By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Rock's future is safe in the hands of Chicago band Jet W. Lee.
The band's latest album, "Western Nightmare," barrels out of the gate with full force, ignoring any stop signs ahead.
The record provides a taste of the relentless energy Jet W. Lee, www.jetwleeband.com, creates on stage. The next hometown gig the band plays is on Nov. 24, when Jet W. Lee performs at Ace Bar, 1505 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago.
I had the chance to talk to guitarist Jesse W. Johnson about the new album.
As far as sound goes we wanted to make a rockin',catchy, and high quality representation of our live performances. I definitely think we achieved that.
We're all about doing a high-energy, seamless show and if you listen to "Western Nightmare," it's pretty much like a standard set we play on tour with quick song transitions and a few slower, reflective songs mixed in with rockin' tunes.
That's our favorite formula with other bands so we definitely wanted that for us.
Q - Any meaning behind the album's name? How does the band go about writing songs? Is it a collaborative effort?
"Western Nightmare" is the name of a song I wrote in high school. At that time I had a whole tracklist for an album and it's still up on the bedroom wall at my parents'house.
That song doesn't really hold up to newer songs,but when I was thinking about a bunch of the songs on the album,I remembered the name and thought it fit really well.
A number of the songs deal with disillusionment and some nightmarish stories so it works!
I usually write the core of the songs and then we work on arrangements and everything else together. It's definitely a collaborative effort, and I love seeing what the song evolves into after we've worked on it.
A great example of that is the song "Down for the Bounty." I had the lyrics and chord changes written, but Patrick and Pierre came up with the idea of starting with the bass line.
Then Patrick thought of the little riff that comes in between the chorus and verse and we all worked on getting the transitions in the solo and song ending right.
On tour, we play coffee shops during the day and bars/clubs at night. We've been really pleased with the response to the acoustic sets and sometimes the coffee shop shows are the best!
Q - Any meaning behind the band's name?
Yeah, the name is a mixture of a few things that a friend of ours said as a joke when we were trying to name the band. It's my middle initial, Jet Li, Robert E. Lee, anything else, ha ha. We liked it cause it was unique and sounded fun. One reviewer said it sounded like "a mode of travel for Civil War generals" and we dig that.
Q - In forming the band in 2009, what were your goals? How do you think the band's sound has evolved since you first formed?
Well, when we started the band, Patrick and I definitely wanted to make a living playing music. That's something we both have wanted to do for awhile and it made sense to work together towards it.
With "Western Nightmare" and the tour, this is the first time we have been playing music full time without working or school. It's awesome and I'm super glad we are taking the risk and going for it.
It's great to wake up and know exactly what you're working for and why. Now we're still doing everything ourselves and definitely don't have any illusions of grandeur.
After this tour, we will probably have to work again for awhile, but we're fine with that. The point for us is that we're taking the leap and know that it is what we want to do.
Our sound has definitely changed since we formed. First of all, I think we're all better players than we were and are able to play faster, more rocking songs with the finesse that they deserve.
Then with the new album, we've mixed a little bit more story-telling songs into our sound and I'm loving that. Patrick said something recently like "we're a rock 'n roll band that listens to a lot of singer-songwriters," and I really like that.
All my favorite bands can rock out and get serious within the same album and I'm happy that we're going for that territory.
Q - I'm sure that you've seen many labels put on the band by people trying to put you in a certain category. How would you describe the band's sound?
Yeah that's a hard one! Or at least weird, cause labels like "indie" or "alternative" are so widely used. We've got leg in both of those for sure but we're a rock band first and foremost. Usually we say we sound like Neil Young mixed with punk rock.
Q - Would you say the band fits comfortably in the Americana genre? It seems like there has been renewed interest in Americana bands in the past few years. Why do you think that is?
I really want to say yes to this, ha ha! Definitely yes in regards to song themes. We actually played a cover set as the Avett Brothers a few years back and it was AMAZING!
We did find a lot of ourselves in that music and I think one of the things that fits us in that category is the way Patrick and I sing together. We've been working on it a lot and are really happy with how it's going.
In general, I think some people find a more straight-forward musical and lyrical style in Americana music and that can be very attractive.
When I listen to Avett Brothers or something like that, I love how easy it is to connect to the words. That's not to say that these people are writing "simple" songs though.
There's some of the best lyrics out there in country/americana stuff!! Some real screwed up stuff, which I love. Check out Jessica Lea Mayfield. She's the BEST!! I saw here recently at a Chicago street fest and she absolutely rules.
Q - Do you think the band's strengths are in a live setting? Did you try to bring some of that energy into this record?
YESSS!!! It's super important to us that we sound as close to the record as possible live. Right now, we're picking up most of our fans at live shows, so we want our albums to deliver the same things that interested people enough to buy them in the first place.
You're not going to find a french horn on a JWL record anytime soon!
Q - Where do you see the band fitting into the Chicago music scene?
We love Chicago and have had a wonderful time growing up as a band there. At this point we feel right at home anywhere except for a dance club, ha ha.
We often have the best times at bars like Cole's and Ace Bar, but also have had a great time playing at places like Reggies and Double Door.
I think we're a band, along with our buds Hospital Garden, Mutts, The Safes, The Noise FM, The Blackbelts, Panoramic & True, Hemmingbirds, The Canoes, The Dyes, and many more that are injecting new rock into the Chicago scene.
That's important to us. Chicago MUST rock!