them. This record was more… don’t want to use the term slapped together, but it was more taking elements from a larger span of time. With That’s How We Burn, we pretty much had all of those songs ready to go, so we went into the studio and recorded 16 songs, and I think 12 made it onto the record. With this record it could be more of the opposite. With this one it was more like, we had four or five songs, and then we wrote another two. And then we worked on those seven songs for months, and then in the mean time we would slowly learn another one. It was taking different elements and in the end being left with a big pile of stuff we’d worked on, and forming that into a tracklisting.
Paste: You recorded this one in Vinnie’s basement—is that why? Because it’s been more of a process over time? Instead of just being in the studio for seven days straight?
Dutmer: Yeah, that was basically the whole point. And with the record before that That’s How We Burn, There’s No Sky (Oh My My), that’s how that one was done. Vinnie spent eight months over-dubbing stuff at his house after going to the studio. We were so proud of that one because we’d gone around with the stuff for months and months and months. Vinnie was adding and layering stuff to things and then he’d take stuff away. It felt like a very successful process for us. With That’s How We Burn, I was one of the biggest proponents of going into the studio and doing almost the opposite, of saying, “Hey, let’s not drag this out over a year’s time. Lets get in there and knock it out right away and see what happens that way.” But that was the first time we’d ever really done that. And I don’t want to say it was uncomfortable for us to do that, but it took a different turn. I guess the pride comes from manifesting the man-hours in it, the finished product in the end. And with That’s How We Burn, we were, and probably still are, left with the feeling of incompletion. You feel like you can always do more, and it felt like we were prematurely stopping the creative process. And then having that stopping point right there changed the vibe in the end of how it all came out, instead of really letting time dictate what the finished product is. I think everybody’s more comfortable working that way, and we’re all busy people in addition to the band. Just better all-around to do it this way and have us lay down the basis of the record and slowly work on it.
Paste: Has the time you’ve spent at Sup Pop changed the way you write, or work on an album at all? Have they been a direct influence on your work?
Dutmer: No, they’re very encouraging of every band’s creative process. They don’t really care what you do until you turn in what you think you’ve done. They never gave us any sort of restrictions or timelines or anything like that. It was more like: do whatever you want to do, and we’ll help you do whatever you want to do, and in the end we’ll see what your left with. If anything has changed since we signed with Sub Pop, it’s that we were used to for so many years doing everything ourselves. The thing that has changed mostly has been this after product, which is putting together all of the packaging, the promotional, and following up with emails, case and point interviews, all that stuff. Now we have someone else doing that for us. That definitely changes the feeling of everything we do.
Paste: I’m really curious about your music videos. They’re always so memorable and have a really kitschy, homemade feel to them. Where do they come from?
Dutmer: We have a new video for “Perfect Ten,” and that was the only one we haven’t done ourselves. That one we left in the capable hands of Brady Hall, a Seattle filmmaker. We just said, “What do you hear? What do you want to do?” And what he came back with was kind of perfect us. It turned out hilarious and awesome in all the best ways. And all of the other videos, we attacked just like we attacked the music. We have to get it done somehow. It would be like, using our own cameras, or getting a friend to do it. The video for “The Stroller” was done by Rock ‘n’ Roller Remote Controller, a local filmmaking troupe that do music videos for touring bands, music videos for Milwaukee bands, and they try once or twice or year they try and put out a piece for TV that has a main character with a narrative and he goes through all the videos they’ve made that year. It’s just a really awesome artistic project, and we were really happy to work with them. They put together that whole “Stroller” video, the green screening, the sets, the everything.
Paste: All of your videos have such great costumes, too.
Dutmer: They’re all very intricate. They seem kind of shawdy and homemade when you’re watching them, but they’re made so well to look that way. But for “House With Haunting” we did that in two days at a friend’s house. That was just us and all of our friends just trying to get it done the most efficient way we could do it.
Paste: It’s funny because both “House With Haunting” and “Perfect Ten” have so much messiness in their videos, and in Sub Pop’s writing about you it references a lot of messiness always. Is that just something overriding in your lives?
Dutmer: [Laughs] I’m sure it is. I’m sure it’s something that just comes out however it comes out. I think you’re right. That probably can’t be a coincidence. And I think that everybody in the band would consider themselves just a pretty messy person overall. Some of us are held in check by our significant others, but others don’t have that luxury. It’s shocking to be in our new guitarist’s bedroom, in fact. His bathroom on the top floor of Vinnie’s house still usually has about three inches of water in the tub hours after he’s taken a shower. Clean would not be a word I would ever use to describe this band, in any aspect.
Paste: You’re also always, always described as a Milwaukee band. Is your sense of place really connected to your writing?
Dutmer: That very well could be. I don’t think we necessarily reflect the music scene at large here in Milwaukee. I’ll always say there’s always been a really good, ton of groups doing pop rock, and there’s a huge garage scene. We always considered ourselves accidentally apart from those things. We’ve never really been a part of any scene. But yeah, there’s a slowly developing quirky-pop Milwaukee sound. Even if you go back to Milwaukee bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s, there’s always been a really sarcastic rock feel. One of the biggest bands from Milwaukee is the Violent Femmes, and you don’t really get much more sarcastic and poppy than that. And I don’t think we follow in that line. There’s not much – if anything – that’s similar about the two bands, other than if you ever meet someone from Milwaukee you’ll know that we’re very outgoing and down to have fun with you, but we’ll show you a very sarcastic time. [Laughs] There’s a lot of chips on a lot of shoulders here sometimes.
Paste: You guys seem to always talk about having a longer learning curve as a band. What exactly does that mean? Is it the progression or your music, or that you’ve gone through so many members?
Dutmer: It references all of that. For so long we were just content to be doing what we did, without regard to what we should be doing, or what other people might think we should be doing. People would come here or there and approach us and say, “I really like what you do. You should let somebody manage your band.” We never took that to heart. We just kept playing in and around Milwaukee with little tours to New York – a tour here, a tour there. We also came up in a very transitional era for music that I think will be looked back on as … We started out in the early 2000s when there really wasn’t anything on the internet other than email and Napster, and those two things don’t really help a band necessarily. Touring, band promotion, everything was slowly starting to change, becoming very Internet friendly. And then a couple years into that it became MySpace, and that became huge for bands. All the sudden it became so simple for us to do something like book a tour. It would take like a week just by yourself, just sending random emails. And it seemed like everybody out there was very excited about this new process of promoting music. And now with the remarkable implosion of MySpace it’s a more vague environment, although one which so many more bands can thrive than they could before. I feel like the world is awash with bands and we’re just one of a million of those bands. But we never were ahead of the curve on any of that. We’re always behind. [Laughs] It was like, “Oh, we should get a MySpace page, because that seems to work for bands.” And it did! And now it’s like, “Oh, maybe we should get a booking agent.” And it sure does! Although we were always one of those bands that were do-it-yourself, top-to-bottom, and we never really relied on anyone else for any kind of support – for selling records, for learning the music, et cetera. We just weren’t as savvy as we always thought we were.