Interview date: 08/19/2008
Run date: 09/11/2008
Lots of bands get their break after gigging in New York…but how many of them actually grew up there? About half, by our estimation, and the way some publicists spin it, any band that moves to New York from the Midwest should hide their original hometown like some dirty little secret. The boys in Locksley, on the other hand, are rightfully proud of their Midwestern upbringing. They may currently call Brooklyn home, but they love their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and were actually back in Badger country to attend the wedding of a band member’s sister when Bullz-Eye caught up with singer Jesse Laz to talk about the re-release of their Beatle-riffic debut Don’t Make Me Wait, “Cloverfield” (one of their songs appeared in the party scene), opening for Hanson, and running into Paul McCartney.
Bullz-Eye: “Hello, Wisconsin!” The first press release I read about you guys was almost apologetic about the fact that you formed in Wisconsin. Would you care to set the record straight and give some love to the home of Garbage and the Violent Femmes?
Jesse Laz: I can say without reservation that we love Wisconsin and are very proud to be [from] there. In fact, we always try and tell people we’re from Wisconsin instead of New York, even though it ends up getting said that it’s New York a lot just because I think, I don’t know, people get confused or whatever. But we were all raised in Wisconsin and my brother, who’s the bass payer in the band now, and Kai, the lead guitarist, were both born in Wisconsin. I lived there myself for 12 years, so we have a lot of close ties. Actually, Kai’s stepdad is the chancellor of [the University of Wisconsin].
BE: Is that right?
JL: Yep. All our parents still…I’m actually in Wisconsin right now.
BE: Yeah, that’s what your manager told me, you were there for a wedding. Is that right?
JL: Yeah, yeah. Kai’s sister is getting married.
BE: Cool. Now I first heard your album in November 2006, and here you are, almost two years later, still promoting it. Admit it: you have to be sick to death of talking about these songs by now.
JL: Yeah, I mean I guess so. We’ve been working on another album, and we’re re-releasing [Don’t Make Me Wait] so the other album is, I would say about halfway done and we’re shooting for maybe like a spring or late spring release; maybe an early summer or something like that. I can’t say for sure because it’s not actually finished yet. But because it’s not done yet and we have all this good coverage with MTV coming up in the fall, so we figured that it was a good opportunity [to re-release the first album]. We had a lineup change, you know, the old bass player left and my brother joined and we had done a couple big tours and things since then, so it seemed like it made sense because we felt like there were a lot of people who still hadn’t heard the album. We do really feel like it’s a good album, though I definitely wouldn’t mind playing some new songs.
BE: My first thought when I heard the record was ‘the Beatles meet the Strokes.’ I’m sure you get that a lot.
JL: Yeah, and you know, that’s actually what we describe ourselves as to somebody who hasn’t heard it before because I think it’s fairly accurate and it gives them a good idea. I was talking to someone the other day who described it as…they were like, I definitely think early Beatles for sure and then they said that they thought there was quite a bit of Stay Cats and the Cure, which I thought was pretty cool. I can hear it too, you know, in songs like “Don’t Make Me Wait” and “Why Can’t I Be You.”
BE: Now here’s my question: do you get the sense that it’s no longer considered to be a good thing to be compared to the Beatles, and isn’t that the most fucked up thing you’ve ever heard?
JL: Yeah. No, you know it’s weird, I mean I feel like a lot of people…when we first released this album, we got mostly good reviews. The ones we got that were bad it was almost like they took offense to the fact that we sounded like the Beatles, or that we were influenced heavily by the Beatles. And that’s what they wrote in their critical reviews, was in kind of a mean way that these guys sound like the Beatles. And we said that would be like somebody telling a basketball player that your style is too much like Michael Jordan or something. It was like well, you know, I get it and I understand why people maybe take it personally or whatever, I mean I do. I’m the most critical of bands that I think sound like us or sound like things that I am a big fan of. So I understand why people would watch it, but I think that we do it in a pretty tasteful way, I mean it’s not like were directly ripping off melodies or anything, it’s just that we love that music and it seeps in because it’s what we listen to.
BE: Have you guys sent a copy of “She Does” to Paul McCartney?
JL: No, no we haven’t yet.
BE: I would love to hear his reaction.
JL: I would love to hear his reaction about anything on the album. There is a funny story though; an album that we self-released before this one, that was like demos we did in our apartment. A couple of them are actually getting…we re-recorded them they’re getting released as B-sides, or as bonus tracks on this re-release. And Sam, our drummer, was walking around the streets of New York, and he saw Paul McCartney on the street and he happened to have a CD with him. And so he went and walked up to him and gave it to him, and he said he’s never been so speechless in his life. And Paul was like, “Is this for me?” He was like, “Yes, yes, yes.”
BE: The guitarist for a newer act recently told me that he thought it was more important to get a song in a TV show than to get one on the radio. Since your first major exposure came courtesy of an AT&T commercial, how do you feel about that?
JL: I mean, having not had a ton of radio success, I can’t really compare. But it definitely has worked for us. I feel like it’s easier, I don’t know if easier is the word, but it seems like ad companies and things are willing to take a chance on a lesser-known band or a totally unknown band that nowadays would be unheard of on the radio. We’ve been lucky and we’ve had a lot of exposure, AT&T commercials, we had a thing on the Starz movie network, Payless Shoe commercials and trailers for movies and things. And definitely it has given us great exposure and we have people writing all the time telling us about how they heard it or they heard it on here and they had to find out who that song was by. And it’s just been great for us. Certainly nowadays too, if you look at like, MIA with that song “Paper Planes,” which was just on the trailer of “Pineapple Express.” Because of that, she had a Number One song on iTunes. So yeah, I think it’s huge. It’s definitely a new, kind of a new format for artists to get exposure.
BE: You also received significant exposure during the party scene in “Cloverfield.” What did you think of that movie?
JL: That was just exciting for us because we’re big movie nerds too, like we just love going to the movies all the time. So to actually be able to go to a big-screen movie and hear our song in the background of it was pretty cool. It was pretty good press. We didn’t end up making it onto the soundtrack, and I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t know if there was some confusion in the negotiations for the thing or what not but that would have been, I think, even that much better for us if we had. But it was still really exciting anyway.
BE: In the liner notes, you give shout-outs to the Hives, Rooney, the Rapture…and Hanson. Did you guys really open for Hanson?
BE: What was that like?
JL: They have the most rabid fans that I have ever heard of. We used to promote in New York outside of concerts of anybody who we thought their fans might be into us. And we promoted at a couple of Hanson concerts and normally there would at least be someone else there giving out fliers, things like that; any other show that was a “hipper” show. But the Hanson show, after the show we were the only people there, and when people were coming out by the end of the night, we had dozens of people asking us for autographs and wanting to take pictures with us. And all we were doing was giving out our CD outside of their show; this was way before we ever played with them. So after that we were like, “Oh man, we need to get on this tour.” And so we did and it was just…I mean they’re not playing huge places anymore, but they were a major, major band. They were a Number One worldwide band. I don’t know if their album was diamond or not but it was certainly…they had a couple of multi-platinum albums and it was definitely a different kind of a thing, you know. We actually became pretty good friends with those guys and Kai and I went…they do a writing workshop once a year with artist friends of theirs, and so we went. That was really cool.
BE: I also read that you opened up for She Wants Revenge. There’s just no diplomatic way of asking this: how the hell did you wind up opening for She Wants Revenge?
JL: She Wants Revenge was on the OK Go tour. They were on tour opening for OK Go and we ended up opening, like getting like an opening slot above them on the bill for a couple shows.
BE: Oh, got it.
JL: So that was just by default. But I thought it was a bit of a weird mix as well. Because I think Locksley and OK Go are pretty similar sounding. But yeah, it was interesting.
BE: One of these things is definitely not like the others.
JL: Yeah, right.
BE: Okay, now it’s time to play “Wikipedia: True Story, or Complete and Total Bullshit.” Are you ready?
JL: All right.
BE: All right. Fact #1: On your way to New York from Madison, your trailer came off on the New Jersey Turnpike.
JL: That is true.
BE: Okay. Fact #2: You were evicted from your first apartment for making too much noise.
JL: That is true.
BE: All right. Fact #3, and this is awful: Your gear was stolen out of your second apartment two days after you moved in.
JL: That is also true.
BE: Yikes. What did you guys do?
JL: Well, we had just gotten evicted from our first place so we moved into our next place, and it was in a pretty shady neighborhood. We had only been out in New York for a few months, really. We were living in East Williamsburg, right by Bushwick, and now it’s become a little bit hipper but that was four years ago, almost five years ago, so it was not that nice. The only thing we figure is that people must have just seen us moving in and they just knew that that stuff was there. It was pretty rough and then the insurance company didn’t want to pay out on any of the gear because they said that we were a business and the insurance only covered personal effects, or whatever. So it took six months or nine months of writing letters and saying that we all had full time jobs and we didn’t make any money doing the band at that point. Finally after writing a letter to the New York state insurance board or whatever, then finally they got in touch with us and basically said all right, whatever you need.
BE: Wow. Did you ever go out to gigs afterwards and then look up at a band playing and think, “Hey man, that’s my guitar”?
JL: Yes, actually. At the time I was playing this white, turquoise Casino which you just didn’t see that much. So whenever I would see somebody with one, I would wonder, you know. Because we figure somebody must have pawned the stuff off. It was actually really sad though, because of everything that got stolen was all replaceable except this one guitar. Kai’s best friend had died actually shortly before we moved out to New York, like a few months, and his parents had given Kai his friend’s guitar. Which was not a necessarily nice guitar, it was like a black Les Paul knockoff Cortez, but you know it was his most treasured possession. The whole idea was he was going off to New York and he was supposed to…so when that got taken, he was just like, “Oh.” If he just could have gotten that back. So if anyone is reading this, and they see a black, Les Paul Cortez somewhere randomly in a New York pawn shop, let us know and we’ll buy it back from you.
BE: Brutal. All right, well I’ll keep you on time but I did want to mention I talked to your manager earlier today to ask him which one of you guys did the “John” bits, and which one did the “Paul” bits on the record, and he said you do both of them.
JL: It’s weird; I’ve actually had a lot of vocal problems recently. I just got some surgery on my vocal cords because I had something called a focus, it’s like a pocket. But on any given day my voice could be much scratchier and sound a lot more like John, or it would be much more pure tone and I would kind of sound like Paul. And you know, I think maybe that’s one of the things we get criticized for too, but it’s just like growing up, that’s what I listened to. It’s weird though, because people send in pictures of me that are sort of like George Harrison or Paul McCartney a little bit and it’s just like, what are the odds, you know? Then I’ll run in to some other guy who’s in a band who looks like Lou Reed and he’s in a Velvet Underground kind of band or he kind of looks like Elton John and he plays piano, you know what I mean? It’s weird that people seem drawn to that stuff.
BE: Well when did you first realize that you could do that?
JL: That I could sing like that?
JL: I don’t know. Like I said, I think just growing up, you know. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know all the Beatles’ songs, you know. My mom, I feel like she put her headphones on her belly when I was in the womb. So when I started singing, I’m sure I was singing along to those songs and probably just developed into it. It really has never been a conscious thing where I try to sound like them; I guess I just sort of do.
BE: Well, I’ll keep you on schedule. Have fun resting that voice up; I look forward to hearing the new material, and have fun at the wedding.JL: Oh, thanks a lot.