(MM) Mariecar Mendoza, Diversions Editor
(BD) Brett Detar, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist for The Juliana Theory
(MM) What’s your favorite song on the new album?
(BD) My favorite song is probably the hidden track “Her Velvet Voice” and maybe also “French Kiss Off,” which is the last track on the album.
An interesting story, maybe not that interesting, but the hidden track “Her Velvet Voice” was a demo that we recorded in Pittsburg and we actually didn’t think we could ever beat the performance so we didn’t actually record that song at the same time we did the record.
We were in a small studio in Pittsburg, all of us playing in the same room. I was singing and playing (the) organ at the same time in the same room as the guitar players. Their amps were in different rooms so that you could hear them switching their foot switches and hitting their pedals on the vocal track. You could hear clicks and pops and all these little noises. You could hear them strumming their guitar all through the vocal mic so it was really real. And that just one of the things I really like about it.
(MM) How much of TJT’s music is based on personal experiences?
(BD) A lot of it – but I’ve always been in a mind set where I like to leave things open so listeners can kind of put their own story to the song.
I know as a listener of music that sometimes I’ll get something out of a song that the writer didn’t even mean at all, and that’s one of the reasons I like it. I’ve always felt that that’s the best way to keep our music and our lyrics understood – have it be somewhat open-ended.
So I usually don’t go into great depths explaining what I was writing about except when something I think is absolutely black and white. If I think something is absolutely plain as day, I’ll talk about it.
(MM) Why is there less keyboard/piano in this album compared to earlier albums?
(BD) It’s strange because when we were writing for the record, we wrote about 30 songs and there were definitely a few songs in the early writing process – that were a lot more keyboard- or piano-based, but most of those songs just weren’t as good and they kind of got flushed out. It was not a conscious decision to limit the amount of keys on the record, it’s just that these were the songs that turned out the best and we weren’t going to force (it). It wasn’t like we were, ‘Man, there was a lot of piano in our last two records and there should be on this record, so let’s find a place to put it in.’ The last thing we wanted to do was try to force anything, so it just didn’t turn out that way.
(MM) In a time of Green Day’s punk opera and Coheed and Cambria’s comic book storyline-albums, do you think the band will head in that direction?
(BD) I doubt it. I think that our record (“Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat”) has various themes that are cohesive throughout. We’ve joked around in the past that we’d make a concept album, but it was always a joke. I just don’t think that our band is a prog-rock band. I think that we’re fine doing a record that has elements that tie together.
If you listen to “Emotion is Dead” it’s the same thing, there was a lot of elements from top to bottom in that album that were continuous from different songs, and even in “Love.” I think that we always try to make an album that’s thematic and goes together in some ways, but I’m pretty sure we’ll never make an entire album that’s a story – Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’ll ever do that.
(MM) What was the biggest obstacle in creating “Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat”?
(BD) The biggest obstacle in creating the album, in general, was creating the album without any label paying for it. Having us and our manager paying for it ourselves, that was probably the biggest obstacle.
(MM) What is TJT’s creation process like?
(BD) The writing process is always a bit varied. Usually songs are brought in kind of complete as far as arrangement is concerned by one person, and then the rest of the band adds some parts to it. Or a lot of our songs are written in almost a jamming-type of way where we kind of sit in a room together and bash out parts until we come up with a song. Then we record what we have and I’ll work on the arrangement and the vocals later on. So there’s always a different way we write, but this record we particularly made very much live.
(MM) People assume because I listen to you guys – and bands like MxPx or Further Seems Forever, who all used to be on Tooth & Nail – that I’m a Christian rocker when in actuality I just like your sound. How do you feel about people thinking the band is a Christian rock band?
(BD) Everybody in the band has completely different religious beliefs. There are atheists, agnostics, Jewish people in the band and people who would probably call themselves Christians in the band, and I think that we’ve never had a spiritual agenda from the beginning. We never set out with anything religious at all.
Yeah, we were on Tooth & Nail in the beginning because they were the only label in the beginning that offered to sign us, (but) they understood that that wasn’t what are band was about in the beginning. We didn’t have any religious ties to anything.
But because of being on Tooth & Nail back in the early days, I think that sometimes we did get lumped into the category that we technically shouldn’t have been in and I guess that’s less of the case today. But sometimes the question is still (asked) from time to time.
(MM) Want to talk about your record label move?
(BD) I’ve got no problem talking about it. Basically, our last record came out on Epic and before the record was even out – well before it was out – we knew that things weren’t going too well. We had to put on the happy face and pretend that everything was great, but we knew that it wasn’t.
With any record label you’ll always have a risk that things isn’t going to go right, but at a major it’s usually worst because they are honestly not best concern with music as they are with the bottom line. Major labels are all owned by huge shell corporations that sell wine or oil or something that has absolutely nothing to do with music. Whereas indie’s are usually run by people who actually put music first.
Of course, a lot of wonderful music comes out of major labels that are really musical and are trying to help make records for the right reasons. And I think that very early on in our dealings with Epic, we basically had people on our side who were the wrong people. Not that they were the wrong people for our band, because they were people who loved our band and our music, but there was a political structure within the record label and the people who were behind our record were people who were on their way down the political structure. Because of that, more than anything else, we were on the wrong side of the fence.
As it was getting closer and closer to our record coming out, we knew it was going bad. Pretty much a couple weeks after it came out, a couple of negative things happened between us and the label and we knew that we didn’t want to make another record with them. So when it came (to the) time when they asked us to make another record, we didn’t want to make a record with them. So we got out of our contract, spent a lot of time without any label at all, ended up demoing probably about 30 songs for the record and recorded a bunch of stuff on our own and ended up shopping the album when it was done to find our home.
We ended up choosing Abacus because they were a smaller label, but had major label distribution and they are set-up well overseas and our records have never been outside of the U.S. and our last record came out in Australia. We wanted to be on a label that would allow our record to come out in multiple other countries and Abacus was commited to doing that from the beginning. There were a lot of people at the label who were big fans of the band for a long time and we just decided that hopefully that would be a good choice.
(MM) Are you guys happy now?
(BD) Uhm, not necessarily. We’re not unhappy, but I’m probably the most jaded and skeptical-of-record-labels kind of person that you could ever talk to at this point in my life. I think that labels are a necessary evil – and I definitely think “evil is a good word.” But considering what we do, there really is no other choice for us but to be on some type of record label.
If we were infinitely wealthy, we would not have any ties with any label and we would completely do exactly what we want. But unfortunately, we still have to use a label’s money to help pay for promotion and get our records out in stores and helping with tour support and things of that nature.
So we’re still slaves to that system, and it’s just weird. Ultimately, I guess I don’t think that labels are evil, even though I just said that a second ago, I just think that the system that records come out in are very unfavorable towards artists.
If you look at a label like Tooth & Nail or your look at a label like Victory – the owners of the record labels are multi multi-millionaires with huge houses, cars and everything you can possibly imagine, then you look at the bands that sold 300,000 to 400,000 records, you look at the financial disparity between the owner of the label and the people who actually created the music and it’s easy (to see) that the owner of the label is making 10 times the amount of money that the people who are out on the road touring and writing songs.
And it’s the same type of thing with major labels. The president of Epic has some type of contract were he’s making $15 (million) to $20 million a year then you have our band who’s making a little more a year than what we’d be making if we worked at McDonald’s. I guess that’s where my major issue with record labels comes from.
A record sells for $14 at the store and the artist sees, if their lucky, 70 cents a record to split between four band members and their manager. I guess that’s really why I don’t like labels, and it may not even be the labels fault.
But you know what? We signed the contract, we put our names on the dotted line so I’m just as guilty. So I guess I shouldn’t be complaining because I knew what I was getting into.
But as artists, we just want to make music for a living and we just do whatever we gotta do to do that.
(MM) I know you’re really into Johnny Cash. Are you excited about the new movie coming out?
(BD) I’m really excited about it coming out. I’m a little bit bummed that I’m going to have to hear Joaquin Phoenix’s voice instead of Cash’s voice. I guess that I respect him for taking vocal lessons – (so) I’ll probably change my mind once I see the movie, but that’s the only thing I’m skeptical about. Cash’s voice is so recognizable and so unique, to hear somebody else impersonating his voice might be a little weird. But I’m sure the movie will be excellent. I’ve already heard that it’s got Oscar written all over it.
The more people that can see just a part of Cash’s story in a way that’s easily visible is great. He’s an icon and besides a wonderful musician, he’s a wonderful person as was June, and I think that it’s awesome. Hopefully another generation of people could be introduced to his music through this movie, so I think it’s going to be great for his legacy.