Jaguar Love Interview



Jaguar Love: Jay Clark, Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato

Being called “poppy” or having pop overtones to ones music may not always be a bad thing. While a majority of music listeners may associate the “three letter” word with a more mainstream accessibility and markets of corporate processing, Jaguar Love don’t really think twice about it.

“One of the first things that comes to mind about pop music is how universal it is,” says Cody Votolato, Jaguar Love guitarist, as he’s cutting in and out of his cell phone driving cross-country. Jaguar Love is embarking on their first big tour opening for The Faint. “[Pop music] is more accessible to a mainstream audience, but that comes off sounding pretentious. The sound can be captured across the board of musical genres.”

Votolato, vocalist Johnny Whitney and drummer Jay Clark make up the triangle of tunes across Take Me to the Sea, the band’s debut on Matador Records. Votolato and Whitney began writing songs, acoustically in an apartment living room, only weeks after their former band, The Blood Brothers, called it a day, says Whitney.

“For me, it was about moving toward proper melodies and something that sounded not so abrasive,” Whitney says, clearer on his phone, still tracking across the states. “As for the writing, the reason we did this record with only three people is that we wanted to do what we wanted to without stepping on a bunch of people’s toes.”

To fill out the other corner of the triangle is drummer Jay Clark, who in fact is out of his element somewhat after playing guitar in three previous bands including the now defunct Pretty Girls Make Graves, who broke up a few months prior to The Blood Brothers. Clark went on The Blood Brothers’ final summer tour as the band’s guitar tech where he became close friends with Whitney and Votolato.

Clark did more than drums and some bass on Take Me to the Sea, he also produced, recorded and engineered the album. “I’m all about freedom,” he says on the phone, wind blowing through the window. “The best way to work on anything is the natural feel of how it comes out. Sometimes you have to let go and not think about it.”

But Clark was also critical of how the album was going to come out. After he finished his drum tracks, he stepped back as the person to critique the album outside the band. He says it was a hard task.  “It was a strange place to be in, but someone had to do it.”

Votolato was pleased with the roll Clark took in producing the album. “One of the good things about having Jay in the group, is instead of writing something and jumping the gun, he kind of sits back and critiques.”

One of the things that came along with the band’s more “pop” sound is maturity. “When you write song after song, it’s just natural to refine what you do and you try to write things differently,” Votolato says about his guitar style over the years. “I think I just started paying better attention on how to write a song, and I wanted to accomplish that on this record. But at the same time, I’m looking to do more.”

Whitney says the same about his vocal transition from glass shattering high frequencies, to the melodic vocal burst throughout the new record. He says he cleaned up his vocals to challenge himself. “When The Blood Brothers got signed to a major in 2002, I was pretty much over hardcore music at that point, and I didn’t listen to a lot of bands with screamers.” But Whitney also recognizes that he has a unique voice that is criticized for better or worse.  To him, it just seems natural. “I’ve only really written my vocals in the last seconds of recording. I’m really into improvising and going with the flow, feeling natural with whatever comes out. It seems strange when people talk about how weird my voice is, because it just seems like second nature.”

For Clark, this is perfect. “When we were recording ‘My Organ Sounds Like…,’ I said [to Johnny], ‘go in there and run around and scream something in the middle of the songs breakdown.’” And even though Clark critiqued the five to ten track takes, he never goes in with a “maybe do it this way” mindset. “If I say that, then it means I already thought about it. If I want the unexpected, then I want the unexpected natural way of that to happen.” He doesn’t want the person creating thinking hard about what they are doing, he says.

Take Me to the Sea is musically across the board. Sure the opening and closing tracks (also found on the band’s debut EP) are pop driven, but there are rockers, “Jaguar Pirates,” slow jams, “Georgia,” and acid trip freakouts, “The Man With the Plastic Suns.” As for the band’s personal fulfillment, “Our record is only a snapshot of where you are at the time. If you’re really involved in a song, you may have a tendency to change live,” Whitney says. He also is continuing the creative process, always jotting down ideas when they come to him. “I find it hard to do things intentionally, whether it is musically or in creative design. You never know when a good idea is going to come out.”

Whitney is also content with listeners referring to his band as pop music. “There’s always a spectrum in a genre with really good music and really bad music.” Votolato would agree, “For the most part, everyone loves pop music, except for elitist,” he laughs, and the phone goes out again.

[photo: Renee McMahon/]


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