Review Fix chats with The Jones Title, Brian Detlefs, Roger Mulligan, Justin Gray and Joey Vaughan, who discuss their origin as a group and new track, “She Don’t Know.”
About The Band:
The Jones Title is a scrappy underdog rock band formed circa 2018 in New York City. Percussionist Justin Gray had been a teaching artist for Carnegie Hall’s education program and had the perk of using their rehearsal facilities. He invited Brian Detlefs, his childhood friend and garage bandmate, to use the space with him. As luck would have it, Detlefs had been talking with bassist Roger Mulligan about playing together, and Mulligan’s longtime friend and collaborator Joey Vaughan was looking for a project where he could explore the guitar without having to provide lead vocals.
The initial “Carnegie Sessions” were instant kismet. The camaraderie and shared creative vision scratched an itch that all four hadn’t satisfied during years of playing in various outfits. They connected over a shared feeling of having been passed over by opportunity. None of their previous projects had garnered the kind of traction they had hoped for, and with all of them north of thirty, the window of “success” felt close to shutting.
The Jones Title had no interest in “keeping up with the Joneses.” They wanted to play the kind of music they loved, not what they thought would “sell” (though honestly no one would be upset if it did). Untethered by the constraints of being cool or trendy, their sound leaned toward the music they loved as kids of the nineties and early aughts, citing influences such as Jimmy Eat World, Soundgarden, Third Eye Blind, and Incubus.
Check them out on Spotify Now: https://open.spotify.com/embed/artist/7gEBUlO8vQ4SaaC1VCthGi
Review Fix: How did the band get together?
Brian: This was definitely a case of two bands sort of mashing together to form one better band. Roger and Joey had been playing in bands since their college days at SUNY Fredonia, while Justin and myself had been terrorizing basements and garages since middle school, learning how to play with songs like Green Day’s “When I Come Around’ and whatnot
I had been to a few shows by Joey and Rogers folk rock outfit Della Grove, whom I loved, so I knew they were both the real deal. Roger caught a solo show of mine at Rockwood and knew that he wanted to make music with me. Justin put out feelers about making use of the state-of-the-practice rooms he could book as part of a teaching gig he had at Carnegie Hall (no biggie) and after an initial jam, we became a sometimes twice a week affair.
Roger: YUP! Joey and I go way back to college and Brian and Justin even farther so I thought it fitting that we at least play together which was really what we wanted; just to play. After a year of “just playing” we decided to make more of a thing out of it and here we are.
Joey: Yeah, after fronting for Della Grove for a few years the band went our separate ways- About a year or so later Roger called me to jam with Brian and it was very low pressure and was just something fun to do with other musicians to try and stay somewhat sharp and familiar with the guitar in a collaborative setting. As we played together more every week, Brian was just a wealth of ideas that we all agreed to open them up and rework and things started getting more and more dynamic.
Justin: It was a pretty dope gig, and a pretty awesome set up. Not many bands get the chance to start at Carnegie Hall. We always kind of joked that there was nowhere to go but down after that. I think that’s taken a lot of the pressure off though, and allows us to connect with each other on a more grounded level. In a lot of ways this band just feels like an extension of the music Brian and I made together when we were sixteen. Although the quality’s definitely gotten significantly better.
Review Fix: What do you think makes you unique?
Brian: I think it’s the variety of genre in our sound. At one of our shows, you’re never going to run the risk of confusing one song for another. Some songs we’re playing borderline disco in the spirit of early Prince, others we’re a full on grunge band. Within the band we have such a wide range of influences, though I’d say Joey’s distinctive voice on the guitar gives us continuity, so it doesn’t feel like a different band from song to song.
Roger: I agree with Brian on this one. A signature sound with uniqueness in every song. What Brian won’t say because he writes most of the lyrics is the messages in the music are topical and need attention.
Joey: Definitely the range of influences gives us some kind of edge. There’s a lot of music we’ve introduced each other to over the last couple years while also holding on to our individual roots. Personally, I came up on rock n roll, blues and big bands…..Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin. But once we kind of throw that into the mix with the other influences, things like Prince, even Radiohead, Tool and Incubus, I think we’ve carved out a solid foundation to draw on influences but also explore where we can push into other genres, which has been a lot of fun.
Justin: Yeah and to continue off of Roger, I’ve been watching Brian’s lyrics and songwriting abilities evolve for over 20 years at this point and the thing that has excited me the most about our current songs is that he’s really writing lyrics that take aim at generational issues. They speak to issues that affect us personally on micro levels, but that are also speaking to massive world issues on a macro level. We’ve seen so much change over the last year, on both those micro and macro levels, that it’s sort of felt like everything’s adding up. We’ve talked a lot about what it means to make music at the end of the world, which is what it’s felt like to be making these songs over the last year or so. When you’ve seen two major financial collapses before 30, a rise in extreme ideologies, an endless list of societal inequities, and what seems like the impending death of the planet, existential crises about our own survival come easier. The analogy we’ve used a lot is feeling like the band on the Titanic, choosing to play music instead of giving into our fears, even in the face of the end. I don’t think every band would make that choice when faced with that.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Brian: It’s definitely changed over the years. When we first started playing, I was coming fresh from singer songwriter land, and I had this giant back catalogue of songs that I wanted to put to use, so often early sessions would be me pitching fully arranged and written songs, seeing what the band felt about it and changing that arrangement to suit our shared vision.
What we’ve grown into is a more organic process. Often songs will develop out of us just riding a groove for an hour, so we typically set aside time during rehearsal to indulge in that and see what comes out of it. Practicing our set is ‘the vegetables’ and the other part has become the ‘dessert.’
Roger: I’ll second that. We have been very lucky to have great spaces to experiment in both physically and existentially. We’ve always understood the importance of “jamming” to develop a tighter musical language, so to speak. It’s become more and more collaborative over the years.
Joey: It’s very democratic for the most part. But I’d say with any new ideas, more often than not we tend to agree on what is and is not what “The Jones Title” sound should be. Which is nice to have, even though we’re constantly trying to see where we can explore.
Justin: There’s also a really good understanding of the shared responsibility we all have for these songs. It really does feel like an even 25% split in terms of creative contribution from all of us. But also we let each other sort of take the lead on songs and run with them if one of us feels particularly attached. One of the most exciting things for me about this project has been that for the first time I’m also really feeling like a songwriter. Most of that is because Brian swoops in after I write the first draft and makes it sound way better. But it’s been an empowering process, where we’re clearly and demonstrably all stronger together.
Review Fix: What inspired “She Don’t Know”?
Brian: So, I’ll be real, I was in a sort of Tinder spiral when I wrote this one. I was getting a little freaked out by the behavior online dating was bringing out in me, the compartmentalization aspect. It’s weird to be able to switch a charm switch and simulate a romantic connection and really convince yourself that you’re feeling a certain way about someone you just met, let alone convince her as well. There’s a lot of deliberate projection in the lyrics. I’m singing ‘She don’t know about love’ when what I really mean is ‘I don’t know about love.’
Roger: That’s all Brian!
Brian: Haha, thanks Rog,
Joey: The original version Brian showed us was super digitized but it had this really interesting groove that I was immediately excited about. It took us a while to figure out the best way to translate it, but as far as the single version goes, I think we landed in a good spot.
Review Fix: Do you think love means something different in this digital age than it did 20 years ago?
Brian: I think that love is a choice, and 20 years ago, you didn’t have effectively infinite choices. I feel like now there’s a sense of choice paralysis. Our phones have become these evil magic mirrors where your search for a romantic partner is really a vain activity, when you think about it. There’s no room for the intangible, you’re just swiping on pictures of strangers until you land on one that you think best reflects your ideal, you have no real understanding or awareness of the person behind the picture. And the second it becomes work or challenges you in some way you’re not ready for, you can bail on it and go back to swiping.
I feel sorry for people younger than me that have never known anything else, because even though you have everyone in the world in your back pocket, it’s gotta be really fucking lonely.
Roger: I’m married and skirted that situation but I’ve seen friends and family be destroyed by the need for validation which comes so heavily through these types of social media platforms. Love is different now. It was supposed to be easier with all these apps but somehow I feel it’s become harder. My advice to the youth. Go out. Meet people organically and form a connection with someone that runs deeper than a swipe.
Justin: Yeah absolutely. It’s been a really interesting experience for me playing this song, because when we started playing this song I was in a long-term committed relationship that eventually ended up as a marriage. Then COVID hit not long after, and right in the middle of the pandemic it became very clear that we in fact did not know what love was. There’s no need to get into the details, but suffice to say that she was playing a part so well she had fooled even herself. With COVID though we were all kind of forced to face the truths in our lives, and it all became too much. Since then the song has taken on a very different meaning to me, and it’s made me realize all of the ways that fantasy or idealized versions of reality kind of creep into our perceptions these days. And that’s all just a recipe for disaster.
Joey: I think love is definitely a choice that is inspired by a feeling. Personally, I don’t think it means anything different than it did 20 years ago, but I do think there is a lot more misunderstanding and misinterpretation of it these days because of the accessibility we have to everyone digitally. I’m lucky to have some really great examples of what I define as the real thing, so I like to think I recognize it when I see it in the real world.
Review Fix: There are so many bands in NY? How do you stand out?
Brian: By deciding to make music and find ways to play shows despite people not being able to attend them. I think one thing I love about this band that has also cost me a lot of sleep is our propensity to tilt at windmills.
Roger: When you feel it, they do…
Joey: We try always to focus on what’s right in front of us. I once heard a wise coach (Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool FC), say something about being present, but to paraphrase “Everyone is responsible, at least a little bit, for the energy in a room they walk into” I couldn’t agree with that more, and as a band that steps into a room to rehearse or on stage at a show, we’re asking for people’s attention. You have to try and do something memorable with that because it’s valuable, especially nowadays. So we try to promote the energy at the core of the songs every time we play them. If it’s honest, and we’re communicating those ideas clearly, I think people hear it and try to connect.
Justin: We’re also all pretty hot in a dad-bod kind of way.
Review Fix: Has COVID helped or hindered your musical careers? How?
Brian: It’s been mixed nuts. We had about 6 months worth of shows wiped off the slate right when we were picking up some momentum, and that was a punch to the gut, but on the other hand, it afforded us the opportunity to look inward and start developing our forthcoming record. With a lot of label-backed bands pretty much in limbo because they have to operate at a profit, we’ve been able to book time at amazing studios with producers that a year ago we would have thought of as out of our league.
Covid and the administration that helped it be such an unmitigated disaster can fuck right off, but the circumstances it brought about forced us to grow as a group.
Roger: YUUUP!! Obviously art and the entertainment industry took a major hit all over and we did as well. The silver lining is the album. Not sure we would have been able to pull it off had it not been a pandemic. But we’ll never know, will we?
Joey: Music was a distraction from the chaos of the pandemic. With no work, nothing to really focus on, nowhere to go, I played a lot of guitar. And what started as demos, and a ton of uncertainty about what we were going to do as a band, we flipped that into make the album. Goes without saying that COVID was horrible for everyone, but from a mental health perspective I think it saved all four of us. It gave us a common goal and helped us grow together as a band. As a unit we’re much more in tune with what we want. All we can do is try to grow into the vision of that and anything that happens beyond that isn’t really up to us.
Justin: I think it’s safe (if not a little shitty to say) that this record, this music we’ve been making, would not exist without COVID. This last year has been a lot of trying to hold onto that mantra that “everything happens for a reason.” Maybe a better way to say it though is art is a reflection of reality. And had we not been smacked in the face with this reality, we probably wouldn’t be where we are now.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Brian: We’re just handing off the bulk of Birkenhead Drill to mix/master, and we’ll be releasing the album in four installments, with the first release being our single ‘She Don’t Know’ available for streaming 5/12. After that? Your guess is as good as mine. I feel like everyone on the planet is wondering ‘what’s next?’
Roger: Maybe that’s a new song idea… ‘What’s next?’ LOL! In all seriousness we’ll be very excited to share our music with the world and maybe that will help affect some change. I know as an artist that is what I personally strive for. To make a change.
Joey: Birkenhead Drill. Hopefully more shows in the future. Trying to support the NYC music scene and keep collaborating.
Justin: Yeah like Brian said, this year has taught me to stop planning too far ahead and just enjoy the moments. Right now we’re enjoying the music together. What’s next? Who knows? But hopefully onwards and upwards.