The Red Alert
The Red Alert

Venice is Sinking

A conversation with Lucas Jensen

(July 2010)

Interview by Angel M. Baker

 

The Red Alert had the pleasure of catching up with the self-proclaimed old man of Venice is Sinking, Lucas Jensen, to talk about the RA-adored, Sand & Lines, shutting down bars in lives since passed, the kudzu, and a ¾ dirge whimsy that made one of the best “Jolene” covers of all time.


Do you have a show scheduled for The Georgia Theatre when it's rebuilt?
Boy, you'd think that we would, huh?  Maybe we need to get on that!  The truth is that the rebuilding is just now getting underway.  The building had to be gutted and cleaned and stabilized, and then Wil Greene, the owner, had to get loans and permits and plans and stuff, most of which I don't understand.  The tentative date for reopening is 2011, but I think it's all TBD at this point.  I have a feeling it's going to be a beautiful room, and we like playing beautiful rooms.  Not that we have anything wrong with ugly rooms, either, if they sound alright.


Are you keen on being forever known as the band that saved the theatre? (Or do you feel jinxed that you maybe caused it's demise?)  
Well, we recorded Sand & Lines a year before it burned down, so a lot of other bands played there after us.  I think that Rockinwood and Mass Solo Revolt were the last two bands to play there, so if I had to point the finger anywhere, that's where I'd do it (kidding!).

 

As for "saving" the Theatre?  We are donating the proceeds from this album to the rebuilding of the Georgia Theatre, but let's be frank here: we are a minor indie rock band in the year 2010.  Nobody's buyin' nothing.  So we have no illusions of us contributing much to the rebuilding.  What little money we make off this will all go to Wil and the Theatre because he was the brainchild behind the project and the one who made the whole thing happen.  It would be pretty poopy of us to go and pocket the money when this whole thing wouldn't have gone down without him.  Hopefully, we'll make enough to buy a few doorknobs for the Theatre.  Or maybe a toilet seat or two? [Or a] fire extinguisher!


The Firenote described Sand & Lines "as a collection of new tracks, a few road-tested covers (songs by Galaxie 500, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings), and several resurrected songs that didn’t fit on their first two LPs." I don't think that’s quite fair. Do you? It makes S&L sound like a dart board that you threw music at.
I don't take it as unfair because I still consider the album of a piece, given the congruence of the recording process.  Every single song was recorded the same way, so it's not like it's an odds and sods album, even if the songs had disparate origins.  And there are so many different ways to make an album.  Heck, my favorite Stones record is probably Sticky Fingers (it's a tough call), and that was cobbled together from a few different sessions and included a leftover or two.  Still sounds rad to me!  The fictionalized version of an album as a pure entity wherein songs are written in studio in one long session is not much of a reality, at least in our world.


You have to understand that we started preparing for this during the AZAR sessions and then recording it right after those ended.  We got the AZAR masters on the last day of recording Sand & Lines...that's how much overlap there was.  We'd just spent eight months on and off driving up to Charlotte on the weekends to make AZAR and we were pretty gassed, but it was an opportunity (work with Dave Barbe! record in the Theatre! make a totally analog record!) that we really couldn't pass up.

 

One quibble with The Firenote: that Waylon Jennings song was so not road-tested.  We'd probably played it ten times total.  Jeremy had already gone home when we recorded it!  Jesse made up the bass part on the spot.  It was a drunken good bad idea that might be my favorite song on the record because you can hear us whooosh, just let all the tension of the preceding week(s) go.  But, boy, do I have some problematic drum fills on there.

 

Is S&L in any way a 'spill-over' record? Or is it more accurate to say S&L manifested itself in the right place at the right time? What IS accurate to say?
Hmm.  I don't know what kind of record it is.  Our "back to the basics" record?  Isn't your third album supposed to be the "electronic record" or something?  I guess it is a manifestation of right place/right time.  How can you pass up the opportunity to have two albums in the can in one year and to have them be such different experiences?  It made us look downright prolific!  We need for someone to come along and kick our butts and give us a deadline to finish Album #4 now!


My favorite aspect of the record is the way on the covers (which are heartfelt and nasty and desperate), VIS makes them soft and longing. Is this easier to do this with someone else's story as opposed to your own story?
"Jolene" is such a desperate song, and we heard a criticism that our version lost the pleading nature of the original by slowing it down.  I'd respectfully disagree, but the point here is that nailing that pleading is essential to the success of that song.  I think ours is a tad creepier, and that's maybe what we were going for, though it initially sprang forth from our original bassist Steve's head as a thought experiment.  He said to us that he thought "Jolene" might sound really good as a ¾ dirge, and so we played it and it did.  It worked right out of the gate.  Would that they were all like that!


I think that you have to stay true to the spirit of the original, however you can't treat it as canon, as something sacrosanct that can't be modified.  It's better to go into the song and find that piece of it (whether it's musical or lyrical or whatever) that you find most interesting and work with that.  Otherwise, it's not worth doing.  Wait, let me take that back.  We play covers all the time because we enjoy performing them, and some are more commensurate with the originals than others.  Playing covers is a blast, particularly if they push you outside your comfort zone.  But the covers that we actually record and consistently play--like "Tugboat"--are usually the ones that fit best with our sound, where we feel like we're doing something interesting with them.  If we ever do a single acoustic guitar strummed indie rock whiny baby version of a song, you have permission to kick us all in our gizzards.


With personal experience waiting for bars to close, I'd like to say that "Bardstown Road" just NAILS that gross, anxious stand-by-the-curtains feeling. I wish I had a chorus of mates to sing "Bardstown Road" with me MANY times. What's the story, if there is one, behind this track?

Daniel can probably speak to this better than I can, but I think that anxious feeling is something the song is trying to get out.  I'm not sure if it has a central story, but it's evocative--at least to me--of when we were a young-ish band, practicing at a beaten up old house (666 Pulaski!) next to the rail road tracks and the kudzu, just archetypal Athens really, and we'd sometimes put the word out that we were gonna have a house party.  You'd sit there, waiting until 2 o'clock hit and the rush of people came in.  I'm older now, and that scene's not really my jam anymore, but I have fond memories of those.  The name "Bardstown Road" has to do with this street in Louisville that's a strip with a lot of bars and restaurants.  We've had some good times there on tour, to be sure.  I think the song really captures that wistfulness that undergirds aggressive partying like this, that hard-to-shake feeling that you're chasing one more good time as your youth slides away.

 

In News Of The Obvious, we all come from different places and those places influence us in subtle and acute ways. How does Athens, GA play into your music?
When you're surrounded by such wonderful musicianship and creativity, it's hard not be influenced by this town.  Most of all, it encourages us to take chances with what we do (not that we're some experimental band or anything) and never coast.  There is always some hot new band ready to show you what's what!  Obviously, REM looms large on the scene as do the E6ers--we all loved Phosphorescent, too, and so many others!--but I think we've been good about forging our own path here.  But it's hard not to let the town seep into your bloodstream.  It has its own rhythm and pacing and way of communicating.  You walk down the streets and look at the beautiful houses and the railroad tracks and the kudzu and the bars and hear the cacophony of practice spaces and drink porch beers and make crazy 4 track psychedelica because that's just what you do here.  It's a wonderful place to be creative, if a little insular.   


Do you want to get more into the South? Get away from the South with your music?
The latest song Daniel and I wrote sounds kinda like...New Order?  So maybe we're heading across the pond for the next one.  Who knows?  I don't think we make musical decisions in broad strokes like that, though we really did get more "Southern" with our last two albums, particularly the Theatre one.  I'd like to think that we make Southern rock that's not the Marshall Tucker Band or Skynyrd (though we do enjoy those bands as well).  I certainly don't see us as a Midwestern thing, and our sound ain't urbane.  I think we sometimes tap into that same dark Southern mystique that REM nailed on their most successful records, particularly Automatic for the People.  It's not really a conscious thing, but you can't help but be influenced by it.

 

Only half the band is Southern, but Daniel and Karolyn have certainly adapted well.  Our new trumpet player, Aaron, is still pretty Long Island, but he's enjoyed a porch beer or three with us.

 

Would you consider moving to, say, New York or LA for a label?
For a label?  I'd never move anywhere for a label.  Not in this day and age.  And I'd NEVER move to LA to do stuff with a band.  I'm immediately suspicious of anybody who does that.  I love New York, but I have my misgivings about it, too, and it's become such a redundancy to read about a band that used to be from City X but now lives in Brooklyn.  Snooze alert.  To me, people are more interesting when they are from the 90% of the country that doesn't live in New York!  There are so many small towns around with bands, and I had great hopes that the rise of MP3 blogs would help develop scenes all over the country.  It hasn't hurt, but the NYC cabal seems to control more of our creative discourse than ever.  Sure, NYC has so many things to offer, and it has helped a lot of people's careers to relocate there, but there are interesting bands and artists everywhere.  Of course, I say all of this as someone who moved to a "hip town" to be creative and make music and stuff, so slap a big hypocrite warning on everything I said here.


In the end, I'm just not sure that Todd P. parties et al. are my scene, and we can live here for soooo much cheaper.

 

While we're going places, where does VIS want to go? Some people play music to get outside of themselves and some to become themselves. What's that imaginary place that performing takes you? Seriously, you can say, "I Don't Know" or "We just want to play, man"- that is just fine.

Sometimes I don't know why we do it.  We spend a lot of time yelling at each other, and spending lots of money we don't have, and driving around in a sweaty van, and taking away time from our loved ones and jobs and everything else, all for this infernal band.  But there's a reason we keep doing it, and, yeah, it's hokey, but when you're up there playing, or you're laying down tracks in the studio...there really is just no better feeling than that.


I don't know.  We just want to play, man.

Venice is Sinking

www.veniceissinking.net

 

Download:

Venice is Sinking - "Falls City"

Venice is Sinking - "Tugboat"

 

Related:

Venice is Sinking - Sand & Lines

Venice is Sinking - Azar

 

More by this writer:

The Black Keys - Brothers

Stereo Total - Baby Ouh!

Keller & The Keels - Thief

The Morning Benders - Big Echo