Bombastic is just one word Johnny Whitney chooses to describe his band’s music. This singer and his guitarist Cody Votolato have arrived in the UK from Seattle and will be performing in this weekend’s multi-venue Stag & Dagger Festival and also in Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen.
I caught up with Johnny ahead of these gigs to ask him a few questions.
Q: Who’s who in the band and what do you play?
JW: I am the singer and I also do synth and drum machines. Cody Votolato is the guitar player and also plays synth/drum machine.
Q: What’s the story behind the band’s name?
JW: We named the band Jaguar Love mostly because of our love of the jungle, danger and big cats.
Q: What is your motivation behind Jaguar Love’s sound – and what do you hope the listeners will experience?
JW: With Hologram Jams we wanted to make dirty dancefloor pop songs with a slightly more punk flavor than what most electronic acts are doing right now. Our hope has always been that Hologram Jams would be the kind of record you could put on at a party at 4am when everyone is looking to leave and keep them dancing till 5am.
Q: Tell me about your fans, what are they like?
JW: Enthusiastic, fun, effervescent.
Q: Do you have any bizarre fan moments you can share?
JW: We have some fans from Detroit that had a full on Hologram Jams party, complete with Jaguar Love banners, party hats and cake to celebrate our record coming out. They sent us pictures.
Q: What’s planned for your UK performances?
JW: We are playing with a drummer now so the songs sound slightly different in the sense that there are drum machine and live drum parts going simultaneously. We are playing songs from both Take Me to the Sea and Hologram Jams.
Q: Are the UK audiences different to American audiences?
JW: UK audiences seem a bit more excited to see us than US. I imagine that’s because we don’t get to come there that often.
Q: How do you deal with nerves before a performance?
JW: I rarely get nerves before playing. The only time in recent memory I got nerves was when we opened for Nine Inch Nails in Sydney, Australia. My routine is to walk around wherever the club is listening to my iPod. I generally listen to stuff like Outkast or 2pac before we play.
Q: Any embarrassing moments on stage you wish to share with our readers?
JW: This isn't really embarrassing, just kind of funny. Once when we were on tour with The Faint this girl in the audience was heckling us really bad. Being that I was in the Blood Brothers, I am no stranger to people yelling terrible things about me while I'm trying to perform and usually just don't let it bother me, but for some reason this girl made me really irate. She was right in the front so during one of our songs I leaned over like I was going to say something to her and spit in her face. I really never do things like this so I felt pretty terrible about it. After we played I was selling merch in the back of the venue and she came up to me and spat in my face. I guess I deserved it!
Q: Who inspired you to become musicians?
JW: Kurt Cobain. Blake Schwartenbach. Jeremy Enigk. Jello Biafra. Elliott Smith.
Q: Were you taught or self-taught?
JW: I've had some vocal training but otherwise we are both mostly self taught.
Q: You have an album just out in the UK, Hologram Jams; can you tell me about it?
JW: It's the most enjoyable record I have ever been a part of making in any band I've ever been in. It's intentionally very over the top and bombastic. It's synth driven dance pop with post-punk roots. When we started writing the record I wrote in my journal that I wanted Hologram Jams to sound like "a psychedelic dance party that makes you want to cry".
Q: How do you write your songs… does it start from sound or an emotion?
JW: It generally starts with a single musical idea, not just an emotion. For instance the vocal hook from the song Up All Night popped into my head while I was trying to sleep one night at 3am months before we actually wrote the song. I recorded the idea into my phone and then many months later when we were writing the record I stumbled upon the phone recording and wrote a song around it.
Q: What’s your current favourite Jaguar Love song you have worked on?
JW: Polaroids And Red Wine. This song was one of the first songs we wrote for the record and it pretty much set the archetype for the rest of the songs.
Q: What criterion for you makes a good tune?
JW: I think the only criteria anyone should ever have for a song being good or not is if they like it or if it interacts with them somehow emotionally. Over intellectualization of anything creative is just hogwash to me.
Q: What do you think about the music industry at the moment?
JW: There is a lot of amazing music going on right now. It's easier to start and promote your music now than it ever has been on some level.
Q: What was your motivation behind Crystal City Clothing?
JW: I wanted to start a T-shirt line with the same surreal aesthetic as the Blood Brothers shirts I was designing. It was just kind of something that my wife and I started on a whim that took off.
Q: Can you tell me about any difficulties you have had in organising the business and how you overcame them?
JW: The biggest difficulty I have is time management. Running the clothing company and being a musician are both basically full time jobs. I overcome this mostly by not sleeping.
Q: Has this business achieved what you hoped - or how did it evolve for you?
JW: Crystal City has achieved more than I ever thought it would. It started as something we were just doing for fun and basically has become my only source of stable income over the past five years.
Q: How do you juggle your musical career with your other profession as a designer/retailer?
JW: Kind of touched on this earlier. One of the great things about designing is that you can do it anywhere, being in a band and on tour especially there is ungodly amounts of time spent driving in vans waiting to do this or that getting from one place or another, I spend a lot of time that most people would spend staring out the window in a van designing t-shirts or answering emails on my laptop.
Q: There must be a lot of pressure on you, how do you deal with stress?
JW: Taking walks, listening to music, talking to my wife, playing with my one-year-old daughter.
Q: Can you tell me some background information about yourself – what’s the town like that you grew up in?
JW: I grew up in Kirkland WA. When I was a kid it was a sleepy suburb of Seattle, right on Lake Washington, lots of places to walk and scheme and have fun. I started playing music when I was 12, my first band was with Hannah Blilie who now plays drums in the Gossip and Devin Welch who now plays guitar in the other Blood Brothers offshoot band Past Lives. I grew up five-miles from what I believe is the best all ages venue in America The Old Firehouse. Because of The Old Firehouse I was able to go to concerts from the age of 12 onwards and see bands that among others included Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, Botch, Bikini Kill, and Jawbreaker. I feel that where I grew up was one of the most ideal creative environments for a music-loving teenager to grow up.
Q: How old are you?
Q: Were your parents’ musicians?
JW: My dad played classical acoustic guitar.
Q: How would you describe Jaguar Love in three words?
JW: Bombastic, Bright, Iridescent.
Q: What’s on the Jaguar Love rider?
JW: Jaguar food - obviously.
Q: What’s the most excessive rock n roll thing you’ve done?
JW: Every night we have a trick where we light our laptop on fire and smash it to pieces on stage like Jimi Hendrix.
Q: Who has the worst habits in the band?
JW: I have a terrible habit of screaming lines from the movie Cocktail in my sleep.
Q: Who is the biggest flirt in the band?
JW: By default that would be Cody as he is the only single man in the band.
Q: What’s the best ever gig you’ve ever attended – apart from your own?
JW: Murder City Devils’ first show ever. I was more scared and excited than I ever had been simultaneously by a band's performance.
Q: Who’s the most famous person on your phone?
JW: Abe Lincoln.
Q: What was the first album you ever bought?
JW: With my own money? Probably Weird Al or Tone Loc when I was about eight.
Q: What’s on your iPod at the moment?
JW: Bon Iver, Elliott Smith, Neil Young, Yeasayer.
Q: Who’s your favourite author or artist?
JW: My favorite author is Ted Hughes. My favorite artist is Joseph Cornell.
Q: Have you got a secret crush?
JW: Yes but it’s on what I'm making for dinner.
Q: Where are you most happy?
JW: In Hawaii.
Q: What was your favourite subject at school?
Q: What did you learn at school outside the classroom?
JW: Social awkwardness/ineptness.
Q: What song do you like to sing in the shower?
JW: Actually, I've found myself singing Jaguar Love songs in the shower recently.
Q: What do you love about the UK?
JW: Walking around new cities exploring new places.
Q: What’s next for Jaguar Love?
JW: More shows more touring more music.