One constant over the past 17 years of MAGNET has been the music of Jason Noble. First with the post-hardcore Rodan, then the classically inclined Rachel’s, the post-rock Shipping News and the theatrically concerned Young Scamels, Noble has always been involved with projects that interested and challenged us. Noble has two new releases: a live Shipping News album, One Less Heartless To Fear (Karate Body/Noise Pollution), and the debut LP from the Young Scamels, Tempest (File 13). Unfortunately, creating music is hardly the main concern for Noble these days. The 39-year-old Louisville, Ky., native was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, 15 months ago and is currently battling the disease with the determination, positive energy and modesty he has always displayed in his two-decade musical career. MAGNET is proud to have Noble guest editing our website all week. Read our Q&A with him.
“Concrete And Crawdads: A Short Conversation With Jeff Mueller”
Noble: Jeff Mueller is a musician and artist who currently lives in New Haven, Conn. He’s performed in many bands including the excellent June Of 44. He and his wife Kerri run a letterpress printing company called Dexterity Press. They work with lots of bands, record labels and writers. They’re also great parents.
So, for full disclosure, I have to say: Jeff is one of my oldest friends and the only adult male I’ve ever walked with (naked) down Taylorsville Road in Louisville. Now, it was night time, so no lawsuits were involved. Why were we naked? Well, when we write our own personal version of Going Rogue you’ll get the salient details.
More disclosure? Jeff is a very dedicated musical collaborator and a true confidant. We’ve played together in three bands. With the exception of a two-year hiatus (around 1995), we’ve played together since 1987. Greg King, Jeff and I started our first band in high school (beginning with writing a fanzine/comic book), and it all just went from there. King G And The J Krew, Rodan and now Shipping News, as well as many other visual-art projects and life activities. I may have never played music without Jeff ‘cause I was far too conservative and scared and unsure to even start. Greg and Jeff drew me in and opened up my world.
I realized (recently) that I’d never actually interviewed Jeff, even though we spent all that time making zines and we often share press duties for our bands. So, if you will indulge me a little, here are a few questions I’ve waited 25 years to ask him.
Q&A after the jump.
Noble: When I first met you in high school, you would carry vinyl albums with you to school. Was it just ‘cuz you didn’t want to be parted from your favorite jams? Did you like the artwork?
Mueller: A little of both reasons that you mention for sure. Middle school was rough; we moved a lot, all to separate neighborhoods in Louisville, I found myself in four different schools prior to high school. Perhaps it’s safe to say that many of the records I carried with me were my “friends”? I dunno. I brought them everywhere I went. Coincidentally, Todd (of Shipping News) and I were pretty close for the first few months of high school. He’d come over to my house with a case of records, and we’d hang out and listen to music. He later threw Hormel Chili Mac on the ceiling of our house and got a mohawk, so we didn’t hang out so much until we re-grouped in Shipping News. I love him.
Again on the subject of music, what was the most significant album of 1987? I feel like it’s Big Black or Van Halen.
I’m not sure when the Big Black Headache EP was released on Touch And Go, but it changed my entire perception of music. Van Halen had wilted by 1987; 1984 was my last true connection with them. The Cure Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was released in the vicinity of 1987 I think; it’s a pretty good record.
Touch And Go/Quarterstick Records was our home label from 1993 to 2009. They have now scaled down the record label and are focusing on keeping their large back catalog in print. So much of their financial issues stem from free downloading and the shift in attitudes toward punk music and how to do business ethically. How do labels stay healthy with the incredible wealth of music out there? How do you think artists can keep making a living when so much music has been given/taken for free?
In February 2009, when Touch And Go announced its cutback and voiced the general condition the business was in, the news hit an international chord, as Touch And Go itself has a significant following all over the planet. The balance of Touch And Go’s 2009 was primarily geared toward assisting the affiliated labels, as well as its own staff, in finding their own way. At some point, the consumer has to own up and become a participant in the health of the culture it buys into. With the advent of downloading and the simplicity involved with the process in its totality, theft is inevitable. If it can be gotten for free, it will be. It’s not really a matter of Napster, it’s more a matter of what a music listener finds it necessary to pay for. Clearly, regardless of any regulations that may or may not be in place, when Napster came under attack by whomever, it didn’t stop anything. A record may very well be downloaded thousands of times in the weeks prior to its actual release; all it takes is one digital file to make it so. This will obviously affect sales potential, which in turn has an immediate affect on the artist, the label, the record store and, ultimately, the health of the culture.
What are the five most influential rap songs in your life?
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Melle Mel, “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow, “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” by Public Enemy and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J. (That’s six songs. Fuck you.)
From my perspective, you and Kerri have found an amazing way to keep living a creative life as you have become parents. For six years, you have balanced these parts of your life in a way I really admire. Do you guys have any advice for artists/musicians who are just now starting families?
If anything, know when to slow down and take time for each other. For us, certainly now that we have Leo, if we don’t recognize each other’s basic needs, we come undone. We are able to be creative because there is natural support for creativity in our lives together. If our lives together are compromised, everything suffers. Kerri recognizes and advocates for music and art in my life, as I advocate for art and creativity in hers. These are the things that initially made us attractive to one another. If we stopped, for any reason, we may not see each other the same way anymore. Similarly with Leo, I will be behind what ever he chooses to do with himself as he gets older, though I hope that when he hears and sees me playing guitar all the time or coming home from the printshop with ink on my hands, it may help to inform some creative choices in him.
On that subject, what are the top five songs that Leo likes?
“The Mantis Romantic” by the National Acrobat, “Funk You Up” by the Sequence, “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina And The Waves, “All By Electricity” by Shipping News and “No One” by Alicia Keys.
Bob Weston has worked on many of our projects and has been a collaborator in many ways over the years. When you think of the first week we worked together (on the Rodan album), what do you remember most?
Many things. The strongest memory is feeling so welcomed by both Bob and Steve at Kitty Empire. Also, how nice and generally unassuming everyone was. To be honest, I was still digesting the fact that we were going in to record an album that was going to be on Quarterstick—still in a bit of shock. But then, being in that place, with those people, it was all such a rush. A non-Bob but worth-noting memory is that I had fallen down a flight of stairs while carrying an amplifier just before we left for Chicago. I remember feeling to see if all my teeth were still there.
What would you say to a 15-year-old who is just starting music? We were that age when we met, and it’s pretty wild to think of everything that has happened since then. What constitutes a “successful” career?
Selling physical formats marked a certain bar of success when we were young. We’ve both sold pressings anywhere from 50 cassettes to 25,000-plus LP/CDs. Both extremes have always granted a feeling of success, satisfaction and thankfulness. Seeing the number of times a song is downloaded is supposed to bring similar emotions, I guess, but there is little joy in this for me. I like making records, seeing and holding the art, forming the associations that are made when you can physically see and feel the record and reading from a sheet of paper versus a flat screen. I’m not going to go into the “career” aspects and financial end of this. The contemporary market for selling records is too much of a confusing bummer, and I think I touched on it in a previous question. In a more tactile sense, if you enjoy what you do and are able to play shows—a lot of shows—you will probably find yourself in a seriously positive lifestyle that supports itself. As much of a life as we’ve built around the bands that we’ve been in, I don’t think we’ve ever entirely relied on music as a career. We’ve been fortunate at times to make money with records and on tours, but we’ve always tried to stay somewhat employed elsewhere. My satisfaction with music has always stemmed from playing live, making good friends, the relationships we’ve nourished with the labels we’re on and, above all, writing music.