A chat with Jacob Hoffman of the Lashes
Lord knows you don’t have enough fingers or toes to count all the new bands who are currently on the cusp of great success, but if you wanted to place your bets on the ones with the best chance of making it to a second major-label album, you could do considerably worse than wagering on the Lashes. They might resemble some of their peers (the Strokes do leap immediately to mind when you see photos of the Lashes), but their tunes have more hooks than your average tackle box, and their influences stretch back more than, say, the last decade. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with the band’s keyboard player, Jacob Hoffman, who talks about his love of both the Posies and the Smiths, gets tongue-tied when given the opportunity to praise his favorite obscure music artist, and reveals that he’s working his way out of his denial about just how awesome Hall and Oates are.
Jacob Hoffman: Hey, Will?
JH: Hey, this is Jacob, from the Lashes!
BE: Hey, how’s it going?
JH: Pretty good. We’re in Portland, and we just checked into this awesome hotel, it’s one of my favorite places to stay, ever.
BE: Sweet. And I guess that’s not really too far from where you guys are based…because you’re from Seattle, right?
JH: Yeah! Yeah, this place is really killer.
BE: Well, I love the album. I did a review of it for our website…
JH: Oh, that’s awesome!
BE: …and I gave it a very solid review...although I made a comment that the album cover looks like an outtake from the photo sessions for Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love!
JH: YEAH! Yeah, we thought about that! And the other thing we were kind of referencing was that Psychedelic Furs record, where they’re all done up in the crazy belts and what have you (Midnight to Midnight). It’s cool, we like to do a lot of that tongue-in-cheek stuff. It’s kind of why we called the record Get It, because it’s, like, do people get it? Or do they not get it?
BE: That’s actually kind of what I put in the review; I asked, “Intentional tribute or piss-take? Tough call!” But it seemed like it was kind of an inside joke you were letting us in on.
JH: That’s awesome, man, thank you!
BE: So, being from Seattle and having kind of a poppy sound, I’m sure you guys are big Posies fans.
JH: Oh, yeah, the Posies and Big Star and all that good stuff. We actually had the pleasure of…Seattle used to throw a lot of indie rock cover nights. ‘Cause there are a lot of bands who are all at right about the same stage we are right now, who are putting out their first real record, and we kinda grew up together in terms of getting signed and all that sort of thing, so we used to play a lot of these cover shows. And one night, we played…I think we were in between drummers, because at that time we were always in between drummers…
BE: Like Spinal Tap?
JH: (Laughs) Well, we’re on our eleventh right now, if that says anything to you.
BE: Geez! You might’ve beaten Spinal Tap!
JH: (Laughs again) But we were playing this Smiths cover night, and we didn’t have a drummer and were just playing acoustic, stripped down, and Jon Auer (singer / guitarist for the Posies) was, like, I heard him in the crowd, yelling, “This song needs drums!” And he marched up on stage and just started playing drums with us, so we had the pleasure of doing that, which was awesome. It was a big honor.
BE: What Smiths cover did you do?
JH: Um, I think we did “This Charming Man” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” Which are, y’know, obvious choices.
BE: In that case, was your song “Please Please Please” an intentional homage to the Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”?
JH: Absolutely, absolutely. And, originally, the title that the label wouldn’t let us get away with…but which we call it…was “This Is Not a Smiths Song.” So during live shows, that’s what Ben (Clark, the Lashes’ lead vocalist) always says to lead into the song. (spoken dramatically, a la Bono) “This is not a Smiths song!”
BE: (Laughs) So, now, are you guys on tour as openers right now, or are you headlining?
JH: No, we’re opening right now. We just did four dates with the band Rooney, who are awesome! MAN, they’re so fucking good.
BE: I just read that they’re doing a tour as openers themselves, for...is it Ashlee Simpson?
JH: No, Kelly Clarkson.
BE: Right, okay, I knew it was someone I consider a guilty pop pleasure. I admit it.
JH: Yeah, yeah, of course. But, no, they’re good friends of ours, we know those guys from the Donnas days (the two bands did an extended tour together), and, yeah, I think they’re really, really excited to be going out on that tour. It’s gonna be totally radical. I mean, those venues are, like, 20,000 person venues, and they’re all gonna sell out. It’s, like, crazy. So we just did dates with them, and then we headline here in Portland, and then we headline in Seattle, and then we headline in Spokane, and then we hop on a tour with She Wants Revenge, and then we’re with them for a couple of days, and then we do another main support spot with OK Go…? (He ends the sentence with a question mark, uncertain if I know the band.)
BE: Right, yeah, in fact, we interviewed the band for Bullz-Eye.
JH: Awesome! And they’re a great band; what a cool band. Like, they’re so stylish and hilarious. Have you seen their video, with the dance moves?
BE: I’ve heard about it; I haven’t seen it.
JH: Okay, well, when we played with them at South by Southwest, we were, like, oh, cool, your band is really awesome…but they’re, like, “Okay, just wait and watch our show!” And they played their show, and they were super-energetic and fun, and then for the encore, they just played their song through the sound system and just, like, danced. They did, like, a five-minute dance routine, and it was hilarious. They have all the moves: the Robot, the Worm…it’s classic!
BE: I had heard that, at some point, they ended up touring with Rufus Wainwright because he was such a big fan of their dance moves.
JH: Rad! That’s awesome! I love Rufus Wainwright; “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” is one of my favorite songs. Good song.
BE: Now, your producer for this album was John Goodmansson, who’s worked with Hot Hot Heat, Death Cab for Cutie…
JH: Yeah, man, he’s a very, very underrated producer; that man is a genius. He’s one of those guys, he gets stuff out of you in the studio without even trying. He’s so low-key and laid back, but there are sounds that he gets out of the instruments and amplifiers that are really incredible. It was really fun to work with him.
BE: Do you feel like you’ve come a long way since you released your first EP on Lookout Records (in 2004)?
JH: Well, I mean, we’re always growing, and we’re always evolving, and a lot of the songs that were on the Lookout EP were older songs, and as we formed more… (Hesitates) Because the lineup was kind of scattered for a while; there’ve been a lot of members of the Lashes, but we’ve had the same lineup now for about three years, and in that time, it’s, like, everybody’s figured out what their niche is and what thing they’re gonna do in this song is, so our songwriting has really grown. Now, we sit down to write a song and it just sort of pops out, y’know? We’re big pop fans. We’re big Beatles fans, and we’re big Monkees fans, and we’re always trying to write the perfect song, so I feel like we’ve gotten a little closer to that with the new record…as opposed to the EP.
BE: And I know you’ve got a guy doing the mixing for the album who’s one of the pop wonder boys: Chris Lord-Alge (who’s mixed stuff for Wakefield, Switchfoot, and the All-American Rejects, plus, like, a hundred more artists).
JH: Oh, yeah, Chris Lord-Alge, he’s a character, too! He’s, like, a total big, Italian dude from Brooklyn, with, like… (adopts a New York accent of questionable authenticity) …a crazy accents and talks like this! And he’s really vulgar, and making dick and fart jokes, and, God, man, we’d show up to the studio and he’d be, like, three hours into the mix, and we’d do one song a day, and we’d be, like, okay, cool, yeah, this song sounds good, but let’s see how Chris’s mix sounds. And we go in there and be, like, “Ho-ly shit! This song sounds HUGE!” But, y’know, he’s done everything. He got a Grammy this year for the Green Day record. He’s, like, top-notch.
BE: Yeah, a friend of mine (Heath Haynes) released an album earlier this year, and, as a joke for people in the know, he put in the credits that his album was mixed by…let’s see if I’ve got this right…Jack Joseph Clearmountain Lord-Alge, I believe was the full credit. (Writer’s admission: it’s actually credited to Jack Joseph Tom-Lord Clearmountain.)
JH: (Laughs) That’s hilarious!
BE: There probably aren’t a lot of non-musicians who get that joke, but I’m pleased to say that I’m one of them.
JH: Yeah, well, Chris’s brother, Tom, is also a very famous producer and mixer (Yellowcard, Avril Lavigne, Sugarcult, and, again, about a hundred other artists); he does stuff in New York, and Chris is based out of L.A., so between the two of them, they’ve done a lot of really solid work.
BE: I made a comparison in my review of your album, and I was just wondering what your thoughts are on it: “If Enuff Z’nuff were the hair metal band that wasn’t afraid to admit that they liked power pop, then the Lashes are the equivalent for the Strokes / Killers generation.”
JH: (Momentary awe) Nice! Yeah, I’d buy that, for sure! We have…well, we have great respect for the Strokes; we love them…and, in fact, we opened for them on their first tour of America, right after Is This It came out. And they were the tightest band that I had ever seen at that point. They were so good, and so loud. But, definitely, we also harken back to the classic ‘70s power pop bands, like the Raspberries, the Shoes, and, uh, the Only Ones, the Plimsouls…y’know, all that stuff. We’re totally…our singer, Ben, used to work at a record store for years and years, and, y’know, we didn’t really have jobs or anything to do, so I’d just go hang out in the record store with Ben, and we’d just listen to albums and albums and albums and albums…
BE: Yeah, I did six years in the music retail trenches myself.
JH: Yeah, man. You do what you gotta do.
BE: I did it for the discount and for no end of promo CDs that are still in my collection now!
JH: Yeah, absolutely!
BE: But I probably came across more power pop that came out and, then, just died a quick death, but it was just so good…like a band called the Greenberry Woods, or this band called the Sighs.
BE: But they just did nothing!
JH: That’ll happen. But, y’know, everybody gets their chance.
BE: Are you concerned at all that power pop is sometimes considered to be, like, a dirty word?
JH: No, no, because I think what’s been happening to us a lot lately is that people will listen to the record and they’re, like, cool, these are really good songs…but when they see us live, they’re so much bigger. They’re much larger in terms of the power that’s behind them, and we really try and play as hard as we possibly can every night, and I think that helps people not necessarily perceive it as…they don’t just go, “Oh, well, this is a power pop band.” They go, “Well, this is a rock band; they just have really good songs!” (Laughs)
BE: Who would you say is your favorite obscure band that you love to trumpet?
JH: Uhhhhhhh...well, I mean…uh, new or old?
BE: Either one. Well, how about one of each?
JH: Okay…obscure bands…ummmmmm… (Goes quiet for a moment) Man! I’m trying to think. (Leans away from the phone) Eric…? Oh, Eric (Howk, the Lashes’ guitarist) isn’t in here. He would help me. Ummmmmmm… (Pauses again) Man, you’ve stumped me! I mean, I should be able to think, but my mind just went blank! Oh, okay, here’s Eric, I’ll ask him. Hey, Eric. (No response) Hey, Eric, what are our favorite obscure bands that we like to champion?
Eric Howk: (Slightly muffled) Current, or past?
JH: I asked that, too. He said both. Or either. Both. Our favorite obscure bands to champion.
EH: To what?
JH: To champion. Our favorite obscure band.
JH: (Laughs at Eric, then talks back into the phone) You’ve stumped us! Everyone’s looking at their shoes! Natalie says to say the Beatles.
BE: Well, they are pretty obscure nowadays.
JH: (Laughs) Oh, there is a band in Seattle now called the Fleet Foxes who’re incredible. They’re these great, like, ‘70s-era pop songs, and they’re just starting, but, like, we always have their demo in the car, and it hasn’t left the CD player since we’ve been on tour.
BE: Do they have a MySpace page?
JH: Ummm…I’m pretty sure they do.
BE: Cool. I’ll link to it in the interview. (Writer’s note: Here it is: http://www.myspace.com/thefleetfoxes)
JH: Awesome! Yeah, they’re radical.
BE: Now, can you think of an older band?
JH: Let’s see…an older band to champion…well, I, being a keyboard player and a sucker for really bad pop music, I love Hall and Oates. But they’re not really obscure; they’ve sold, like, 20 million records!
BE: And they have a hell of a way with a hook, too.
JH: Totally! I’ve had “Private Eyes” in my head all day. (Sings) “Private eyes / Been watching you!” Oh, man, it’s such a guilty pleasure. I think it’s obscure now, because people are afraid to admit that they like really terrible music…but if it sticks in your head, then they’re doing something right. If it’s something you can’t get out of your head, there’s a reason that it’s not leaving: either because it’s got a great hook, or because it’s a really good song.
BE: If you give me your email address before this interview is over, I’ll send you a Hall and Oates song that you’ll never get out of your head, even though you’ll laugh every time you hear it.
JH: Which one?
BE: It’s called “Portable Radio.”
JH: Oh, man, I just bought a 3-disc set of Hall and Oates, but I don’t think it’s on there. Can you believe that? I totally just dropped eighteen bucks on a 3-disc Hall and Oates retrospective!
BE: I can believe it! Well, the song’s on an album of theirs called X-Static, and it’s from 1979, so they were trying to get new wave…and, uh, didn’t really succeed.
BE: It’s the silliest damned song in the world, but it’s really catchy.
JH: You gotta love that.
BE: I mentioned MySpace when you were talking about the Fleet Foxes, but how’s the site working out for ya’ll? I mean, y’all have a ton of friends. I mean, has that really helped your fan base?
JH: Absolutely. It’s such a great tool…and I’m not such a huge fan of the site on my own, but in terms of, like, networking and just getting people who wouldn’t have listened to your music before to listen to it, it’s such a great thing to have. And, y’know, you can go to a band’s website, and that’s cool, but something like MySpace is cool because it’s another internet presence that you’re, like, expected to have. It’s another way for people to get exposed to you.
BE: You guys have got, like, over 10,000 friends now, I think. (Writer’s note: As of this writing, they have precisely 16,438.)
JH: Yeah! And the really great thing is that, before MySpace existed, there wasn’t really a way for us…save for our email list or message board…to get feedback from the fans after our shows. But, now, we play a show, we go back to the hotel, and kids have already posted, like, “Great show tonight, I really liked this thing,” or posting pictures of themselves at the show, and it really makes it feel more like a conversation…which I think live rock music is. It’s like a conversation between the band and the fans, and MySpace lets that continue for people who are fans of the band; it’s a way to involve them more. When I was 13 or 14 and going to see bands, and I had gotten a MySpace message from one of the bands who I had just seen that night, I would’ve freaked out. I just think that’s really cool. I think it’s really cool to have that opportunity to communicate with them.
BE: Alright, and I guess my last question kind of ties into this, but since I know that, in the Northwest, you’re already pretty big, how has your fan base increased in other places around the country now that you’re playing around more? Are you seeing tremendous jumps since the new album has come out?
JH: Yeah, and not only a jump in the number of people, but that people are more familiar with the music, now that they have an album to take home and know the lyrics, and then they come back and they, like, know when to rock out, and they’re singing along with all the words, and that’s a really cool feeling. That’s something we’ve definitely seen a jump up in. We’re really excited to get, y’know, into the Midwest and up onto the East Coast. We’ve played in New York for, like, CMJ and one-off shows with our label and stuff like that, but it’s really exciting to play in places that you haven’t played before, and watch your fan base grow. It’s really fun.
BE: Alright, well, hopefully I’ll be able to catch you when you make it to the East Coast. I’m in Chesapeake, Virginia, right next to Virginia Beach…
JH: Oh, cool!
BE: …so if you make it this way, I’ll keep an eye on your tour dates and, uh, drop you an email through MySpace to let you know that I’ll be there.
JH: I’m sure we will be there soon. I know that, after the OK Go stuff is done and the New Amsterdams stuff is done, we’re doing a full US tour with the band Damone…
BE: Oh, yeah, I loved their first album.
JH: (Emphatically) Yeah! It’s so sick! They’re great! But, yeah, I’m sure we’ll be heading toward Virginia sometime soon.
BE: Sweet! Well, I’ll see you when you get here, then, and… (Laughs) …did you want me to send you that Hall and Oates song?
JH: (Excitedly) Yeah, do it!
BE: Alright, cool. Well, great talking to you, and please tell everyone in the band who doesn’t know me whatsoever that I really love the album.
JH: (Laughs) I will! I’ll pass that along. Take it easy!