Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You are in this band: JSB Squad ( 1 / 16 - Magic Stick)

(photos: Allison Young)

Forget that you haven’t been to practices, you can’t carry a tune and you look really awkward trying to figure out those frets on the guitar neck – you’re still in the JSB Squad. In fact, “everyone in existence”—save one grouchily antagonistic drunk woman—is in the band.

Jesse Shepherd-Bates has been playing music and writing songs since he was 13, being self-taught in both respects and having the development of one aid the other and vice-versa. Growing up in Commerce Township under “flower children” parents (“music’s always been a big part of their life, my dad’s the best bass player I know,”) Bates grew up “not even knowing new music existed,” enveloped by the wide range of pop’s golden age and mused by the trailblazing signature singer/songwriters of the 60’s repertoire.

And, “you can’t be kicked out” of the Squad. Bates, with high-school-day’s friend, guitarist George Morris, started the Satin Peaches in 2004. The local quartet’s fuzz-clambered brit-pop-facilitated-art-punk-revivalism soon caught the ear of Island records. By the time the band signed, Morris “and I went our separate ways,” said Bates. This is only after the Peaches went through 5 or so member shifts. This frustrating band jostling inspired the indestructible camaraderie and inclusiveness of the Squad. A year or so went by and Bates was contacted by another young auspicious singer/songwriter, Mick Bassett (wrapping up former band the Doll Faces to start his current gig, the Marthas) and asked Bates to join. Join, he did, and has played/recorded with Bassett throughout 07-08, while keeping ties to Morris (and fellow Peaches Jeremy Smith, Aaron Nelson & Ryan Weise).

“[Writing]’s just a compulsive thing,” said Bates, “I needed an outlet; to make sure I can play on my own.” Through 07-08, Bates started recording the weird pop songs he’d been writing since his Peaches departure – aided often by drummer Smith. In February, the Squad debuted live: Bates, Smith and Eric Roosen (current Marthas drummer). “It’s been expanding every show (since). The next version was like the warm up for the CD-release, [the original trio] plus [Morris], [Bassett], so we were up to five, and then the next show there were eight…” then 10. In October, at the Garden Bowl, there were 12, and most recently, they “scaled back down to 10,” at a show that initiated Hard Lessons’ guitarist Augie Vissochi onto the live roster and featured a drawn out encore that didn’t even directly involve Bates.

The live band includes/has-included: You, Bates, Smith, Roosen, Morris, Bassett, Gordon Smith, Weise, Ryan Hoger, Allison Young, Nelson, Alex Winston, Katie Long, Vissochi, Steve Kempany, Emily Laquinta, Joel Sanders and Renee Lombardi.

Live - it’s that Free Bird go-for-broke mentality to the fifth dimension, with pop-rock’s swing and punk-shredded potential overkill, that risks running off the skids and into oblivion but hangs together with a shining chemistry; an unspoken, nigh-spiritual-feeling, purely musical communication between the cadre of players on stage. And at the heart of this wild web symphony, the spurring of the whole project, is the heart and soul of a songwriter, Bates – who now utilizes his friendships, his relations to other people, to the world, as instruments – and plays them at every show. It should be emphasized that, as a live creature it is overwhelming (grand, and inspiring), but its core is still Bates’ songs – and any touring version would likely be (as it has been already at open mics and coffee shops) just Bates.

It could be the onset of a movement, an oncoming generational shift – like the Beats, or the Factory or the NY punk explosion…Bates, with comrades Morris and Bassett are intertwining their musical escapades ever more closely by the month. Most recently, Bassett and Bates established Sleek Speek Recordings (, a sort-of-label/vehicle to release recordings of the Squad, the Marthas and also, hopefully the Satin Peaches in the coming year.

“We sorta, just wanna take over…like a 3 headed monster,” said Bates. “The goal is to have it be a community. We all love each other and try to support each other; we all just really fell in love with the music that other people are making and we wanted to find a way to support each other.”

Last summer, Bates released Squad debut Blue Circles, Rubber Bands, a range of soulful sunny grooves, stripped piano balladry and cutting guitar-fuzz grinds. He describes his process less as writing and more as “building,” a construction site left open and malleable throughout its gestation to any influences, Beck, Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene. “You’re not writing the songs…” said Bates, stressing a more organic experience, a flow – “that’s how you can change.”

“Weird, in a great way…” I told Bates what I thought of the sound. “…like elements thrown together that don’t seem like they’d fit, but by the time your half-way through the song, it feels right…”

“That might be the best way to describe my whole musical mentality,” said Bates, his bespectacled, pensive eyes and enthusing grin framed by a jet-black mane of locks.

This year, Bates, and the JSB Squad look forward to “just doing more. Last year was getting it all set up…” Bates is currently revamping the FreEP, (“no amps, just guitars, banjos, mandolins, pianos, vocals, tambourine, bongo” and lots of mics) and looks forward to more shows, be they 10+ or solo.

“I think the Squad,” Bates said, describing the live performances, “is more about energy.” But, he pauses and quickly corrects with a nod, “the Squad’s not about anything…it’s eclectic.”

See you at practice.


Ben B said...

Saw this band at the magic stick last night. All I can say is, WOW.

J. Milo said...

yeah. it was pretty invigorating!