Renaissance Farrell

Bluetip front man juggles the hats of songwriter, freeform musician, filmmaker and graphic artist

Washington, D.C.'s Jason Farrell is a man with big ideas and skills to match. Besides playing concurrently in two bands on two different labels (vocals and guitar for Bluetip, guitar for Sweetbelly Freakdown), Farrell immerses himself in filmmaking and graphic arts and plans an interconnected multimedia project encompassing all of the above.

Certainly not the least of Farrell's accomplishments is the just-released Bluetip LP Join Us, on Dischord Records (a label for which Farrell also does design work). While Bluetip's first record, Dischord No. 101, was a recognizably D.C. record, collecting the usual inaccurate Fugazi comparisons from critics, Join Us spins off toward decidedly nonregional musical areas. Songs like "Cheap Rip" and "Join Us" are soulful, swaggering rock, with thick walls of guitar and ever-so-slightly disjointed melodies, while on songs like "F-" and "Salinas" the members' hard-core roots show through.

Bluetip even gets fairly delicate on one track, "Bad Flat," until the softly crooned melody is interrupted by Farrell's deadpan statement, "Seems like everybody's got a set of good old days that they remember themselves back into when their current state is lacking some way."

Cocky and sonically intricate, Join Us affirms Bluetip's place in D.C.'s new school of diverse, exploratory talent. Says Farrell, "The size of the scene is quite a bit smaller than it was in, say, '93. By the time Bluetip finally got going, it was kind of clear that some things were changing. Jawbox and Shudder to Think were gone, the number of bands was starting to dwindle. A very active time was coming to a close. As far as what's following, the sounds are just blowing off in a million different directions, and I guess that's for the best."

While pursuing Bluetip as his "serious" project, Farrell also plays in Sweetbelly Freakdown, a band on Jade Tree Records that is actually a reincarnation of Farrell's late '80s hard-core outfit Swiz. The two bands also share another member, Farrell's skateboarding pal from junior high, Dave Stern, who plays guitar for Bluetip and bass for Sweetbelly.

Farrell looks upon Sweetbelly as a vacation of sorts from the energy-consuming calculations of Bluetip. "That's the big difference," he says. "Most of the Bluetip songs would come from stuff we figured out beforehand; with Sweetbelly the majority of the songs, and certainly the better ones, have been stuff that just came out of nowhere. Since there's no goal, we're just there playing, it's a lot more freeform. There's no constraints on anything."

The members of Swiz re-formed in 1996, when they "realized that we were all in the same city again for the first time in four or five years." Recalling the chemistry and lightheartedness of Swiz, Sweetbelly recorded a seven-inch with J. Robbins, the omnipresent indie-engineer and former Jawbox front man. Shortly thereafter, the band returned to the studio with Robbins and recorded its self-titled full-length album for Jade Tree, a furiously intense collection of '90s hard-core.

Between 1990, when Swiz broke up, and 1995, when Bluetip formed, Farrell busied himself making amateur films with friends, a hobby he still pursues. After showing his first film, which he describes as "basically 10 minutes of silliness with a lot of Minor Threat and Void in the background," his roommates wanted a piece of the action as well.

"I moved into this new house, and they saw the first film, and they said, 'We wanna make a film,' and I said, 'Great, I got a story, let's get some money together,'" Farrell recalls. "We started pooling our money together and slowly shooting a scene, developing it, getting excited, getting more money together, et cetera. A thousand dollars later, we finished North Rt. 1."

North Rt. 1, a 17-minute black-and-white film available by mail order, follows a character named Eddie on his city-to-city travels up North Route 1. "The story was a juxtaposition of what's really going on and what somebody's trying to make their life like," Farrell says. "Where you come in, Eddie comes to D.C. and falls in with this group of people, and the whole time he's writing a letter back to the last group of people that he'd left.

"As the movie goes on, these D.C. people keep fucking with him and giving him a very hard time, being nice enough to him that he'll stay around but just so they can have sort of a whipping boy. The whole time he's writing a letter back to his friend TJ, saying, 'Oh, things are great, I met this great group of people, they really like me for who I am'--that's the overdub, the sound; he's trying to control his life, but the reality is nobody respects him; there's a reason he's drifting town to town. By the end, whenever he goes to the next city to run into the next group of people, he's writing back to the people who were just messing with him. It's kind of funny and sad at the same time."

As North Rt. 1 continues to show at various exhibition festivals, Farrell is planning a more ambitious project, one that would incorporate all of his artistic endeavors. "The idea is to have a band that's constantly releasing stuff, regardless of the medium. You have a song with lyrics in it that could also be a story line that would have dialogue from another lyric, that would have the soundtrack from your record, that could all fit into a book of prose . . . tying in graphic arts and anybody's creative outputs into this one umbrella that would just be Bluetip."

Posthumous Accidents: Jawbox was the first band to leave indie-stalwart Dischord Records for the theoretically greener pastures of a major label. After two LPs, For Your Own Special Sweetheart and Jawbox, the band was unceremoniously dropped when the Atlantic Records subsidiary it was on (TAG) folded. Shortly afterward, Jawbox split up permanently, and front man J. Robbins and second guitarist/vocalist Bill Barbot went on to form Burning Airlines.

Now, two years after the death of Jawbox, the band has released My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents, a 22-track retrospective featuring Peel radio sessions, unreleased tracks, live songs and covers. The compilation, arranged by the aforementioned categories, covers Jawbox's entire career, from the band's first seven-inch track, "Bullet Park," to the band's later and better-known tunes like "Savory" and "Mirrorful" and covers of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" and R.E.M.'s "Low." As a last gift to fans, the Jawbox CD functions as a shimmering document of the powerhouse beauty the band radiated. (DeSoto Records, P.O. Box 60335, Washington, D.C. 20039)

Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address: bkelley@newtimes.com

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