Milwaukee may be known as America’s beer brewing HQ, but it doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a hub of modern music. Its most famous offerings are still Les Paul and Liberace. But humble post-punk/psych pop scamps Jaill are doing their best to usher in a new era of DIY indie rock in their hometown. And, like any good era, this one’s already been 10 years in the making.
Since forming in 2002, Jaill’s only constant members have been singer/songwriter Vincent Kercher and drummer Austin Dutmer. Fluctuating in size and scope, the band most notably burned through four bassists before Andrew Harris joined them in 2006. They toiled in relative obscurity for seven years until signing with famed Seattle label SubPop (Nirvana, Soundgarden) in 2009, and are now touring in support of Jaill’s propulsively catchy third full-length release, Traps.
To some people, Jaill has put Milwaukee on the map of burgeoning indie hotspots. Once you have label support, you have it made, right?
“Not true,” Harris laughs, over the phone from his home in Milwaukee. “You have a lot more support. You have a further reach with label help, but really if you don’t have — and not to say this is the end all — but if you don’t have Pitchfork hyping you … there are just so many other factors and so many other bands out there.”
Not that Harris isn’t aware of Jaill’s good fortune.
“For a band to be from Milwaukee, it’s a rare opportunity to be on a label like SubPop,” he says. “It’s a really major thing and a lot of people are really shocked by it, as well as us. I mean, I have to pinch myself every once in awhile.”
But with the label backing comes bigger expectations from everyone, namely that Jaill will sell records. If they don’t, they can probably say bye-bye to SubPop.
For Traps, Jaill’s second SubPop release, the trio chose to ditch the expensive studio, retreat into their basement dwellings, and make the record themselves. Instead of feeling like they took a step back, going DIY afforded the band an important luxury: time. The result is a record that’s laid-back but confident, and straddles the growing pains of aging gracefully while remaining young at heart.
“Traps was a lot of trial and error,” Harris says. “There’s one song that we actually recorded three times, and — not that stylistically — it was all that different, but things like tempo. I think that’s the cool thing about making an album and doing it in the way we most like to do — just by ourselves, not on a studio dollar or watching the time go by, to come back to something and re-evaluate. We make sure we not only have what we believe to be good songs but also a cohesive album. We’re not just trying to make a record full of 12 hit songs.”
Not that he doesn’t consider what it would be like if Jaill’s popularity soared overnight.
“If we became the next big-hype band and blew up in some kind of way, we’d be working even harder,” he says. “The demand would be there. That’s something that a lot of people, even people in bands, don’t realize. Even if you do ‘make it,’ it’s not going to be any easier for you. You’re going to have to work that much more.”
While the rock ‘n’ roll reality might not be quite as good as the fantasy, Jaill has experienced its share of heady highs. Punk rock singer/songwriter of The Evaporators and music journalist Nardwuar the Human Serviette gave Jaill two thumbs up a couple years ago after crossing paths at South By Southwest, and the band recently stumbled on another high profile fan via social media.
“One of the guys who plays in the band came across a tweet from Henry Rollins saying he’s really into us and we were totally shocked and kind of stoked about that. That’s a strange sort of endorsement for a guy like Henry Rollins to like Jaill,” Harris laughs.