Artistic endeavors are often muddled or lost among swooping genre terminologies and generalizations, especially under such an elusively niche umbrella as “math rock.” However, Fire Talk Records’ latest signees, Media Jeweler, may very well be under such a label, though they aim to stand alone in the frenetic energy in the composition of their songs alone. Their debut record, $99 R/T Hawaii, is out September 18, and its seven-song track list may as well be twenty-one—with every time a song’s tempo, structure, and momentum changes, it’s as though three or four tracks exist in one. Their first single, “No Exit,” is a manically constructed work in schizophrenic indecision, never able to make up its mind as to what it is. The familiar clean guitar picking and arpeggio mechanics are present, but they ebb and flow through realms of jazz notes, funk rhythms, and perhaps even industrial undercurrents irregular to the genre’s specifications. Its vocal absence (though vocals exist on a chunk of the rest of the record) is superfluously made up for with a plethora of instrumental and stylistic entrances and exits, jumping at cutthroat paces like a rapid jump on a trampoline, never landing in the same spot, to a point that is satisfyingly exhausting by its end.
How did Media Jeweler start? Where were you all in your lives, and what led you to your sound?
SAM: 3 of us were already acquainted as friends and players in an a very restless big band that was finally taking its ultimate form after about four years of research and experimentation. People moved. I needed a bass drum pedal and was friends with Colin on Facebook, where I do all my shopping. I met him to buy it in front of the local record store/barbershop and we got to talking. A week later we became 4 and wrote our first song. Ironically, Colin had offered to play drums for our previous band via Facebook when we were going through a membership transition a year preceding this meeting but I didn’t know him. I think I clicked “Like” on his comment.
JT: When that band dissolved, I think we took a similar ethos out of it to create a more direct, deliberate approach to creating songs, and I think the MJ sound definitely contains some remnants of what we were doing before. Plus, I finally got to play something besides saxophone which was a blessing. I hate playing saxophone. Sam beats me up about it constantly, but I just can’t get into playing an instrument where you constantly have to put wood and plastic in your mouth to play the damn thing.
I imagine these songs are the product of a lot of jamming. How is the tone set for a certain song, and how are the compositions established and finalized?
SAM: New bits come out in between takes of written songs. A tuning break turns into a beat or riff. I shout, “That’s what I like,” into the air. The rest of us fall into the new opportunity and ride the wave. Occasionally, someone stops playing and looks at the rest of us and says, “That thing – do that thing again,” and that thing is done again. There is a digital recorder always. We throw the SD card at a computer and the computer analyzes our jamming and then tells us how to play the song. Then we do a once-over to make sure MJ sound has been expressed fully. When the smoke and sparks have cleared, we know we have a hot one on our hands.
JT: The process is very collaborative, but it almost always starts with a simple guitar motif. We build on it over and over until we have enough raw material to arrange everything together to create a solid product. It’s fairly methodical and deliberate.
With so many tempo and rhythm changes, are you all on the same page?
SAM: Probably not.
JT: More often than not — not even close. It leads to an interesting level of entropy. Somehow it comes together in the end.
How’d you get in touch with Fire Talk?
SAM: Trevor reached out. Pitched us an offer no one could refuse. We moved in within the fortnight.
Also, he was at a show we played right after recording at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, and also, and I’m not sure he has realized this because we haven’t talked about it but maybe he does and we just haven’t talked about it but I booked his great band Woodsman twice as part of a show series I ran for five years in Orange County. The second one got shut down by the cops I think. Sorry Trevor. Also, our JT’s old band used to play shows with Woodsman in Denver before both of them relocated to the cultural capitals of this great nation.
JT: I actually knew him from years ago. We are both from Denver and I was in a band called Weed Diamond and we played with Woodsman pretty often.
How was the recording process?
COLIN: We tracked the entire record at my house when my parents went on vacation to Catalina Island. We listened to the tracks over and over and decided that they sucked really bad, and they did. They sounded so bad. I will send you the files if you want to hear them. We sat around for months until we decided to record at Machines with Magnets in Rhode Island. It was all my idea because I am loaded with cash and willing to spend it all the time. We recorded the entire album live in two days. On the third day, the engineers mixed the little songs into big ones. Sam broke his arm three weeks prior to our trip to the big studio, but he nailed it. The studio dog peed on my phone, but I have GORILLA GLASS installed on my phone so it didn’t matter at all.
JT: Seth and Keith at Machines with Magnets have such a seamless, efficient process for making bands get exactly what they are hearing in their heads onto tape. We were as prepared as possible but it almost didn’t happen because Sam broke his arm in a bike crash three weeks before we were slated to record. The gods smiled on us. Also, having Ursula (their precious studio dog) around kept us grounded.
Where do the horns come into the picture?
JAMES: James used to play trombone in the old band. Sam had some song fragments that he brought our first practice, one of them being the horn line for Autopilot. We tried it with trombone, guitar, and trumpet. Trumpet passed the audition. James, for whatever reason, had two trumpets, despite having never played the trumpet before. In one song he blows into them simultaneously and they produce a sound. James would just drop them during shows in a rush to play the next guitar part. Now they are broken, and he is borrowing two different friends’ trumpets. He doesn’t drop them anymore. When we went to record it was quickly apparent that James was no professional trumpeter. The horns in the picture of the Rock and Roll Show were a bit more blurred and not under as much scrutiny as in the picture of the Rock and Roll Studio. Everyone was embarrassed, and in a brief huddle we decided to record Sam’s vocals while James learned how to play trumpet in the art gallery at the studio. When he came back that Bugle Boy (speaking) blew that horn with the righteousness of Seven Angels.
JT: Humans originally used to blow on the actual horns of animals before starting to emulate them in metal or other materials. This original usage survives in the shofar (Hebrew: שופר), a ram’s horn, which plays an important role in Jewish religous ritual. The genus of animal-horn instruments to which the shofar belongs is called קרן (keren) in Hebrew, qarnu in Akkadian, and κέρας (keras) in Greek. Fast forward a billion years and James does this thing where he plays two trumpets at the same time and everyone freaks out about it. I don’t get what the big deal is.
SAM: Looking for a sax player, to be honest.
Check Media Jewelers on tour, if you can!
15 Los Angeles, CA @ Echo Park Rising
25 Los Angeles, CA @ Vega’s Meat Market
30 Los Angeles, CA @ The Smell
03 Orange County, CA @ TBA
04 Los Angeles, CA @ Pehrspace
05 San Francisco, CA @ TBA
06 Davis, CA @ Third Space Arts
07 Eugene, OR @ 1415 Mill Alley
08 Seattle, WA @ Black Lodge
11 Portland, OR @ Turn Turn Turn
12 Oakland, CA @ Speakeasy
13 Upland, CA @ The Palisades
25 Los Angeles, CA @ Non Plus Ultra
03 Long Beach, CA @ MADE
24 Tijuana, Mexico @ A House
20 New York, NY @ Elvis Guesthouse
21 Brooklyn, NY @ TBA