Friday, November 21, 2008

Band of the Week

Jared Mees and The Grown Children

Even though Jared Mees and his wife started the Portland record label and storefront, Tender Loving Empire back in 2005, the first product that I actually held in my was the latest album from Jared himself, Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, and Money. The album practically jumped out my stack, with it odd shape, and colorful screen printed case. It was a work of art. It was clearly made with care.

What was more impressive were sounds and stories inside the beautifully designed case. Jared has crafted a set of songs that are vibrant and honest, but also as the rainbow spitting shark on the cover. There is a mixture of sadness and victory, struggle and perseverance, but overall "patience pays off, finally".

Recently, Jared was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): The first thing that caught my eye with your new cd was the design elements. I know you have a background in screen printing, but I love the idea of a screen printed cd cover. Is this a more costly and labor intensive way to produce a product?
Jared Mees (JM): Screenprinting has been a huge part of my life during the past 3 years as everything released by Tender Loving Empire (the label/comics imprint my wife and I run in Portland OR) is hand screenprinted. While screenprinting is much more labor intensive we can produce each unit at less cost than getting it printed by someone else. Its also a lot more of an interesting process that you can control. I inevitably am unhappy with the work 95% of printers do, so its kind of a way to cater to my own OCD high standards nature. Plus it just looks and feels cooler.

OA: I also have the latest album from Super XX Man, it seems like there is an honest artistic effort put into the products of Tender Loving Empire. Is that what you are trying to covey? Do the musicians, yourself included, feel these artistic packages better represent your music?
JM: Tender Loving Empire began as a way to to name the unifying aesthetic momentum of our friends and family who were making music, drawing comics, writing books and just generally struggling to make art that was honest and mattered. The unifying look of our musical releases (screenprinted art on recycled cardboard covers) kind of just happened. We put my first album (If You Wanna Swim with the Sharks) out in that format and that had good response and we liked it and our friends liked it so we just continued doing things like it. However we have branched out recently. Our new comic compilation Shitbeems on the Loose has a really intricately colored offset cover with a screenprinted wrap and the new Boy Eats Drum Machine 12 inch vinyl is screenprinted directly over the art of other acts from the 70s and 80s...

OA: "Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, and Money" is a complete journey through your life (or so it seems). It seems like there have been struggles, but you are finally beginning to find some peace and also prosperity. Is this the case? Has "patience paid off, finally"?
JM: Basically caffeine, alcohol, sunshine and money are the four things I realized that affect people's day positively or negatively depending on the amounts you intake. In a way they're like the modern day food, water, shelter, clothing. The album mostly focuses on events from the past few years (tallest building in hell, in the fall, excellent time, oh no oh my god,) but also has a few more abstract examinations of the subconscious imagery that plagued me during those times (bees, trampling daisies, 10:26) As far as patience paying off, it does in small ways daily, though I guess it remains to be seen if it actually will in the long run...what that means is kinda vague to be honest. All this is not to downplay the fact that yes there were a couple years of hellish times but things have improved in my life considerably as of late...

OA: You are currently on a national tour, but do you feel that we are going to begin to see a decline in the amount of bands who can actually afford tour the country?
JM: I don't think so. Bands will always tour. The independent "if we can't get over, we'll go around" attitude is alive and well in this country just as it always has been. We just did a 25 state 30 day tour and I can say with confidence that it will take something much more substancial than $4.00 gas (Which, interestingly enough, when we left on tour, gas in Portland was $3.50/gallon and now its $2.40) to keep bands in this country from touring.

That said I think there is a lot more competition now that the playing field has been leveled so much by technologies like myspace and garage band. 1 person with a macbook and a 50 dollar mike can do what it used to take tons of equipment and knowledge and manpower and money to do. However, technology can't help you write honest, heartfelt, kick in the teeth pieces of music, nor can it teach you how to communicate that music to an audience in an authentic manner. Thats always going to be the barometer, in my opinion, of true blue american music: the finely tuned ability to combine words and music into an emotionally compelling composition coupled with the steel guts of a performer. Fuck myspace plays and big advances and ageism and music-as-fashiony-commodity-to-sell-energy-drinks...that's not music.

OA: Here in Chicago we hear a great deal about the "Portland Scene". What is the music scene actually like out there?
JM: The music scene in Portland is amazing. I'm not going to downplay it. Thats why I moved there and other people like me move there every day. There are amazing acts, amazing venues, a vibrant house show scene and a true, do it together, independent spirit. The sheer # of bands in such a small city however can make for some pretty stiff competition when you're starting out, but still, its not that hard to get shows or get people to show up to your is however, pretty hard to impress people because half your audience is usually musicians. Even if you do impress them, its hard to tell if you have.

On that same note, there's tons of other resources for getting your music out there in Portland. Several stores around town (including Tender Loving Empire) take music on consignment. There's also several yearly compilations, PDX Pop NOW!, Failing Records Comp and TLE's own Friends and Friends of Friends that feature collectively over 100 different bands each year. There's also Pop Tomorrow, which is a promotion company that specializes in throwing showcases featuring largely new and unknown acts. Portland Poster Pole is a website that features the weeks best posters from around town. There's even a fledgling musicians union. However, I don't want to make Portland sound like a mecca. It is whatever people who live here make it. Right now it kicks ass and I know as long as people don't get apathetic or complacent about it it will continue to kick ass for many years to come.

OA: What's next for Jared Mees and The Grown Children?
JM: Touring Touring Touring. The west coast this winter, Texas during spring, and probably a western US tour during Summer....Chicago again in the Fall. ...James Brown (our van) has tons of miles left in him.... we got dreams...

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, where have you found the best cup?
JM: Stumptown Coffee every time...there's 3 of them in Portland. Cafe D'italia next to Tender Loving Empire is my favorite coffee shop though.

OA: What was the last great book you have read?
JM: "Our Band Could be Your Life" by Michael Azzerrad
"A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace

Listen to: Bees (mp3) and In The Fall (mp3)

For more on Jared Mees please visit his website and for more on Tender Loving Empire go here.

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