by Dave Schaefer
If musical success had a plan, it may well be Bullet Jones.
The Columbus rock quartet has experienced a lot of changes this past year. I had the opportunity to talk with the members of Bullet Jones and discuss, among many other things, their experiences of 2007. The discussion began by talking about likely the biggest change -- the addition of former Cringe drummer Mat Marcum and what that change meant for the band as a whole.
“We used to be all about the blues. It was our thing,” says guitarist and lead singer Ryan Cox. “We weren’t a blues band, but our roots were very much oriented in it.”
Mat speaks up unapologetically. “I didn’t despise Bullet Jones before I joined the band, but I really didn’t like the music. I was a really huge fan of the band as players and as people, but the music as a whole was not something that I enjoyed listening to on my own. If I went to a concert though, I had a great time.”
Ryan smiles. “Mat doesn’t like blues music.”
“I hate the blues, actually,” Mat laughs. “I’m a semi-privileged, middle-class white kid who has nothing to bitch about.”
“I think Marcum came along at a really good time,” guitarist Lee Neuzil adds. “We started changing how we were writing right around the time that Phil [former Bullet Jones drummer Phil Justice] was heading out of the band and when Mat came in I think it jelled well with where we were already going. And I think it just ended up kind of speeding it up.”
“I think the most impressive thing about this band in 2007,” interjects Mat, “was just that somehow they took the black sheep -- which is me -- and sort of compromised a lot and came up with a solid core theme of our music. I really enjoy it and I think we all do.”
Ryan speaks up. “You say ‘compromise,’ but it’s also been very organic.”
And organic is a word that comes up again when talking about their songwriting.
“Never do we try and write something for the sake of ‘We need to have this kind of song’ or ‘We need to be this kind of band.’” says Ryan. “Everything that we write comes completely out of us and we’re 100% thrilled with it. We don’t go sit down in the garage and think ‘What kind of song don’t we have and do we need?’ or ‘what kind of song is going to make us famous?’ We just write the music that we want to write.”
“We’ve really only been playing together for a year,” bass player John Allen adds, “so the more we write together the better we get.”
“The only experience I have a with a band other than this is playing with Cringe,” Mat says. “And we did the same thing in Cringe, only it took us years to get to the point where we’re writing now in Bullet Jones. In Cringe it was seven, eight years until we got to the point where we knew what structure we wanted and just kind of gel as a band. And now with Bullet Jones sometimes we can bust out a song in, like, an hour and a half, two hours. Two days ago we wrote that other song--”
“Yeah, it was a riff that Ryan had lying around for a while,” John says.
Mat nods. “Just a single riff and we just kinda went from there. One practice, we had a song done. And that, to me, is what’s most impressive about this whole last year.”
“Yeah, really knowing how to write together,” Ryan agrees.
When asked what their favorite moment of 2007 as a band was, the answer is obvious to all of them.
“We had this huge-ass comeback gig with This Day Forever at CBR’s on July 28th and it was a huge crowd and a lot of fun,” says Ryan.
“That was the turning point that made the band hungry again,” added Mat. “It was kind of weird being dormant for so many months. It was really nice for me to get back on stage with these guys and play that show. We were all kind of itching to get back to it after so long.”
Before that show, Bullet Jones had taken nearly five months off of playing shows to concentrate on songwriting and recording their demo CD -- a long time for a band that in Ryan’s words “used to be the band that would play anything.”
“Somebody would call us and say ‘Hey, you wanna play tomorrow? We got a cancellation.’ We’re like ‘fuck it, we’ll play,’” says Ryan.
“These guys would play four nights a week. It was crazy,” Matt interjects, smiling and shaking his head.
Lee smiles back. “We played Victor’s two nights in a row and just left our stuff there overnight.”
“But we’re kind of changing our philosophy,” says Ryan. “Playing less and making them more of an event than a show.”
Mat couldn’t agree more with the new philosophy, given what he learned while in Cringe.
“Cringe would take any show, just like these guys used to,” he says. “It was an every-night thing. We couldn’t write, we couldn’t practice well, because we were playing shows three or four times a week. There’s no time to do anything. Plus we had day jobs, family, personal lives, and school. It was just really crazy. So when Corbin [Corbin Thomas, currently of Philo] joined Cringe -- about two years before the split of the band -- I finally had someone on my side. We stopped all of that and went to the quality rather than quantity of show. And it really worked well for a while. We sold out the Al Rosa many times. We made a lot more money and we were able to record a lot better stuff because we had made more money. We were all just generally happier musicians.”
According to Mat, most local bands are shackled by a common misconception.
“Bands are still under the impression that the more you play, the more it pays -- and by pay I mean monetarily but also fan-base-wise -- and it’s just not true, because you can save up all those people that come out to your shows -- the twenty shows where you played to ten people -- to one show where there’s hundreds of people. And it makes everything seem better. When you get a lot more people in a room, everything sounds better, people are happy, they’re talking to each other, connecting, networking -- and it adds a whole other vibe. More so than an empty room when you hear crickets and pindrops between songs.
“And people need to play better to get people to want to come to their shows,” Mat continues. “Write music that isn’t just plastic, but write music that you know is good. Don’t just say, ‘We’re not mainstream, we’re gonna stick to our niche’ -- write whatever comes out of your guitar.”
Ryan continues Mat’s thought. “I think one of the things with the scene in Columbus is that it’s like a lost child -- the scene doesn’t know what to do with itself. We’ve got all this talent and all these great bands, but I don’t know if they don’t know how to get to the next level or they just don’t want to. I mean, obviously, we don’t know how to get to the next level, we’re trying to figure that out as we go, but we certainly want to and we’re going to try everything we can to continue to improve and get our name out there.”
And they all agree that coordination on a local level is an issue. Ryan continues: “I think if people just focused on being the best music city in the Midwest, Columbus could definitely do it. It just seems really fractured -- there’s a bunch of different scenes within the scene. When you’ve got twenty different clubs and every night bands are playing in those clubs, why the hell should I go to Bernie’s when I can go next door to Miani’s or something? There needs to be more cohesiveness.”
“That’s really really important as far as making a scene,” says Mat, “being together and playing events rather than just concerts. The thing that a lot of people are missing with taking it to the next level is out-of-the-box thinking.”
Part of that out-of-the-box thinking is re-imagining the role that advertising can play.
Mat: “If you get a lot of people at an event, advertisers are all over that. You got 600 people somewhere, they’re gonna want to have their name on something. So at that point, we’re able to bring in brand names, compile that with the money we get from the shows, and then reinvest reinvest reinvest and hopefully snowball it so we can better record our material. Or at least take it easy, maybe give us more time to write instead of working our day jobs.”
Another 2007 highlight for the band was recording their demo disc.
“We recorded it at Blue Moon,” says Ryan, “and J [J Hammond, producer of the EP] did a great job for what we paid him. We definitely hit right where we wanted to hit.”
“J is one crazy dude and he knows what he’s doing.” Mat adds. “We actually went in not even planning on releasing any of that and he made it sound better than we thought it would.”
I spoke to J, engineer and producer at Blue Moon Recording, about what it was like working with Bullet Jones and where he sees them going from here.
“I went and saw them at their practice space before they came into the studio” he says, “and I really liked the new material. I knew they were a good band before, but now it’s like the songs are really sticking more. And I was like, whoa.
“Plus they’re motivated. They really impress me, even besides the studio -- they got people to sponsor them and all this. I mean, (at their July show) they had some crazy stuff going on -- frickin’ banners and a frickin’ screen playing stuff -- it was like a little mini experience. I was really impressed. They’ve really turned into a band that’s going somewhere.
“I love recording bands like that,” J laughs, “because it’s like they advertise for me.”
And he believes the future’s bright for the band.
“These guys are definitely ripe for getting signed, because it’s really good mainstream rock. Labels aren’t taking chances anymore, they’re going after the sure thing, and Bullet Jones is looking more and more like a sure thing. I think they’ve got a great chance at it.
“And they’re not fucks -- they’re all pretty humble. Shit, even Ryan. You’d expect a guy like that to have a big ego, you know what I’m saying? And he’s just so normal-dude.”
The band has more recording in store for 2008, but first they have their major gig at BoMA on January 20th to think about.
“We haven’t really been able to throw our full weight at a show yet.” Ryan says. “The 20th is going to be our first actual show where we...”
“-- where it’s just us,” Mat finishes. (They all do that a lot, by the way -- finishing each other’s thoughts, like Match Game-playing quadruplets.) “We’re in charge of the event. We really own this one. And I think it will be a really good success. First of all, because it’s the first real concert at BoMA. They did a trial thing back in November and we told BoMA that night, ‘If you like our set, give us a chance and we’ll throw one together in January to give us enough time to promote it.’ So we’re really excited about this one -- I think it’s going to be a really great show. The club is so beautiful -- it’s a quality venue with hopefully what people perceive as quality music. We’re playing with Philo, This Fires Embrace, and another band called Sturbridge that’s also really good and they’re kinda more in our vein. Anybody can enjoy that night I think. We’re really pumped.”
BoMA -- the Bar of Modern Art -- is also pumped about getting a chance to show off how their venue can work for a rock concert. Bob Larrick, general manager at BoMA says they’ve had success with hip hop acts and other performers at the venue and hopes they can have the same success with the rock genre, starting with Bullet Jones. “Once bands play here and see the potential, there will be more demand for us to host these types of events.”
The band will also be premiering some new material at the BoMA show. I spent some time with Bullet Jones at one of their recent rehearsals and had the benefit of hearing some of the new songs. The crowd definitely won’t be disappointed.
Beyond the show next week, beyond this year’s recording sessions, and beyond 2008, what’s in store for Bullet Jones in the far future?
Ryan wraps it up. “Marcum and I talk about this. If we had some success, I would love to come back and start a label. There’s so many good bands in Columbus that just need a push, that need someone to look at them. I’d love to do that.”
If and when Bullet Jones hits it big, we’ll hold him to that.
w/ Philo, This Fires Embrace, Sturbridge, Cheddar Boyz
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The Bar of Modern Art (BoMA)
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Posted by dave491 at 10:50 PM