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The road of rock
Jaill has its ups and downs

Photos by Dan Bishop

September 2014

Vinnie Kircher strums his guitar and sings "check one two!" Heís wearing a colorful striped button-up shirt and sports a bold moustache. He surveys the crowd from a small stage made of wood, corrugated metal and sound system amplifiers. "Check one two!" He sings out again.

Milwaukeeís own Cactus Club is pretty well packed for a Wednesday night. The venue is famous for being the place a lot of bands have taken the stage "before they were big." Maneuvering through the throng of rock fans, youíll spot framed posters of some of these legendary shows of past decorating the walls ó The Faint, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, Queens of the Stone Age, and The White Stripes all have played here.

Kircherís indie rock group, Jaill, has just arrived here in their hometown after spending about five days on the road playing shows in the Midwest and Canada with a garage punk band from San Diego named Crocodiles.

Jaill received heightened local status when they signed a deal with Sub Pop records in 2009. Like the Cactus Club, Sub Pop gained a reputation for knowing the next big thing in the early í90s when it signed bands in their hometown of Seattle that exploded into the mainstream airwaves. The sound, colloquially known as "grunge," was launched by one of Sub Popís bands, Nirvana.

In more recent years, Sub Pop has had hit records by The Postal Service, Fleet Foxes and The Shins. Getting a deal with the label is not an easy task. Sub Pop receives a flood of demos from hopeful garage bands, and most often the response is a rejection form letter that starts off "Dear Loser." But Jaillís sound was music to Sub Popís ears.

"You donít know what youíre getting yourself into," Kircher says about signing on with Sub Pop. "Thereís some stress, like this went from being something I always wanted and I got to be ready for it, right? But what does Ďreadyí really mean?"

Kircher describes the timing of the Sub Pop deal as "awkward." By 2009, the band had already been together for seven years and the principle members were going through some life changes. Founding member Austin Dutmer now had two children, long-time member Andy Harris had a new marriage and job.

"It was at a point where it wasnít looking promising at all. We had put in a lot of effort, we were turning from a touring band of young men into real men and I was thinking, ĎThis might not last long,í" Kircher admits.

Jaill had put out a steady stream of 7-inch record EPs, starting with their first recording, 2002ís "Semaine De Quatre Jeudis." Eventually they got around to record an album, "Thereís No Sky (Oh My My)," which they released themselves in 2009, hand-gluing the album packaging themselves. The album was eventually re-released by a small label, Burger Records, in 2010. It received a good buzz, which eventually reached Sub Popís ear.

"Then (the record deal) happened, so it was like this surreal moment like all right, letís do it again, letís get our mojo all wrapped up and do this," Kircher shrugged. "And we did, we gave it our all."

Jaillís first album with Sub Pop, "Thatís How We Burn," was released in 2010. "Traps" followed in 2012.

Band commitment was too much for some of the members who had become family men; after "Traps" was recorded, the lineup changed to an entirely new back-up for Kircher ó John Mayer on bass, Josh Evert on drums, Mike Skorcz on keyboards.

Despite the excitement of being signed by Sub Pop, Kircher says the band still puts their pants on one leg at a time. No one got rich off the deal.

"The bands that are making a lot of money are few and far between. Usually if youíre doing music, itís because youíre driven to do it. You have to do it and you love it. Whether you want to make money or not, youíre probably not, so you might as well not focus on that too much."

Touring hasnít gotten much more glamorous, either, and before arriving at Cactus Club the band suffered through malfunctions with their tour van. "We parked in a spot where we had to move the van at 7 in the morning. I got up at 6:40, not much sleep, pounding head. The first thing I notice is the brake pedal goes all the way to the ground with hardly any resistance," Kircher says. The band found a Toronto repair shop that took a look.

"We walked around Toronto all day, probably six, seven miles of walking, drinking coffee, waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally we got out, crossed the border at like 1:30 in the morning, missed our show in Detroit. Totally exhausting day," Kircher laughs. "Everyone tried to keep their spirits up and be positive." The band made it to Chicago, where they played a good show, but disaster struck again when they blew a tire on I-94 on the way home. "We didnít have the right tools to switch it, AAA couldnít do it, they just towed the van back. Josh and John rode in the tow truck, but they wouldnít let Mike and I ride in the van. So we had to wait for my girlfriend and her brother to drive down and pick us up," Kircher laughs again, glad the memory was behind him. "Itís been really awkward because there have been such great shows mixed with terrible chance occurrences hindering the positive vibe of it all, but it feels great to be playing a show in Milwaukee tonight. We made it!"

Despite such frustrations, the band has had many favorable moments. They won Rock/Pop Artist of the Year at the 2013 Wisconsin Area Music Industry awards. And nothing solves road woes like a good gig.

"One of my favorite shows was playing Los Angeles on the King Tuff tour with the Coathangers," Kircher says, smiling at the memory. "All three bands were getting along really well, it was like a 400 cap room, I canít remember where but it was sold out and the general vibe in the room from front to back was just like Ö party."

At Cactus Club, the vibe isnít quite "party," but the crowd is enthusiastic. A pocket of young women are gyrating in dance towards the left-hand side of the stage. In the back row, a man is jumping up and down, thrashing his head and pumping his fist in the air.

Jaill will take a break after this show, but regroup with Crocodiles in Florida for a handful of shows a month later. Kircher says the band has already finished recording their next album, but wasnít ready to say if it will be on Sub Pop (the bandís record deal with them is now fulfilled with two albums) or a different label.

"We havenít announced a name or who, what, where or when, but an album is coming out. Itís fully done and expected to come out early next year," Kircher says, before heading inside Cactus Club to get a beer and tune his guitar.

This story ran in the September 2014 issue of: