Interview: California WivesPosted 09/13/2012 01:49PM by Nick Senior as Article
Let's square things away here. The band is actually comprised of four guys, so they are not wives. Secondly, they are from Chicago, not California. The name is a bit curious, but the music is anything but. Art History is the debut release from California Wives, but you would not know it by listening to the album. This is the sound of a seasoned band, not a bunch of rookies. If the idea of Smashing Pumpkins-style shoegaze meeting up with 80s new wave sounds appealing, then Art History is for you.
Can you identify yourself for our readers? How about a brief history of the band?
My name is Jayson Kramer, and I play guitar, keys, and sing in California Wives. California Wives came together about three years ago when Joe and Dan asked me to join a band they were starting. We bonded over our love of many different genres of music, everything from new wave to Brit rock. We spent a good portion of our time trying to get the right blend of sounds and once we had that in place, we started trying to write solid pop songs.
How would you describe your band’s sound to those who haven’t heard of California Wives before?
Well, I would probably grab my iPod and see if they would listen to it themselves first. If I couldn't make that happen, I would describe it as a blend of 80s pop with guitars from the 90s. Our drummer, Joe, also takes a lot of inspiration from Phil Rudd (AC/DC), so most of the time we build our songs around a strong rhythm section.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but what spawned your band’s name? Do you relish that decision or regret its connections to reality TV and plastic surgery?
I think it's kind of pointless regretting the name and the connections people make with reality TV and plastic surgery. Those connections were bound to happen eventually. I really like all the confusion that arises from our band name. I hope that people will realize that California Wives is just a symbol, just like any other band name. I have a very strong connection to the music we make and I hope other people can feel that way about our music, regardless of what name we chose. That was our motive all along.
Art History was released on September 4th on Vagrant Records. What was it like recording your first album?
Recording our first album was such a great learning experience for all of us. I think we all became better listeners and better band members after finishing the record. When you're working that closely and that frequently with a small group of people, you start to recognize traits about yourself that could use improving. I think I became more patient with things, letting ideas develop naturally and learning to step back after long hours in the studio.
How do you feel about the reception so far?
I've been really pleased with the way people are reacting to the record. I'm seeing a lot of people pick out a lot of the influences we were keeping in mind as we wrote Art History. Many bands have influenced our sound, so it's great to see some people pick out 80's new wave and other people reference bands from the 90's, like The Smashing Pumpkins. People are really interacting with the record, which is all I can ask for.
How do you keep yourself entertained on the road? What do you see yourself bringing along for upcoming larger tours?
I've been getting back into skateboarding recently. It's a good way to get your mind off of things for a little while. It's also a good way to explore a city if you've got some spare time. It's rare to have time to myself, but if I have a few hours, riding around a new city is a great way to relax. And as far as upcoming tours, it would be cool to have a functioning camera on my phone. The camera doesn't work on my phone and I'm working on getting that fixed for tours to come.
Speaking of tours, what do you have lined up in the Fall and Winter?
We are getting the details on follow up tours as we speak. We have every intention of staying out on the road as long as possible. We love playing, so we'll do whatever we have to do to keep it going.
If you could tour with any bands/artists (active or inactive), whom would you choose?
Pavement probably, which is a little odd because I've never had the opportunity to see them play live. I've seen videos online and I just love the way those songs come to life. I think I would find something interesting to watch at every show. Death Cab for Cutie would be great too. I saw them at the Bottom Lounge years ago in Chicago when The Photo Album was out and have loved their live show ever since. It would be cool to be a part of that.
What are the best and worst parts of being from the Windy City? What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I think the food in Chicago is one of our strengths. There's such variety here... you can get everything from gourmet hot dogs to great Korean food. My favorite place to eat would probably be the Bad Apple. Some people swear by Kuma's (which also has amazing burgers, worth the wait), but the "Elvis' Last Supper" at the Bad Apple is one of my favorite meals in this city. That burger has bacon AND peanut butter, a lethal concoction of deliciousness. And the worst part about Chicago? The snow.
The big question now: Cubs or White Sox?
White Sox. My dad is a huge White Sox fan, so it seemed like the right thing to do. Some people get kind of crazy about that whole rivalry, which seems like it takes a lot of energy. It's great to have a city big enough for two baseball teams and for several weeks in the summer, watching those teams play is a good investment of a few hours.
Which bands or artists are you listening to right now? Do you have any guilty pleasure songs or records for the Summer?
I've been listening to those new Sea and Cake singles lately. I'm very excited for the new record to come out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that band and their records always sound so great. They've been doing their thing since the mid-90s and after all that time, the musicianship is still so obvious on their records. Once a fan, always a fan.
So who was/were your favorite band or bands when you were growing up?
Like most people in my generation, I've always loved Radiohead. Their catalog is so diverse and it's always been music first with those guys. Being from Chicago, I was also very into The Smashing Pumpkins. Most of us probably remember getting that double album when it came out. Those were good times.
Your debut album is entitled Art History. How did you come up with that name?
Well, wanted to pick a name that reflected how we make our music. A lot of our influences come from a time period before we were born. We weren't experiencing the new wave movement while it was actually happening. So, the way we interpret that music is through an entirely different lens. And the result is that our music sounds kind of like new wave, but also kind of like a mixture of everything that happened AFTER new wave. Studying art history is sort of like that too. The meaning of a Velasquez painting, or the impact of a Velasquez painting, is entirely different now... years and years removed from the date it was painted. You could never create that art again, and you shouldn't want to either.
Who is your favorite painter or artist then? Do you have a favorite period of art history?
I'm kind of all over the map and like most things, my interests have changed over time. I'm still a very big fan of more baroque style painters, like Diego Velasquez. I spent some time in Spain studying those artists and I really developed an appreciation for their work. But I also love more modern artists, like David Hockney and Chuck Close. I also just went to a Roy Lichtenstein exhibit and was really inspired by the breadth of his work. So his stuff has been floating around in my head.
You were rather close to becoming a medical professional, even taking the MCAT. What spawned that shift in direction, and did that change have any effect on your attitude towards starting this band? Did the release of Art History come with a big sigh of relief?
I think the shift in direction came from listening to myself and asking the right questions. The medical profession has and always will fascinate me, but I couldn't see myself going through the motions every day. Obviously, it was a luxury to be able to make that decision. Many people aren't afforded the ability to step back and re-examine the direction things are going. So, if you have that opportunity, NOT taking a second to step back seems like a bad idea. The big sigh of relief came when I re-discovered that outlet of creativity again. Music was always a part of my life, but to put writing music at the forefront again was a major "aha!" moment. It was nice to feel so passionate about something every day and that's why I keep writing.
This is always a favorite question of mine: what was your favorite TV show or movie from when you were growing up? If it were remade, whom would you want starring in the remake?
I loved Captain Planet. I remember owning those rings, fighting over which character each of us would be. The theme song was pretty great too. Captain Planet was blue, so you'd need good make-up to pull that off... maybe like Hellboy? Watching a Guillermo del Toro remake of Captain Planet would probably make my head explode. I was a huge fan of action movies too, like Die Hard and Predator. My dad had a huge collection of VHS tapes and we would always watch those same Bruce Willis/Kurt Russel/Stallone/Schwarzenegger movies. I kind of hope they don't remake too many of those movies. As silly as they were, they were fun to watch. Adding more explosions, turning down the lighting, and making everyone more serious isn't making those movies any better.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Well, we really, really appreciate all the support and enthusiasm from our fans. That stuff keeps us going and pushes us to keep trying new things. So thank you! And our record is out now...you can pick it up on iTunes or Amazon. We hope you like the record and we can't wait to see YOU at a show!