Appeared: January 21, 2009 on http://www.thegrixer.com
It was only a matter of time before a young and eager Jason Poe left his hometown of Springfield, Missouri and headed of towards a path of ambition, risk, and fulfillment. Rather than venturing to the City of Angels, however, the young singer-songwriter decided to relocate to another musical mecca, a place that he felt might be the perfect place to hone his indie-alternative sound: Austin, TX. Within months, Poe found himself homesick, confused, and in the midst of a breakup with his band, The Professional Americans.
Luckily for Poe, the same hand of fate the put him in Texas quickly placed him in a new band with a fresh brit-rock sound. Poe and the rest of Jets Under Fire – drummer Corbin Petersen, bass player Todd Meador, and guitarist Stu Smith – came to life in 2007 and immediately began work on their first album, Kingdoms. The band is emerging as a dominant force in the cutthroat Austin scene, and whether they choose to sign to a major or stay DIY, we think it’s only a matter of time until the wave of change Poe rode in on takes him to the next level of success.
What have you guys been working on recently?
We spent the past few months playing shows and making a quick trip through the Midwest. We’ve been in-between guitarists lately, so part of the time has been spent getting used to playing as a three-piece and adapting the songs to fit that format live.
Are you the main songwriter?
Well, up until recently I was writing and recording everything except the drums, which Corbin played. Lately, I’ve been bringing riffs (and sometimes completed songs) for the guys to rip apart and rebuild. It’s been fun for me to see a song completely change form or to hear a riff morph into something different because of the input of the other guys. Now we spend a lot of time just playing on the riffs until we get some solid parts and direction, then we build the remaining sections of the song as we go.
What’s the difference between being in the studio and being onstage?
The studio and the stage are really two different beasts. A live show is all about the moment and engaging the listener. The studio is more about conveying emotion and the message through the music. So much of a live show is the surroundings and experience people have. We’ve played horrible shows before, but people will tell you it was the greatest thing they’ve seen. To me, the studio is where I really feel the pressure to perform, because whatever is recorded is set in stone. With a live show, there’s always a second chance.
Describe your music in your own words.
I would probably call it British-inspired rock. We find a lot of inspiration in bands from Britain, and Europe, so that seems like the easiest way to describe it.
What has the response been to Kingdoms?
It’s always a hard thing to pour your soul into a project, put it out, and see people’s responses. We’ve received a lot of praise locally and a small bit of regional press, so I’d say the overall response has been positive. Every once in a while you see that review that makes you say, “Ouch!” I’m learning not to read the reviews.
How did you guys come together as a band?
Corbin and I have played together for about six years now. We were in a band before Jets Under Fire called The Professional Americans. When I started to really dive into the JUF material, it was only natural to have Corbin on drums. It’s hard to find musicians who can understand what you want to do; Corbin has always been a kindred spirit when it comes to the creative process, and beyond that, he’s a good friend.
We first met Todd when The Professional Americans played with his previous band Cord. At SXSW I ran into him and gave him the first three completed songs for Kingdoms. Eventually it came time to get a full band together, so I emailed Todd to see if he knew anyone who might be interested, and he responded saying he was interested. We starting practicing soon after, and he’s been an integral part ever since.
Our newest member, Stu Smith, came to use through Todd. Todd had played with Stu a few times and told us he was the best. So Stu came out to play with us, and he has been the best. He played with us for a few months previously, but back then he was in the middle of getting his degree. Now he’s back on as a full member and has been an important part of the songwriting process.
What was the transition like when you moved to Austin?
The transition was pretty tough. It was the first time away from my family, and I really had to grow up quickly. Sometimes that can be a painful process. Beyond just the transitional part, I had a lot of strained relationships, and saw a lot of unfortunate circumstances with friends and family. I moved here with The Professional Americans, with a lot of hope and ambition, then I saw the band dissolve, largely because of me. It was a frustrating period. The alienation from being away, and the sense of failure led me to re-align a lot of things in my life. That darker period became the groundwork for Kingdoms.
What’s the music scene like?
It’s really pretty fun. Everyone down here loves music, so there are a lot of people out on a Saturday night to see shows. Because of that, there are 300 bands playing every night, and you have to find ways to rise above the others and get people to your shows. That part is a challenge. We’ve been lucky enough to get some help from great Austin bands like Alpha Rev and Sounds Under Radio. Those bands have really allowed us to ride their coattails to build a fanbase.
There are a lot of opportunities here with festivals like Austin City Limits Music Festival and especially South by Southwest, which is one of my favorite times of the year. You spend the whole week running from place to place meeting people and playing as many shows as you can-then you sleep for seven straight days when it’s over.
Why do you make music?
Ultimately, I want to create music that helps people. That’s easy to say but much harder to accomplish. Overall, I don’t want my view of success to be tied to how much money I make from selling albums, or whether I get a record deal or not. I just want to create music that inspires others or makes them contemplate an idea, and ultimately helps them in some way.
Where would you want to be musically five years from now?
Ideally, I would like to be making enough money from music to sustain a living. It would feel great to wake up in the morning and know that my job that day was to create music. As far as the actual music, I would hope it would be lyrically powerful and musically well-crafted.
What inspires you to write music?
I have a pretty long commute to work and back, so I often just turn off the radio and think. I think American culture is so built around staying busy that we often miss opportunities to just be still. Those are the moments when I am really able to dig into where I’m at on a spiritual level, and from that place I usually find a lot of good ideas.
Sometimes I’m not certain what really inspires me to make music. I just know it’s something I need to be doing. Even if no one heard my songs, I would still want and need to be creating. It’s just something I love and that keeps me going.
Would you prefer a major-label deal, an indie-label deal, or go DIY?
Ideally, I’d love to just be able to do it ourselves. I’ve had many friends on major labels, and not one of them has had a good experience. That makes me leery of big record contracts. I can talk for hours on this idea. I actually wrote a long paper in college on how the major labels do business, and it’s pretty scary. Last time I studied it, the big four make nearly $6 billion a year on music, with a 3% success rate. And success meant selling 500,000 albums. I don’t know any other business that can make that kind of money by being successful only 3% of the time. Obviously, someone is being taken advantage of. At SXSW, I met the manager for some well-known bands, and he told me to just sit tight. He said, “You can do it yourself and make $8-10 an album, or sign a label deal and get $2-3-and that’s only after all your advances are reimbursed.” I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever sign a major-label deal, but I would be very cautious.
Who are your greatest musical influences?
I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, so Billy Corgan is probably my biggest influence. Although I don’t know that anyone can tell from my music. Adore is one of my favorite albums. It sounds cliché, but Radiohead is an influence. I think anyone who has picked up a guitar since “Creep” hit the airwaves has to be influenced in some way by them. I love The Verve; Urban Hymns is one of the greatest albums of my generation. Lately, I’ve really enjoyed listening to Interpol. I have no idea how they can write songs the way they do, with so many intertwining guitar lines. It’s gorgeous and dark.
How much of your material comes from simply jamming or playing together?
Lately, a lot of stuff has come out of jamming. I usually bring an idea or riff, then we’ll play on it a while until we hit something we think is really good. It slowly builds from there. I really like figuring out the arrangements in a full band setting; you can really feel where the song should go based on how everyone is playing their instruments. It’s great when you get to the part of a new idea where no one knows what’s going to happen, then it all just falls into place, and everyone feels the same direction.
What’s been your favorite show so far?
My favorite show was our first show back in Springfield, Missouri. It was just great to show everyone what Corbin and I had been working on for the last few years. The best part was just seeing everyone from the music scene I grew up in. Just getting their approval was very gratifying. It was an exciting show for me.
Do you guys feel tied to any particular genre, or do you feel that your music stretches beyond that?
At this point in my career I do feel tied to a sound. I think most great bands have a period of really paying their dues, and being the best at what they do before they can start straying too much.
If Radiohead started their career with Amnesiac instead of Pablo Honey, we may have never heard of them. They needed the solid songwriting of Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer to allow them to expand their sound and bring their audience with them. You can even look at The Beatles and The Beach Boys.-they needed songs like “Help” and “I Get Around” before they could make albums like Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. I don’t want to stray too much from what we’re building as our sound, but there is room for progression. I certainly don’t want to remain stationary.
As far as stretching beyond our genre, it’s always a possibility, but I honestly don’t feel like I’m seasoned enough as a songwriter and musician to see that happening at this point. I would love for my music to transcend genres, but I would say that only the truly great artists are capable of that.
Does the band hang out off stage?
We’re pretty relaxed most of the time. The guys are all my friends first and band mates second. I’ve seen relationships strained because of music, and I’m done with it. No band is worth losing a friendship over. We have had our moments of tension, but luckily, we’re not 19 anymore, ready to quit the band every time things get hard. We just work it out and get over it. It’s really a nice thing. More than anything, we laugh a lot.
How did you get your name and what does it mean?
In 2002 or so, I was focused on The Professional Americans, but I would write a few songs here and there outside of the band. At one point, I lost a job, and I felt like it was an opportunity to try and support myself with music. I needed a moniker, because Jason Poe just sounded dumb to me, and at that point I felt like an airplane being shot at. So I started playing as Jets Under Fire.
What’s next for Jets Under Fire?
Right now we’re just working on some new material, and are hoping to get into the studio sometime early next year.
By Jonathan D’Auria