Anyone yet unfamiliar with Portland's phenomenal guitar rock quartet The Joggers (myspace, website) can glean a lot about their music from this photo of their drummer, Jake Morris. For one thing, he's pouring sweat for a reason; the band's propulsive, serpentine arrangements demand a high-degree of octane from the guy behind the kit. And as the microphone indicates, everyone in the band pitches in on vocals to fill out lead singer Ben Whitesides's theatrically ambitious compositions. Over the past year and a half, The Joggers have been slowly piecing together a follow-up to their critically acclaimed second LP, With a Cape and a Cane. Meanwhile, Morris and the band's second guitarist, Dan Wilson, have been collaborating on Pseudosix. Led by Tim Perry, the group specializes in mellifluous, sun-drenched, back-porch melodies that tingle with a '60s pop sweetness; Thursday and Friday night is your chance to catch the Portland collective at Union Hall. (Tickets.)
How did you start working with Pseudosix? Let’s see… I used to work at a club in town called The Blackbird and I saw them play there. I just told them that I liked their band and that if they ever needed anyone I’d love to join in. The drummer they had previously, Joe Kelly, was also playing in 31 Knots at the time. He’s now playing with Panther.
Did you participate in the song writing for the new Pseudosix album? They’re pretty much Tim’s songs; the arrangements sort of come with the rest of the band. There are a couple songs on the album that he and I worked out, Under the Waves being one of them.
Do feel like playing with different bands lets you stretch different musical muscles? Definitely.
So what is it about working with Pseudosix as opposed to French Kicks or The Joggers that fulfills you in different ways? Pseudosix is definitely more mellow and laid back. It forces you to concentrate on a less-is-more kind of a thing, which I don’t do in The Joggers as much live. In recordings we do, but not live. I’m definitely not as sweaty after a Pseudosix show. It’s all a learning process, learning different things about yourself and different styles and ways to problem-solve and deal with things. It’s pretty fun!
Are you looking forward to going out on tour again? Yeah, I am. Honestly, I’ve sort of been dreading it a little bit but now that’s actually happening I’m pretty exciting.
Why were you dreading it? Not so much with the guys or anything but when the record first came out we didn’t have any booking options and it looked like we were going to have to do everything ourselves and that’s really time consuming; I really want to get The Joggers stuff going. And since I still have to work a job it was really the time management aspect that I was dreading. But we lucked out by getting someone to help book us and get us some decent shows where we weren’t just having to find art spaces and not getting any money. I don’t think we’re going to be getting much money but it looks like hopefully it’ll at least get us from point A to point B.
Should fans of the Joggers worry that you and Dan are going to defect completely to Pseudosix? Absolutely. [Pauses, laughs.] No, it’s just fun and it’s sort of different enough. I think Dan and I are just excited we get to go on the road and play out. I think out of the four Joggers he and I really like it the most. But no, I don’t think there should be any crack yet. Unless Pseudosix totally explodes, man!
2005 into the first half of 2006 was a busy time for the Joggers, with a lot of critical acclaim and a lot of touring after With a Cape and a Cane's release. The touring finally culminated as a supporting act for Pretty Girls Make Graves. How was that experience? I think it wasn’t the best experience for us. Now, looking back on it, I think we probably could have handled it better. It just kind of killed our momentum. I remember right before that tour we were just finishing another tour. I can’t remember whether we were going clockwise or counterclockwise around the country but the Pretty Girls Make Graves tour started right after it in the opposite direction. So we were already seeing posters for those shows in some of the same places we were playing. So it was just kind of daunting to see that and think, “Oh my God, we’re going to be right back here in a week!” That kind of drained us. And we were the first of three bands on the bill for most of the tour, which was kind of off-putting. But I think we still made some ground on it. I think that was the third tour on that album, pretty much right away. We still had fun but we had to sort of reassess after that.
In what way? We’ve worked it all out now but we really had to decide what we were going to say yes and no to, what makes sense for us and what doesn’t. It was a learning experience. I mean, those guys were great and we had a good time; I just think we were pretty beat by the time we did that tour. I think the first two tours after With a Cape and a Cane came out were the best shows we’d played to date.
What's been happening with the band since then? A lot of various non-band things. Darrell [Bourque, bassist] bought a house and is really, really busy working on that. Ben got an office job; prior to that he had pretty much been just spending all his time on music so that’s been an adjustment for him. Dan and I have been doing Pseudosix stuff. We’ve been bouncing around various rehearsal spaces – we had been just playing at Ben’s house and that was no longer an option – so we’ve been sort of bouncing around different warehouse spaces, which is really frustrating. We didn’t have that kind of “home” feeling to practice. Now we finally have that in place at Darrell’s house. That’s where all the new stuff, which we’re pretty much finished with, is being worked on… It’s good – things are definitely moving a lot slower but at the same time I think we’re kind of excited because we’re as much in control of our destiny as we can be. That sounds terrible.
Do you have an idea of when you’re going to start laying some tracks down? We’ve got four or five songs that are pretty much done. I don’t know what to call them other than demos; they might be releasable but I don’t really know what we’re going to do. I think we’re going to give them to our people and see what’s to become of it. We were going over it the other night and we have a ton of stuff that’s just been kind of laying around waiting to get cleaned up for the past year while everyone went in all different directions. So hopefully when Dan and I get back from tour we’ll have more stuff ready for the new year. We were talking a couple of nights ago and I think we’re all very antsy to get back out there and get another thing going.
Do you think maybe this is part of a pattern with how you guys work? With Solid Guild you had this momentum going and then there was this dormancy for kind of a long time and now – Yeah, it’s always something! It’s true. Yeah, we went through a bunch of inner band changes [Second guitarist Murphy Kasiewicz was replaced by Dan Wilson.] then and now we’re sort of coming out of that now. Also this will be the first record where Dan is a member of the band; With a Cape and a Cane was pretty much just the three of us working it out and recording it. And Dan came on board after it was done.
Yeah, by the way the band's Wikipedia entry needs to be revised because it says that Murphy played guitar on With a Cape and a Cane; I thought Ben recorded both guitar tracks on that album. Oh really? I didn’t even know we had a Wikipedia entry. Do people even regard that as factual?
You always sort of take it with a grain of salt but I thought you guys might want to know. Oh, okay. Yeah, I guess I’ll look at that.
Does Ben write all the lyrics? Yeah.
His lyrics are cryptic yet very evocative, like "I'll play the listing doctor righted by the rube" or "I'll toast you with a glass of stage blood when you see the devil wearing earplugs." Do you ever wonder what his writing process is like – because the lyrics are just so brilliant. I agree. No, I don’t ask him. We make fun of them most of the time. Like With a Cape and a Cane it was funny; Ben was recording vocals and we were listening in the other room and every time he was saying that line [“But I’ll be back next year with a cape and a cane and my frail restraints.”] we’d just crack up laughing. And we just thought it would be a funny album title. So that’s how that happened. Half the stuff I don’t even know what he’s saying until later on. And there are songs on which I sing a lot and I’m not even singing words because I don’t really know what they are. No, I don’t really ask that kind of stuff. I’ve got enough to worry about.
You're originally from the east coast right? Three of us are all from various northeastern spots and Dan is from Alaska. I’m from upstate New York.
What part? Rochester. I went to college all over the place in upstate New York and then moved out west in ‘98/’99. We all met out here in Portland in various random ways. And now of course it’s very rare you run into a native Oregonian.
How do The Joggers fit into the Portland music scene? I have no idea. We’ve been here long enough and we’re established. We know so many different people who do really good things out here but as far as where we fit in I don’t really know. We do better in other places; we always seem to luck out and do well in Chicago and New York and random places in Florida. When we’re home we don’t pack ‘em in necessarily but we have fun and have our friends. It’s sort of an unassuming kind of vibe here which is kind of cool; there’s always the hot band every year but everyone else seems to last, which is cool.
What was the first venue you played in New York? The Joggers played in the basement at Northsix.
Yeah, that’s now a totally different venue. Right. It was CMJ and we somehow squeaked in there, but we ended up playing the basement, which was like a closet. But that was arguably our best gig in New York.
Okay, well that answers my next question. Well, I don’t know. I lived there for all of February  when I was doing the French Kicks thing; I came out to do a residency with them at The Mercury Lounge. And those shows were amazing but I was so panic-stricken and nervous for the first two I can’t really say I enjoyed them. And then the last couple shows were pretty fun. When The Joggers played Rothko it was cool because it was totally packed but it was a terrible place; the staff was really mean and there was no place to go – you were either on stage or you had to leave the stage via the front.
They closed down right after that. I think you may have been the last band to play there actually. Oh yeah? I don’t know, we had a pretty fun show at Cake Shop, that was sloppy but fun. But probably that Northsix basement show was the best.
How about your wildest New York experience? Well… I mean the craziest thing I can think of is when we were there – the World Series has just ended so that’s what made me think of this – we where there when the Yankees lost to the Marlins, I think. We’re all Red Sox fans, though now that we’re becoming the dynasty it takes the fun out of rooting for the underdog. That’s another reason why we’re missing being on tour because we’re usually on tour during the World Series. So the Yankees lost that year and I was antagonizing Yankees fans on the street and being a real jerk, hiding behind the door guy. And everyone in the band started getting mad at me. I had all of our T-shirts and on our way out I taunted a group of guys in Yankees hats who were approaching down the sidewalk. And they started running toward us as we were trying to get into a cab. I’m not proud of it but it was memorable.
It’s a great image; some bands get chased by groupies and you guys get chased by disgruntled sports fans. I’m not proud of it but it was memorable.
Photo of Jake Morris by Valeria Melissia Rosalez.