JOEL JEROME: CALL ME BROTHER JOEL INSTEAD
California native Joel Morales began his journey into the Southern California music scene in the late 90s after a series of 4-track bedroom recordings made their way from his father’s home in Inglewood to his mother’s home in Hawthorne to the venues of the South Bay as the basis of the band that would become dios. Formed by Joel and his brother Kevin, dios made beautiful, idiosyncratic records heavily influenced by the Beatles, Os Mutantes and the Beach Boys. The later dismemberment of dios served as opportunity for Joel to reinvent himself as solo artist, not unlike Neil Young after Buffalo Springfield and CSNY.
This existential period revealed an inner guiding voice, urging Morales to explore the world of recording, and prompted his first recording project in PISCES—Sarah from Happy Hollows—after much convincing on her part. Once PISCES was completed, a producer was born. Joel’s subsequent transition from dios to a recording artist, producer and hometown hero—known as Papa Joel—in Echo Park and Silverlake has helped many known and unknown bands like La Sera, Cherry Glazzer, Happy Hollows, PISCES, Froth, Mystic Braves, Darklands, Tête (ex Spirit Vine, Only You, and ex Black Flamingo), L.A. Witch, Dirt Dress, Mr. Elevator and The Brain Hotel and Tashaki Miyaki to name a few!
Joel’s Albini-esque sliding scale for producing and recording allows artists on labels like Manimal, Burger and Lolipop who might lack the serious funds required to make recordings of such caliber. After time with his band Babies on Acid—formed in 2011, with members including Luke Paquin, Trevor Beld-Jimenez, Gabriel Garnica and more—Joel began writing and recording his first solo record, Psychedelic Thriftstore Folk, recruiting his brother Kevin and Babies on Acid member Jason Hanakeawe. The record will come out in August/September on Manimal Music and a ‘best of’ cassette will be a split release through Lolipop/Manimal coming out in the next month. This interview by Jacquelinne Cingolani.
Are you watching TV while I interview you, Joel? I’ve already started recording—this is all getting locked in print!
Hey, man! I’m just trying to catch up on my daily sports!
You don’t care that your listeners will know you are watching sports during this interview? What if you aren’t paying attention and you accidentally say, ‘Fuck that band!’ or ‘ So and so sucks!’ Better make sure this multi-tasking works in your benefit!
Oh, cool! Then I will DEFINITELY make sure to mention some band I don’t like! And by the way, this isn’t audio, so there are no ‘listeners.’
OK, no more joking—real talk…
Lay it out for me…
Do you think the danger in rock music has been lost? I guess I ask the same question to all the artists I interview because I love to hear everyone’s perspective on where the mystery has gone. When was the last time you’ve seen a band in the mainstream posses the same kind of frenetic energy like—
You mean like Nirvana? Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, the thing about Nirvana is even when they weren’t big they were still signed to a pretty big label and they had those resources to really push them. I think nowadays people don’t really sign acts like Nirvana, at least not in the mainstream. I mean, think about a band like the Black Lips. They have this reputation for playing crazy live shows, partying, being kind of out there, blowing audiences away with these high intensity shows, and touring in the Middle East. If they were being pushed as a mainstream band, they would be selling millions of records, but the point is they don’t sell a million records cuz they don’t have that kind of support and aren’t capable of making the same footprint a band like Nirvana did.
Why isn’t anyone pushing them? Why would someone push a band like Nirvana and not give a band like the Black Lips the same ability to spread their sound to a wider audience? Where has the danger gone? Where are the balls? It’s like the balls have been tucked far up some old white dude’s wallet behind a picture of Katy Perry! What the fuck!
That’s a good question. I don’t know. At the same time Nirvana hit because they genuinely touched something universal. They had that one ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality about them. It’s hard to explain—they had that ‘it factor’ that was there no matter what or they wouldn’t have succeeded. Otherwise—at the time—they would have been at the level of Sonic Youth or something smaller. I think at the same time the resources were different. I’ll tell you what—once they started hitting, the labels started pushing them out even more because a shit ton of money was flowing in. Labels just don’t really do that anymore. The industry takes fewer risks cuz it’s easier to invest in and make money off of pop stars or ‘safe’ rock bands cuz they’ll do what they’re told. They’ll play the game and they won’t try and sabotage themselves or the formula that’s been laid out for them. They are a safe bet and won’t fuck anyone’s shit up—the business of rock n roll is not refined.
What would you like to see happen in L.A.? Obviously there is a community that supports each other—but is there anything that you have seen that has blown you away?
I would love to see a bunch of bands that were playing backyard parties and record store shows a few years ago get bigger and really get something going. I talk to a lot of bands—especially Lolipop bands—that all seem to have this thing … and I have it, too. It’s the idea things are going to explode. No one knows who it will be but it’s gaining momentum cuz it’s this growing community of young people who are in bands and each band has something unique to offer. It just feels like at some point people are really going to catch on and it’s going to burst.
Do you think it’s ageist?
No, not necessarily, but fresh out of high school and not having the responsibilities that come with shit that starts to come up in later life is for sure an advantage. It’s really about the time and the energy you are willing to commit over anything to do with age.
Do you think younger bands having ‘staying power?’ Do you think youth and the kind of responsibility required to drive any band to a wider audience play a role in who will be able to pass ‘GO?’ What did Oscar Wilde say? ‘Youth is wasted on the young’?
As far as the ‘staying power,’ it means you are a band that likes each other enough to be a band for more than ten years. That’s a part of the whole dios thing. It’s been ten years since our first record came out—that’s insane! I mean, the Beatles weren’t together for more than seven years. I’ve seen bands get big and then fizzle out because members were over touring and crashing on floors and wanted an actual career.
Did that happen with dios? Do you mind talking about that? I mean—what did happen with dios?
No, I don’t mind talking about it. dios started off with my own 4-track bedroom recordings and then took awhile due to line-up changes to really get it going. The first record came out and it did really well. We started touring and then that led to more records and more tours … it was a cycle that fizzled. I guess I realized it was difficult to be in a band with a certain group of people, especially when some of them are long-time friends. I realized I was better off being a solo artist. Then the real pain in my ass was the whole name change thing. I really wish we had fought back. Kevin [Joel’s brother and musical collaborator in dios] and I were really pushing to keep the name dios and with all of the legalities, it started to shift in another direction.
What the story was behind the push for the name change?
Basically we got a cease and desist. We were playing Coachella that year and the name was on people’s radar, so it was a perfect opportunity for this dude Ronnie James Dio to try and sue us for stealing his name. I thought it was a joke! At the time, managers and agents were urging us to change the name and even though I was against it, I went along with changing the name. It was really a pivotal moment where things starting to change and dissolve. I’m still not sure of any of the legal jargon and how he got away with—
—with claiming to own the name dios? But how can you own the name dios—God in Spanish? How can anyone trademark GOD? That’s INSANE!
He was a metal singer and cuz we were in the same business, it was like we were stealing his branding and it was confusing to the general public. I still don’t know how he got away with it. The whole thing took a lot of wind out of my sails, that’s for sure.
That brings us to your new solo record under the name Joel Jerome called ‘Psychedelic Thriftstore Folk’—will it be a rotating cast of players?
I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t know what the model will be. I recorded the record with [my brother] Kevin and Jason [Hanakeawe, Babies on Acid member and Joel Jerome collaborator] and it worked out really well. I keep it under Joel Jerome to have it all under one umbrella so I don’t constantly get, ‘What happened to dios?’ ‘What happened to Babies on Acid?’ For the most part dios was me and so is Babies on Acid so I guess I realized I like to do everything alone because when I hear that voice, I have to answer to it immediately—that way I’m not waiting or relying on anyone. It’s like painting. I don’t like to paint with people around. I like to create for the most part alone.
I wanted to touch on your producing/recording side because you have become a local hometown hero when it comes to recording bands. I know you’ve used the Steve Albini approach to recording bands—working on a sliding scale for musicians who can’t afford ludicrous record budgets and focusing on quality output over a fat paycheck. Does it get weird to be approached by bands and you hear their songs and you’re thinking, ‘Man, there is no way I can get into this!’?
Yeah, every single band I have ever recorded sucks. I wish I could sit around and record myself all day. I really do it for the paycheck. JOKE! JOKE!! No—really, I have never had a horrible experience or anyone I didn’t like. I generally don’t like to advertise my studio cuz I want to focus on passion projects or projects I can connect to. I’ve approached bands and asked them to buy me tacos—from the world’s best taco truck by my studio in Eagle Rock called Psychedelic Thriftstore Studios—in trade for recordings. And I’ll tell you … once they get the crack, they always come back.
Ha! Papa Morales, always getting the kids to come back to the funhouse for a taste of the purple kool aid—it’s 2014’s answer to slangin’ rocks.
You’re lucky I just got stoned cuz now I’m really getting into this!
Well, let’s get on a majority of dudes’ favorite topic besides weed, food, or beer; women. Depending on what kind of woman FOR SURE. I notice that you tend to like to record women. Do you think there is a big resurgence of female-fronted bands or bands with one or more than one girl?
The majority of the people i record are women. I tend to record bands where the members are all female or there is more than one female in the band [Cherry Glazerr, L.A. Witch, Darklands—ex-Spirit Vine—Tête, Tashaki Miyaki, Pisces, the Happy Hollows, Globelamp, La Sera, Feels—ex Raw Geronimo and many more—ed.]. Whoever makes good music makes good music but it’s pretty cool to see women coming out and making really good music. I like to empower women and people in general to fulfill the ideas they have and be able to execute their vision.
Attention females! Call Papa Joel for your next studio experience—he can help you execute your vision!
Don’t say it like that! It’s creepy! People will think I’m some big creep. Call me Brother Joel instead.
JOEL JEROME’S PSYCHEDELIC THRIFTSTORE FOLK RELEASES LATER THIS SUMMER ON MANIMAL MUSIC. VISIT JOEL JEROME AT JOELJEROMEMUSIC.BANDCAMP.COM.