Release party for debut LP - (self-titled)- by The Juliets
DC Interview - Feb 10
--read the Real Detroit interview at the RD site, here.
“I just wanted to throw everything into a blender…” Jeremy shrugs.
“A three-minute blender,” Scott points.
“Pop music is a blender,” Jeremy admits, “It’s not knowing what you love more…”
“Pop music is a very quick, populist way to simplify a range of complex ideas,” said Scott, “in a way that people from diverse backgrounds can digest.”
And it goes back and forth like this for a bit.
It didn’t dawn on me when I sat Jeremy Freer and Scott Masson down together – that I’d probably be in for a series of philosophic reflections delivered with intensities both in appreciation and in near-scientific dissection – all centered on pop music.
One a clean shaven cueball, the other a curly-topped beardy, and between them, their bespectacled red-headed cellist, Kaylan Mitchell – the three, with violinist Sarah Myers and bassist Kip Donlan, form the baroque-and-roll leaning quintet, the Juliets.
The unique circumstance for this late-winter sit down over rounds of Heferweizen, is that Masson and Freer could likely interview each other well enough –as they’ve been essential writing-friends for fifteen years; constantly bouncing ideas off each other in a very healthy competition; like work-out buddies spotting each other as they write new hooks, balance out mixes and synch up harmonies.
The Juliets are a classically-leaning folk-ish music group, utilizing the elegance earthy moan of a cello as its foundation (Mitchell), under a meandering, mellifluous violin (Myers), pushed and punched by piano chimes and acoustic guitars from a wispy-voiced singer (Freer). Such was the state Masson found the band in – when he saw their 2nd show after his re-settling back into his home area of Detroit (after 8 years in Chicago) in March 09.
(Pictured above,) Masson’s main project, Office was in transition (as most members were still back in Chicago) and he wasn’t really looking for something new, yet. “I remember seeing them and thinking, ‘Oh, a lot of these songs have this kinda snappy feel, this whole Paolo Conty…kinda…showtunes-thing, I don’t know why, but (I thought) they needed a beat.”
The slowly developing idea of the Juliets was to embrace a more stripped down approach, piano/guitar—cello—violin – and thus utilize the classically trained pair of Mitchell and Myers, while also giving Freer the opportunity to finally embrace his long-held passion for classical compositions.
“I’ve always loved Chopin,” said Freer, “I’ve always played the piano and have always played classical stuff, and I’ve always threatened to go in that direction with everything I’ve done. I just never worked with musicians I could see it through with,” though, he adds, admitting he had come fairly close with the now defunct rock quartet Freer.”
“It takes a very S&M-type personality to want to tackle classical music,” Masson admits.
Freer grew up on a steady diet of blues and r&b: from Howlin’ Wolf to Motown. There was a little bit of Dylan in there, sure, but for the most part, blues lead the way into his teens. “So, getting into classical music was sort of a rebellion for me, it always seemed more natural for me to go in a more bluesy direction, or r&b; going into the classical side was my own discovery.”
Mitchell had been playing cello in eclectic folk septet Canada for nearly 3 years. Similar to Masson, the Wayne State-studied, classically-trained, orchestra-circuit-run artist/performer had recently seen her local band life side quieted by Canada’s dispersing – and wasn’t really looking for something – when, after a night at the Tap Room in Ypsi and a night-cap with friends at Freer’s (pictured above) apartment, she was shown these new, amorphous song-ideas and, though both Freer and Mitchell were tipsy, both agreed then and there that there was potential.
The results – as the rest of the story gets filled in – are a full length debut, self-titled, out this week as a free digital download – celebrated with a live performance, Friday at the Majestic Café along with the premier of a music video for the single, “This Just In,” directed by phenomenal local filmmaker Katie Barkel.
But anyhow, a year ago this week, Masson first saw them: “They needed a beat; they were a little hesitant about introducing drums because when you have classical instruments and acoustic guitar, you run the risk of overpowering the whole thing.” Thankfully, Masson had experience in pit ensembles and concert bands, he was confident he could play quietly. But, the dynamics of Myers and Mitchell on strings with Freer’s new flare of writing pushed him to join – “I remember thinking, these are my favorite songs that (Freer)’s ever written – I’ve known him for so long, I’ve seen every stage of his songwriting from punk—to avant-garde space-rock—to r&b-dance-music—to the gospel rock epic and, I always knew he was a classical composer, a pop composer, in the midst of all that so I heard these songs and thought, oh—finally, he’s doing the classical and pop stuff that I always thought was his best work – and now he has access to two great string players…”
Freer admits that even if he wanted to try the stripped down thing, he couldn’t stay from the rock-ready drums. “I love rhythm, I can’t live without it. I never wanted to be in a folk band, ever in my life.”
Masson came over – not knowing Myers or Mithcell – and now, he assures, considers both ladies to be amongst his best friends. Cliché as it may be, this is a band with the classical story of having everything flow and fall together very naturally. But when Masson conjures the classical marriage to pop, it stirs everyone’s heads and gets ‘em musing…
“All the best pop music,” Masson starts, “generally of the 20th century, has an element of classicism involved, whether it’s the production or the melodies; the treble clef and the bass clef are using some kind of counterpoint that’s working off each other, that’s very classical…like, Bach’s a very great bass player, Mozart’s a very good melody maker…often, Beatles or Beach Boys both had a very deeply rooted classical thing going on…”
We steer towards Freer’s finally-fully-embraced classical slide into his incorrigible pop penchant: “In a strange way…good songs are already done…and then you plan them out. I think that’s probably true of Mozart up to Muddy Waters. People have a conception of the blues…as this raw thing, coming from the gut, meanwhile, Mozart and the Beach Boys are very conceptual and thought out…I really think it’s the same.”
“You’re a vehicle for something that’s bigger than you,” Masson offers to Freer.
I turn to Mitchell and ask, what, aside from the sublime swirl of Tap Room drinks buzzing through her as a wine-sipped Freer strummed out the bare beginnings, inspired her to join…and it seemed to be her seeing it as a chance to make a statement.
“I hate, in bands,” said Mitchell, “when strings are underutilized. The thought like, ‘Oh, this band does strings, look at them, ohh, adorable.” Masson and Freer agreed in bemoaning the strings treated as commodity. “I wanted my next project to be something where the strings were integral in the songwriting, I wanted to treat the strings like guitars. With Jeremy’s songs and the chemistry we already had, that it was working that way from day one.”
But as was evident in the cathartic cuts, sporadic screams and hard shredded freak-outs of his past pop-bands, Freer always likes to have an aggressiveness stirring at the bottom. “I would push (Mitchell) to really kill it (on Cello) so she was really holding the rhythm down.”
Myers was contacted by Mitchell, both fellow Eastern Mich students, to join early on. Both use a pick-up set under their bridges able to plug into any amp to increase their sound.
Masson joined and synched up with Mitchell’s playing, letting her take the lead as essential bassist and rhythmic foundation. “With Donlan,” said Masson, referring to his fellow Milford-ite and Detroit band’er with tenure in Silverghost and Office, “coming in on bass, it’s freed up the mix so (Mitchell) can roll off the low end more and really be the cellist and we can all play a little louder.”
I ask about the recording and the Heferweizen takes over with a few bubbly quips revolving around pro-tools. “We just walk into guitar center and just soak it in,” Freer foments, “then we go back to the studio and …just…let…it…out.”
A collective laugh resonates, but then the Juliet’s resident engineer, Masson steps in: “I take pride in my portable studio (mbox/pro-tools/lap-top/mics); I fee like the most inspiration happens when musicians are comfortable, and that’s usually in their bedrooms, their living rooms, rehearsal spaces.” Freer dubbed it a “vagabond kind of recording style…(bringing) out emotion to the music that I might not have to force myself more to tap into being in a sterile environment…(like a studio). …just being in a more personal setting and not always knowing where you’re gonna be when you record it.”
Masson took influence from John Cage, in utilizing the noises of the world as musical pieces. “There’s musicality to the sound of neighbor’s slamming doors or a party in the other room. I feel like, in a studio, its sterile and cold, you’re closing your mind to a lot of musical possibilities.”
The passionate pop scholars reference Sun Studios and Motown; their inconspicuous and humble “store-front, mom-and-pop” like settings, being right in the middle of the neighborhood, where the wall separating recorders from the real world is quite thin – as opposed to shut-away, heavily sound-proofed, state of the art scrupulous set-ups where you may as well be on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
Anyway, back to the video – directed by Barkel. “She’s phenomenal,” Mitchell exclaims, referencing her work in short film and other music video productions for locals like Silent Years and Lightning Love. “Her style is similar to very classical filmmaking.” Freer would later offer that she, too, has a “bluesy” style…recalling the raw, sublime, enlightened flow of Jim Jarmusch or Wong Kar Wai. Masson would call her “soulful,” creating a “very Detroit” video for them, and pushing them to interpret their characters’ individual dives into their subconscious.
The video is “Depression-era/Fellini?” Freer posits. Or, “blue-collar meets traveling circus.” What is for certain, Barkels work, shot in HD, will likely be the first time a cellist has been filmed with a knife in her teeth.
From there, the pair once again dive into the intricacies of pop music. It’s manner of almost deceiving a listener down two diverting paths of vacuous, substance-less pap or into more cerebral, contemplative head-scratching sense-stretching realms.
As for the Juliets – it’s a jangly pop frosting over windswept strings bouncing fluently from austere, stately moods to buoyant sawed hooks – and a strong set of harmony-ready pipes from all players, backing up Freer’s distinctive theatric wisp.
“I think all of us, coming from previous bands and being around music for so long,” said Masson, “being a little more weathered, we kind of know what we want do better than what we’ve tried previously. I’ve never enjoyed myself more on a recording…”
Next, the band debuts the video ("This Just In") Friday, offering self-titled debut on their bandcamp Web site for a couple weeks – leading into two 7” singles on Five-Three-Dial-Tone records and, later on, a physical copy of the record on vinyl. More music videos are also on the way.
“Yes, we want to take our occasional road trips to NY or Chicago,” said Masson of future tours, “but, realistically, I think a lot of local bands try to focus on just making sure that Detroit and this community is entertained and has some beauty going on in it. I feel like that’s our big job; I think you can get ahead of yourself and think internationally. But, we have so much work to do here, in the city, and, as a local band, that’s our job. I think that’s a pretty noble position even if we never get out of this city, at least we’re gonna try to make this place as pretty as possible.”