"My introduction to J. Thoven was well before they even landed on the name. Bumper (their drummer) and I were playing in a band for a weekend and having just met, found ourselves on a couple hour car trip up to Big Bear, California. Naturally, part of getting to know each other on a road trip as musicians is playing music for each other: what you like, what you used to like, what you've played on. When Bumper played their demos for me, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I don't know if it was just the vibe I needed to hear at that time, or if I was baffled to hear such a fresh sound I liked, but I was immediately a fan. It feels rare to watch bands like this from the ground up, and to be sure, there are big things in store for these guys.
Ryan then sat down with Jake to talk a little about the new definitions of 'making it' and realizing that you might already know the people you should be collaborating with..."
-Patrick Dodd, Executive Producer
RB: So tell me about how you guys all ended up playing together. What brought you together to form the band that you guys are today?
JP: We’re all really close friends who grew up in Orange County playing music together, though it was all for different bands. A few years ago, I moved to Nashville to try and do a solo thing. After about a year and a half of being there, I had a collection of songs that I was really stoked about. I figured I’d record them myself and just get them out there. I went back to Orange County to spend a few weeks recording. I knew the songs needed to be full band, so I asked a few of the guys to track on the EP with me. Once we started getting mixes back, it was a pretty obvious that we should actually just be a band. We decided that if I moved back home, we would officially form the band. It was all decided just because of those five songs that I had written in Nashville. I moved home and we immediately got to work rehearsing and very quickly we got a booking agent and then a publicist and before we knew it we were on the road and making a go at it.
"I thought I was going to Nashville just to grow so much as a musician, but I found that the players in Nashville weren’t what I needed, it was being alone and locking myself in my room and learning how to write."
RB: When you look back on the last couple of years, how does your time by yourself living in Nashville play into the larger story?
JP: Nashville was definitely something that needed to happen in order for me to shake things up and put out new songs and start a new season in my writing. I think a lot of what was good about Nashville was the bad. I mean, even little things. Like, for instance, I was reading this book recently and the guy said, “everybody should move somewhere at some point in their life where the weather is terrible.” When it’s cold, it forces you to stay inside and be creative. When it’s hot in the summer, it forces you to stay inside and be creative. As insignificant as it sounds, even the weather in Nashville being so different than California, really helped me because I wrote every single day. I really just grew as a writer.
RB: Were you doing the normal Nashville thing, having writing appointments with people or was this just literally plugging along on your own?
JP: I had people ask if I wanted to co-write, but I always found it to be such a weird exchange. Sometimes, before someone would even get my name, they’d say, “Oh no way, you’re a musician? We should co-write!” I’d politely decline. I found it very strange to think that you could have a connection musically with someone before you even get a chance to connect on a personal level. I took that two years and found a really cool time to just be alone and write.
RB: Tell me about the kinds of songs you were writing before you moved to Nashville versus the songs that you actually wrote while you were there, that ended up being JThoven songs? Do you feel like those are fundamentally different kinds of songs or do you feel that it was just that you needed a fresh perspective?
JP: I think that we’re always writing something different. I often struggle with feeling like I don’t necessarily have a specific sound because for me, every single time I write a song, I feel like it’s a song that couldn’t have existed previously. I think the couple of years in Nashville was a time to gain some perspective on what I want to do musically. Not just me, but all the guys in the band, in their respective cites. I think it definitely did shape our writing but I feel like it wasn’t necessarily a move that has now forever changed the sound of our music.
"I often struggle with feeling like I don’t necessarily have a specific sound because for me, every single time I write a song I feel like it’s a song that couldn’t have existed previously."
RB: Yeah, so it’s more of a perspective thing than a fundamental shift. That’s interesting. I actually did the same thing, I moved to Nashville and lived there for three years and I was engineering in a recording studio there and had a similar experience, ended up coming back to Texas a couple years afterwards and then started doing film stuff. But yeah, It’s an interesting town for sure. There’s definitely a cool kid crowd that can feel pretty dominant at times, which can be very hard if you’re trying to “make it” in any sense.
JP: It’s an awful town to move to and expect to “make it.” And I think that there is so much of that, so many people that think, “If I move there then I’ll make it.” Within certain groups, it’s almost like there is weird corruption of the purity of making music that comes from being blinded with just trying to make it. Also, I found it hard to fit in with the scene there because my music just felt different. As much as people say the scene is evolving and becoming more indie I still felt a very prominent country theme.
RB: Agreed. I would never have guessed that you had lived in Nashville based on the songs that you guys play. Which I think that’s great because I definitely feel that the Nashville sound is excellent, but the guys who kind of help define that sound are still pretty active. So I don’t know if there’s a ton of room for guys to come up behind them that kind of sound like they do, without feeling really derivative.
RB: You guys are starting out in a post-record label world. What is your definition of success? What are you hoping to accomplish as a band?
JP: I think that we’ve all agreed that success for us is being able to do this as a career, to have families, and to only play music for a living. Beyond that, success is building a base of fans slowly so that every single person who catches onto our music feels like they discovered us themselves, regardless of whether that is live, radio, TV, or some other place.
RB: Do you feel like the hope of creating this very natural crowd, these fans, is something that you can judge as you go along? Can you tell that you guys have forward momentum? How do you know whether or not you’re successful according to your definition?
JP: I think that people showing up to your shows is the best way to really feel as though people enjoy your music. I feel like we're at a point that if we got thrown onto an awesome support tour and we were supporting a band we loved and really felt is in line with the type of music we are writing, we would never feel as though that is abusing the way we feel we hope to get fans. However people can hear our music, personally, and genuinely like it, then we’ve done our job. People can just sense when something is manufactured or when they’ve been told to like something. We don’t want any part of that.
"However people can hear our music, personally, and genuinely like it, then we’ve done our job."
RB: So what is the recording process for you guys like? It sounds like the songs existed before the band existed on the EP, so now that the order is switched, how is that process working itself out?
JP: At first we did experiment with a few different methods of writing for the new record, but ultimately landed on a process in which I will bring the most basic format of the song, chords and lyrics, and then it’s the collective experience of expanding on that initial structure that really pushes the song into interesting places. With five members in the band, we just found that we needed a starting place to really create from.
RB: When the song emerges on the other end of this process, can everybody point to something and feel like it’s their contribution to the song? Or do you feel like the individual contributions melt into a collective J.Thoven whole?
JP: We give everybody their space to be creative and have ownership of the song. The goal is for it to end up a J.Thoven song. Often times the ideas that people contribute when we’re stuck on a certain section end up being the most memorable parts of the song.
RB: Talk about the process of taking recorded songs and playing them in front of people. A lot of bands that I talk to, they kind of almost feel like there’s two versions of their band: there’s the studio band and the live band. And they don’t really cross over in a lot of ways. How’s that transition gone from recorded music to live music? Is that something you guys can easily move back and forth between those two worlds? Or do you like one better than the other?
JP: When we practice, we try to be perfect. There’s such substance to a band that plays and performs well live. On our first EP, we couldn’t afford a producer, but for this record, we’re shopping around for a producer who really fundamentally gets what we do live and who can capture that. I’m not trying to create two different sounds, live and recorded, but mesh them into one sound. A live experience will always be different than a recorded experience, but they should absolutely sound like it came from the same band.
RB: So meaning, the yard stick would be like, “we’re not going to record something that we can’t accomplish live?
JP: Yes, exactly. We believe a lot in the simplicity of guitar, bass, and keyboard. We love using those instruments. A lot of the times we play live we have three guitars going at the same time. When somebody might look at that and wonder why we do that. We don’t do any tracks, we don’t do any pads, we don’t do anything on the record we can’t replicate live. We spend most of our time rehearsing all together. I think if we had access to a studio all the time, it could be very easy to get stuck with layer after layer and start adding all this stuff that, before you know it, when you go to play live, you just can’t do that. You can’t have all those parts there.
"When we practice, we try to be perfect. There’s such substance to a band that plays and performs well live."
RB: That’s interesting. I feel like things are shifting a bit right now, where it used to be like, “ohmygod, Pro-Tools! I have it on my laptop I can record myself playing the guitar fifty times and I can make a song with 200 tracks!” I get the sense that bands are starting to say, “We’re not going to record a bunch of crap just because we can.” I feel like there is a reorientation in this “it’s easy to record music” phase that we’re in.
RB: So talk about being in Orange County. Is there a scene? Do you feel like you have peer bands that you are interacting with? How, if at all, do I hear that in the sound of your music?
JP: Orange County, for a long time hasn’t been taken seriously as an area that would have a scene. People just assume it’s a place with spoiled rich kids whose parents bought them the nicest equipment, but they don’t actually know how to play. But great bands have and are popping up in Orange County, and honestly it’s been happening faster than the music venues have been able to keep up with. So, unfortunately most good OC bands go play in LA in order to perform live. But, there is so much talent in Orange County that head up to LA. Local Natives are originally from Orange County and Young the Giant are originally from Orange County and No Doubt’s (laughter) from Orange County. We have so many friends from our area that are so talented its insane! I think that was a huge thing for me too, not to bag on… Sorry I’m peeing right now…we’re like in the middle of nowhere we had to pull off because there was nothing so we’re all peeing on the side of the road right now.
RB: Living the dream, man.
JP: Living the dream…peeing on the side of the road in Ellensburg, Washington. Holy crap, there’s a bald eagle!!! (band members are obviously yelling in the background)
When I went to Nashville, I just wasn't challenged musically there like I am here in California. There’s so many great musicians here in Orange Country that you really feel like you’ve got to keep on your game because everybody’s so good.
RB: Did you feel like you knew that beforehand or it wasn’t until you were in the middle of a music mecca that you look around and realize, “wait, I already knew some insanely talented people.”
JP: That’s totally what it was. I thought I was going to Nashville just to grow so much as a musician, but I found that the players in Nashville weren’t what I needed, it was being alone and locking myself in my room and learning how to write.
"We’re really happy to be a small part of the larger scene in Southern California."
RB: I know there’s like a lot of nuanced differences between the bands that come out of LA and San Diego and Orange County, but the rhythm sections seem to be doing very different and interesting things in Southern California right now. And the sound of the electric guitar is very clean, very distinctive sounding. When I’m listening to a random playlist, I can almost always pick out the bands from Southern California. I love it.
JP: Yeah, totally. We’re really happy to be a small part of the larger scene in Southern California.
RB: Say somebody comes to your show, doesn’t know who you are, but comes in contact with your music. What do you hope that people take away from bumping into your music?
JP: We want people to grab our music and feel like they want to hear our next five records that we’re going to put out. For instance, after I saw Fleetfoxes for the first time, I just knew that Robin Pecknold will forever put out great records. I just know he’s going to put out decades worth of great music. That’s what our goal is. Every time people hear our music we want people that come up and talk to us after the show and feel like they’re forever going to have us as a band.