Jack Lion is an electronic jazz trio from Iowa City. Their take on the genre combines Boards of Canada-esque ambient experimentation with each player’s University of Iowa trained jazz background. In addition to the numerous shows they’ve been playing around the state, the band landed a spot on the Mission Creek Music Festival last Spring and a live session with the world-renown Daytrotter studio in Rock Island, IL.
The trio will be playing the Des Moines Music Coalition’s Music University showcase this Saturday at The Basement joined by local hip-hop act, Markaus, and metal heads, Green Death. The all ages showcase will begin at 9:30 PM.
How did you all come to form what is called Jack Lion? How would you describe your sound?
Drew, Brian, and I have been playing together for several years. We all met at the UI jazz department and played in different big bands and small ensembles.
Before Jack Lion, we had an electronic/jazz/rock group called Slip Silo with a guitarist, while Drew and Brian played in an electronic/jazz band called Koplant No. These bands sort of formed the foundation for Jack Lion.
After the guitarist for Slip Silo moved, we had a few more shows that were booked under the Slip Silo moniker, and we decided to play them as a trio, which led us to creating live arrangements of a few of Brian’s electronic tunes. I don’t think Brian ever intended that music to be played by a live band, but we ended up adapting them to the trio format just to get through those gigs.
I’m really glad that worked out that way because who knows if we would have continued to make music together! I sort of describe the sound as electronic/ambient music played by a live group with elements of jazz sprinkled in. Many of the tunes begin with computer tracks, but we build in spaces for improvisation throughout set compositions. It’s a nice balance.
I’ve been listening to Koplant No for the last few years, and Distants has remained on my iPod longer than any other album I have. How formative was the experience of Koplant No for the members of Jack Lion who were involved?
Man, I love that album as well. I am not a member of Koplant, but I have had the opportunity to play a lot of that music as a substitute drummer when Rob Baner couldn’t make some of their gigs. It’s some of my favorite music, period, and Distants is actually stuck in my van’s CD player. I wore that thing out.
Koplant is where Brian really cut his teeth on the production side of things. He does most of the backing track stuff, so we are reaping the rewards of his experience getting accustomed to Logic and Ableton in that band. Since KN does not have a comping instrument, Drew has really stepped up on bass and not only fills out the low end, but often plays complex chords to cover some of that space. He brings that sound to Jack Lion and it really fills things out nicely without rhythmically cluttering the sound.
I’m very curious to hear what you all listen to. What are a few albums or artists you are stuck on lately? Historically, who are some of your favorite artists?
Major influences: Lapalux, Jaga Jazzist, Pat Metheny Group, Miles Davis, Sohn, Bonobo, Koplant No, and many many others of course. It’s hard to think of and list everything.
What is it about Iowa City that keeps you all living and creating there? The culture in the city is a truly unique one because of the University. I’ve heard both sides of the argument of living there, but I am wondering how it is for musicians.
We like living here because it’s pretty central to a lot of bigger cities. A five-hour drive can take you to many great scenes, which makes it ideal for touring. Also, if we were going to try to work part time and play music in a big city, we may not be able to afford the lifestyle. Right now, we all have pretty sweet work situations which allow us alot of flexibility to get out and play shows, and we can actually afford the cost of living. I can’t say that would be the case in a bigger city.
What is the jazz scene like in Iowa City? How influenced are you by the live performances of others?
The jazz scene largely revolves around activities in the UI jazz program. Most of the jazz musicians are either in the school, professors in the department, or past players from the school. It’s a pretty small scene as you would expect. We all sort of play in each other’s groups.
What bands in Iowa have caught your attention?
I may be a little biased, but I play in an indie/classical vocal-driven group called Dagmar, which is a pretty new group worth checking out. The Olympics of course. Dana T has a new record coming out that’s just killer. Brian actually plays trumpet on a couple of songs on that one, and man, it is out of this world. The singer for ControlXOXO just moved away, but man, they have a killer live show.
With any artist, the process is unique. Music is no exception. How does the band go about recording? Are there any new recordings on the way?
This last round of EP’s was recorded partially at Earth Tone Studios in Iowa City with our main man, John Svec. We love working with John. Brian also recorded a lot of the backing tracks through a four-track Tascam tape machine to get that warm sound. He likes to play around with saturating the levels for certain sounds, and this led us to releasing our two current EP’s on cassette tape. We are writing new music now and will be playing a few new proto-tunes at the show on Saturday for the MU showcase.
How important is progression to Jack Lion? With each record, each recording, how do you want the music to grow?
I think we sort of think of ourselves as already being “there” in a sense. We have to be realistic about the kind of music we play: largely instrumental, electronic, jazz. There isn’t a huge market for this kind of music right now, and we all know it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a living being a player. Brian talks about leaving something behind as sort of a legacy to be proud of. Of course we always want to play bigger and bigger shows, but if we get to play a set for 20 people who are really interested in hearing what we have, that’s success to us.
The new music we are writing right now is a little bit more up tempo, a little more driving. We got a lot of response from people who thought our music was “chill.” That was the word we heard a lot, “chill.” We wanted to sort of break out of that a little bit and write some tunes with more aggressive grooves, without losing the ambient aesthetic that is “our sound.”
Tell us about Goldie Records. What is it like working with them? How did you relationship begin with them? I am especially enjoying their Midnight At The Campfire compilation.
Man, Goldie Records is putting out some really forward-thinking music right now. They are releasing a lot of artistic, instrumental hip-hop and electronic music; I don’t know, it’s sort of hard to describe. You know it when you hear it. Goldie is mainly a tape label, but they have put out some vinyl as well.
I’m really digging the Taiwanese Slipper Mafia tape right now by Ashwood Shepard. Emmett Kai, who makes music under the moniker Blap Deli, and Andy Hollander, who released tapes through Goldie as Karavelo and Ashwood Shepard, run the label and they are great to work with. We have really benefited from having them get behind our music. A lot of times if I want new music, I just get on their Bandcamp page and I’m always impressed with what they are putting out.
From what I know, you all have extensive musical backgrounds. What is your musical philosophy? Where do you try to take music? Where would you like to see more musicians and bands striving towards?
Yes, we all studied at the UI jazz department and continue to play in multiple groups. With Slip Silo, we wanted to make music that was a little bit more hook-oriented and crowd-pleasing. When we regrouped as Jack Lion, we sat down at our first rehearsal and said, “We are making music for us, music that we want to listen to.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing. We are finding more success doing that I think.
For our live shows, we strive for audience immersion. Our sets are mostly seamless, with improvised/ambient interludes between tunes that leaves very little silent space. Drew is also a visual artist and creates visuals that we project behind us during our sets, which gives the audience even more of an opportunity to sort of lose themselves in the show.
Aside from music, what do you guys do for a living? What about for leisure? How do these things help your music?
Brian is a software engineer. Drew is a graphic designer. I am a social worker. We all work part time so we have more opportunities to play music. Our individual work situations could not have aligned more perfectly for Jack Lion. I’m so grateful. Spare time usually involves beer. And video games. And bikes.
Who or what influences the music of Jack Lion the most?
Simply our own desires to create. We want to make music that we proudly look back on twenty years from now and say, “Man, we really did well on this.” Being a full time player is really hard. I’m not sure that’s what any of us want to do, unless we could do it with this band. Even then it would be a struggle, especially when we start having families. We just want to seize this time of our lives.
More information available from the Music University website.