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Jesse James

Who Weighs Most Wins

(Interview Taken From Black Velvet 35 - Feb 2003)

By Alison B

Despite the sub-zero temperatures outside and ‘cosy’ dressing room, which barely houses the band and their two-man crew JESSE JAMES seem in high spirits as they settle into the Harlow Square. Already plied with beer and food from the venue’s full-scale built-in kitchen there is no dejection in the ranks in anticipation of a poor Sunday night turn-out. Indeed a healthy-sized gang of kids in hoodies and the band’s own shirts is already forming in the lobby in spite of the arctic winds, drizzling rain and the fact it’s still at least an hour until doors officially open.







The band are now 24 country-trotting dates and one full month into their gruelling five week headline tour. As if a schedule like that weren’t punishing enough the tour has not been without its share of more unforeseen problems. “This tour alone we’ve got through five vans”, vocalist Dko half-boasts of the group’s misfortune. “The most shocking incident we lost a van to was when we called the hire company, arranged to collect the van in the morning and it just didn’t turn up - I couldn’t be more shocked if you told me something really shocking! So we hired out another van at the last minute and that broke down the following night, then hired out another one to replace that one and that broke down on the way to a gig. This was all a couple of weeks ago now but still it’s not a good start to the tour”, he sighs.  Spirits not to be dampened however the show has gone on and as far as crowd response goes the tour has been nothing but a success.  When asked about some of the highlights cries for “Nottingham”, “Exeter”, “York” and “Aberdeen” all echo around the room from various band members. ‘They’ve all been really good!’ Dko concludes, grinning. He blames the “pre-Christmas spirit” for a little over enthusiasm in some fans. “I’d say live it could be shocking,” he begins cryptically, “we seem to get a lot of people on onstage, people get really into it. And people stripping.  Not any of the band I hasten to point out - just kids seem to see it as an excuse for public nudity.  Maybe we just have that effect on an audience”, he muses. The band unanimously enthuse themselves to be “very much a live act” and consider their onstage performance to be, on all counts, “better than the records”. New single ‘Empty Tank’ even pays homage to their adventures on the road - specifically the A11. “Its actually the road of my life”, jokes trumpet player Dan. “The lyrics are nothing to do with touring, the A11’s the road of my life and Norwich and London represent the poles. It’s a very spiritual road the A11”.  Right.

On entering a room with the Jesse James, the close-knit nature of the band quickly become apparent in a constant stream of banter and in jokes. Their quirky sense of humour seems to show a band who are pretty comfortable with each other and satisfied with where they’re at. Everyone has a clear role in the ranks. Dan is ever the loud, clown of the bunch, going on to explain just what ‘The Shoes’ really mean (“Its a really good way to tell what someone’s like.  Shoes really say something about you more than any other item of clothing”, he says, explaining that his own rather worn trainers say “I’m a messy, scruffy, smelly layabout”), with support and occasional quips from saxophone player Pete, (whose pristine new Vans say “I want to be a skater but when I go near a skateboard I look like an elephant on a matchstick,”) and creatively named trombonist The Squirrel (so called as the band literally discovered him while swerving to avoid a squirrel) who are seated to either side of him. Dko is more serious and intense, ignoring his brass section’s larking about, while guitarist Rich is mostly quiet, sometimes contributing a well-considered gem of wit or wisdom to the conversation.

Certainly Jesse James have every right to appear so comfortable with where they’re at. 2002 has undoubtedly been their year, finally unleashing their debut album on the masses, and with a substantial crowd now forming outside to witness them in the flesh tonight they have the surprise success of their aforementioned ‘Shoes’ single to thank for kick-starting this rollercoaster few months. Released in March, the band were shocked when Kerrang! TV picked up on the tune, turning them overnight from an established ‘name’ on the ska-punk scene into a familiar name on the TV screens of a far broader spectrum of rock fans. “We weren’t expecting it at all!” Dko exclaims. “I mean we recorded the video on a budget of £32 and suddenly it’s up there in Kerrang!’s most requested videos, next to all these million dollar videos for huge, big label bands. We’d been really pushing it at them in the hope it’d get aired maybe a few times but certainly it was a surprise that they latched on to it and it went on to become such a requested video”. By the end of the week ‘Shoes’ had become Kerrang!’s third most requested track, causing MTV2 to pick up on it also. “It changed everything after that, it really did”, the band explain. “It went from us expecting to play to sort of 50 to 60 people a night maybe to maybe pulling 150 people, and then doing these massive support slots to a thousand people a night”. The ‘massive supports’ included none more massive than Bowling For Soup. “They were nice to us on the whole”, the band remember grudgingly. “There were business issues there rather than personal issues - but they were cool guys,” they continue cryptically, clearly not wishing to explain exactly what ‘business issues’ were involved. Other touring partners included Lightyear (“always fantastic and a lot of fun to play with”), Suicide Machines (“we like them a lot”), Reel Big Fish (“yeah, they were pretty nice to us - cool bunch of guys”) and OPM (“again, really nice to us”).  Not included in the celebrity schmoozing back-patting circuit are ska-punkers Uncle Brian. “We definitely don’t fucking hate Uncle Brian”, Dan says through gritted teeth. “Infact, Uncle Brian are one of the best bands we’ve toured with,” Pete chimes in, voice equally heavy with sarcasm.

Inter-band feuding aside and Jesse James could arguably not be more deserving of the success they’ve finally begun to enjoy this year - a real case of seeing their hard work pay off at last. From the very start the band have been adamant about what they want to achieve with Jesse James and it seems, now is the time it’s all eventually coming together. Dko explains, “This is exactly what we set out to do.  We always envisaged the band having a full brass section, we’ve searched for ages to try and get the perfect line-up and I think now we’re finally getting there although I’m not gonna go and say ‘aw, yeah it’s perfect now’ because it’s never good to get complacent with it. We still think we can improve on what we’ve got here.  But as far as the line-up goes we’ve got it pretty much exactly how we wanted it with the two trombones, saxophone and trumpet”.
It wasn’t an easy task assembling the brass section. Dko, Rich and drummer Ben decided what they wanted after their first chance meeting at which the idea of Jesse James was hit upon. Going through numerous line-up changes in their formative eight months due to various members going to Uni in the USA and being replaced only on a part-time basis, the band eventually reached the seven-strong line-up which appear on their ‘Punk Soul Brothers’ album; starring Pete on saxophone, Ben on drums, Dko on bass and vocals, Dan on trumpet, Rich on guitar, Ian on trombone and The Squirrel on trombone.
A classically trained trumpet player, and part of the much sought after brass section, Dan explains what led him away from more classical climes to rock’n’roll and Jesse James; “For ages I just played in a conventional brass band and found I just couldn’t get on with it. I think I was always possessed by the dark side... I was a really obnoxious little shit when I was playing in a brass band, I was the one at the back who was always being told I was playing too loud or playing wrong so I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep, I think”.
Saxophonist Pete sees less of a clear distinction between more traditional brass music and what he does now. “I think what drew me to the dark side was jazz”, he considers. “I think brass has always been capable of being pretty dark and rock ’n’ roll, if you listen to some of that old stuff it can be pretty evil”.
Of course, taking a full brass section on the road with you does have its downside. “Obviously the big one is we get less money because there’s more of us to divide it between,” says Pete of Jesse James’ large line-up. “Considering we don’t really make any money out of doing this anyway that’s not too much of an issue,” Rich corrects him.  Dan takes over, contributing “There’s not much room in the van - assuming it turns up that day - so it’s always pretty cosy on tour. A major, major disadvantage though is that everyone gets less beer when you get your rider”. It’s not all negative however as he goes on to point out “When you get pissed off with someone you can always go and get everyone else to come and gang up on them and sort them out. And it’s much easier loading out at the end of the night. In fact you’ve got that division of labour in everything we do as a band so assuming everyone pulls their weight you get to do less work. Creatively more people means more ideas, which can lead to arguments but also means you’ve got a lot of different inputs and influences going into writing.”

Now happily signed to Golf Records Jesse James have since been able to release their debut full-length album, ‘Punk Soul Brothers’.  Although pleased with the response they’ve had to it thus far, Rich describing how one fan emailed him saying he falls asleep every night listening to (“Geez, is it that boring?” exclaims Ben), the band themselves still have some reservations about the final product.  “It’s definitely a fair representation of what we’re about right now, because it’s our set basically”, Rich says a little cautiously. “I think the songs are there but the sound we wanted and the energy we have live maybe isn’t,” Dko agrees, backed up by his earlier claim that Jesse James are very much a live band.
Discussing the record further we find, that, while satisfied with the songs and their creativity, the band are less than happy with the recording process. “The recording was done in lots of little bits so it was fragmented in that sense which made it quite hard to work on with the overall thing in mind,” Dko explains. Ben describes a typical days recording “To record the last little bit we literally went straight into the studio when we got back from tour and from that went straight off to shoot the ‘Shoes’ video, which gives you an idea of just how sort of claustrophobic and tense things were at that point in the band. It wasn’t a record that came together very naturally - it was just odd bits of time here and there that we recorded it in.”. Dan blames all the pressure during the recording for a serious case of tour fever in the band at the time “It got to the point where we were playing pool games and the winner got to humiliate the loser in any way his imagination allowed him,” he remembers. “There were teabaggings.  And there were balls on heads.  And we’re not talking about pool balls”.  Can’t possibly imagine what you mean there, young man.

With the album finally out though (“The highlight was when it was finished,” Dan says) it’s time to look to the future. Going on to play a spectacular set at the Square that night, complete with dozens of stage invaders as Dko predicted, though none nude, the band have another seven days on the road, culminating in Golf Records extravagant ‘More Turkeys for Christmas’ bash in London, also starring Snuff.  So what are Jesse James’ plans for 2003? “We’re having a competition over Christmas!” Dan tells us excitedly. “The aim is to see which member of the band can put on the most weight over Christmas. We’re going to have a weigh in on Christmas Eve and then another one at our first rehearsal in the New Year and whoever has put on the most weight wins!!”  Oh, and they promise some more touring and music and that as well.



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