Jaw Gems, hailing from the secluded but musically fertile hotspot of Portland, Maine, have been entering a boldly unique realm of music over the past several years that has been dubbed with various names, such as ratchet jazz and drip-hop.
Their newest studio release, Heatweaver, is ear-candy music, boasting feel-good tracks that combine rich, dreamy sounds with tight and technically-keen playing. The band has been on quite the rise recently, thrilling the audiences of notable acts such as Lettuce and Sound Tribe Sector 9.
On November 4th, they take to the beloved Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, NYC, to open for Denver, Colorado’s funk masters The Motet. In excited anticipation for what will definitely be one groovy night of music, bassist Andy Scherzer took some time with us, to discuss everything from the recording and jamming process behind Jaw Gems’ work flow, to what it’s like to play with musical heroes, and more.
The Poke Around: So your new album, Heatweaver, is an awesome effort, and its got a really organic feel from beginning to end. A really nice flow. From what I’ve read, the way you guys write and record your material has always been very communal, always a group effort, which is really cool. Can you talk about the process behind making it?
Andy Scherzer: Yeah, it’s sort of like a group potluck thing, somebody might bring a full dish, some people might cook something together, and the whole thing is going to be the meal afterwards. But the way it gets done is through various different processes, and it is very communal in that way.
We’re in a really lucky position artistically, in that everyone in the band, as far as I’m concerned, is fully capable of writing an entire album by themselves. Both keyboardists write the best stuff, and they can write all the parts, and I would trust any of the guys in the band to write the coolest bass lines for me to play. And everyone in the band loves the way we all produce, and enjoys each other’s work, so we can come at the writing process from every different angle.
Somebody can come into the situation with a part already written, and then we’ll expand on it. Or someone might come in with a whole song figured out, and we’ll just be like, “We’ll just add a layer or something, another part here, maybe.” Or we’ll just figure out how to play it live, but not change anything. Shaun makes beats all the time, Tyler makes beats and DJ records all the time, so we’re capable of finishing tracks by ourselves if we have to.
It sounds like you have four guys who can be really in sync mentally or artistically, and who can see each other’s vision really well.
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, the more in sync everyone is, the better. The more visions you can go after, the better. You can have a much more expansive palette to pick from. And then that’s good for having confidence in future projects, and never worrying what we’ll do next. I’m never worried about that, because we could make ten more albums just based off of Tyler’s backlog of musical ideas, and also Hassan’s and mine.
Having a band where you all actually like the way each other plays, so you trust that whatever is going to happen is going to be cool, that’s goal number one if you’re a band. As far as my experience, having three other musicians that are your favorite musicians, you can’t go wrong at that point.
Are there any specific tracks off the new album that you’re really digging live? Any that you are feeling more than others, that are translating well from the record to live playing?
For me, the new stuff that we haven’t played as much is really fun. My mind, like my player’s mind, comes from a really improvisational place. I was a big jazz head in my early days of playing, and still am. And coming to music from an improvisational place, and in how my head automatically works, I suck at playing something the same way twice. Not in like, “Oh I’m creative, so I always play stuff differently.” I mean, its literally one of the defects in my abilities as a musician is repeating stuff perfectly. So I always enjoy playing new and fresh stuff a lot more.
Also, the up-tempo stuff, stuff that has multiple sections, where I can interact with the other musicians. “Studded,” and “Ohio” are some of my favorites to play live, as far as the new album. The other thing is, I love playing loud, as loud as possible, so I always love the bangers. And I also really like happy music, so “Studded,” again, it also has a really happy vibe to it.
Absolutely. A lot of your album has a really happy, upbeat feel. It’s a really cool mix—you have, on a lot of the tracks, these really bright chords, but then also just enough of that dance feel. The one I was playing on repeat was, “Sap Flow.” It starts with some really nice chords, but then when the drums sort of change up, its got a nice kick to it.
Nice. Yeah, that one too, its a really fun one to play live. And that’s a good example of a straight Tyler Quist track. He came with all the ideas basically recorded, and actually the feel from the original recording changed a bit…and that one was basically already produced, and we just kind of quickly ended up changing it up with some new parts, and it was done. Tyler made the beats for that one in probably like 30 seconds, the dude just cranks stuff out so quick.
He did this the last time I was driving with him in the tour van—he was blowing my mind—he was literally producing a beat, he just plugged his laptop into the stereo, and had a tiny little MIDI controller, and was just flying through lines and then just adding layers and layers to this beat, right there in the van.
So, you guys have a few dates coming up in early November, the first being your Brooklyn Bowl show with The Motet?
Yeah! Pumped for that, that’s gonna be a great show. The lead singer is actually a Portland native who we’ve known for a long time. We couldn’t be happier to see him singing for them, because he’s the nicest guy on the planet. It’ll be a cool little reunion to get to go hang out with him, and watch him crush with The Motet, because they’ve been killing it.
Definitely. It has to be cool to open for bands you’re inspired by, like The Motet and Lettuce, and get to have them hear what you do.
Yeah, its the best. I’ve heard this thing, “Never meet your heroes.” The premise being, they’ll disappoint you when you meet them as real people. I haven’t experienced that at all. The dudes from Lettuce, and various people we’ve gotten to meet, are always so fucking nice, it’s crazy! I haven’t met one ego-tripping person since we’ve been playing these sorts of shows.
People like Lettuce, and STS9, immediately treated us like family. So, it’s been better than I ever thought it was going to be. Playing with my friends, opening for these people—and then they’re actually really nice and you get to hang out with them, and goof off and enjoy each other’s music. It’s almost too good to be true. I’m just waiting for an asteroid to hit me in the face, I’m waiting for, like, karmic equilibrium (laughs).
But then, also, November 6 we’re opening for Big Gigantic at the State Theatre, which is going to be cool, and I think we have some other stuff we haven’t announced yet.
From what I hear, it sounds like there’s a lot of artists there. Did you find Portland to be a scene that was supportive and organic to your coming together as a band?
It’s been, as far as I’ve ever known, a very tight-knit, very productive music scene. And it kind of has to be. Because, unfortunately, Portland is sort of a music bubble on the outside of the main music scenes, like New York, Boston, California, those kinds of places. So for people to get stuff done, and get stuff out, everyone kind of has to support each other, so they do.
And there is an absolute laundry list of world capable musicians, people who could be playing with anybody world renowned. So many secret, but dope, musicians in Portland, there always has been. It really is kind of a magical spot.
Well, I can’t wait to see you guys live, and to experience this, “laser shower”?
Oh yeah man, it’s gonna be cool. We’re excited, we’re getting our website up, and we just put out a bunch of new merchandise people can buy. We also just released a new video for “Party Slave.”
Oh, I just watched that actually! Looks like it was a pretty fun to make.
Andy Scherzer: Ahaha, oh yeah, it was pretty ridiculous. We spent, probably way too much time falling down over each other on the hill, I think for like three hours. Yeah, pretty ridiculous, but fun.
So, I’m curious, does an idea for a video for a particular song just pop into your head?
Yeah, well the guy who directed it, Jay Brown, is a really good friend of ours, so it’s easy to get started, because we’ll just hit him up. And this one, Jay was just like, “Let’s have you dress up like old creeps, and make a video about you trying to find chicks, but then the chicks are old men, too. Not super high concept, this one, haha.
I think the next thing we’d like to do—I want to try and hook up with some programmers and make a VR experience.
Oh yeah, Virtual-Reality is getting pretty big.
Yeah. What turned me onto it was seeing Squarepusher, and some others, do these real simple, cartoony music videos in VR. The idea is just freaking cool. Like, float around in a weird cartoon space while you listen to jams?
Your music could lend itself to that pretty well, I think.
Yeah, man. Just put me in a shower, and animate me with some laser beams, and there you go. I just want that to be a real thing, and then I can quit.
Well thank you, Andy, for taking the time. See you guys on the fourth!
Excellent! Of course, man. We’ll definitely be out in the crowd, hanging out and getting down for The Motet.
Written by Miles Hurley
Photograph by Matt Cosby
Jaw Gems “Party Slave”