# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Von Bondies - Interview with Jason Stollsteimer

  by Lisa Mundy

published: 26 / 9 / 2002

Von Bondies - Interview  with Jason Stollsteimer


Despite touring with the White Stripes and their own ability to sell out medium-sized venues, the Von Bondies are without a deal. Vocalist Jason Stollsteimer chats to Lisa Mundy about their debut album "Lack of Communication' and being broke

Jason: We were in the Red Light District in Paris, which is where the venue for our gig with The Datsuns and D4 was. They were before us so the bill was rock, then punk rock, then our not-so-over-the-top garage rock; the excitement levels were in reverse! Me, three French girls and a French guy were walking towards the Moulin Rouge. They said 'Whatever you do, don’t stop, or people will grab you to make you talk to prostitutes.' We met this huge group of Somalian guys. There are a lot of Somalians in Detroit and they are always nice guys. We couldn’t get by because they were taking up all the space. Then another guy starts yelling something in French, and everyone says 'Don’t turn around Jason!' and at that moment I felt this huge knife stab me right in the butt. But it didn’t go in, my butt’s real tough, and I yell 'What the fuck!' Then he did it again, they keep saying 'Don’t turn around', but I didn’t know who was behind me so I turn around with a glass bottle of water I was holding and they grab my arms and pull me back so I don’t hit him. This guy had a fucking steak knife and three huge Somalian guys were standing with him, going to kill me. I found out later that he said I embarrassed him in front of the French girls and that I pushed him. PB: Did he steal your money or anything? Jason: No, I don’t have any money. Jesus, we’re from Detroit! It’s hard to believe a band as high profile as blues-garage hybrids the Von Bondies could be criminally broke. Last year’s ‘Lack of Communication’ LP, which was released in a one-off deal on Seet Nothing, was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. They have built up a loyal fanbase in Europe and the States, helped in part by touring with old friends the White Stripes, and they are capable of selling out decent sized venues in their own right. The problem, as lead singer Jason Stollsteimer tells me, is the small matter of a recording contract. "I know the press always say we’re totally broke, but its true. We don’t have a label" he says. "Labels think there’s something wrong with us because we’re not signed. But we sell more records than the bands they paid a million dollars for. We sell more records independently than major label bands." It's not that there’s a particular lack of interest from major labels. It's a bit more complex than that. "Labels have only been interested in the last week" Jason says. "Before that everyone thought we were millionaires. Everyone thought we were rich like the White Stripes." When your chosen genre of music is full of rich kids like the Strokes pretending to be poor, you can almost understand where the confusion arises. But coming from New York or Los Angeles is a whole different thing to coming from an impoverished city like Detroit. Here in England, where all American bands with guitars are getting lumped together under the vague banner of ‘garage rock,’ it’s easy to think 'they wear skinny jeans, they must be loaded!' "I know!" Jason agrees. "It’s like ‘if they can afford to wear that gay an outfit they’ve gotta be rich!’ But I’ve had this haircut since I was 14, and always worn Converse. Someone said to me (sarcastic voice) ‘Oh, what’s up, Julian?’ And I was like ‘I’ll fucking kill him!’ So now I’m gonna have to wear Adidas with no laces and go to Run DMC gigs. You know, for the Kids. Gotta bring it all back for the Kids." Considering the band had never been across the pond until last year’s breakthrough tour with the White Stripes, you would think they would notice a few differences playing in the UK to playing in America. In Jason’s eyes however, the only difference seems to be the amount of press attention the band receives. "The actual gigs are almost the same." he says. "We’re the same size in both places; we sell out crowds all over America and we sell out crowds here. And we don’t have a record deal in either! We don’t have any press anywhere apart from people who actually like us. In America we’ve probably been in three magazines, total." I suggest this is largely because of England’s size; bands can get huge through the NME and other music press, whereas in America you can be a big band and still no-one’s heard of you. "The support of the British press is good for us, seeing as we don’t have any money to make posters or anything,’ Jason admits. "But there are also pitfalls to this amount of exposure." "The media has helped us almost in a bad way though; because they like us so much everyone thinks we are signed. Normally to get an interview with a big magazine you have to have someone to pay for the press to come and see you, but they come see us and they pay. So we are really proud that people, fans and media, actually like us enough that they pay to see us. What happens normally at a show is the record label buys most of the tickets so it sells out, but our shows, because we don’t have a label, we know people actually bought all the tickets." It seems like the Von Bondies are one of those admirable bunch of bands into the concept of not selling out and being for real. Funnily enough though, it’s not an ethic that seems to have dominated their lives; they are too busy having a good time to worry about it. "We were actually really offended that nobody would sign us, but then we found out it’s because everyone thought we were signed. It's just bad luck. It has nothing to do with us. None of us do coke or get fucked up. We drink a lot, but we are 23, 24, what do you expect? Two more years and I’ll have a big gut, and talk about the way it was, when I could still tie my own shoelaces." At this point the interview is interrupted by a huge dogfight breaking out on the other side of Camden Lock, where we are sat prior to the storming show at Dingwalls. I tell Jason how the dogs have been running around causing havoc all afternoon. "That’s what you get when you come to these Third World countries!" replies the sardonic American. I ask Jason if the Detroit music scene has changed a lot since the Von Bondies and the White Stripes have become famous. He admits he has noticed changes on the few occasions he gets to go back. "We still hang with our friends, but we go home and there’s a whole new group of people who are really into Blink 182 and Creed who now go to see the White Stripes, and they want our autograph" he says. "Our friends are still our friends but a lot of the good Detroit bands are on tour so no one is home. The scene is in England; the scene is in California or New York on tour. We’ve been gone for two months and we’re gonna be gone for another month, so we go home for a week and everyone says ‘What’s up, rock star?’ and I say ‘Dude! I still can’t pay rent!’" This is one of the situations many up and coming bands seem to find themselves in when surrounded by old friends; everyone expects you to be loaded when you aren’t. "It’s hard to tell them ‘no, I’m not!’" Jason says. "They say ‘well, how can you go to Amsterdam? How can you go to London?’ and I say ‘that’s why we’re broke!'" Changing the subject somewhat, I ask Jason about ‘Pawn Shoppe Heart’, the follow-up to ‘Lack of Communication’. He tells me how all the songs are complete and ready to go, but it can’t be recorded until they get themselves a record label. I wonder why they don’t release it themselves, as an increasing number of bands are opting to do. "You’d never see it!" Jason laughs. "If I released it, it would be in my bedroom and you could come over and listen to it." I suggest selling it online to a few geeky people. "Hey, you leave you and me out of this" replies Jason. Insults aside, I am keen to discover what the new LP is actually going to sound like. "Well the first record was mostly about one girl, because I’m a hopeless romantic" Jason says. "It sounds stupid to say but there’s no other way to say it, I totally believe in monogamy and I’m not one of those guys who goes on tour and…I mean you could go out tonight and totally get laid if that’s what you wanted." But surely a good looking guy like him must get a lot of female interest. "Most girls are too intimidated anyway; girls don’t come up to Jack (White), or to any of us, not unless they know you’re a slut, like (names certain NY band)." I tell Jason I know at least three people who slept with that band on their last tour. "I know three people here who did and there are only 20 people!" he laughs. "They are sleeping with 30 countries and I’m not into that. It’s fine if you are; part of being in a band is the opportunity to have random sex as much as you want. I write better songs about love than I do about (assumes bad English accent) shagging." So it seems safe to assume the new album is about luuurve. "It is!" Jason says. "We are going to do half the new record tonight. We do it every night because, dammit, 'Lack of Communication' has been out for a year and a half." It seems to me the whole band must be bored to death of the old stuff, yet to us Englishsters its still fresh; 'It Came From Japan' has only just come out as a single here. "It’s a joke!" Jason admits. "It was a single in America a year and a half ago, but here it wasn’t released. And then there’s our (sarcastic tone) video, which cost £500 to make…" I tell Jason they’ve been playing it in heavy rotation on MTV2. "What are they doing!" he says, laughing. People eager for new material won’t be disappointed though. "The B-side is a song that Marcie and me sing back and forth, and she plays saxophone, which we can’t do live because we don’t have a saxophone" says Jason. "It’s a really, really interesting track. I play organ and guitar, it’s a total studio song, its really short but it’s good. There’s no bass, so Carrie’s not playing anything." I bait Jason by suggesting he’s going for the White Stripes no-bass thing, teasing that the readers may be thinking "'See! I told you they were exactly the same!’" "No, the organ is a bass, dammit!" he says, adopting a mock-angry tone. "So you are the Doors then, not the White Stripes!" I retort. "We are the White Doors" he replies "We’re the Striped Doors." Getting back to 'Pawn Shoppe Heart', is the sound on the new LP basically the same as 'Lack Of Communication' ? "No, its gonna be a higher quality" says Jason. "If you put 'Lack of Communication' in a CD player, and then you put another record that’s just come out like Interpol, or even the White Stripes, you have to turn our record up a bunch just to hear it. We’re gonna make it a bit more full sounding. We’re not going to do studio tricks or anything, we’re still gonna use the same equipment." This confirms my suspicions that the rawness of 'Lack of Communication' was due to 'Lack of Money', not due to that intentional "making it sound like it was recorded on a 4-track when it was recorded in Abbey Road" effect. Jason starts to tell me about how the new White Stripes LP, ‘Elephant,’ cost £6000 when we are interrupted by two Canadian girls who can’t get tickets for tonight’s gig and ask Jason to get them on the guest list. He talks to them for a while, promising to try and sneak them in as part of the road crew. Such noble rock star behaviour must make Jason popular with the ladies, but proving the ‘hopeless romantic’ image is 100% genuine, he only wants to talk about his girlfriend of eight years, on and off. I ask him if the new LP is mainly about her. "The first record was about her, then we broke up and I thought I’d never see her again" he says. "I wrote the songs two or three years ago, so the new record is about us getting back together, she broke off a marriage for me. She was engaged…" An image of ‘The Graduate’ appears in my head, with Jason assuming the role of Benjamin Braddock, screaming at the top of the stairs in the church. "It was kind of like that" Jason laughs. "She’s only 23, younger than me, but he was older. He had a nice car. Just kidding, but I don’t have a nice car…" Bringing the conversation back to band matters, I wonder how long it will be until the new record is made, seeing as the band first needs a record deal. "We could go in and record it in December and have it out by April if a label signs us in the next two weeks" Jason says. "It could happen tonight, but I tend to insult most record labels" he laughs. If tonight’s gig is anything like most London gigs there will be hoards of A&R men there waving their cheque books around; this isn’t something that phases our intrepid Von Bondie in the least, as he has experience of being rude to far bigger fish than the odd record exec. "Do you want to hear a story about, what’s his name, the guy who owns Virgin? Richard Branson, right? He came to the White Stripes show, I didn’t know who the fuck he was!" says Jason. "So I came over here like a stupid American and Branson is backstage at the White Stripes gig, just after they signed, on our first tour here. He’s talking to me, saying ‘Can I get a copy of your record?’ and I said ‘I’m kind of busy right now’. I thought he was just some guy with a beard trying to hit on me, which happens." Quite how many encounters of that nature the band have experienced backstage is unclear, but I give Jason the benefit of the doubt, as I am keen to hear the finale of this story. "I didn’t end up giving him a record" he continues. "A month later at the end of the tour, he came again. I drink Jagermeister and absinthe, because beer takes too long. So I finally got a bottle of Jager; after 30 shows I finally got something on the rider!" he says. "I go backstage and there he is again, drinking it! I say ‘Put that fucking bottle down! That’s my bottle!’ and he apologises. Then Jack whispers to me ‘Don’t yell at him! That’s Richard Branson!’ He must have thought I was being really arrogant when in fact I just didn’t know who he was. I don’t know who owns any record label!" You may think this is a random incident but it seems Jason has a history of volatile experiences to recount. "When we played at the London Monarch we had a song where we get everyone to clap along, and in the back I could see all these Suits, record label people and press people and A&R people, and they weren’t getting into it at all" he says. "So I yelled ‘If you don’t have your hands together you can get the fuck out, I don’t care who the fuck you are! We gave you tickets and if you aren’t into it you shouldn’t be here!’ So then they all go ‘YEEEEAH!’ and start clapping along." Two hours later, and the Suits are again clearly visible lingering at the back of a packed and sweaty Dingwalls. The band don’t seem to notice them on this occasion; they are more interested in satisfying the hordes of fans vying for the best position at the front. Bassist Carrie Smith and guitarist Marcie Bolen prove girls can rock hard and still look damn sexy, and drummer Don Blum pounds away at the back like a trooper. Jason writhes around on stage like a man possessed, inciting the crowd to get their rocks off in the time honoured Detroit style, while Jack and Meg White watch from the side of the stage. There’s even a celebrity stage invasion by new mates the Datsuns for a shambolic encore. Proving they walk the walk as well as talk the talk, the Von Bondies are the best unsigned band in the world right now. Lets hope it doesn’t stay that way for too long.

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Dominion Tavern, Ottawa, 21/2/2004
Von Bondies - Dominion Tavern, Ottawa, 21/2/2004
In what will probably be one of their last shows in a small club , Andrew Carver at the Ottawa Dominion Tavern finds the much touted Detroit garage rockers the Von Bondies an engaging presence

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