I always hated it when a band would be labeled as the “defining sound” of a generation. For that matter, to call any band the “defining sound” of anything would just be absurd. But with that in mind I often wonder why every time I mention the name Andrew Jackson Jihad to one of my peers they not only know exactly who I’m referring to, but can also name their favorite song, lyric, and memory of a frenzied live set or botched house show with an emerging grin of recollection. You’d think folk songs about abortions, child molesting priests, and broken families would be far from the general consensus, but this duo has managed to prove otherwise, as mid-way through their set I turned around only to be faced by a crowd joyously singing their lyrics at the top of their lungs. This inexplicable combination of cheerful melancholy, an ode to the best and worst life has to offer, is what makes everything simply fall into place and feel like despite everything, you’re gonna be alright.
You guys have been spending a good amount of 2008 touring for People Who Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World and going full speed ahead for your new album Can’t Maintain–how’s the tour been so far?
Sean: It’s been really fun, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve gotten to spend the first three weeks of January on tour cause I did a solo tour with my friends Ben Barnett and David J for the first ten days, and we kind of collided with Ben (of AJJ) and Kepi and we’ve played a couple of shows together. My girlfriend always gets mad cause I have a lot of friends with the same name.
Ben: It’s really weird cause sometimes when Sean is specifying which Ben he’s talking about he says, “My Ben,” and I don’t know how I feel about that cause I don’t believe in possessions and private property.
Sean: Can I be “your Sean?”
Ben: If you want to be.
Sean: I always assumed I was…this band is over.
A lot of your earlier stuff was self-released, but for this tour and album it was put together by Asian Man. How is it working with them as opposed to working on your own?
Ben: It’s cool having different labels help us.
Sean: It works really well, and we still release things too. For this tour we made 300 copies of a tour EP; we get to plagiarize Luniz (a legendary Oakland hip-hop group) for their record cover since they were two guys and we’re two guys–we just put our faces over theirs.
Was it Asian Man’s idea to go with the variant covers for the LP and CD or was that something you came up with?
Sean: People are just willing to buy things if it looks different…I’m just kidding.
Ben: Cause then all of our stuff would look different.
Sean: We really liked the bee drawing that Ryan Piscatelli had drawn and it came in the bottom of the tray of the CD version, and it just seemed a lot classier. It would look good on the heavy cardstock we chose too.
Ben: Our friend called it the “hippie-crunchy-cardstock.”
On tour you play a pretty good balance between houses and clubs. What do you find yourselves enjoying more, the house shows or the venues?
Sean: It really all depends on the club and the house, and lately more people have been coming to our shows so it’s become a lot more responsible to play at clubs rather than houses for reasons of safety almost. We played some house shows in LA that have just gotten a little bit too crazy at points where I was worried about people inside. I don’t want anybody pouring beer on Ben’s face or jumping on us or crowd surfing into us.
Did somebody pour beer on your face?
Ben: Yeah, it was in Riverside. It was Party Marty’s house. But house shows…if kids run a good house and have a good PA setup and have something good setup like having donations at the door–some level of interaction with the people coming in, it makes for a really good show cause everyone feels they’re part of it. But we played plenty of house shows where it’s basically a party we’re playing at and sometimes that doesn’t really work out well. Like, “Sorry we don’t have a PA,” and then we play acoustic and we’re trying to play in some raging party.
Sean: And shouting till my voice is strained just to hear myself, and that’s not good for when you’re on tour. I’ve been thinking a lot about house shows being a viable alternative to clubs and the best way to do that, my theory at least, is when you throw a house show you’re basically inviting a bunch of kids to fuck up your house and there’s got to be a way to make that more sustainable. The way I suggested for houses that are having us is to have somebody at the door charging a cover, not turning anyone away of course, but at least having them consider that before they come, and taking an overhead charge for what it makes. So if the show makes $400, the house gets to keep $100 for repairs, maintenance, upkeep, rent maybe—
Ben: And keeps putting on shows.
Sean: That’s the way the Artist Area in Portland, Oregon runs and it’s the best place we’ve probably ever played. It’s a living space that has shows in the basement. They have a big basement and great sound systems so they have super high quality and they charge less of an overhead than any other club in Portland, and because of that they can put on good shows, pay the bands a lot, and take out enough overhead for their spot for having the show. They just pay rent from what they make for doing like 15 shows a month.
Ben: It’s hard, some of the best houses just get burned out cause it’s like, “Fuck, I’m sick of people coming to my house and destroying it and having nothing to show for it.”
Speaking of touring, you guys have a cameo in Laterborn #6 by Jason Martin.
(Both look through zine having never seen it before)
You remember any of that tour? How long ago was that?
Sean: It was like two years ago, it’s what happens every time a really good touring band comes to Pheonix, we have the talk about Arizona Mexican food versus California Mexican food and I take them out and show them what’s up.
Ben: San Francisco does it pretty good, but I think California would be second to Arizona in terms of quality Mexican food.
(Lengthy discussion incurs about which state has better Mexican food, and then we refocus)
It seems like folk music is continually gaining an audience in both mainstream and underground music, what’s your opinion on folk music as a motivating force today?
Sean: Folk music is awesome, it’s one of the only genres of music you can actually hear the words. I think that has a lot to do with it. All music says something, but with folk music it’s really easy to hear and distinguish what the words are and what people are saying. So on that basic level I think that’s how folk music can be really powerful. I think folk music kind of earning a place in punk rock is really cool cause folk music was around before punk rock and pretty much served the same purpose for youth culture. I’m afraid of it becoming a commodity, becoming an arbitrary title.
It’s funny you say that cause there’s a lot of other musicians that fall under that “folk-punk” genre even though they have their own style and distinctiveness. You ever get the impression you get lumped in under that banner?
Sean: Totally. I feel like every band is kind of being lumped into that and therefore it’s becoming a happening. Any folk punk band, if you ask if they’re “folk punk,” they probably won’t say that, they’ll probably just give a really complicated description of themselves. Genres are created by people to make things easier to explain and also to define what kind of people are going to listen to that music.
Ben: When we first started the band…we heard some comparisons to Re-Inventing Axel Rose, but we didn’t know any other bands. I wanted to play upright bass in a band cause I just got it and I assumed I’d play or jazz or something else but it seemed to work with Sean’s acoustic guitar. We started playing the way we play and been playing, but not to be a “folk punk” band, we didn’t even know that existed.
Do you think we’ll hear anymore conventionally sounding punk stuff like on the Partners split?
Sean: Yeah, we love playing electric. Another thing about the acoustic shit is it’s way easier to tour. And that leaves more room for merch!
I wanted to ask about that too. I noticed a lot of your catalog is available for download on your website for free. Do you think that’s beneficial for a band to put their music up for downloading?
Sean: Yeah, if you’re a smaller band. When I got my crystal diamond yacht it was because all these kids came to our shows and made us all this wicked scratch on tour. (laughs) We’re all pro-illegal downloading cause kids will listen to it and are more likely to come to shows. That’s how most bands make their money, through touring not record sales. Asian Man is giving us a pretty penny in record sales though, especially thanks to Hot Topic.
Your stuff is at Hot Topic?!
Ben: Yeah, they got us hard.
Sean: They have their own exclusive color vinyl!
Are you going to become Hot Topic media moguls?
Sean: I hope so.
Ben: They’ll have an exclusive manic hair color.
Andrew Jackson Jihad skullcaps?
Ben: Official spray-on beard!
Interview by Sean Logic
Photos by Samantha Sommatino