Catching Up with Andy Jackson
When you’re thinking about the great frontmen of the emo-boom era, you’d be hard pressed to find a more underrated candidate than Andy Jackson. Jackson never struck the big time like so many of his peers, but he influenced more than his fair share of wide eyed mid-aughts Warped attendees with his seminal band Hot Rod Circuit. After the demise of HRC and a couple false starts in other projects, Jackson is back with Sloss Minor, a group that includes members of Northstar and the Escape Frame, as well as his wife, Rachael. Great Big Choruses had the opportunity to catch up with Jackson over the phone from his Alabama home for his first interview as a member of Sloss Minor. This piece also sees Andy taking a candid look back at his illustrious career, touching not only on the breakup of Hot Rod Circuit and the future of Sloss Minor, but also his brief time playing in Say Anything, what it’s like to make a record on a major label, and that one time he almost joined Taking Back Sunday. Thanks Andy!
GBC: So I gotta ask what a Sloss Minor is.
AJ: Well, there’s a place called Sloss Furnace here in Brimingham, Alabama that’s kind of a well known place here. It’s actually one of the most haunted places in the world, you see it on Ghost Hunters and stuff like that. Being that we are all from here, we were looking for something that we could kind of tie in to being from the south. We were just trying to come up with names that had to do with our culture and how we grew up, stuff like that. Everything we came up with seemed too direct or cheesy, and we liked everything to do with Sloss Furnace, but didn’t want to use Sloss Furnace because we didn’t want to sound like some metal band. Due to the fact that everything we’re writing in our music, 90% of it is in a minor key. It just kind of came about. It’s a play on words and an homage.
I see there are a few different angles there. So Death in the Park is dead. That’s done.
Yeah, it’s done. Basically, I started working on this record. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you and do this interview was because I haven’t really given any explanation. People have asked, and basically I started Death in the Park while Hot Rod was still a band. We officially broke up in ‘07. I think we were in Australia when we announced it. I was already working on the Death in the Park record, and it was a solo record. I had planned to come out of Hot Rod and start doing that. I put together a band with some friends who I met either touring with them or they were working for other bands. Two of the guys at the time worked for Paramore, the drummer and the guitar player, and it was just a mess. I mean, we’re still friends, but every time we tried to do something they went on tour, and when they came home from tour I was busy recording a band or something. It just never came to be. There was a time when we did a tour and then booked another tour and our guitar player just sent another guitar player to our studio and was like “Hey this guy’s filling in for me on the tour.” I didn’t even know the guy. Obviously, we became friends and he did the tour, but I’ve been through 7 guitar players, 10 drummers, 4 bass players and I have just gotten to the point where I am done relearning all these songs and dragging this thing out. I started to write with all these new guys. Jake has been in the band for awhile, I played with him in terrible Things. Gabe was in a band called Northstar who Hot Rod toured with, and we’ve been friends for a long time. He came about because the last drummer in Death in the Park just bailed one night on a show. He just didn’t show up. I called Gabe and said “Hey man, we’re gonna cancel the show if you can’t come play” and he was like “Man I’ve been listening to your record all the time I’m gonna come play.” He literally just showed up and played and we clicked. I mean, it was a train wreck but we realized this is the guy we need in our band. Ever since that moment we’ve been talking about changing the name, but we were kinda scared and didn’t know where we were going. But we’re pretty much done with the record that we’ve done all on our own at my house, in my studio. No label or anything. And that’s pretty much where we’re at man, just trying to start fresh and pump this thing that we’re all very proud of.
So is the studio in your house still Jackalope Studios, is it still you own thing?
Yeah, I’m gonna keep that name. I’m working on the new site now. I actually moved to Birmingham and bought a house. Me and my wife built a studio here that’s a lot nicer. I haven’t really advertised it yet, there are pictures of it on my Facebook page. I’ll take anybody up, I make great records and I have good deals. I’m always looking for good bands to do projects with. I have room for them to stay and everything.
I loved the Davy & the Gods stuff that came out of your house. That EP is really cool.
I love it, I wish more people could get to hear it. That was a fun record to make. Really good guys, as well.
Are they still a band?
I don’t think so, they’ve all kind of branched off and done their own things. As far as I know, we did that record and they did a few little things and that was the last I really heard of them.
That’s a bummer. You also have Jesse from the Escape Frame in Sloss Minor.
Yeah, it’s kinda funny how he came about. I had this other guitar player, and he wouldn’t show up, and Jesse, I called him one day and said “Hey man, can you run through the se Death in the Park songs?” I actually played in the Escape Frame for a while, and he took my place. He’s a great guitar player and a good friend and we’ve always clicked. He’s a really cool guy, and I asked him to learn the songs and he came in and rehearsed them with me and then I joined Terrible Things and disappeared. So when I decided to do (Death in the Park) again he called and said “Hey man, am I still gonna play with you?” and I was like “Yeah if you want to, I figured you were kinda pissed because I haven’t been doing anything with this” and he said he wanted to do it. He plays in a band called Oceans here locally, as well. They’re really good and people should check them out. That’s the thing too (with Sloss Minor), we’ve definitely become more of a band. I’m playing most of the guitar on the record and some of the bass and I have my hands in writing, but everybody is doing their part. Our bass player is amazing and comes up with some crazy stuff. Our drummer, we’ll record a song and leave and he’ll call me two days later and say he has a new idea and he wants to come retrace it. It’s a process where we’re taking everything apart and trying to make it better, but still keeping it very simple at the same time. Everything that you hear is basically two guitar tracks, drums and vocals. Only what we can pull off live. We’re not trying to run tracks or do any extra stuff.
I really like the two songs I’ve heard so far (“Duffle Bag” and “Human Centipede”). They’re both way dancier than anything people have come to expect from you. I mean, I’ve been listening to you sing for a decade and these are some really upbeat, dancey songs for you.
Yeah, it’s weird how that’s been part of what’s going on. I mean, you’ll hear a couple songs that you’ll go “OK that’s Andy Jackson.” There are some Hot Rod moments. Also me and Gabe were both in indie rock/emo/pop bands and you’re gonna get that flavor on a few songs. It goes between kinda dancey and kinda Pinkerton, if you will. There are some Weezer-y moments. Me and my wife were talking last night and wondering what the next song we’re gonna put out will be. We should do one more before we try to get a label to put it out or something. Which, at this point, maybe we should just put it out ourselves. We haven’t really figured it out yet.
Is BandCamp something you’d be interested in? That seems to be the way to go these days if you’re trying to do something yourself.
I think my wife set one up recently. Like I said, we just put the Facebook up like a week ago. It’s a process we’re trying to do in between working jobs and me recording other bands and stuff. The good thing we have on our side is Andrew Ellis, who booked my other band for years, he’s with Paradigm and he’s pretty much onboard. He loves the songs and has been passing them around, helping us with shows. The Bayside show and a Starting Line show and other stuff we’ve been doing recently.
You have known the Bayside and Starting Line guys for a while, I would assume.
Yeah, I toured with the Starting Line for years with Hot Rod. I’ve done an acoustic tour with Anthony (Raneri, Bayside singer) and Terrible Thing went out with Bayside as well.
When you look back at that Terrible Things record, is that a positive thing to look back on? I know it didn’t end super well.
It really is. I credit a lot of what I’ve learned to it. Of all the years I’ve been in bands, and not to take away from what I’ve done, but a lot of stuff we did in the beginning was just so thrown together because we were a punk rock band and we were just having fun. I hate to say this and belittle it all, but it wasn’t so much about making great songs as much as it was about jamming and having a good time. When Terrible Things came about, we worked with a producer (Jason Elgin) who stripped us down, broke us down. I mean, broke me down, broke Josh (Eppard, drums) down. To the point of aggravation. Here we are with these guys who have made these great records, you know, Josh has platinum records on his wall and he’s known for being this badass drummer but this guy is telling you how to play, basically. But I learned a lot from it. Something that Hot Rod struggled with for years, people call it “demo-itis.” It’s when you record a song and you hear it and you’re like “yup, that’s the song” and you don’t think about it from a different perspective. You don’t think “what if I erase the lyrics and the melody and start it all over?” or “what if we take out the guitar and I play some prettier, cool stuff instead of chords?” Things like that. That’s what I picked up from it. And I put all of those things into this new record. I want to write stuff that’s fun, and when we play it I will be excited to play it and I’ll enjoy playing it every night. I like the fact that I’m playing difficult guitar shit and singing at the same time and doing things are challenging to me. I have definitely torn things apart and learned from that record. I don’t regret any of it at all. I have a great friendship with those guys. I wish it would have ended a little better. But we’ve made amends. We’ve all hung out since then. Fred ( Mascherino: vocals, guitar) played here in Birmingham recently and we hung out. Josh played here not too long ago and we hung out. It’s all good.
The funny thing about you and Fred is that at one point you were rumored to be replacing him in Taking Back Sunday. Was there any truth to that?
There is. That’s actually kind of how we met. I mean, we had met and hung out a few times before then, but not on a tight basis or anything. I was in Australia, and we had just announced the Hot Rod breakup. I guess news got back to America real quick and my buddy, Ryan Russell, who is a photographer who is friends with Taking Back Sunday, shot me a text that said “Hey, Fred’s leaving TBS. Adam (Lazarra) wants to talk to you.” I immediately got on the phone and hit up Adam and asked him what was up and he said to call him when I got back to America. When I got home, I actually called Fred first. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into it. I wanted to know why he quit and things like that. He didn’t really say a whole lot other than that he thought I should do it and I’d be the right fit. One of the things that he said was that I was the only person out of all his friends that called to talk about it. He thought that was awesome and it really opened a door for me and him. What made Terrible Things happen was that he had come to Montgomery to do a Color Fred show and I happened to be running sound for the show that night. We sat down and talked and had dinner and he told me “Hey, I’ve got these songs that I’ve been recording and I’m thinking about starting a new band” and he asked me if I’d be in it. He played me two or three of the songs and I was like “Dude, I’m in.” It just happened, like that.
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.
So, the last thing that Hot Rod Circuit did was that 7” that came out on Run For Cover. There was a really cool Superdrag cover on there. Is that a good example of something you would have been listening to when you were younger and about to start Hot Rod Circuit?
Oh yeah, me and Casey (Prestwood, HRC guitar), when we started Hot Rod we were all about Superdrag, Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. Nirvana, at the time, too. Those bands brought me and Casey together. He was the first person who I met that was in a band and could play music and was into that kind of stuff. Everybody else I knew was into metal or The Cure. It was a totally different genre. Even our bass player at the time didn’t listen to the music we listened to. That’s what started Hot Rod, that era.
I went to your first last show at Toad’s in New Haven a few years back. I remember thinking at that show how influential you guys were. You were never the biggest band, but even now I read people namedropping you all the time. Do you ever think back on your legacy, or is it not quite time yet?
Yeah, I do and I’m very proud of it. It’s like you said, we weren’t a very big band and we didn’t make a lot of money, but I know we influenced bands. I meet people all the time. I’ll go to a show here and see a new, young band like just recently, have you heard I the Mighty?
Yeah, they’re on Equal Vision.
Yeah, they came to town and they were just bouncing around playing house shows. They had actually opened up for Hot Rod in San Francisco on our reunion tour. I thought they were pretty cool. I let them come over and crash at my house and when they got here they were like “Dude, you were in Hot Rod.” So it was pretty funny. I get that sometimes. Down here nobody cares. There aren’t really a lot of Hot Rod fans in Alabama, but I do get that a lot form the young guys. You know, guys like Max Bemis. Kenny (Vasoli) from the Starting Line used to tell me about riding around in the car with his parents and going to buy Sorry About Tomorrow at the beach on some family vacation and how he fell in love with the record. I’m the same way though, I’m a total music geek. I listen to Say Anything and the Starting Line and Northstar all the time.
You toured with Say Anything on guitar for a little bit as well.
I did, right after they did a tour with Hot Rod, which ironically was with Northstar as well, their guitar player left the band, and Hot Rod was gonna be off for 6-7 months and I got a call from their management asking if I’d come play guitar. Me and Max got together and rehearsed for a few weeks. I played a handful of shows, and it was during that period where Max had some, uh, issues and had to go to the hospital for a little while. We had to drop off the tour. I believe it was Circa Survive and Recover opening, before Circa were really anybody. And a band called Emanuel.
They were on Vagrant the same time you were on Vagrant.
Exactly. I think what happened was we did a couple shows, Max went to the hospital, and then they continued the tour. We cancelled the rest. Then I flew out and we did a show in New York and a couple other, but I really only played a handful of shows with them. I was supposed to do a couple full tours, but they got cancelled.
I remember a bootleg a few years back of you and Max doing an acoustic show together.
Oh yeah, in New York.
Yeah. You also told Property of Zack that at the time of that Hot Rod 7” that there was a song that had Chris Carrabba on it and Jay (Russell, Hot Rod Circuit bassist) singing the verses. Did that ever see the light of day?
Not yet. I’m working on that right now. Enjoy the Ride Records is about to release The Underground Is A Dying Breed on vinyl. The test pressing is coming in in a couple days. It’s gonna be real soon. It’s gonna have a 7” with it that will have the acoustic songs and it’ll also have this track that Max Bemis did for my wedding. He did this, like, waltzy kind, eerie, kinda Smiths-y version of “At Nature’s Mercy.” It’s really neat, it’ll give you chills. When I heard it the first time the hair stood up on my arms. It’s just incredible. It’s really neat to hear your song done in a different way. So that’ll be on there, and now that you’re reminding me about that song, I might have to search for it and get that on there. It will see the light of day. We’ve had some problems with Vagrant, because they actually own the tapes to it. I have the song, I just can’t give it away or release it without written permission because Carrabba’s on it. I know he doesn’t care. I would love for that to see the light of day, it’s one of my favorite Hot Rod songs.
Oh yeah, it’s one of those songs that every time I hear it it’s a slap in the face like “Why did we not release this?” It’s probably the best song we ever wrote. The recording, everything about it. It was from the Reality’s Coming Through sessions. Like I said, it was a song that Jay was working on. I heard it. I asked if we could use it, and Carrabba just happened to be around the studio that afternoon and we were like “Dude you should get on this song” and it just came together. I think when Jay heard it originally, from what he tells me now, it just scared him because at that time he had never heard himself as a singer. He was just harmonizing with me all the time. Jay is an amazing singer. If anything, he’s probably a better singer than I am.
Yeah, I love (Jay’s new band) Diamond J & the Rough.
Dude, he’s got a beautiful voice. He’s just got a really great tone to his voice. He’s really great at emulating stuff too. There is stuff on Hot Rod records where I get confused and I think “Is that me or him?” because he’s so good at copying.
The new Paramore record came out today, have you heard that?
I’ve heard a few songs and I like what I hear. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t heard the rest. She’s a sweet girl and they’re good dudes. From what I’ve heard I really like it. It sounds pretty cool. “Still Into You” has a cool dancey feel to it.
I’m sure you’ve told the story a thousand times, but how did Hayley end up on (the Death in the Park song) “Fallen?”
Well, the last tour that Hot Rod did announcing the breakup was with Paramore in Australia. We became friends over Warped Tour, actually because I recorded a lot of the guest vocals for Say Anything’s In Defense of the Genre while we were on Warped Tour. I tracked Hayley, Anthony (Green) from Circa, Aarron (Gillespie) from Underoath, Chad (Gilbert) and Steve (Klein) from New Found Glory sang on it. Matt Skiba from the Alkaline Trio. I tracked all those people for Max’s record, and mine as well.
“We Killed It” is still my favorite song off that record.
Oh, awesome. That’s cool. So that’s how we met. So there were 4 or 5 days of me and her trying to catch up and figure out what days to do it. We didn’t know each other that well. She knew who Hot Rod was. Her guitar tech, Ronnie, was in Death in the Park and had also gone out and done sound with Hot Rod. Basically, Ronnie had more to do with writing “Fallen” than anything. It was just music and most people don’t know, I don’t even know if I’m supposed to say this, but he had Paramore play the song at soundcheck and he recorded it. He sent it to me and I wrote the lyrics and added some guitar. Then I sent it back to them and Hayley sang over it until we had a complete song. Then we took it to the studio and recorded it, and then I sent to back to Ronnie while they were on tour and tracked the vocals. Hayley wasn’t in the room with me or anything, but she’s sang it a couple times. We played it once in Atlanta and she came to a show in Nashville once and played it. There have been a few times she’s jumped up and sang it with us.
It’s funny that you mention that Underground is being repressed because I feel like when most people think or Hot Rod they think of either Sorry About Tomorrow or Reality’s Coming Through, but Underground is actually my favorite. There’s such a huge country undertone to that, is that from you growing up in the south?
I think that was more Casey. It kind of started to happen on Reality. There were a couple songs that hit on there like that, like “The Best You Ever Knew.” That was when he really started to bring out the pedal steel. I think at the time I had moved back to Alabama and we kind of saw ourselves going a little more alt-rock. A little more Lemonheads, I guess. I don’t think it was anything intentional, it was just where we were at the time. And Casey is such a badass pedal steel player, it was natural to showcase it a little more.
I remember when I heard “Stateside” I was like “This is it. They’re finally gonna be a BIG band.”
We definitely had the potential to be. It did pretty well. The video did well. It just happened that our label (Immortal) folded right when we were hitting the peak of the promotion. Once that happened, I don’t think it was the be all end all of the band, it was just like “Eh, we’ve been doing this ten years.” I know it broke Casey a little bit. I can say that honestly and know that it wouldn’t offend him saying that. I know it broke him a little bit and that’s when… This is what happened. Casey wanted to leave the band. He wanted to pursue his country thing, which he’s gone and done with his wife, and he was super honest about it and really cool. We were on Warped Tour before we went to Australia with Paramore and that’s when he told us. He said “If you wanna continue and get a new guitar player I’ll support you. I’ll even play shows until you find somebody.” It was that kind of vibe. By the end of the tour, our drummer and bass player really wanted to keep going, but once I realized that Casey wasn’t going to be in the band anymore, I just felt like it wasn’t Hot Rod. And with what he does, with the pedal steel and the guitar, there aren’t a lot of guys that play like he does. I would have had to get two people to replace him. I didn’t want to replace him. I felt like Casey and I started that band, and that’s how it should end.
That’s a pretty noble way to look at it. So bringing everything full circle, you’ve been doing this for a real long time. You’ve had every possible label situation you can imagine and you’ve been in so many touring, functional bands, what is your goal with Sloss Minor? At this point, are you just trying to have fun?
Well, that’s exactly what it is. When we started this band, and what I told Gabe and everybody in this band, like our guitar player Jesse. He’d never been in a touring band or anything and I took him out with Terrible Things as a guitar tech and gave him a taste of tour and that really got him to where tour was what he wanted to do with his life. So when he joined the band he was all “Are we gonna tour? Are we gonna tour?” and my initial response was “No, dude.” I just bought a house, I’m getting married. I’ll play shows, I’ll do a string of dates, but going on tour in a van for six months and starting all over again, I have no desire to do that. But as the band became a real band and became Sloss Minor, I have a totally different perspective on that. We were just having fun and making new songs and now everybody in the band is excited about it and we’re like “We gotta do something with this.” It’s not something I haven’t seen before, but it’s definitely something I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s like being in a band when you’re 15 all over again. At practice we’re like “Dude, that was fucking awesome.” We’re getting tighter every day and honing in on being the best band we can be and preparing ourselves to get out on the road again at this point.
I’m stoked you’re still at it.
I’ll always be doing this, man. I’ve got other projects going on all the time. I’m always making music man, it’s just what I do. Even if I decided I would never tour again, you’ll always hear records from me.