by: bill aicher & big rude jake
Jake's debut album came out on Tuesday, February 23, 1999
on Roadrunner Records. It is one of the most innovative "swing"
albums released in this recent swing resurgence. The album
received a rating of 4.5 out of 5.0 on our site (read
the review) and has been received with open hands by the
music community. One of the songs, "Queer for Cat"
can be be found on the March 1999 CMJ Monthly magazine CD.
Recently Billy was given the chance to talk with the Big Man
himself. Here is what he found out:
How are you doing today?
I'm doing pretty good, I had a day off finally.
you been busy with interviews and stuff?
Actually today was the first day of interviews, so I had half
a day off. I have been doing a lot of different things. I
have sort of been realigning my life to get ready for this
new lifestyle that is sort of looming large over my head.
They tell me I am going to be living out of a suitcase for
the next two years.
touring and everything?
Yeah, so I decided to find a new place to live just so that
I can afford to be on the road all the time, and I, what else,
also had some Christmas stuff to take care of and some accounting
stuff to take care of, record industry stuff - all the boring
stuff that recording artists don't like to do basically. I
have been doing for the last week, you know, so it's been
a bit crazy.
got the new album, I'm liking it... very cool.
Thank you very much.
had a couple friends listen to it, they are planning on picking
it up as soon as it comes out actually
I'm glad to hear that, I am very glad to hear that.
did you start making music?
Well that's an interesting question. I used to sing in choirs
when I was a kid, that's making music, right? I guess you
could say that. That was the first time I performed music
in front of people. You know, my parents insisted I take piano
lessons and that sort of thing, and did those sorts of things.
And then I told them that piano sucks man, and that I want
to play guitar because that's cool, and you can meet chicks
with a guitar. So I went to summer camp and played in summer
camp, the whole deal.
play in a band professionally until about I was about I think
my first professional band, I was about 18, I was in a rockabilly
band. For 18 and 19 year-olds we were very purist, we didn't
have a drummer. We did the first couple shows the way Elvis
used to do them, without a drummer. When he played the Grand
ol' Opry they wouldn't let him bring drums, they wouldn't
let him bring drums, did you know that?
When he played the Grand ol' Opry they wouldn't let him bring
in drums because they thought it was some kind of primitive,
you know, Reid Black instrument, and they didn't want it at
the Grand Ol' Opry, so he played a lot of shows their without
a drum. So my job was to play the acoustic guitar and make
it sound like a rhythm instrument. Me and the bass player
played the rhythm section and a friend of ours played the
guitar. That was my first band.
to France and then I sang in a punk rock band for about a
year because I was the only guy who understood English. <laughs>
We toured around, it was great fun, it was my first taste
of a touring band. Then I decided that music wasn't for me
and I decided that music wasn't for me, so I decided to go
back to school, and once I had gotten back to school I realized
that was really stupid, that music actually was for me.
did you go back to school for?
For History. I went back to school and I got a degree in History
and then I was going to pursue an academic career and then
I got caught up with some weird people and I started developing
these radical political ideas and I wanted to align myself
with the working class and I became a manual laborer. I did
that for about 5 or 10 years. Finally I woke up one morning
with an aching back and saying to myself : You know what,
the world doesn't need me to be a manual laborer, this is
stupid indulgence, I hate it, and I wanted to go back to being
a musician. The whole time I still continued to play,
I took lessons and stuff like that,. I sat down and started
writing music and it started coming out like Big Rude Jake.
So, that's kind of how I got started.
did you get the name Big Rude Jake?
That was a nickname I picked up in college, because I was
a bit of an <pause> asshole. (laughs) But it was kind
of a joke, my friends used to make fun of me because I had
a tendency to talk back to my professors, a lot. I had one
professor, it was a wonderful man actually. Him and I ended
up becoming friends afterwards, but at the time I would skip
his class out of indignation for his pissy attitude. One time
after a lecture, he looked at me, it was a small class, it
was about 30 of us. He slammed his biggest book closed and
said "You, you cannot skip any more classes. We need an anarchist
in the class. You are an anarchist and a troublemaker and
we need you here." I mean he stomped out. I had this friend
of mine and he thought that was just the funniest thing and
he was laughing about it all day. And someone finally said,
"Jake, you're so rude. " That was the end of that. That's
how nicknames are born.
the Big later when I went into music because
I was really influenced by blues music. I started off as a
solo musician, I played just my acoustic guitar. I was really
interested in the old blues guys, you know, like Big Bill
Broomsy, and Big Joe Turner, and Arthur Big Boy Krud, and
all the big guys. So I decided to add Big to my name,
just in honor of those guys And that's really where it came
from, it was actually a tribute, that Big part was
a tribute to the great blues guys.
would you describe the new sound on the new album?
The new sound, we definitely are going back to something I
wanted to do a long time ago. I got sort of sidetracked a
little bit in my last record where we were sort of experimenting.
I don't think you heard the second record, it was an independent
release - I basically sold the album by car. But I sort of
got sidetracked by someone who wanted to produce the record.
You know, he said "Please let me produce the record - I got
some great ideas, blah blah blah blah." I didn't like them,
but you know, I thought, this guy seems to know what he is
talking about maybe he will be able to do wonderful things
with my music. He started getting it back into studio trickery,
loops and sampling and things like that. When we finally signed
this deal and I was able to get back into the studio after
two years of being out I said, "let's go back to where we
began as a band."
talking to the producer, David Baxter, and saying to him,
"You know, I really like an album where the performances really
shine. Where it has less to do with studio razzmatazz and
more to do with great songs and great performances." He said
yeah, and he recalled an anecdote that a producer of Eric
Clapton's had once shared with someone in the media. This
fellow was asked, "how do you get that great sound from Clapton's
guitar?" And the guy said, I put a mic in front of the
amp. And that sort of became the mantra for this whole
album - put a mic in front of the amp. Find good
musicians, teach them the parts. Find skilled musicians who
understand the style, and just record them. And that became
how we made the record - the record sounds great because of
that. It has a real purity to it, a clean feel to it that
I really, really like. Stylistically we borrowed from a lot
of different things, if that's what you're talking about.
is supposed to inaugurate the second wave of the swing movement.,
if I could be so pretentious for a moment. With all due respect
to the great bands that came before us; the Cherry Poppin'
Daddies, the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Royal Crown Revue,
and the Brian Setzer Orchestra - who I played with a couple
of times, and they're great. In fact I played with all of
those bands, except the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, and they're
all great, and they're all great guys.
you buy one of those records and you pretty much get it, that's
pretty much it. But what we really want to do is, we really
want to see swing grow and go someplace new. Because, if we
are going to come out with a record that sounds exactly like
those guys, no one's going to buy it - no one's going to care.
We're not even going to care to make it. What we really want
to do is say hey, you know what, there's no such thing
as swing really - this is basically jazz and blues. And
roots music, and retro music. What we did is we put together
a record that put together all my favorite retro sounds. We
are trying to slip it into the same mailslot as the swing
do you think, that recent resurgence of swing music, where
do you think that came from? Like, what do you attribute that
Um, geez, that's a good question. Um, first of all, when you
say recent, I know there has been kind of a swing thing happening
in San Francisco and in LA for like seven years now.
mean, more like how all of a sudden Cherry Poppin' Daddies
How did those bands break through?
did they all of a sudden get popular, like in the last 2-3
years they have just gotten massively popular, selling thousands
of records. 5-10 years ago you would never hear it, now you
see it on MTV.
Yeah, I don't know. That's a big question. It's highly speculative.
I was shocked, when I moved to New York, I was shocked to
find out that there had been bands playing in New York for
as long as we had been around. When we got started we felt
like we were the only band around like this. Now I find out
that there were other bands who were also being ignored by
the music industry for seven years, except they were playing
in New York and some were playing in Chicago and some were
playing in LA. They were happening.
little bands popped up and they were almost popped up without
any context to each other, without any relationship, without
any knowledge to each other. They sort of just sprung up,
and I don't know why that is.
they became popular, why some of them became popular, I guess
that's speculation too. But one thing I would say is that
the lounge thing may have had something to do with it. Another
thing, that seems to have happened recently is the ska thing,
what they call 3rd wave ska. I think 3rd
wave ska introduced a lot of people to the idea of a horn
section being cool. That may have had something to do with
it. I know that when we were on the road my agent was excited
about booking us with other ska bands, whatever that means.
She thought the mix was great. I know other swing bands that
have had the same experience where they have been welcomed
by the ska scene. The lounge thing brought in an idea of getting
dressed up, brought it back into it. But that's not really
what swing is about.
there is also a kind of rockabilly revival of late that kind
of contributed to it a little bit. I have gone through these
little towns, touring these little towns, and we have had
these rockabilly kids come out. I have discovered that pretty
much, once again independent of each other, these little towns
have developed scenes. Now why, I don't know why that is...
why everybody is so interested.
In a sense
ska is a kind of retro music, rockabilly is retro, swing is
retro, certainly the lounge thing is kind of retro. I mean,
why is that everybody is interested in retro all of a sudden.
I don't know. I couldn't tell you why, but it is a big thing
all of a sudden. Nowadays, maybe people are just plain sick
of rock 'n' roll. Rock n roll, strictly in terms of record
sales is in the basement. It is being blown away by country
music, it's being blown away by house and rap music.
rock 'n' roll you mean...
I mean the Hootie's of the world. Rock 'n' Roll has been brought
up a little bit by the Jewels and the Fiona Apples, and by
the whole fem-jive thing. But I don't think that's going to
last very long because those chicks, a lot of them just don't
know how to rock very well at all. And already I have heard
some records becoming jingle-jangle folky-guitar music sort
of half Celine Dione, half ...who's the chick who.. Paradise
by the parking lot.. What was her name again? Joan..
Joan Osborne? Joni Mitchell?
Yeah, sort of like half Joni Mitchell half Celine Dione. It's
not really rock 'n' roll. I don't know what's gonna happen
with the rock. I think the swing movement could actually save
Dylan was just starting out, rock 'n' roll was in the basement
like it is now. Early sixties and mid-sixties rock 'n' roll
sucked. The Beatles hadn't come around yet, there was nothing
happening. It was basically a whole lot of music being pumped
out about chicks and cars and "I'll always be true to
- Bob Dylan and John Lennon are the two people who came around
and injected this other stuff into it. The Beatles brought
in English dance hall music and hard-core 50s rock 'n' roll.
They brought all kinds of stuff into the music and they added
different dimensions to it. Of course Bob Dylan added the
folk music and the country music dimension into rock 'n' roll.
blues and folk, these are 3-dimensional genres where people
were writing about everything - about life, and death, and
suffering, and all kinds of bizarre things. Whereas rock 'n'
roll was just about I got the car and we won the football
game. These guys made rock 'n' roll 3-dimensional again.
They saved it, and they made it possible to grow to what it
'n' roll is in the basement again except now it's not because
all the songs are about cars and chicks. It's more about I'm
a teenager and I'm depressed and I can't express myself.
That's not good enough either. I think now is a chance for
the people in the rock industry to get excited about retro
and start learning about the past and start adding those extra
dimensions and really bring the art back into rock. Maybe
the best thing for rock 'n' roll is to take a big vacation
and let all of us swing bands dominate for a couple of months
or a couple of years so that they can learn something about
music and then come back.
do you think about techno and electronica? You think that
is ever going to come through like they thought it would?
They thought that was going to be the big movement, like 2
years ago, when Prodigy brought out their album. What do you
think is going on with that?
That's fucking bullshit man. I gotta tell you that right now.
Nobody cares about that kind of music except people in the
fashion industry. Those are the only people who care about
it. I don't even know why they care about it. I guess because
they like the fashion. They like the tight-fitting clothes
or something. That music is jack man. There is some music
that works really good in a nightclub, that's good for a nightclub,
but it's not meaningful enough, it's not 3-dimensional enough
to be everyday life music. It's just not there. Who cares?
You listen to techno and sitting there thinking "Why should
I care about this?" You know? I heard all kinds of arguments
for it, but I don't buy it for a second.
your album that's coming out you have a track called "Let's
Kill all the Rock Stars." What's the meaning behind that?
Do you just hate rock stars?
<laughs> Just to cause trouble. It was inspired by,
you know every once in a while I read something in the paper.
You know, Bill Clinton can't get a blowjob without losing
his job. Rock stars on the other hand, do whatever the hell
they want, whenever they want. Being a musician for so many
years, I read magazines and I read interviews, and I hear
this trite that they just spew out.
was mostly directed toward Marilyn Manson, who I just think
is a fucking idiot. You know, I just can't stand the guy.
I just got so sick and tired of journalists and everybody
hyping these people to death.
the things that really bother me are this ridiculous overhyping
of the Spice Girls. The Spice Girls, you go to a Spice Girls
concert, every single newspaper article that I read about
the Spice Girls acknowledges the fact that the people who
are listening to that music are little girls, basically people
who graduated from Raffi, and the Elephant Show, and the soundtrack
to Sesame Street and they bought their first Spice Girls album.
I don't care what anybody says, that's not important enough
to get front page coverage everywhere you go. But they get
front because of the hype - the hype is bullshit. All I want
is for people to realize, to take a second, and realize that
this music industry hype is bullshit.
admit, I picked on the rock stars probably a little bit too
much. It's really a shot at the whole industry. The first
couple of times I performed it, it was real interesting to
get the reactions from the crowd. That's one of the great
things, and one of the reasons I really like living in the
States is because Americans get that song. Some of the Canadians
were really offended by it, But I like Mick Jagger!
have another song on the album, it's called "Mercy for the
Monkey Man." Who is the Monkey Man?
Should we talk about the song specifically?
The song is basically about... based on a folk tale that comes
from India actually. It's a children's tale about how to catch
a monkey. The idea is, you take a box, and you fill it with
banana or some tasty fruit, and you cut a little hole in it,
just big enough for the monkey to get his empty hand into
the box. Once the monkey gets his empty hand into the box
and gets ahold of the fruit, he can't get his hand out without
letting go of the fruit. And so the song goes "So the monkey
sits all day and all night with his hand on the candy in the
hole. Monkey can't eat and the monkey can't sleep, and the
monkey just can't let go." I kinda feel like that is actually
analogous to the human condition a lot of times. People will
be trapped into a situation where they can't do what they
want to do, they are sort of hung up with a feeling of desire
for something or someone and they can't have it, but they
can't let go of their own yearning for it. So they end up
trapped. They can't have it, but they can't let go of that.
Basically it's a psychological trap that we very willingly
put ourselves through all the time. And the song ends, basically
saying "I am that I am, and I fear the monkey man, and I feel
that I am bound to be just like he. For I do declare that
this dog of desire oh Lord will surely be the death of me."
Don't forget, one of the first noble truths of the Buddha
is that all suffering comes from desire, and that desire must
be sublimated. We cannot be a slave to desire, or else we'll
never be happy.
Why did you decide to put two spoken-word pieces on the album?
Well one, East Side Jive . . . Most of the times when I write
music, I usually write the music and the words at the same
time. Sort of in tandem, like I'll write a couple of words,
and then I'll write a little bit of music, and then I'll write
the words. It sort of goes back and forth like this. That's
why it takes me a couple of days to write a song, because
you have to switch tracks to get a piece finished.
one, I was actually in a bar, at a place in new York called
Lansky's Lounge. . . I was just there, and it was one of those
inspirations that sometimes a writer gets where you go, "get
me a pen, someone get me a pen." I started doodling on a napkin,
and I started writing a little bit about it. The thing came
on really strong and in a couple of days I had it finished,
but I had no music for it. I was sort of fiddling with it
and trying to write music for it, and the words are really
dense and complicated and I didn't feel like editing it down
to a simple verse. I thought, you know, the hell with it,
I'll speak it, I'll write some music to go behind this. So
that's how that happened.
one was a spoken word piece that I've been wanting to do for
a very very very long time, I had written it a long time ago
and other producers I worked with didn't understand it or
didn't like it and didn't want to do it. So here was my chance,
I was in the driver's seat again of my own career and I thought
well, this is my chance to do "Andy's Requiem." I did it and
that's basically it.
your favorite track on the disc?
"East Side Jive". That spoken word one. It changes
every day. My favorite one used to be "Gotham City." Right
now my favorite is "East Side." But sometimes, you know, I
love that punk-rock guitar sound in "Gotham City." I loooove
like "Buster Boy."
I like that one too, that one's a lot of fun. Do you know
what a second-line rhythm is?
I'll tell you. Second line is a rhythm that was developed
in New Orleans in the pre-jazz era. It's one of the most ubiquitous
rhythms in popular culture - it's everywhere. You know, "Shave
and a haircut, two-bits." That's second-line. Bo Diddley uses
it, Buddy Holly uses it, the Rolling Stones uses it, and I
think the Clash used it a couple times. There's different
variations on it. But basically, in the second-line you have
that <sings> It is based on a French quadrill march,
but of course Afro-Americans in New Orleans were the only
black people allowed to play drums in the United States in
Colonial Times. People were scared that if Africans played
drums they would be able to communicate with each other and
start a rebellion. The Catholics in New Orleans, in LA, weren't
as concerned about that for some reason, and they let the
blacks use drums. They were practicing these marches, and
of course it didn't take long and they were adding their own
specific African feel to this French rhythm. It was kinda
based on a Latin or French clave' feel, they had this clave'
feel, this French march happening. . . and that's the second
line. That's the great thing about that song. We had so much
fun in the studio because the guys in the band had never heard
the song before. I was saying I want to do a second line
song and this is how it's going to go. I taught it to
them in the studio and they went nuts over it.
new album comes out in February.
February 23rd I believe.
you going to be touring for that?
Whereabouts are you? Well, you're on the net, so you're everywhere.
but I'm in Wisconsin - Madison.
Madison, WI. Oh, we'll be there. I've played Madison before.
do want to thank you for doing this interview.
I'm glad you have some friends that want it, and I hope that
you're right. I hope that we'll be able to fly with this thing.
wish you all the best in the world.
Thank you very much - we'll see you again.
note : This interview has been edited to fit space constraints
and to improve fluidity and readership. If you would like
a full transcript of the interview, email firstname.lastname@example.org