By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
"I was in the frame of mind of writing this record, recording this record, being excited about that--and I'm still excited about that--but now it's sort of in the academic stage where things need to be put together to bring the emotion across correctly," AOJ singer and keyboard player Hop Litzwire says. "But all the songs are written, and everything's ready to go. Now I'm kind of on edge because I have these other ideas that once time is allowed we can just come up and crank it out because the studio's here and we have all the people in place."
But those two almost simple-sounding things--setting up a recording studio in Litzwire's house in Little Rock, Arkansas, and completing the band's lineup--are part of the reason why this album (which doesn't even have a title yet, just a work-in-progress name, Detroit Muscle Story) wasn't out nine months ago and won't be out until at least March. With those two obstacles finally cleared, The Adventures of Jet are preparing for a flurry of activity that begins with finishing the album in time for a spring release on My Records, the label owned by Lagwagon's Joey Cape that picked up Part 3: Coping With Insignificance, AOJ's first and only release so far not counting two albums under the band's original name, Bobgoblin. A tour and two more albums, one containing just Christmas songs, will occupy the rest of 2002, Litzwire says.
But that's not to say that The Adventures of Jet haven't been busy for the past year and a half. The band just hasn't been as public as usual, which stirred rumors that--after five years as Bobgoblin, a short stint as The Commercials and more than two years as The Adventures of Jet, it was kaput. At first, the three remaining members (Litzwire, Rob Avsharian and Tony Jannotta) were just taking a hiatus from performing live--like Rush or XTC, Litzwire once used as examples--while recording the album. "We were working on the record, and if we wanted to work on the record and really be serious, then I didn't want to book a lot of shows where we'd never get done," he says. Later Jannotta left the band only to return months later as the band kicked into gear and began recording again.
"We put in a month or two, then dropped off the face of the earth for about a year," Jannotta says. "And then we've been working on it for the past few months. I guess it has been almost 18 months, but it will be worth it. For those five people who give a shit about the band in this town, it's going to be worth it. It will be worth the wait."
The initial recordings were done with Barry Poynter, who produced Part 3 and is considered to be the fifth member of the band. But his studio, Poynter's Palace, was booked solid with other bands. Add to that band members with families and time-consuming jobs, and there isn't much flexibility for recording. Though The Adventures of Jet did get some recording done at Poynter's, the band needed a place it could record whenever time allowed. So they built their own studio. But the problems didn't stop there. They only started again.
"It's just been crazy since we started doing this recording at our place because we tried to transfer tracks and it didn't work out," Litzwire says. "You know how that shit goes with computers and all that stuff. Then we figured it out, but we were still like, 'OK, let's just fuck it and start over.'"
Essentially, they started from scratch and haven't finished yet. "We'll be wrapping it up the last week of December, the first week of January," Jannotta says. "It's all dependent on me getting my butt up to Little Rock. And I work all week, so every weekend is another song. So when you're working on a 12-song album or a 10-song album, and half the songs you do don't make the album, that means 15 to 16 trips to Little Rock. That's literally me going up just every three weeks."
So, basically, Jannotta spends five hours one way in his car driving the 300-odd miles to Little Rock to spend the weekend working on an album about, well, cars and driving. But they're not just any cars, and it's not really even about the cars themselves. "Originally," Avsharian says, "we were just going to make an EP on a classic muscle car theme, the trials and tribulations of the street racers and a kind of real romantic view of that. We were just thinking of making it an EP between records, but, at this point, as we always do, we start out with something small and it just becomes too over the top to deal with. Or we can't just edit ourselves and do a five-song EP. We keep writing, Hop gets really inspired and writes a full-length, and then it's too good to be just cast off as an EP."
Just like how Part 3 wasn't about the band's fallout (as Bobgoblin) with MCA Records, but rather the people caught in the corporate cycle, The Adventures of Jet's new compositions aren't about car equipment or speed. "I see this scene where maybe it's mid- to late '60s, and everybody's got all these muscle cars they're trying out somewhere in the middle of the night," Litzwire says. "They've got all these cars lined up, and there are all these guys hanging out talking about them and also talking about their personal problems. And then there are all these girls hanging out, and they want to impress the girls. And the girls have their problems as well. I see this whole scene that maybe you saw when you were in high school and everybody went to one place and hung out. There are just so many dorky things that are going on and so many silly things that people are thinking about. And I see that scene whenever I sit down to write a song."
With this image in his mind and his experience as a television producer, Litzwire also has several videos planned for the new album. "I know it's definitely something we've got to do because we didn't do with the last CD," Avsharian says. "And I think, with Hop's talents as a producer and in all realms of video and film, it's something we'd really be shooting ourselves in the foot for not utilizing the video aspects because I think that was a major component in getting Bobgoblin signed." But the video The Adventures of Jet plan to film in January isn't for one of the muscle car songs. It's for "Flaming Ghost," the first song recorded in the new studio, a sort of guinea pig that became a beloved pet and will likely find a home somehow on the album.
While it's finding a home for "Flaming Ghost," AOJ has also been reacquainting itself with its hometown fans lately. In November, after nearly a year since their last live shows, The Adventures of Jet re-emerged and showed their fans--many more than the five Jannotta thinks they have--what they'd been working on. When the band took the stage at Club Clearview, several changes were apparent. Missing was Zach Blair, the guitarist who had replaced Jason Weisenburg not long before. Jannotta, previously the band's bass player, was holding a guitar with six strings not four, and on bass was Omar Yeefoon, who had just joined the band a few weeks earlier.
"Zach was kind of helping us out, only filling in, in a way, because we knew he would be going off with GWAR, which he is. He's gone for like nine months or something," Litzwire says. With Blair busy with gore-core veterans GWAR and his local band, Armstrong, Litzwire called on Jannotta to play both guitar and bass on songs that Litzwire had composed for ESPN's coverage of the U.S. Open Racquetball Tournament, which he produces annually. The writing relationship carried over to The Adventures of Jet recordings until, one day, Jannotta announced he wanted to make it permanent. "He was like, 'Man, is it possible that I could just play live and we could get a bass player?'" Litzwire says. "It mainly just came up because he really wanted to play guitar. And Tony is an extremely accomplished guitar player for one thing, which people probably don't realize. He's probably the best, technically the best, guitar player we could have."
Litzwire, Avsharian and Jannotta began looking for a substitute bass player in Little Rock, Denton and Dallas, their home bases, respectively. It was Jannotta who found Yeefoon, the musician who would replace him once the band began playing live again. Yeefoon, who's played in Darlington and PEN15 and also performs with The Harmonaires, a doo-wop vocal group, was exactly what they were looking for. He was already familiar with the songs, and he lived in Dallas. Plus he could pick up the new songs quickly, an advantage with Litzwire living a state away and being able to only come into town every few weeks for rehearsal.
But that night at Clearview, The Adventures of Jet didn't sound like a band that hadn't played live in about 11 months or one that had two of its instruments covered by new people, one of whom had just joined weeks before. The set was cohesive and more energetic than ones the band performed before it left the stage to record the album. Litzwire credits Jannotta and Yeefoon. "I'm sort of out there listening to everybody and conducting it in my head," he says. "I've always felt that I have to listen to what the guitar is doing because it's such an important part. And I wasn't listening at all. Tony was just nailing it all. And Omar had just started with us, and he's got a great ear. So I didn't feel like I was really listening to anything that he was doing either. I know it's going to take a couple of shows for us to be 100 percent tight, but it was just a good time because I wasn't concentrating on the mechanical nature or the technical aspects. I was just having fun, so that was a rare occasion for me."
He continues, "I feel like this is our best and last unit. Maybe the one we've been searching for the whole time."