Interview: Saint Motel

MP3: Saint Hotel – “Puzzle Pieces”

Kicking off their Summer Sweat tour with San Diego’s own bands The Silent Comedy and The Howls in a sold-out show at the Casbah on July 5th, Los Angeles-based Saint Motel are ready to hit the road again. Lead singer AJ Jackson spoke to Owl and Bear about sex, tiger’s blood, and rock n’ roll.

Owl and Bear: According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia, you guys are “known for throwing extreme concert events” in Los Angeles. Are these parties that you put together and perform at? You’ve staged a Zombie Prom? Explain.

AJ Jackson: Yeah, we always perform at our events. But that’s pretty much the only thing that stays constant. We use different actors, partner with different charities, use different off-the-grid venues (like a U-Haul truck, or a haunted hotel), and we pretty much try to come up with different ideas to get into. Zombie Prom, Judgment Day, The Rock n Roll Circus, The Kaleidoscopic Mind Explosion in 3D, Future Father’s Day, etc. Then we design posters, make movie trailers, find sponsors. It’s very similar to making a movie. We even have sequels!

Owl and Bear: So, what I’m hearing is that San Diegans should be driving up to LA to see you more often.

AJ Jackson: That’d be cool yeah. Come on up! We have plenty of couch space here in L.A.

Owl and Bear: Well it’s a good thing you’re kicking off your Summer Sweat tour in SD at least. You have a sold-out show at the Casbah on July 5th and you’re ending the tour with a 4-night residency at the new Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Anything you’re excited about? Nervous?

AJ Jackson: We are excited to be on tour again and to be seeing the friends we’ve made on tours in the past. Also, we’re excited to be venturing into new territory… Wyoming, Idaho. Nervous about the
eventual apocalypse that is supposed to happen either October 21st or December 2012. But kinda excited for that too, so….

Owl and Bear: What can we expect from you on tour?

AJ Jackson: From any Saint Motel show, whether it’s on tour or here in sunny L.A., expect the following: fun, friends, sex, dancing, heavy, sweaty, catharsis, laughing, crying, out of body experiences, random
unexplainable miracles, non-spontaneous combustion, phun.

Owl and Bear: Does this mean we’re guaranteed to get laid after one of your shows?

AJ Jackson: Maybe even during one of our shows…

Owl and Bear: “Puzzle Pieces” is the current radio single and it’s doing well on the charts. Rumor has it you started writing this song in middle school. How long has the rest of your music been incubating?

AJ Jackson: I played piano as a kid but switched to tenor sax in middle school. That piano riff [in “Puzzle Pieces”] was one of the melodies that stuck with me through the years. I would bust it out at cocktail parties and in hotel lobbies. At SXSW a year ago, the band just start jamming along and eventually we decided to make a full-on song.

The rest of the new songs are kinda all over the place with their life spans. Some are as recent as months and some years. We should have a follow up guessing game when the album comes out and I’ll tell you if you’re right!

Owl and Bear: Any idea when it will drop?

AJ Jackson: The dropping will hopefully be relatively soon. But we shall see. We have a team of mathematicians in our studio right now calculating the perfect mathematical date for droppage.

Owl and Bear: What’s the story behind the band name?

AJ Jackson: I’ll give you three popular answers: 1) It is the location where we met. Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Nevada City. 2) It is an Eastern European beer that we all thought was divine. It is no
longer available. 3) It was the one-thousandth name we came up with and we like even numbers.

Owl and Bear: I know drummer Greg Erwin joined the band after seeing a Saint Motel show in LA. How long have the four of you been recording and playing together as a quartet?

AJ Jackson: This isn’t our first rodeo; we’ve been a band with this lineup for four years this summer so we have seen our fair share of endless highways and late night gas station buffets.

Owl and Bear: What’s the most consistently disappointing food item at these questionable buffets?

AJ Jackson: Hard to say really. After a while, the heartburn and general degradation of your taste buds makes everything pretty much taste the same.

Owl and Bear: All of your backgrounds are tremendously diverse. Besides your instruments, what does each member bring to the band?

AJ Jackson: We like to think we are culturally diverse, though LA is really a melting pot. Dak can’t even find Thailand on the map anymore (just kidding, he’s going there in a month). That’s where he hails from and he contributes a nice zen-like tranquility to the other members’ at-times-overbearing enthusiasm. I am from Minneapolis, MN and I would like to think I contribute a large amount of sex appeal to the band. Greg is from northern CA and contributes a fair share of muscular street cred to the band. And then there’s L.A.’s own A. Sharp who contributes to the band’s criminal record. I guess you could say Sharp would be somewhere between Greg and I as far as sex appeal and street cred contribution.

Owl and Bear: Criminal record?

AJ Jackson: I can’t comment until after the trial(s).

Owl and Bear: Film and video is very important to you guys and very interwoven with your music and your performances. Can you talk a little bit about how you hope to continue tying these two media together?

AJ Jackson: There is still a lot of room for the visual element in our live shows to grow and as we grow as a band the live show will only get crazier. Right now we are utilizing something we call a “video piano” which is an analog machine that looks like a piano. Each key is connected to a different DVD player, or camera that we have mounted on stage or in the crowd. The ultimate effect is kind of a stadium-style feel in a club.

There are a lot of parallels between a movie and a song. They are both stories, both have beginnings and ends, sometimes they have characters, they always have a point of view, and are always conveying some sort of emotional response to the viewer or listener. Our songs are very cinematic. We try to include intros that set the tone for where we are about to go and we love to include plot twists.

Owl and Bear: As with most new bands nowadays, you must be aware of the social networking and hypermedia interaction it takes to achieve lift off. Have any other bands given you good advice on this?

AJ Jackson: Yeah, we are aware of the importance of the internet and have been taking full advantage of any help it can give a band. And it can give a lot! We got some good advice from the OK Go guys about
avoiding certain labels and cultivating direct interaction with fans online. They are kinda masters at the viral video, so it was cool to pick their brains.

Owl and Bear: What does your process look like?

AJ Jackson: We have a studio in downtown Los Angeles. It’s dark and hot and there is no natural light. Kinda has a cozy Cold War bunker feel to it. We are there ridiculously long hours writing and playing music. Sometimes I’ll come into the studio with an idea ready to develop and other times we just create stuff out of a free flowing jam.

Owl and Bear:: Any preshow rituals?

AJ Jackson: Hmm not really. Post-show though, we like to party. Ritualistically party.

Owl and Bear: Sounds like fun. What’s everyone’s drink of choice?

AJ Jackson: Scotch or Tiger Blood typically.

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