Matthew Bivins is on speakerphone from a Charleston hospital, where he’s resting up and awaiting additional X-rays. “You know, sometimes you just have a spontaneous pneumothorax,” jokes the multi-instrumentalist, who’s suffering from a collapsed lung. He’s in good spirits, seemingly unconcerned that Jump, Little Children’s 10-year reunion tour of the Southeast begins in two days. “It just happens. It’s OK, you know? We’ve just been rocking so hard. Word to the wise, Metallica.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the band — frontman/guitarist Jay Clifford, upright bassist Jonathan Gray, percussionist Evan Bivins, and cellist/guitarist Ward Williams — is gathered at Jump’s current practice space, Hello Telescope, the Radcliffe Street recording studio run by Clifford and Josh Kaler of Slow Runner. The band members are busily signing posters for their hugely anticipated Church and Queen tour — a tour that, when announced last spring, caused quite the stir.
Once tickets for Jump’s Dock Street Theatre dates were released, the seats were gone lickety-split. Fans clamoring to revisit the band’s old December tradition of performing at the historic theater swiped up all the seats in three minutes. “We all thought the system was broken,” says Clifford. “Vance [McNabb, manager] immediately called the Etix lady and was like, ‘We gotta get the link back up. It’s not working.’ And she’s like, ‘They’re all gone.'”
Knowing they still had a devoted following, Jump figured they’d have an OK response — just not the kind of response that would warrant the addition of two more Charleston dates. “You know, everybody’s lives change — they have kids, grow up, and move on to other things,” Clifford says. “We just kind of assumed that would be the case, and so we set up a modest little run. Then that happened — it shocked us.”
“Yeah, we just had no idea,” Williams adds.
The truth is, Jump was to 1995-2005-era Charleston what Shovels & Rope is today: the city’s musical darlings. So imagine if Hearst and Trent took a 10-year hiatus and announced another run in 2025. You can bet your Holy City hide those empty seats would cease to exist in two minutes tops.
When Jump first emerged onto the Charleston scene, the internet wasn’t even a thing yet. Before radio became a monopoly, the band and their alternative-cum-baroque-pop sound received major support from radio stations around the Southeast, including an old Charleston favorite, 96 Wave. “Dave Rossi at 96 Wave recorded us at the studio — four songs, just bam, bam, bam,” Williams says. “And he felt a sense of ownership about it and played those songs just as he would have played, like, Candlebox, or whatever was on the radio back then.”
The single “Cathedrals,” off 1998’s Magazine, was the first track to really go national. It was written with an original member of Jump, Christopher Pollen, in mind. A lifelong Catholic, he’d left the band during its early Boston days to join a religious commune. The chorus of “Cathedrals” may partly refer to Pollen’s hope for finding a home in the religious sect — “In the cathedrals of New York and Rome/ There is a feeling that you should just go home/ And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is” — but it could also be applied to what the band went searching for post-Jump.
The past decade has seen a lot of action from the entire group — not just marriages and kids but also creative highs. In addition to co-founding Hello Telescope, Clifford released two solo records — 2007’s Driving Blind and 2012’s Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher. He recently finished recording singer-songwriter Heather Nova and is now working with the Colorado Symphony orchestrating for artists like Ariel Pink, Ingrid Michaelson, and Amos Lee for their Red Rocks concert series. Gray also remained in Charleston, playing with a ton of local bands over the past decade, including the currently active Garage Cuban Band and Post Cobra. He’s also toured with the likes of Howie Day and William Fitzsimmons and teaches music lessons at Hungry Monk Music in West Ashley.
Williams lives in New York City, where he’s a cello and guitar teacher as well as a freelance musician, working with artists like Brandi Carlisle, Vienna Teng, and Alicia Witt.
And the Bivins brothers moved to Chicago to bring their neo-cabaret variety show, Cabaret Kiki to a bigger audience. “We were playing with some of our favorite people in [Charleston], and we had dancers and actors and shadow puppeteers and all kinds of writers and filmmakers and stuff,” Matthew says.
The success of the cabaret was up and down. The Bivins found it hard to recreate there what had become a must-see for Holy City audiences, and they eventually moved on to other projects. “One of the amazing things about Charleston is that it has a really, really rich arts community, whether that be music or dance or whatever,” Evan says. “But the size of it is such that you can find incredibly talented people who aren’t completely maxed-out in their schedule. They’ll have a little bit of a window of opportunity to do something really weird if you ask them nicely. So that’s how we got Cary Ann Hearst and Bill Carson and all these people to do this thing that was here — and in Chicago it’s a very different story. Basically everyone, myself included, is busy all the time. I know Ward, living in New York, experiences the same thing. It’s difficult. It’s totally different, and I’ve never lived in a city of that size, so I wasn’t prepared for that. So we got a band of people together, but you know, it’s tough to replace people like Cary Ann Hearst. She’s one of a kind. But, it was great. We did have a lot of fun performing it all over town.”
Evan still plays music in Chicago. He’s composed for the Giordano Dance Company and recorded with various acts, like Duncan Sheik and Grit & the Double Knit. Meanwhile, Matthew has mostly been performing as a stage actor at the House Theatre, City Lit Theater, and Strawdog Theatre — to name a few. In addition to performing, the brothers started up a web-development company, most recently developing software that helps kindergartners and first graders learn to read by connecting them with a nearby tutor.
But as it turns out, Cabaret Kiki is getting resuscitated — in Germany, of all places. “Interestingly enough, we have recently been approached by a fellow that we met in Chicago, who saw versions of Cabaret Kiki that we brought to the city, and he now lives in Berlin,” Matthew explains. “And he has been asked by a couple of theater companies to create and produce an original, English-speaking musical — so we’ve been tasked this winter to write Cabaret Kiki the Musical. We’ll workshop that in Berlin sometime next year, which is super exciting. And hopefully, if funding goes well, it’ll be part of a season next year for a couple of theater companies. So it’s all come full circle, you know?”
And now, Jump is coming back to life, too — although, the band has gotten some love during the hiatus. Four years ago, “Cathedrals” was used on the Fox dance series, So You Think You Can Dance. In 2007, the track “B-13,” also off Magazine, could be heard at the end of a Scrubs episode. And just last year, “Mexico” (Between the Dim and the Dark, 2004) was handpicked by Zach Braff to appear in his film, Wish I Was Here. The Scrubs star has had a long-time thing for Jump, with “Mexico” appearing as his Myspace profile song back in 2006. “That was apparently his breakup song,” Clifford says. “And then he heard I was doing a solo record and called me out of the blue. I was actually in L.A. doing a record in West Hollywood, and he lives like 15 minutes from there. He just drove down to the studio and hung out and listened to some songs.”
As for brand new Jump songs, Clifford says it’s not off the table. “We actually looked at a few a couple of days ago,” he says. “I think the problem is that when writing for the band, there was a live element to it. We considered the live shows so closely to the songs that ever since we dropped the touring aspect, I know myself, I have been writing whatever I want to hear. And it’s been a lot more intimate and soft and quiet. And so the songs that I’ve written in-between aren’t quite right for the band, but there are a couple that might work.”
Since rehearsals got underway on December 3, the guys have had their work cut out for them relearning 40 to 50 songs out of a list of about 100. But the task has been a welcome one. “Stepping in the room with these guys again — because I haven’t seen Jay and Ward and Johnny a lot over the past 10 years — so the first time was like the last rehearsal 10 years ago,” Matthew says. “Everything felt like it was yesterday, which was just the best feeling ever.”
But that’s not the No. 1 thing Matthew is looking forward to. “I want to meet and talk to every single human being that comes to these shows,” he says. “These people are part of a community, a major community — not just one that’s about, ‘This band is cool.’ They may have come to us because of the music or the size of Ward’s tongue or the weird fashion choices I’ve had over the years. But they have fallen in love. They have gotten married. They have stayed together and stayed best friends. The community of Jump, Little Children is so much bigger than Jump, Little Children in ways that I just don’t understand, in ways that are just extremely beautiful to me.”
In other words, that “Cathedrals” home isn’t something they’re searching for at this particular moment. That’s something Jump, Little Children will find in a sold-out Dock Street Theatre Monday and Tuesday and next Wednesday and Thursday at the Music Farm.
Matthew promises, “Barring collapsed lungs, it should be great.” Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
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