Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jeffrey Novak talks with 7Inches!

I first saw Jeff Novak from Cheap Time open for the Crystal Stilts at Less Artists More Condos and was blown away by this glam Ramones 3 piece... short explosive songs, all harmonies, but really just amazing catchy punk favorite. I went over the merch table right after and picked up the 'Handy Man' single and played it for days.
It's the one goto genre I have, it never fails. A bad day?, too much experimental drone? Just feeling tired of thinking work? Put on Cheap Time, the Busy Signals, Jay Reatard and it's not so bad, there's nothing three chords and sing along lyrics can't cure.
Jeff's solo singles are as close as I could get to his full length 'After the Ball', but the single to me seemed like the perfect format for Jeff's brand of concise 70's english inspired piano pop that I was kind of hoping they might also all end up on 7"'s eventually...but really I just want to hear them.
So I was inspired after spotting Jeff at Jay's show in Williamsburg that I got the courage up to track down an email address for Jeff and ask him a few questions. He was amazingly cool and answered them all.

His full length, and the Woodland Drive single, if you don't have them already, are available from In The Red Records. I've heard 'After the Ball' is going to be released on Jay's label on CD (boo) with bonus tracks (yay) I'm waiting for that.
Even better though Cheap Time is playing Silent Barn Oct 2nd and 3rd...see you there.

On to my Jeffrey Novak interview......

I ran into you at the Jay Reatard show picking up your Home Sweet Home single. I think you were in town for a big Captured Tracks show over the 4th of July... I overheard you say you weren't able to play for that? What happened?

Jeff: We were originally supposed to play a show that weekend opening for the Kids, but they ended up backing out and the whole show fell apart. So that Captured Tracks thing was going on that same weekend, which Tom Dash claimed we should be able to play as well since Mike Sniper was putting it on. I don't know what ended up happening exactly. I wasn't ever able to discuss anything with Mike about it, but I end up hearing later that it was three guys who were in charge of that thing. Two of them were up for us getting added to the bill, but one of them wasn't, so we got vetoed. It's really stupid. I was caught up with a lot of other stuff in my life around that time, so I didn't really care. Cheap Time had done a really long European tour shortly before then as well, so I was still sort of feeling burned out and not that excited about trying to get the band back together for a one off show.

It seems like you have toured a lot with Jay. I imagine you guys ran into each other a lot starting out. Are you guys friends from way back? You help each other out?

Jeff: We toured twice with him last year. On the west coast and the east. I'm five years younger than Jay so it's sort of impossible to be friends with him from way back. His friends from way back are all people in their 30's or 40's now, that he knew when he was still a teenager. I met Jay around 6 years ago when I was 18. He was playing in this band Nervous Pattern or Nervous Patterns, I can't remember. I saw them open for Oneida, and then I saw him play guitar in Jeff Evan's band the CC Riders. I was friends with Jeff, and that's how I ended up meeting Jay. I had always thought he would be some crazy intense mean person for some reason, but he was always a really out of his way nice guy to me. He's been one of the only consistently supportive people in my life when it comes to my music.

Do you think you've influenced each other's music in any way?

Jeff: When I was 17/18 years old, I really wanted to sound like him and King Louie. They were the guys I looked up to. They made the most amazing records and had such legendary stories you'd always hear about, but on top of that they were both really nice and encouraging people to me. Which always surprised me, because I was just some kid from the middle of nowhere in Tennessee who was just wanting to rip them off essentially. I did that stuff for a couple years and took as far as I could take it. Jay even told me that at the time. There's only so much you can do with that sound. By the time I turned 20 I felt like I needed to be doing something a little different, which has slowly evolved to what I'm doing now with Cheap Time and my new solo stuff. But to answer the question, Jay and I have a weird mutual respect for each other, which I've never had with anyone else. We don't bullshit each other.

Do you think that Tennessee has anything to do directly with your sound?

Jeff: In some ways, yes. It's more just growing up in the middle of nowhere than anything to do with Tennessee as a state or Memphis or Nashville as cities. It's also a very southern thing. It's hard to explain. I've lived in West Tennessee my whole life, but my parents aren't from here, so I didn't grow with the traditions of the south really. I don't have a southern accent, and I didn't grow up listening to modern country music like most kids that I grew up with. My parents hated that stuff. They just listened to oldies radio, so that's what I grew up on. That and stuff I would find out about through my older sisters. So to me it comes from having nothing around you and having to come up with your own thing.

I first heard you open for the Crystal Stilts at Less Artists More Condos and immediately picked up your single. That led me to the self titled album on In The Red Records. How did that album come about?

Jeff: I sent some demos to Larry Hardy from In The Red before Cheap Time had ever played a show, and I never heard back from him. So after we had formed into sort of a real band, I just wrote him and asked him if he wanted to do our LP, and he wrote back and said yes. Our demos really sucked, and we were even worse as a live band, so I think it surprised some people. The story I ended up hearing later was that Steve Mcdonald and Monty Buckles had both mentioned something about me to Larry, and so he wanted to do whatever new project I started. At least that's what he ended up telling me later on. I guess it was a gamble on his part, but Larry has great taste and an amazing record collection. He's a great guy to geek out over records with. He's turned me on to a lot of great stuff, and he always gives me his doubles of things. That's how I got the first two Kevin Ayers records.

Was it recorded or mastered with the vinyl in mind? Is that even a consideration?

Jeff: Totally! But we didn't really know what we were doing that well whenever we made that record. It was the same master for both though. Jay actually mastered it. I remember it taking longer than we thought it was going to. It kept getting drawn out over minor glitches with the transfer. We only spent 5 days recording and mixing it.

It looks like you were credited with writing everything on that record. How finished are the songs when you bring them to the other members of the band?

Jeff: I did demos for everyone of the songs off that first album except for "Over Again" and "Falling Down," because I didn't have time. We ended up learning those right before we recorded them. I don't think we had even tried playing them live before that because they were too complicated for us at the time. Those are the songs everyone says sound like other songs which I wasn't really thinking about at the time at all, because I hadn't done demos of either of them. I still think they're OK songs though. I still like the subject matter. They still mean something to me. I'm very picky about the drums and bass lines. I like things to be played exactly how I played them on the demos most of the time. That's why it's fun doing solo records. I love playing the drums. I wish I could play the drums on every record I make.

Actually now that I'm looking at the credits...People Talk is a cover? An Oblivian's side project did the original? I'm guessing they have been an influence.

Jeff: Yes, "People Talk," is a song by this band called The End. They were this Corinth, MS new-wave band from the mid-80's that Jack "Oblivian" Yarber was in. They only had one 7" with a sleeve with this crappy Van Halen sounding song on the A-side, and "People Talk" on the B-side. They had a huge stack of them at Goner for $2.99 about four or five years ago. I knew I had to cover it the first time I heard it, but it took me a while till I had the right band to play it.

Do you deliberately approach Cheap Talk songs knowing they are going to have to be played live?

Jeff: Yes, and maybe that's the main difference with Cheap Time and my solo stuff where I never have to think about that at all. Other than that I don't really think about the difference that much at all. I write lots of songs, and I'd like to do more records. I just hate waiting around to do everything with Cheap Time. I don't have the patience.

You mentioned you mastered your 'Home Sweet Home' solo single. Is that something you've been getting into more, the mastering process? Did you want more control over the whole sound? Has that been a problem in the past?

Jeff: No, I didn't master that single or any of the other records. Jay did. But I did record that stuff myself, which was very freeing. I really wanted to do something at home again, so I decided to move back in with my parents and build an 8-track studio in there attic. That was my main goal last year. Just to escape from everything and make a weird personal record that only my family and close friends would even be able to understand. I never expected anyone to get it. I actually expect most people to hate it for what they think it is, which some people probably do. The cover art is really over the top and the songs are very dramatic, but at the time that was the world I was living in, and it all made perfect sense. I'm still most proud of it compared to anything else I've done so far.

Are you planning to tour with your solo material, as Jeff Novak? Or are you working with Cheap Time on another release or tour?

Jeff: I'd like to tour behind that new solo stuff soon, but Cheap Time is going to be busy touring and recording for the rest of the year. I'll just have to wait. I promised Larry I would tour behind the next solo record that he's putting out next year, and I got an offer from Jay to open for him with my solo thing next year, but he doesn't want me to bring a backing band. So I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't really want to do my old one man band thing again where I scream my head off. It would also be weird to go out and sit and play a keyboard alone while I sing. I don't really fancy myself a singer/songwriter sort of guy. I don't feel like that's what I'm going for. I don't really know what I'm going for with that stuff exactly. It's just fun to play piano and write songs and try to make interesting records that I would personally want to listen to. It could be an interesting experience going out solo with out any sort of band for a tour. It could be a great learning experience even if Jay's sort of audience doesn't really get it.

I missed out on your solo full length 'After the Ball'. Is that going to be re-released anytime soon?

Jeff: It's just come out on cassette finally, and the CD version should be out later this year. The LP seemed to sell out sort of quickly, because I only pressed 500 copies of it, but a lot of them just ended up on Ebay. I still haven't gotten my money from Matador direct for the copies I sold them, and all my money's tied up in my next self-released solo record that I want to put out next year after the one on In The Red, so I don't know when I'll get around to ever repressing it. I'd rather just focus on new stuff.

Has it been kind of a conscious choice to release a lot of 7" singles?

Jeff: I don't really feel like I've released that many. I actually consciously try to release as few as I can. I'd to release a lot more, but I don't want to flood the market with my shit like the Blank Dogs. That's what everyone's doing now, but I don't feel like I can get away with it too. I wanted to put out a new 7" with these recent songs I recorded this month, but that Sweet Rot single didn't come out that long ago, so I feel like maybe I should wait till next year.

Do you have material in mind for singles knowing it won't end up on the full length?

Jeff: Sometimes, maybe most of the time. I decided pretty early on what will be an album track or work better as a song on a single. I'd like to always make better B-sides than A-sides. I love singles like that. All of Sparks' island singles were like that. I really need to be working harder if I want to achieve that goal though. Sometimes I'm too lazy, but as long as I never do anything as bad as Kevin Ayers' mid-70's B-sides, I should be fine.

Do you have a hand in the sleeve art or anything or is that pretty much up to the label?

Jeff: I probably spend just as much time thinking about the art as I do the music. I tried to get everything perfect on the newer solo stuff. I even wanted the paper to be the right stock. To me that stuff's very important. It's worth trying to get things right. I hate when things come off half assed. My older sister Kristi usually helps me out with the graphic design though. That's what she does for a living and she's great. She's usually takes most of the photos as well. She knows how to help me capture my vision. I don't know what I would do with out her.

You have plans for any 7" singles in the future you want to talk about?

Jeff: I hope I can put out something with Hozac soon. I've been wanting to do something with Todd for a very long time. I'd like to do something with Captured Tracks or what label Mike Sniper happens to be running at the time too. I've known him for a long time and we've always talked about doing something together but it's never ended up panning out. He wanted to release After The Ball, but I was already on the ball to release it myself, and Radio Heartbeat wanted to release a Cheap Time single, but we could never get it together.

Do you have a collection of singles yourself?

Jeff: Yes. I have at least 2000, but I haven't counted them in a long time. A lot of them are just thinks I've gotten for free over the years on tour and what not, but at least a couple hundred of them I would never part with and still listen to.

Which ones?

Jeff: All the old west coast budget rock stuff like Supercharger and the Brentwoods, because it took me forever to find those. All of Memphis stuff, like the Oblivians, Reatards, and 68 Comeback. All the Ohio stuff, like the Gibson Bros, Cheater Slicks and Bassholes. Plus lots of other random things like this Redd Kross Born Innocent demos Bootleg 7". I love all my old Sparks and T. Rex 7"s with the killer B-sides that I had mentioned before. And I can't forget the Clone Defect's singles and EP's. Those records are perfect.

1 comment:

  1. hurrah, someone actually not trying to flood the market with their records. take note blank dogs, oh see, fresh & onlys, ty segals and dan melchiors of the world.