INTERVIEW: John David & The Jerks

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “I’ll Die Of Grief”?

“I’ll Die of Grief” was one of the few songs I’ve ever written which began with just one single concept or idea. I’ve always found it challenging to write a song that meets the vision of just one very clearly defined topic, but this one was different and I’m really happy about how it turned out.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

My aunt, who is very accomplished in many things including family genealogy, had sent me a letter several years ago along with a xerox copy of an obituary from one of my ancestors on my mother’s side. The way she xeroxed the obituary was important and had a strong visual impact; she laid an old fashioned circular magnifying glass with a handle, on top of the newsprint, and the copy machine magnified the bold heading which read; “Husband Died Suddenly, Grief Kills Mrs Kennedy”. Through talking about this at family gatherings I learned that to “Die of Grief” was once a more common phrase than it is today. That fascinated me, not so much from a sense of sadness and loss, but from a sense of true love and real romance. From there I began to embark on the romantic notion of being so in love that I could simply not go on without my beloved.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

For the film I got really lucky. I was at a friend’s cabin on Bear Lake in Wisconsin one winter, and another pal showed up with this super beast drone which had a high-end image-stabilized camera on it. When he was showing it off, he just randomly got some amazing areal footage of me walking across this frozen lake. When I saw it I immediately thought it would be a great start to a music video. At that point I had him grab a few additional shots of the area, and that pushed the whole visual theme of the video toward a white winter landscape backdrop. I captured most of the footage myself including a harrowing drive into Minneapolis in a blizzard. We also captured some in-studio live performance at The Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis and toggled back and forth between the studio and the winter adventure. The film begins with me reading the obituary and ends with me walking into the studio, so there is a loose sense that the main character is initially inspired to right the song and ends by recording it.

The single comes off your new album I Love You Means I’m Lucky – what’s the story behind the title?

Every single day I wakes up in Minneapolis and go forward following the faint glimmer of a song levitating inside my mind, eager and all the time afraid it could vanish. I don’t know what happens to the spirit during the delicate design of sleep, but every day I wake up with desire; an ambition dictated by affections brought on me when most defenseless. I go forward mirroring that vision against all of the life I know; the love, the longing, the beauty & awe, the separation from loved ones, the togetherness again, the death, and of course the gratitude and rebirth. It is the gratitude that lies underneath it all for me, the appreciation for all the experience life might have to hurl my humble way. Rock n Roll is, because of this, among the highest order; bringing the stories of life to a resounding and transferable passage. For everything within, I say I love you, and for everything within, I say thank you! That is what “I Love You Means I’m Lucky” is to me. 

How was the recording and writing process?

These songs were written over a period of approximately five years. They were all recorded at The Pearl Recording Studio in Northeast Minneapolis. Three of them were recorded individually and released as singles along with music videos, and then in May of 2017 we went back to The Pearl and recorded the other 9 songs to the actual 24 Track Studer Tape Machine which Nirvana recorded “In Utero” to and the band Live recorded “Throwing Copper” to. This tape machine was once at The Pachyderm Studios in Canon Falls, Minnesota which is incidentally where we recorded our second record “Letters from America”.

What role does Minneapolis play in your writing?

Minneapolis is critical to my song writing. I would say my relationships are at the true core of my songwriting; but Minneapolis is critical to it because it is the place where so many of my most powerful experiences have manifested themselves. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are amazing cities and I drive all over the back-roads of Twin Cities metro every day, usually in a rare brown topples 1983 Jeep Scrambler CJ8. I’m most creative when I’m driving around seeing things and picking up buddies in my Jeep; going to Willie’s American Guitar shop in Saint Paul, swinging in to the Electric Fetus Record Store in Minneapolis, grabbing a beer at one of the thousand now it seems craft breweries in town, and the opportunity to see awesome live music pretty much everywhere, for me, this is where its at.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than on your own?

I’m always trying new approaches both on my own and when collaborating. The collaboration has been really rewarding lately, now I typically bring a solid form and a nearly complete song to my best-mate and lead guitar player Jerrick Jenson, and we’ve found out that he is incredibly gifted at creating instrumental deviations away from the main progression and through this the songs take on much more of a landscape with fun surprises, bridges and pre-choruses etc. I just say “Jerrick, take this song somewhere else”, then sometimes I’ll find something to sing over his new parts and sometimes I won’t, but the songs always get more interesting when we do parts of them together.

How The Band and Rolling Stones has influence your music?

I’ll say I’m probably more influenced by The Band then the Rolling Stones, Jerrick might be more by the Rolling Stones, but to me The Band is the perfect band. Real songs with mystery and meaning, unbelievable musicians, that sound… a pure rock n’ roll sound thumping and groovy,. and they always looked cool, dressed well and were serious about what they were doing.

What existentialist themes did you get to explore on this record?

There is a lot in this record about the human existence. One recurring theme is the separation from loved ones, my older brother Denis just finished a 20 year career in the US Air Force retiring as a Lt Colonel. He had a great career but the last few years were very difficult with him being abroad a lot and not only away from me and our younger brother Phillip but being away from his own 4 daughters and wife Jesse. I thought a lot about our existence now versus the time and place where we grew up in a small town, about whether that reality really ends and unfolds itself to a new reality or of that nuclear family that once was all under the same roof still exists out there somewhere beyond just in memories. I don’t know that I found any firm answers but it’s always healing to wonder and write, and its such a thrill then to sing about it with rock band backing you up.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes we’re working on that, we hope to circle around the midwest and then get to sxsw and play some shows along the way.

What else is happening next in John David and The Jerks’ world?

We’re excited about our record deal with sonaBLAST! Records (Louisville, KY) they’ve been great partners so far and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. We will also continue to turn out unique music videos for our songs and share those with our fans. The Jerks love every part of the creative process so we’ll just keep making things as long as we can.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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