Gene Loves Jezebel’s Jay Aston Discusses Crowdfunding New Album: frontman discusses PledgeMusic campaign for new Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston release and much more in our exclusive interview.
Gene Loves Jezebel always stood out from the pack of rock bands in the 1980’s. A unique mix of goth, glam rock and New Wave, they basically created their own niche. Their sound was mysterious, exotic, dark and lovelorn, which made them an instant hit with moody, hormonal teenagers the world over.The group’s personal dynamic was often as melodramatic as their music, with friction brewing between the dual frontmen, Jay and Michael Aston. The twin brothers’ mercurial relationship led to a falling out in the late 80’s, with Michael leaving the band, and Jay continuing on with his core lineup–guitarist James Stevenson, bassist Peter Rizzo and drummer Chris Bell.
Things continued to sour however, when the twins became embroiled in a lawsuit for ownership of the name. In the end, a truce was struck: Michael could be Gene Loves Jezebel in America, while Jay would retain the title in the UK.
But more confusion was caused by this caveat: in America Jay’s band was called Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston, while the inverse applies for Michael’s band in the UK. What’s a GLJ fan to do?
For hardcore fans, Jay’s incarnation of the band is clearly the most authentic as it still includes the aforementioned core lineup, whereas Michael works with a rotating cast of musicians.
Whew! These events have caused Jay and his band mates much consternation, but they’re finally gearing up to release a new album with producer Peter Walsh, who helmed their classic 1987 album The House of Dolls (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year).
I recently had a chance to chat with Jay about the PledgeMusic campaign to finance the new album, the novel perks they’re offering to donors, why it’s been so long since the last GLJ with Jay Aston album, his creative legacy, where his current standing is with his brother, and much more.
Enjoy the full Q&A (edited only for content and clarity) below:
SLIS: So tell me: when did you decide to work on a new album, and why so many years between your last studio release?
JA: Well we decided last summer to work on a new album–we’re all great friends, James, Pete, Chris and I.
Apart from being in a band together, we like to get together and hang out and have a lot of fun. And we did a festival in Portugal, which was really good. We’ve all developed as musicians and we’ve all been doing separate things.
We all bring that to the table and one of the things we bring is that (bassist) Pete (Rizzo) sings now. Which he could never do before but he sings brilliantly now. It’s quite weird when we were doing Ugly Buggs stuff he played some of it back and I was like “I don’t remember doing that vocal?” And he’d just done a brilliant backing vocal which sounded just like me.
I’m not saying his voice sounds like mine, but a voice is a tool and you can sound like anyone you like basically…If you know how to use it. So that blew me away. And he did solo stuff on his ukulele and I was like, wow! Just brilliant stuff, very high energy. He has such a pure voice. It hasn’t been messed with–never smoked, never abused it, so it’s in great condition.
James can sing, he’s already done backing vocals on The Sweetest Thing. Quite a few Jezebel things actually. And Chris can sing too. He’s done backing vocals on Why Cant I and other stuff too. So I like singers.
So being able to mess around with harmonies will be very exciting, it’ll be a new place for us. And I’ve developed as a musician, Pete’s a great musician, he’s played several instruments. His guitar playing is phenomenal.
So all these things, these are brand new little tools we have. New experiences we can bring to the table as they say. So it was like yeah…we need to do an album. The reason why its taken so long? Who knows. With the problems with my brother–the other entity as they say–well we’re not an entity, we’re GLJ! Always have been. I formed the band, I thought of the name. It’s my language–my songs–the way the band looked. I hate to say it, but its a long line.
So that’s why its taken so long. My brother’s been out there doing gigs, and totally destroyed our careers in the USA. And he’s been to loads of different countries and these promoters are unscrupulous: they will literally hire local musicians, they’ll send our greatest hits over, and he’ll just jump on stage! It’s quite shocking really. But that’s what goes on. It’s not unprecedented, but that’s why, it just got in the way.
Ironically of course its made us do lots of different things. I’ve worked totally on my own. Solo performances, which is weird to say. But its been very exhilarating. Very exciting for me. I never know what’s going to happen. And I feel very connected to my solo thing. But doing this will be interesting. To find discipline within a band again. So we’ll see what I have learned.
SLIS: You mentioned in your PledgeMusic page that you’re working with Peter Walsh who produced The House of Dolls. You noted that album is turning 30 this year: did you plan this new album as a companion piece to Dolls?
JA: We don’t see House of Dolls as being a companion to this album. That is a weird record. It was supposed to be called Suspicion and had a different cover. But my brother didn’t like the way he looked on the cover, which was actually the photographer’s most favorite shot that he’d ever taken.
And then he changed the title of it which kinda pissed us off. So it was very weird period House of Dolls. I had written all the songs either on my own or with Pete and James and Chris. My brother wasn’t around for most of it.
Peter and I were just going to leave the band. So it was all a really weird record, and we were like Fuck You, off we go. And then my brother left. So it was a weird record to look back on. But obviously a lot of my heart went into that record.So I don’t see it as a companion piece. Maybe after we make this new record it will have something in comparison to it? I don’t know, we’ll see.
SLIS: Is there any overall lyrical theme to the album, and what’s the creative process been like this time around? Any hints you can give to fans as far as what they can expect from your new material?
JA: As far as what fans can expect? Well as a singer I’ve learned so much. Vocally and lyrically too. My concerns are…well I still like girls (chuckles). So they’ll be in there (laughs). But there’ll be a lot more political themes: I’m concerned with things happening in the world like Palestine for instance. This is something that worries me–and we all know what’s been happening in England and the US.
So these things will come into my lyrics. But I’m not the kind of guy that writes songs that are overtly political.
I use an extensive use of metaphors…usually my political writing is masked in there somewhere. But I will probably have a song called Palestine…because its something that concerns me. But it wont be like a “fuck you Israel!” kind of song. That’s not the point at all, and it’s not going to help anybody, is it?
So yeah, these are songs I’ve been developing live on my own. And Pete’s got songs and James has songs and with Chris, I mean so much comes from drums, the drum rhythm is just so important and can be so inspirational when you’re doing songs. So we’ll see.
When I did a song like Stephen for instance. I wrote the song, but without Steve Marshall playing the bass he played, I wouldn’t have been inspired to sing about the Southern kind of feel that whole song has. So yeah, everyone contributes a sound. That can spark off a really inspirational thing. So we’re really excited.
SLIS: How has the crowdfunding been going so far, and what’s your take on the process versus the days of record label advances? Also, you’re offering some pretty intriguing items on your Pledge page including vintage instruments, home concerts, studio time and even a walking guide service! Was it difficult selling some of your favorite gear, and what can fans expect from an intimate acoustic performance and the other interactive services you’re offering?
JA: The crowd funding has been interesting–in many ways we’ve become more involved, obviously with like social media, we’re pretty active these days, (Pete, James and I) the three of us are, Chris not so much. So it’s nice to connect with people. You really do connect. And I think it’s a very interesting era we’re in where people say things they shouldn’t say…but there’s a lot of discussions that go on you know? People change their mind and its very strange. It can be a very divisive period right now, with the political things that are happening. But the fact that we have to get so involved where people get to know you and they pledge and they’re very generous, it’s incredibly supportive.
When we used to do the albums where you got an advance, you didn’t really connect to your fans unless you were on tour. They’d send you mail on occasion, but you didn’t connect all that much. And then we got the internet together on the last album we did, we’d do odd things that were done at the time, we’d all get together and you could talk to us for an hour at 6 o’clock Eastern time somewhere. We’d do that kinda thing but not much beyond that.
These days its very active so yeah we enjoy it you know? We’re fun people. We’re fun to hang out with. My band is smart, but we do like to laugh. And that’s a big plus about being around the Jezebel’s I think.
The things we’re offering–Pete thought about the Jaywalking thing. People have always suggested I start a company called Jaywalking because I like walking and hiking so much. I don’t know how that’s gonna work, but Pete put it out there and I said yeah try it, why not? I walk a lot. I mean I can walk like 20 miles a day. Sometimes 30. But I don’t expect people to spend that long walking with me (laughs), but we’ll find out won’t we!? So I’m thinking 3, 4 or 5 miles? We’ll see.
It depends on what they want! We’ll discuss it. I know people have bought into it which is great.
Other stuff? I’m not materialistic. So I don’t mind giving stuff away–you can’t take it with you, you know? I mean all I need is a guitar and I’m on my way. So if people want to put them on their walls to collect it…I don’t mind giving things away. And neither does Pete obviously. Now I’m not sure about James or Chris, but I’m not worried about it.
The intimate acoustic performance will be very powerful. As I’ve said in the last year or so I’ve done gigs on my own and I’ve made huge leaps. Every gig I do I learn something new. And it has quite the profound effect on the next gig as it were. So yeah I think it’ll be, especially with Pete’s ukulele and his guitar stuff and his keyboards and his backing vocals, and James is a brilliant musician and if Chris is around…or if it’s just me or 2,3 or 4 of us, it’ll be very different and it’ll be exciting for us I think.
One of the major things with doing a new record is it’ll be all brand new, these things we’ll be bringing to the table are exquisite I think. So I think the acoustic performances will be fun and funny and quite dark and quite moving in places. So I’m excited, I think we’ll enjoy it, because we do love music (laughs).
James will be giving guitar lessons, because people ask me all the time, how do you play this, how did you play that and I say well that’s James Stevenson’s technique, you’ll have to ask him that!
So we put it to him and he was like oh, I don’t know. But we’re all making sacrifices, because this record is very important to us. So he’s done the right thing. And James is very fun guy to talk to. I mean he’s got more friends than anyone I know! He’s well-loved so he’ll do great at that. And people who get to chat with him will have a friend for life too, I reckon.
SLIS: So while you’ll be revisiting your classic sound, will you be exploring any contemporary elements either compositionally or production wise as well?
JA: As far as contemporary, compositionally or production wise? Well Pete and James worked on their music away from the band, as Chris has as well, so they bring things with a different angle now. Back years ago when I’d bring in and strum a new song and James would go oh let me put this little part, and that’ll be good, and put this chord in there. And Pete would come in with his amazing bass, and Chris would try different rhythms. So we’d just jam together. So there’s tons of experience there. So it’ll be very different this time I think.
Because there’s a brand new palette you know? It’s huge, so it’ll be exciting. So I don’t see us using any studio trickery. I think it’ll be organic hopefully.
When we played together last summer in Portugal I got the guys to do Hurricane by Neil Young and I got Pete and James to sing and I just loved having these harmonies behind me. It was absolutely brilliant so it would be quite an amazing thing if we can develop something there and it could give the Jezebel’s a whole new richness.
SLIS: You also mentioned in your press release that the new album will be a “long overdue step in their tumultuous history.” How do you feel about the band’s legacy after all these years–has it been a roller coaster ride, and do you have a different perspective after all the friction regarding the two entities of the band?
JA: When Billy (Corgan) from Smashing Pumpkins invited me up to sing Stephen–which he was a big fan–he told me a little story that when they first formed he took them to see us in Chicago and my brother started singing (I think we were doing Flame or something)…and he said to the band “that guy cannot sing.” And then I started singing, and he said the guy with the red hair (which was me), he said that “now HE can sing,” (laughs) and that was in front of a big audience in London when I got up and sang Stephen with them.
And that was nice and we have other different bands, like Blur and bands out there that seem to mention us these days–Lady Gaga for instance, so that legacy is good. Some people don’t like us as well but either way–I mean I know we’re a very unique band.
There’s no one like us. We didn’t fit into the Goth thing. I mean we did for maybe like 20 minutes at the beginning. But we don’t fit in anywhere, we’re kinda like Darryl Hall and John Oates you know? (laughs) We just don’t really any fit in anything, we just have our own thing.
And there’s an advantage to that and a disadvantage to that…I mean its very difficult to put us on a bill with anybody else because there’s no one quite like us really–I suppose you could put us and The Psychedelic Furs together and those types of bands–because they’ve got their own thing too. Or even Echo and the Bunnymen, even though Ian McCulloch is a wanker of the highest degree.
But bands like that, anyone that has their own identity, that’s not part of a wave. We’re not part of a wave.
SLIS:How does it feel to be playing with your core lineup again and what makes the band dynamic so special after all these years? And what are you expecting Walsh to bring to the table this time around?
JA: Has my perspective changed? Well it’s a strange thing: I’m proud of so many of the songs. I wish I hadn’t given people credit for a lot of the songs I wrote. I should be more selfish. But I was manipulated, I was naïve. As we all were. So I don’t like people ruining my songs. And pretending to be me. I don’t like that at all.
But I’m proud of the songs, I mean when I pick up an acoustic guitar, and sing something like Stephen for instance, I go wow, that’s actually a really strong song…so I know it’s unique, I know its my Jezebel, it’s all my invention and the language of it all, so it’s cool. I’m proud of it.
It’s always special when we get together. I mean we just plug-in and we sound like Gene Loves Jezebel. And people are like oh fucking hell, wow! (Laughs). Musicians, bands we’ve played with, they tend to get blown away. We’re good!
And Peter Walsh is amazing, he’s always been a phenomenal producer, and a first class engineer. There’s not many people in his league you know? He’s worked with so many artists, I mean who knows what new ideas he’ll have for us. We shall see!
Hopefully we’ll inspire him and make him go wow! That’s always the thing, I mean if we can get him excited by what we’re doing then we are going to make a great record (laughs).
SLIS: You haven’t toured the states in ages: do you have plans to support the album in America?
We’d like to tour America obviously. The difficulty is when we tour its Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston, which should just be Gene Loves Jezebel because that’s what we are, but we’d probably need to do “Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston, James Stevenson, Peter Rizzo and Chris Bell” so people know it’s us! That’s what’s on the tin. The problem as I said before is there is another Gene Loves Jezebel out there who will use our pictures, and our music and it won’t be us! And they don’t sound anything like us, and if you look on YouTube you might be able to work that out.
So it’s difficult, but we will try to obviously tour over there, but there’s been a lot of damage done to our name out there for the last 10-15 years or however long he’s been doing it. But yeah we love touring America.
SLIS: Going back to that performance with Smashing Pumpkins you mentioned–how did that come about and what was that experience like?
I was contacted by Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who is friends with drummer Joel Patterson, who plays with me and GLJ on occasion and he said that Billy was a huge fan and asked if I was in London and could I come up and sing a song with them. Which was like, Yeah, of course! And the weird thing about me is that a lot of my songs can be dark and moody, but I’m actually very upbeat as anyone will tell you.
I’m a very outgoing person and I like to laugh and so I have a lot of energy for gigs, so doing a song like Stephen where Billy played Mellotron on, which was great by the way, I just want to dance and move around and smile and yet the song can be really dark, so it was weird to play with someone of that caliber. He’s a great writer and they’re a fantastic band aren’t they? So it was brilliant and I really enjoyed it.
SLIS: Well that wraps up my questions–is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans in regards to the new album and are there any other projects you’d like to promote?
JA: I will say that we’re excited about it, we’ve got no reason to do this apart from we want it to be special. We’re obviously not doing it for the money because there is no money (laughs)! We’re doing it because we love music. And we’re great friends. And we love our audience. As Bauhaus once said right?
Pete’s doing his Rizzo stuff on YouTube, check it out its amazing, James has his solo stuff and he obviously plays with The Alarm and The Cult and tons of other stuff including Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy. Chris plays with Hugh Cornwell and records with a bunch of other acts. And me I’ve got my solo thing. Which has been very good for me, I love doing it.
Thanks to Jay for taking time out for the interview. You can donate to the band’s PledgeMusic project by clicking here, and stay updated with all things GLJ with Jay Aston via their official Facebook page.