In each edition of Jukebox Jury, we sit down with a popular eMusic artist, play them a series of songs and record their reactions. In this edition, the role of the jury is played by dance duo Glass Candy.
When Portland, Oregon's Glass Candy first recorded ten years ago, they were a rough, doomy glam-punk band. Their style has mutated constantly since then, with multiple, radically different versions of the same songs often appearing over the course of a long string of singles and tour-only CD-Rs (not to mention innumerable lineup changes: singer Ida No and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel are the only constant members). "One difference between us and other bands," Jewel says, "is that for us, a recording is just the initial version of the song, and then it develops a lot."
Still, their new recordings (on a label called Italians Do It Better, launched by Troubleman Unlimited owner Mike Simonetti to spotlight Jewel's productions) are a breakthrough. On the After Dark compilation and their own album Beat Box, they've moved toward a spacey, late-night breed of disco — sometimes stripped down to little more than No's distracted quaver and Jewel's glittering synthesizers, sometimes rattling along on off-kilter drum machines and samples. Jewel and No listened to a handful of songs from the eMusic catalogue, and discussed how their favorite music has affected their own work.
Ida No: I was introduced to Nina Simone's music by the Get Hustle, because they lived here for a few months one summer. But what they played was all really mellow stuff — I haven't heard anything like this.
Johnny Jewel: It was just piano and maybe a little bit of drums, really really slow stuff. This sounds good, though — it sounds very Latin.
eMusic: This song was recorded in 1982, and the arrangement is very nearly dance music. The stuff on Italians Do It Better is a big shift for you too — how did that get started?
JJ: Originally, it was supposed to be a secret label to release illegal recordings, and the name was kind of tongue-in-cheek — Mike's Italian. He was talking about doing a series of edits called "Beards 'n 'Breaks," because the growing DJ trend is beards and long hair, like Tommie Sunshine-style, and yacht-rock edits are really trendy in New York. There was a Chromatics song that was just an arpeggio and a vocoder, and Mike was really into it. He asked me if I wanted an outlet for electronic music; I told him I didn't want to force it on Glass Candy, and I didn't want to have a side project, per se. But I started realizing that dance music is always based around a crew or a camp, and that if I combined Chromatics, Glass Candy, the stuff I was doing with Farah and some remixes, we would have a real core, and I could do all the art, which would have a visual cohesiveness too.
JJ: Oh, man, this is "Love Letter"! I love this song! This is the remastered version. The original 12-inch version is really lopsided, the syncopation's all weird, but the vocals are better on the 12-inch. I'm actually doing a cover of this song. It's one of my favorite songs. I've been doing a freestyle project that's all covers, just 12-inches, one song on each side, classic freestyle songs. We're going to do this one and "Only You" by the Cover Girls.
The freestyle scene is really, really amazing. I grew up in Texas, so the Latin and Tejano culture is really prominent in the dance scene. They play this stuff next to Depeche Mode and Front 242. I never knew the difference — to me, it was all just electronic music. Freestyle doesn't get respect because the drums are so brutal, and a lot of DJs won't spin it because it's so hectic. But they're all romantic love songs — most freestyle songs have five chords — and I love it. I can't get enough of it. I've been getting into this guy called Johnny O, not to be confused with Bobby "O." I love the stuff that Full Force did with different female vocalists. I got turned on to the original version of "Two of Hearts." It's one of my favorite songs, but I haven't listened to it at the right speed in a long time. I listen to it slowed down — it's way heavier.
JJ: Is this the record with the orange cover? I always get Betty Davis's record covers and Amii Stewart's record covers confused. They kind of have a similar aesthetic.
IN: Didn't she get kicked off of "Solid Gold" or something like that?
eMusic: Her records were out of print for a long time before they were reissued last year, and your tour CDRs come and go very quickly — what's the story behind that?
JJ: We wanted something to sell when we played live, so we started making these limited things because we change so much from tour to tour. They were going up on eBay for ridiculous amounts of money, so we sent them all to a guy who had a fan site and told him to put them up as MP3s. It's one of those things that kind of developed out of necessity.
JJ: Charles Hayward! I'm a huge This Heat fan. I read an interview with one of them: they worked really hard for five years, then got tired of not having a life, and kind of backed off. I always think about that quote, as someone who's burning the candle at ten different ends — I've been up since last night… I think I like their earlier stuff, the stuff with less songwriting, you know? "Horizontal Hold" is probably my favorite song of theirs. I even made a loop of "Testcard," because I like the way it sounds, like shortwave radio. I was really disappointed when I first discovered Morton Feldman, because I worshipped This Heat, and Morton Feldman's installation for the Rothko Chapel in Houston had the exact same melody as "Not Waving." This Heat totally lifted it. Which is unfortunate, because it's such a nice piece. All the high-pitched organs, the low brassy tone — all the stuff that Feldman did, theirs is like a monkey version of it. But the drumming is so good.
JJ: That's awesome! Bessie Smith's on eMusic! That's cool.
IN: I got kind of obsessed with her around 1997, around the time the band started. We started playing together about '96, Glass Candy started in '98.
JJ: The first thing we tried was a synthesizer-and-vocals kind of Nico and John Cale thing. That was at a time I was just learning how to play music — I could barely play anything, she could barely sing. Not that we can do either now, but it was definitely a lot more challenging. Then, after that, she was really into the first three or four Rolling Stones records, which I'd never listened to. So I started learning how to play guitar like that, and we started doing sort of a garage band.
IN: I played harmonica.
JJ: We were really super into the "Back from the Grave" comps, but we sounded like a really retarded Link Wray or something, mainly because I didn't know how to play any chords. But Bessie Smith, I wanted to say, she's proof that production doesn't mean shit. It's soul.
eMusic: When did you start listening to records for their production sound?
JJ: Ever since I was a kid, I always thought flat drums sounded better. I'm totally serious. When I was worshipping Pavement, I used to put T-shirts and stuff over the drums and record them that way on a 4-track. There are songs I really liked when I was younger that if I listen to them now, I realize that I was mostly drawn to the production, or the sound of it, more than the actual song. But I started understanding how to make it into a reality in the mid-'90s. It's a slow process. I'm totally self-taught, so I can't even have a conversation with a studio engineer if I tried.
IN: I love that song. "Cheree, Cheree" — I think that's the most romantic song that there is. That's, like, the song that the angels fly around to while Romeo and Juliet are making love.
JJ: Yeah, definitely. They're so good.
IN: Alan Vega can rip your heart out and throw it against the wall.
JJ: It has nothing to do with his lyrics, even though I love his lyrics, it's just the soul.
IN: The control of the energy coursing through him — it's really amazing.
JJ: I love how much he explores the space between the words and the silence and everything, I have a Martin Rev solo record, and it's okay, but together they're incredible. I finished a cover of "Harlem" for Farah that's coming out on a 12-inch. Suicide's just amazing on so many levels.