The Jealous Sound's Blair Shehan Remembers his First Guitar: A Black and White Epiphone
In honor of the Jealous Sound's third appearance in the DFW area in 12 months (they play in the House of Blues' Cambridge Room tonight), we caught up with frontman Blair Shehan on how he got into playing guitar, hardcore punk, and where the band is now.
What drew you to playing guitar?
I grew up in a smaller town and I got into skateboarding and then punk rock after that. I went and bought a guitar at the pawn shop and then that started the whole thing going. We were too far removed from being a band or playing [laughs]. It wasn't a legitimate band. I was 14 when I got a guitar. Hardcore and punk rock made me want to do it.
Can you remember the kind of guitar it was?
You know, my very first one was a black and white Epiphone guitar. My dad took me down there. There were two guitar stores in town. The pawn shop was cheaper so it was easier to go there and get it, if my memory serves me correctly.
Did you play music in the school band?
No, never. It never went down like that. I took some guitar lessons for a week or a month or something to just get started.
Can you remember the first record that you bought with your own money?
That is a great question! I'm trying to think what we had, or I had. These should be easy questions but they're not for me. For some reason, I can't remember this stuff. Everybody's like, "Oh, I bought an Air Supply record or a Van Halen record." I remember getting a Twisted Sister tape when I was a kid, of playing that but not buying it. Also, I grew up in a fairly religious household, so getting a hold of that stuff was never encouraged. We would listen to the radio in the morning and I remember my sister got one of Greg Kihn's records and somebody got an Icicle Works record. I have two older sisters and stuff would filter around the house. Everything really changed for me when I got into punk rock. Then it became something that I was really interested in. Buying records, making the trip to the big city to get stuff. That was the definitive shift for me.
What were some of the bands that you clung to in punk rock? A lot of times, people say Black Flag or Minor Threat. What about you?
Black Flag, not so much. Black Flag always sounded more machine-like, really dense and heavy. I always liked the wit of Minor Threat and these buried hooks with an anthemic quality. Some of my favorites were Minor Threat, 7 Seconds' Walk Together, Rock Together, The Crew. Those were probably my two big ones. From then, I delved even further into the straight edge/hardcore ethic, but more of the positive vibe for me. All the negative, heavy punk rock stuff, I liked the idea of it, but I didn't enjoy listening to it a bunch.
Was Gorilla Biscuits in the mix?
Without question! The first introduction was 7 Seconds, Minor Threat, mix tapes. From there, the late 80s started happening and Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Uniform Choice, like, all that stuff really came in and took over my life. We were about three hours away from San Francisco, so I started going to those shows once I got my license. I'd see all those bands play in the late 80s.
Since you saw shows in the late 80s, I want to ask you something. This was right after the first wave of hardcore died, or in the words of Steven Blush, "By 1986 hardcore was over." Obviously hardcore meant a lot to you, so what do you say to people that think hardcore died in the mid-80s?
To me, it died in 1990. I remember a shift happened for me, personally, right around that time. It died with the '80s, in my mind. The heyday for me was '87-'89. If you were into straight edge hardcore, it was on. It was incredibly vibrant, incredibly exciting, well-attended shows, super-charismatic. I couldn't have been more intoxicated at that time. When somebody tells me it died in '85, I was just getting started.
When you first heard your voice on a record, what did you think of it?
I thought it was OK. It was prior to being in my first band, Knapsack. We made a demo cassette called Down Time and that was the first recording I had done. It was totally new thing for me to do. I remember thinking [it was] passable. It was strange. You take that step and ask yourself, "Am I singer? I think so, I'll try it."
As much as I am drummer, can play guitar, and try to record my material, I can't decide if I want to sing like Morrissey or Matt Pryor from the Get Up Kids, so it's kinda painful to listen to. Still!
[laughs] You know, when you sing, A) you have the sound of your voice, B) you have the content of what you're singing about. So it can be a real kind of burden, foundation-rattling sort of thing. It still happens to me to this day.
Even talking with you, it always blows my mind when I can hear a singer's singing voice come out in the speaking voice. Probably the first time I noticed this was when I interviewed Walter Schreifels a few years ago. A few times, the voice he uses with Quicksand and Rival Schools came out. It was the tip-off for me that a singing voice should have parts of your speaking voice.
Sure! It's the inside looking out. As a singer, you gotta massage your voice into making it the way you want to hear it back. You mix your vocals into the songs by manipulating your voice into a way that you're comfortable so it doesn't sound so jarring.
Can you remember the first time the Jealous Sound played Dallas? Wasn't Adam Wade playing with you?
I have to think back. It was with Death Cab for Cutie at the Gypsy Tea Room in 2000. We had a different drummer then. We did a full US winter tour with them.
I've seen you guys play four times. The last couple of times, you sound much bigger and fuller than your records. Is that just a matter of mixing or what? Bob is such a powerful drummer.
That's part of it! Having Bob on board has changed the live dynamic of this band. He only has one kind of volume, which is big, loud. He brings thunder. I enjoy that.
A Gentle Reminder has been reissued on Rise Records. Is Kill Them with Kindness going to be as well?
That's the idea.
Had their original labels gone out of business?
We wanted a re-release for Kill Them with Kindness. That had reverted back to the band, so we had all that. With [A Gentle Reminder] on Rise, we had an unfinished song that we finished. That one is out of print, the way it [originally] was.
Is there a new record in development?
That's a funny thing. Yeah, you know, it is. We had finished the one we are still touring on. This [A Gentle Reminder reissue] is kinda being treated like a new record, so it essentially it is. But the idea is, "What's next?" Bands will sometimes release new records every couple of years. I would like, very much, to make another record. It's certainly in the development stages. Time, as you know, goes through your fingers. You wake up to it and say, "Oh, we better get going on this!" I'm excited to see what we're going to do next. So, who knows?
The Jealous Sound plays with Balance and Composure in the Cambridge Room at the House of Blues tonight, Tuesday, February 12th.