When soothsayers foretold that the end of the century would bring our human community to ever higher levels of enlightenment, I don't think Fox's Secrets of Street Magicians Finally Revealed was what they had in mind. Or figuring out what space-age adhesive was holding up Jennifer Lopez and her Grammy jammies. Say what you will about the lady's taste in evening wear, but that's one dinner date who definitely won't be ordering the lobster.
I can't remember which understanding-the-aliens book it came out of, but apparently there's some connection between higher intelligence and vibrating. Mastering the art of vibrating faster and faster should eventually allow you to communicate telepathically, pass through walls or, better yet, become invisible, which would go a long way toward explaining why you don't see Katharine Hepburn anymore. Certainly, Love As Laughter leader Sam Jayne is no stranger to superior faculties of thought, having told Magnet magazine in 1996 that Mars was sending him kids-wanna-rock messages from the 23rd century, which he felt compelled to emulate. Judging by the stack of cassettes trembling madly like epileptic lemmings off my speaker after playing Love As Laughter's new album Destination 2000, there's a whole lotta shaking smarts going on in Jayne's world. But with a new album, a new label and a new band, he can't afford to become invisible just yet.
Imagine if Iggy Pop had found a set of Eno strategy cards three albums earlier and was able to record the Stooges' Funhouse at home, unencumbered by the rising costs of overseas drugs and studio time, or if the MC5 decided to incorporate Tangerine Dream's synth roadie into the recording process without ever teaching him any of the songs, and you'll get some idea of the lo-fi/high-five controlled chaos that is Love As Laughter's latest.
The group's Seattle home base knows a thing or two about controlled chaos, having put the kibosh on its own Space Needle fireworks celebration this past December because city fathers feared terrorists were going to beat them to it. Needless to say, our highly evolved friend Sam Jayne was not amused.
"It was pretty bogus," he grumbles. "I just got drunk with some friends. There wasn't really much to do. No one else was freaked out about terrorists except for Seattle because they're bogus. They freak out really easily about everything."
Given that the Backstreet Boys aligned their Millennium album to all the pre-21st-century hype buildup, Destination 2000 seems geared to tie in with the inevitable letdown that comes with having to put that doomsday year on all the bills that still have to be paid with every tomorrow. Jayne maintains he has no regrets about dating the album in light of a possible Y2K backlash.
"I figured that everybody would be sick of it until they realized there's nothing big-deal about it," he says. "We called it Destination 2000 because there's nothing futuristic about the record, actually." For all its futuristic graphics, jokey album credits like "6 string programming" and "4 string research and development" and stiff Kraftwerk poses, you only have to hear the guitars gently slipping out of tune to realize Love As Laughter is a band ruled not by studio wizardry but by sonic accidents, with technology being used as an innocent bystander. Although it's a fully digital recording, the album is abuzz with ungrounded wires, distorted vocals and simulated psycho-acoustics where the band is playing in one key and the room is seemingly humming in another.
"A lot of that is because we recorded the whole thing ourselves. Some of it was purposeful and some stuff is just because that's the way it turned out when we tried to press this button to see what would happen," Jayne says. "We're still trying to figure out all our equipment. But we've got our own portable studio and we're going to do all our recordings ourselves from now on."
Before Love As Laughter, there was Lync, a band Jayne fronted, which put out two popular indie albums in as many years before he quit in 1994 to pursue his porta-studio muse. Lync's rhythm section went to join Built to Spill, while Jayne spent the next two years recording tons of material, some of which went into two cassette-only releases and a CD on Olympia, Washington, indie K Records titled The Greks Bring Gifts.
"I was just sitting around doing LAL-type home recording stuff. I had a lot of time to do it. I was living in Olympia and it was cheap and I didn't have anything to do."
During this period, Jayne and former Lync drummer James Bertram wound up playing on one of Beck's "uncommercial" recordings for K Records. Beck's One Foot in the Grave came on the heels of the folk-hop breakthrough Mellow Gold. Jayne downplays his involvement on the record as being nothing more than what his friends did on the first LAL CD. "I just played some guitar parts and did some backing vocals. Just hung around while he was making it with James. Some of the jams that we had didn't make it on there because they were too awful. Too goofy."
The recognition he accrued from the high-profile cameo came in handy when Jayne decided to do a solo tour behind the first Love As Laughter album as well as book the shows. "There were some real stinkers . . . when I booked the tours they were awful," he says, laughing. "Sometimes they'd be at decent places. Sometimes there wouldn't even be a show because I was so bad at confirming with people. I would be like, 'Okay, somebody told us there's a show.' One time I was on tour with a band called the Seductives, it was a LAL solo show. We were having a terrible time. We showed up in North Carolina, called the club, and they're like, 'There's no show.' And there wasn't. My mistake. We never had any money. We wound up spare-changing it just to get out of North Carolina. Somebody recognized my face from the Beck CD at this coffee place, and we wound up being able to play in front of the coffee place for money."
If his booking proved problematic, so was his need to make the whole room rock and reverberate. "Yeah, it was loud for some people, I guess. And abrasive, which was the point of it. It wasn't acoustic. It was tapes, loop pedals, a Moog, a guitar and a huge amp. I've heard from people who were like, 'Yeah, I saw you a long time ago. It was interesting, but I couldn't handle it.'"
Not having much fun playing out alone, Jayne put together an actual backing band for the second record, the pro-American #1 USA. The record was a critical favorite at a time when people were seriously hung up on whether records with stadium-size hooks could maintain indie cred even if fueled by the same beers 'n' fears.
"#1 USA was kind of a confusing record for K Records," Jayne admits. "LAL hasn't been that consistent of a band because I just play what I wanna play with whoever I want to play with, and that can be confusing to people buying records. It's a rock record. It just rocks. I just get sick of that being the only explanation for it, but I guess that's 'cause #1 USA was pretty straight up."
Oddly enough, for a record that rocks as hard as Destination 2000, Jayne started out making it without a band. Some tracks began with just an acoustic guitar and built up accordingly. "Love As Laughter started out with me doing all the recordings, and I kinda felt it should go back to that and be self-contained," he remarks. "I think #1 USA sounds great, but I just wanted to have more control. Just to actually have the time to mess around with sounds and just learn more about recording."
Take the title track, which has a cheesy alternate-synth groove running underneath it for the duration and is only revealed when the basic tracks are faded out. Or the phased block vocals on "Stakes Avenue," which on the first listen sounded like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion torturing the Moody Blues -- but may actually be rock's first intelligent use of the vocoder. Jayne begs to differ on that last score. "Have you heard that Kid Rock song on the radio -- the country one ["Only God Knows Why"] that has the vocoder on it?" he beams. "I think that song's great, considering all his other stuff sucks. He could've done it as straight country and it still would've been a decent song."
While much was made of LAL's last album's Rolling Stones appropriations, Jayne seems to have moved only slightly forward in the R section of his record collection. "The only things that I listen to lately that I'm pretty much guaranteed to enjoy are Roxy Music and Royal Trux. I really like that Radio Video EP. It's got some cheesy beats on it, and there's one song where they keep saying 'you're so rank you probably try to lick your own skank' over and over," he says, laughing. (At this point, Jayne excuses himself on our phone interview to take a bong hit, which inadvertently makes me lose my train of thought. Either I'm getting more tele-empathic or fiber optics are expanding into all sorts of new frontiers AT&T ain't even telling us about. Call Mom and see if you can smell her rhubarb pie cooking -- right now!)
In going the completion-backward route of assembling a band as you record, you sometimes wind up with spare parts, which is why keyboardist Summer Mastous won't be doing LAL live dates anymore. "We're pretty much a guitar band," Jayne says. "It's kind of unfortunate, but I figured out later that having keyboards live made things confusing. It's just guitar sounds, which was a lot easier for us to do live. I don't think anyone likes it to get kicked out of a band. It's not cool. And I wasn't happy to do it -- no one in the band was. LAL is just going to remain guitar-type music, regardless of whether we were going to use keyboards on the recordings. And Summer has her own projects she wanted to work on, so that made it a little bit difficult, too. Right now we're working on her project before we leave on tour."
Destination 2000 also marks the band's first record on Sub Pop. Being with a bigger label has its benefits, as Sub Pop handles all the extra hassles, such as securing a booking agent, setting up promotion and getting ahold of club owners. "I hate dealing with anything but playing music, basically," he moans. "With a label like K, you're stuck doing a lot of the stuff yourself. Also, Sub Pop has a little more money to throw around, which is helpful because up until now, I've been putting all my own money into things like vans and equipment. I would do it anyway, regardless if somebody was giving me money or not. But it's a lot more helpful when we can move things along faster."
Like Jayne, Sub Pop seems to have weathered its share of indie identity problems. "I think people are still confused about what Sub Pop is or what they want to do," says Jayne. "They have a lot of 'new rock' bands that they want to keep going with. They just want to keep it all rock, I guess. Try to go back to what they initially started, doing young rock bands."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Jayne hasn't severed his association with K Records, though, as the label will soon be releasing a CD of home recordings Jayne has stockpiled, called Through the Past Brightly Vol 1. "Some of it's been released on compilations, but most of it's just been sitting on tapes that I've had forever. I've got enough for a couple of discs. The first one's got 21 songs. I used to record tons of shit. It's just lately, with the way I have my job and the way LAL has been going, mostly I just have enough time to play and work, work on these side projects and get out of town."
This latest exodus involves quitting some jobs, as Jayne gleefully reports. "I got my last day on Monday. I wait tables and I'm a bartender. I don't mind being a bartender so much. But being a waiter is a little more of a burn. I'll never get out of the food industry. I'm stuck here for the rest of my life. I'll never get out."
Just for the record, Jayne always has careers as "String and Coil Vibration Coordinator" and "Microphone Diaphragm Testing" to fall back on.
Love As Laughter is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, March 8, at Modified, with Alkaline Trio, and Honor System. Showtime is 9 p.m.