Phoenix has a history of strange, left-of-center bands: groups like The Beans in the late 1960s, who later morphed into the Tubes; the Spiders, who would become Alice Cooper. Even the often-copied guitar sound of Duane Eddy in the late 1950s was considered to be weirdly revolutionary in nature at the time.
When punk rock came to town, a whole new tribe of musical miscreants became standard-bearers for weirdness, and bands like Sun City Girls, Meat Puppets, Jody Foster’s Army (JFA), and Our Neighbors Suck (ONS), just to name a few, let their freak flags fly in the 1980s and beyond. Is it the desert sun, the water, or our penchant for mind-bogglingly dimwitted and self-sabotaging politics? Who knows. Whatever it is, though, the music of Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs is, and probably always will be, different.
We love our acronyms here in the desert, too, so when Chandler’s own Janis Joplin Crap-N-Vomit had to become JJCNV back in 2008 due to getting a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyer for the late musician’s estate, it was a no-brainer to stick with the only slightly tainted letters that made up their infamous original name.
The trio (and sometimes quintet when their horn section joins them) cranks out some of the best weirdo rock in town and has been for just over a decade and a half. They also have a new record, Wakes Up Later, that is now out, and let me tell you, it's a wild ride indeed.
Punky, funky, and sometimes something akin to a slightly drunken monkey, JJCNV maintains a bordering-on-elite spot in the annals of local song makers. They have developed their own sound over the years that is both fresh yet familiar.
In fact, Wakes Up Later bookends nicely with the band’s stellar 2020 release, Stays Up Late, although you can hear the impact of the pandemic in the newer set of songs. While the 2020 record still has all the requisite weirdness that is sometimes head-scratching, and often brilliant, when listening to them back-to-back, Stays Up Late seems almost like an attempt at commercial success in comparison to Wakes Up Later.
The band, which is made up of bassist/vocalist Pete Hinz, guitarist/vocalist Dana “Dana S” Stern, and drummer/pinball enthusiast Jeff Berthold, is as tight a unit as you'll find in the music business. It may help that Hinz and Stern, who were married in 2015, have been a couple since before JJCNV started in 2005 or that Hinz and Berthold know each other well enough to finish each other’s sentences, but the trio’s connection is palpable when sitting and talking music with them.
A socially distant night on the patio with JJCNV on the patio of Hinz and Stern’s Chandler home turns quickly from being an interview about the band’s new album to a discussion of the state of the music world in metro Phoenix and Berthold’s talent for determining his work clothes each day.
Perhaps it was, as we realized later in the night, that we were jonesing for contact with people outside of our pandemic bubble, but it was just terribly nice to spend time talking about something other than politics, disease, or what to have for dinner.
It seems that Wakes Up Later is truly a product of the pandemic even if it took a while for the story to come out in conversation. The band had made a decision to isolate together and continue to play music as much of the rest of the music community shut down. With no gigs to play, it just made sense to write another record on the heels of Stays Up Late.
“This recording is based on not having to play shows for an entire year, right? This is just us being as free as we can with recording because, well, we can't play shows to mess around with the songs live. It's weird that we haven't played these songs live before, because normally we've played them live for six months before we record,” says Hinz.
“I think we were only playing ‘(A) Love Entitled’ and ‘Linda’ (two songs off of Wakes Up Later) live before everything shut down,” says Stern.
Speaking of “A Love Entitled,” this is one of the most anthemic songs JJCNV has ever done. Sounding a bit like a mashup of King Missile, Eurythmics, and Built to Spill, “A Love Entitled” is a foot tapper, for sure, and is one of the more solid seventh tracks you’ll find anywhere. While it's not quite as catchy as lead-off track “Up In Smoke,” the songs are spiritual siblings and would have made an epic A and B side of a 7” record.
Stern’s guitar work on “Up In Smoke” sets a nice tone for Wakes Up Later. All slide and snarl, Stern (who also plays in the super-fun band Sturdy Ladies) coaxes some great tones out of her guitar set-up. On track two, Stern leads the way on vocals on the vaguely Redd Kross-adjacent “Linda,” which is an aural tribute to author and astrologer Linda Goodman’s book Love Signs.
“It was my mom’s book. When I was a kid, I would read anything and everything about astrology. I did include Saul Goodman in the lyrics because I love Better Call Saul, but I talked to (JJCNV contributor and saxophone player) Mark Anderson about this book and he knew about it, so I said I was going to write a song about it. I like astrology; I know it’s super corny, but whatever,” says Stern.
As the record unfolds, the bewildering charm of JJCNV is magnified. Songs like “Sit N Spin” and “G.R. OSS” would definitely make the weirdo gods of the old Phoenix underground take note and grin with their bombastic (“G.R. OSS”) and cleverly melodic (“Sit N Spin”) takes on the rock 'n' roll ethos. When the world wakes up again, JJCNV will have many new tales to spin when they return to the live stage.
It's recommended, though, that you pick up a copy now so you’ll be ready to sing along.