I take a lot of pride in my hometown music scene. At this point, in early 2012, I’ve been active in bands around Michigan for over a decade, and since 2005 I’ve been touring around the United States with some regularity. I sincerely think, with an, at least somewhat informed opinion, that Lansing, Michigan has one of the most interesting and artistically rich music scenes in the country. Sure, there’s your good handful of radio schlock rock jerks and popularity-driven, ego stroking buffoon bands (and these things are not mutually exclusive!), but there’s a higher concentration of musicians with integrity and true artistic visions in our unassuming capital city than many other supposed cultural hubs. I know there will always be a segment of the community that disagrees with me on this, but I’d still feel the same even if no one agreed with me.
But I’m not alone. The fact that Lansing is home to not just GTG but also Bermuda Mohawk Productions, It Takes A Village to Make Records, Great Lakes Collective, Madlantis Records, Silver Maple Kill Records, and Lower Peninsula Records, all of whom boast artistically credible music with a wide array of genres and musical focus, is perhaps the simplest antithesis of this. If I’m forgetting or ignorant of another label or group of people that are doing great things in this town, please let me know. Some people in this town, both within and outside of GTG, essentially embody this Lansing pride and one of those people is Josh David. I don’t think anyone else in this town besides Mr. David can lay claim to the title of authoring the greatest Lansing music anthem.
That’s “Capital City 2-Step,” a recording of which appears on the 2011 full-length album Can You Believe We Landed on the Moon? by Josh David and the Dream Jeans. It will probably go down as the song that JDDJ are remembered for by the faithful that were there to see the band. It’s not my favorite song of theirs, but it has all of the elements of what made them a great band, and the sentiment of the lyrics totally rules. Sure, their music wasn’t for everyone, but no one could convince me that their music isn’t well played and written/ performed with more heart than anything on the radio these days. This group of guys got together in July 2009 and this last Friday, March 2nd 2012, they played their last show. I’m very glad to say that I was in close proximity – living in the house that they rehearsed in, recording their studio efforts, being at the shows, lots of hanging out – to almost everything that happened with this band.
I’m sure I came into this band with some sort of bias, being that the two guys who wrote the bulk of the music are Nich Richard and Michael Boyes i.e. two of the people that I’ve written an incomprehnsible amount of music with in The Plurals and Drinking Mercury respectively, but they had never played together (in a serious capacity at least) before JDDJ and the musical chemistry they established was certainly real and not just appealing to me because it was two of my best friends. Nich’s Greg Ginn-informed guitar playing contrasted with Michael’s unhinged bass work to create a disorienting wall of music that seemed like it should have been coming from more than two instruments. Josh David couldn’t have had a better bed of music to unleash his aching, wailing voice on the world.
Oddly enough, this band started with Johnny Unicorn. My thoughts on Johnny’s brilliance are an essay unto themselves, so just follow this link for now. To sum it up quick, Johnny lived at GTG House for a year from summer 2008 to summer 2009 and went from being a total stranger to a beloved figure and musical inspiration for many in Lansing. He moved to Seattle in July of that year and we had a low key gathering on his last night in town. (A document of these events, in a sense, can be found in the Josh David and the Dream Jeans song “Aware of the Riverman). Josh David, who up to this point had been a vocal supporter of many Lansing and GTG bands, but only from the audience (well, and with the Cartridge Family, which wasn’t exactly the proper platform), brought up at this little party the idea of starting a band with Nich. Apparently shortly before this night Josh had asked a guy named Matt Norton if he would be interested in trying to start a band, to which Norton (who was also a member of the Cartridge Family along with Josh, Nich, myself, and many others) replied “get Nich Plural and I’m in.” Nich, to Josh’s suprise, took this as an opportunity to play guitar with some people (as he mostly plays bass in The Plurals) and Michael, who was going to be moving into Johnny’s old room, essentially overheard the conversation and offered his services on bass. I’ll interject here and say that on any given night at GTG House, particularly when drinks are flowing, there’s a high likelihood that whatever combination of people are in the room will decide to start a new band, very few of which leave this initial discussion, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how far any of these guys thought this band idea would go.
Defying the odds, they actually got together and started writing songs. Initially practicing at Norton’s house, they played their first show in October 2009 at GTG House. These four seemingly unlikely musical collaborators were billed as “Josh David and the Dream Jeans” after many discussions involving many bad band names (although I still have a soft spot for “The Josh David Group”). The decision and justification for this band name choice were one of the moments that I was not present for in any capacity, so I’ll let them field any questions on that one: firstname.lastname@example.org . More importantly, they played their first show and it kind of kicked ass. Their music was initially described as being reminiscent of later-era Black Flag, which was true to a point, but they definitely put their own spin on classic hardcore ideas. Josh David’s lyrics, at times uncomfortably personal and often injected with a dark sense of humor, certainly set them apart from other so-called punk bands, and when he sang them (or screamed them in your face) it was apparent that he meant every word. From the very beginning they were one of the best live bands in town.
Their first recorded appearance was a song called “Christmas Envy” which had the honor (?) of being the opening cut on the 2009 edition of the annual BMP/ GTG holiday compilation Bermuda Snowhawk. They continued to play lots of local shows and also made a trip down to to Toledo for 2010 St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans with the Cartridge Family. We started recording an album in spring 2010 at the GTG House studio, finishing, I believe, seven songs. By summer 2010, however, Norton was on his way out of the band. Essentially, after the music became more defined and the band got more comfortable with each other it became apparent that Norton’s personality didn’t quite gel with the others, and their musical tastes were fairly disparate. Norton’s primal drumming was essential to the early development of JDDJ (the songs “Fox in the Hen House” and “Pointless Dismemberment” are great examples of what his drum approach did for the band, with his replacement largely sticking to his arrangements) but as the band progressed their limitations as a unit became apparent. Norton’s tenure in the band was key, but he also is the only person I know to quit onstage mid-set, and to have that moment captured on film. Sorry (?) Matt, I have to post it.
Always ready to join a new band at a moment’s notice, Christian Urrabazo (then of the Guest Stars, soon to be of the Hat Madder, currently of both as well as live drummer for Cavalcade, formerly tour drummer of Failures’ Union, etc) stepped in, quickly learned the old songs and started writing with the guys for new songs, and JDDJ went on a midwest tour with The Plurals in August 2010.
With Christian sitting at the drums the band was recharged, with their new material quickly outshining their old material. We had been planning on releasing the sessions with Norton for their debut album, but it was clear that if we waited a little longer and recorded all of the songs with Christian we would get a superior document of the band. Four songs were culled from the spring sessions with Norton as a demo called Knight Riding a Motorcycle that were distributed at shows on the August tour, with plans to record the proper album pushed to the winter.The band went on another midwest tour in Fall 2010, finishing the year with their second seasonal song “Oh Santa” on Bermuda Snowhawk 2010.
We knocked out the sessions for the album fairly quickly in January and February 2011. Ashley Anderson was enlisted to make the cover art, Sylas Semen for mastering, and Peter Richards for layout and design. Keepin’ it local. I recorded the album at GTG House but had to push the mixing back until May as The Plurals went on a 6 week tour for our then-forthcoming Futurospective album, a dynamic that was ultimately representative of the demise of the band. This was a band formed by a group of friends that played with other musical projects, and the instrumentalists (Nich, Michael, and Christian) all had their own bands that pre-dated JDDJ, often leaving Josh as the odd man out, depending on the schedules of others. Bands can definitely work to great effect within these restrictions, but only when it is enjoyable for all parties. No one person was to blame, at least not from my outside-the-band-but-within-the-circle perspective, but by the time we were ready to release the album Can You Believe We Landed on the Moon? everyone’s priorities had changed and it was fairly clear that this band was becoming more of an obligation and less of an enjoyable form of expression. The album came out on June 24, 2011, with a kick ass show at Mac’s Bar also featuring Frank and Earnest (who snuck in The Plurals for two songs), The Hat Madder, Destroy Nate Allen, and Infernal Names.
Reception for the album was positive overall. Razorcake put it succinctly, declaring JDDJ a band “who could make being abrasive and obnoxious sound like the greatest thing in the world. Mr. David sounds here like he’s trying desperately to shred his larynx into tiny bits of confetti, while his cohorts sneak in some tasty, creative bits as they smash and bash at their instruments like they were piñatas stuffed with money. Loud, crude, chaotic and all kinds of fucked up, and you get fourteen glorious tracks of it, punk.” Idle and the Bear declared the album a “shock” and a “true flashback to the day of 80s hardcore.” Readjunk, however, totally missed the point saying “I would assume that they are either A) trying to emulate the awful recording techniques and noise punk sounds of the 70’s and if so why? or B) are really not good…AT ALL” and concluding that the album was “utterly unlistenable.” This same reviewer positively rated the recent post-Oasis projects, the newest Mighty Mighty Bosstones album, and the Decemberists, so he probably wasn’t the right guy for that one. Revue Mid-Michigan drove this point home by saying “Josh has managed to take something that might be a detriment to someone else (he can’t sing a lick) and totally make it work for him. He just goes for it and doesn’t worry about the results, which lends him confidence and sounds great. If you’re into mellow indie rock you won’t be able to stomach this.”
The album contained every song that the band had written to that point, and after the release the band took the rest of the summer off. Around this same time Todd from Silver Maple Kill Records and Peter from It Takes A Village to Make Records were soliciting Lansing bands for contributions to their respective compilations, both of which featured many contributions from GTG bands. JDDJ ended up contributing their last two songs to these respective compilations, two songs that were, I firmly believe, their two best songs. “Michael and the Wrecking Ball,” a cathartic, raging slab of hardcore appeared on Vol. 7 of the ITAV 3-Way Split singles series while the groovy, hooky “Peanut Butter,” featuring Josh’s most melodic vocals to date, was just released (in March 2012) on the Silver Maple Kill compilation No F#*@ing Egos 2: Electric Boogaloo. Both of these tracks are well worth seeking out.
After recording these last two songs the band returned to inactive duty. With another Plurals tour looming and more active outside projects (Nich and Michael had started The Hunky Newcomers, Christian had started drumming for Cavalcade in addition to the Hat Madder, and Josh was and is working on plans for an upcoming solo project featuring collaborations with different musicians) the guys made the call to do a farewell show in March. When Honah Lee needed a tour date for March 2 (also Nich’s birthday) it was decided that this would be the last show for JDDJ. In addition to the two new songs and choice cuts from the album, JDDJ also shook things up with two oddball cover choices in Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Roxanne” by The Police. It was a wild night and a heck of a way for the band to go out, in the same room as their first show.
While they’re saying that this was the last show, these are four people with a lot of creativity who remain friends, so they’re certainly not going anywhere. I for one hope they leave the door open to write some music together or play live again sometime down the line. Josh David and the Dream Jeans are definitely something that makes me proud to say that Lansing, Michigan is where I call home.
(I grabbed a lot of these photos from Facebook and I am not sure who took all of them. Some were by Bethanne Harms, some by the band members, some by Kim Nastal, no slights intended. The sweet flyer is by Ashley Anderson. Tim Hill took the videos, with the exception of the video from the first show by Rich Tupica.)
Also: Josh Barton’s AvE (Arts Vs. Entertainment) label.
But I feel like that’s picking nits on what is otherwise a great write-up of JDDJ’s mercurial run.
Ha! Right on Derek, I knew I had to be leaving someone out, as there’s so many great people doing good things in this town. – Tommy
I remember when Josh told me he was starting the band. It was great to be able to make it back to play the release show. Glad we could be a small part of the story.