Artist Feature: Dave T Jones – Scratch the Surface a Bit

By: Scott Osborn

DaveTJones When you catch sight of the 20-something Dave T. Jones, you see yet another unshaven, tattooed slacker, dressed down for effect, easy label fodder as the fruit of our angst-ridden culture and taboo-loving media.  But that conclusion can only be described as, at its kindest, premature.

Scratch the surface a bit, and you see a child of the 00s, a post-dystopian visionary.  The dis-pristine clothes point not to rebellion against The Man, but to a list of priorities that puts appearance and apparel somewhere far beneath performance and utility.  A postmodern Spartan, if you will, spending his sweat-bought cash on gas or electricity or (if he’s lucked into a lot of tips lately) a new set of guitar strings.  However it comes, you can bet it ain’t being spent at JoS. A. Banks.

Welcome to the new order:  The old school, resurrected and brushed off by the next generation of thrashers, finding their way through overgrown paths, made useful once again by a music industry in technological turmoil and fiscal confusion.  Nowadays we call it building your fan base.  Back then, they called it “paying yer dues”.   However you say it, it’s translated “Work”.

Fittingly, Jones’ primary musical entity, Watch Out For Rockets (http://www.myspace.com/wofr), uses a barbarically simplistic lo-fi motif to carry his pop numbers to the masses.  “It makes you focus on the song”, he says of the dirtied, garage-like productions, shyly enough to suggest humility as a huge slice of his character pie chart.

And it does, with some of the numbers harking you back to the prehistoric days of the Beach Boys and The Animals, complete with acoustic singalongs and soaring vocal harmonies.  Simplistic, instrument-light melodies coupled with familiar chord progressions and mind-tripping lyrics, WOFR often gets lumped into the “sounds like Spoon” category.  That’s what happens when you can generate compelling tunes out of simplistic sonic chordage; working hooks into our brains without resorting to complex arpeggios or gravity-defying pads.

And when we say “primary musical entity”, you catch the implication:  There are others; in which his role is perhaps not as central.  But still, they require the most precious of commodities, time; carved away from a day already claimed by a “real” job in the food service industry.  And as a manager, no less; taking meetings, scheduling, opening, closing.  Hiring, firing.  Paperwork.   Overtime.  Responsibility.

Meanwhile, the life of the musical artist is etched out in the crevices of spare ticks.  Murdocks (http://www.myspace.com/murdocks) is one such entity, with Jones supplying drums, percussion, and compositional input.   With gigs in 31 states behind them, the Murdocks boast 4 CDs-worth of content (going back to 2002) and a label or two under their belts.  You don’t get that kind of work done during your coffee break.

Yet another is The Fritzl Babies (http://www.myspace.com/thefritzlbabies), where Jones splits song-writing and performing duties with Noël Wells, another Austin-based artist (with her own bevy of artistic outputs, ranging from animation and film production to still photography and clothing design).

Despite being bound up by all of these endeavors, in the last 12 months Jones has managed to write, record, produce, arrange, and otherwise generate 2 CDs worth of material with his Watch Out For Rockets guys.  And these aren’t EPs, it should be noted.  We’re talking 17 and 21 – track monsters; rife with diversity and blinging with hooks; a body of work the DIY culture is proud to call part of the clan.

David T. Jones, ladies and gentlemen, is gettin’ er done.

Stop him mid-labor and ask the obvious question:  Are you ready to quit your day job and do full-time musician-ship?  “I don’t think about quitting”, is the answer, “Maybe for a tour, but not permanently”.

Really?  He contemplates the ceiling tiles, frowning, before he explains (and we’re paraphrasing):  He

doesn’t want what he composes or how he produces to be determined by money.  Or the number of fans.  Or ranks on the charts.

You smirk, in your most post-modern skepticism – Why else would you make music, then?

Go back.  Jones is 12 when his folks hand him a Spanish-styled guitar, short 3 nylon strings.  He plays with it, his brother showing him a chord or two.  Thirty-six months later and he joins his first band, “noun”, which he describes as a “jokey punk band”.  More years and miles and scars later, he’s in Austin, working full time and playing in three bands and…

And nowhere in between is there a single stitch of formal training.  And Oh Yeah, he plays… everything.  Guitar, bass, drums.  Keyboards.  Vocals.

“I don’t want money or charts or whatever to decide what is good.  Writing, composing…. Every song is like a puzzle to be solved.”

It’s a puzzle?

“Yeah.”

Though not always, it usually starts while he’s pounding away at the 9-to-5, he explains.  An idea, a musical aberration floats between his ears until –

He clocks out and rushes home, snatching up the acoustic, scratching out the lyrics, recording snippets on the 4-track.  Jumping behind the drum kit and pounding out bits and pieces of the percussion track.  Occasionally becoming furious with himself if it’s not coming quickly.  When out of ideas, he simply holds the instrument or sits behind the kit; physically putting himself into a position to receive or otherwise extract inspiration.  He noodles and toys more.

Typically, the night ends with the song sculpted into a suitable form.

“I’m testing myself, you know?  To see if I can work it into something that pleases me.”

So… you’re not targeting a specific audience per se.  You’re just making the music that you like?

“Sure.  Any other approach, for money, for fame, whatever; is just….”

The words trail off there, but we’ll fill it in:  Not going to work.

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