What a Wuss!

But, boy, is Shawn Harrington of Jed's A Millionaire good at it!

But in this case, listening to Harrington trying to explain the challenge of crafting heart-torn pop songs for a sports-mad city that clearly favors its ball teams more than its artists, one can begin to understand why Phoenix continues to produce bands with an uncanny knack for masking raw emotions with rah-rah musical energy.

"I wish I could say there's a musical scene here. But this is it," says Harrington, waving his arm at the boisterous crowd of sports-obsessed collegians around him.

The band is set to go onstage next door in 15 minutes, at the adjoining Bash on Ash. Even though Jed's is opening a concert for Evan Dando, the former Lemonheads singer whom Harrington considers a songwriting idol, the crowd for the football games on McDuffy's TV screens dwarfs the handful of alt-rock fans watching the live music next door.

Band barely kept its weepin' heart fed: Jed's A Millionaire extends the jangle-pop legacy.
Matt Garcia
Band barely kept its weepin' heart fed: Jed's A Millionaire extends the jangle-pop legacy.

"I wish you could see the same enthusiasm for live music here," Harrington says, after the crowd drowns out his conversation with yet another rowdy outburst celebrating a Sun Devils TD. "But that's Phoenix. That's what bands have to compete with. I suppose it kind of weeds out the less-dedicated bands. If you're doing it for the wrong reasons, this environment will beat it out of you. You have to love playing music, and believe that you have something to say. Otherwise, you'll just get sick of it."

"It's hard to sell emotions," observes Mueller, who attended Chaparral High School in Scottsdale with Harrington. He sounds fairly Lifetime-worthy himself. "Particularly in this town."


Jed's A Millionaire -- or JAM, to their growing fan base of "Jedheads" -- has had plenty of practice in selling deep emotions to shallow audiences. Before competing with the sports bars for the Valley's limited supply of nightcrawlers, Harrington and his crew worked as the house band at the Fort McDowell Casino.

"Lots of gray hairs there," Harrington recalls of the seniors-heavy casino crowd. "People walking around with their hands over their ears. Obviously not the most conducive environment for live music."

"One night, they kept telling the band to turn it down so much, Shawn just went into a complete lounge act routine," says Mueller, laughing.

"You had to have a sense of humor," Harrington says. "Otherwise you'd go bonkers."

The brooding singer-songwriter finally got serious about having his songs heard once the band had the chance to record. JAM's self-titled first album, produced locally on a shoestring budget, barely sold beyond the pressings pushed at their local club appearances. The second, 2002's Kachina Theater, fared better. That record, named for a defunct one-screen Scottsdale moviehouse Harrington recalls fondly ("I saw E.T. there"), won the band consistent radio play on Arizona's top-rated rock radio station KZON and began drawing the Buddy Ebsen-referencing quartet favorable comparisons to blue-collar hit makers like the Goo Goo Dolls and matchbox twenty (Haunt's track list even reveals a penchant for one-word song titles that only Rob Thomas these days seems to share).

With Haunt, a first-class collection produced by Michael Blue at Los Angeles' Revolver Recordings and adorned with evocative artwork by Arizona artist Eddie Shea, JAM seems perched for major-label success. "A few labels have expressed interest," says Githens, "but we're not really talking deals yet."

Whether the band gets signed with the majors, Harrington seems happy (or at least, as happy as a brooding alt-pop singer can be) to keep pumping out music on the band's own label.

"Right now, dealing with the major labels is just a distraction," Harrington says. "We're doing what we want to do and making the records we want to make. If the labels want to jump on board, then hey, let's party.

"But I've got financial backing for what we're doing now, and really, I just wanna keep on going, and putting the songs out there."

Githens notes that the first song JAM plans to play tonight at the Dando concert is a new one not yet on any album, and that Harrington has already taught the band two other tracks he's readying for the next album.

"I've just got a lot to say, I guess," Harrington says, laughing. "And whether or not anybody wants to hear it, this band is getting pretty good at forcing it down their throats!"

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