A Conversation with Jane ‘n the Jungle
JT’s Bar and Grill in the Arcadia District of Phoenix is a rather unassuming kind of place. It is small, just a hall way more or less where the bar runs the length of one side, and the seating is lined along the other. Patrons spill out the front door, and the air is thick with joviality. Nobody seems to care that the place is packed; that is the point, JT’s offers some of the best wings in town.
As a guy who prides himself on being an Arizona Native, I have to admit, I am not a Phoenix native. I have been prowling around the Valley of the Sun more or less for the last twenty years, but in many cases, as is the case with just about anywhere I am sure, you don’t know what you don’t know. So when Brian Dellis of Jane ‘n the Jungle suggested the grub and suds location, I readily accepted without necessarily knowing the treat that was in store.
Some months before, on a whim, I went to see a lineup that would eventually pave my way back into paying attention to the Underground Arizona music scene. Jane ‘n the Jungle were playing a show at The Rebel Lounge along with Civil Youth, New Chums, and IAMWE. It was Jane’s first time being “the headliner”. It was a great night, and once again I felt something of an electricity that just needed the right catalyst, and these kids were ready to explode to amazing places.
Sometimes a story comes along out of the world of music that makes you believe that perhaps, just perhaps, music still has a soul worth saving. Whether it is the pure insane and immediate genius of Jimi Hendrix or the never ending drum-god debate between Neil Peart and Jon Bonham. Sometimes, music can still catch your soul on fire. Such was the case that night at the Rebel in Phoenix, that I first sat down with Billy and Jordan and heard their band Jane n the Jungle. At the time, I didn’t realize I would be sitting having wings with the band talking about the Arizona Indie Music less than a year later.
Jason Keil recently wrote a piece for the Phoenix New Times highlighting some of the bands that you really ought to be paying attention to in 2017; Jane ‘n the Jungle made that list. You can take the time to peruse the article here.
Years ago, I was a staple of the Tempe Music Scene here in Arizona. Stephen Ashbrook and Satellite were playing around town, Roger Clyne was still the Refreshments, and the Gin Blossoms were on the radio. Long Wongs on Mill still held the cultural diorama of the scene: a hand written “blog” scrawled on the bathroom wall chronicling the rise and fall of a very iconic time in Arizona’s musical history. Not since the mid 90s, have I felt this degree of excitement for the level of creativity coming out of Phoenix!
One of these days she is going to get tired of my sharing this story, but I was sitting with my wife at the bar that first night at The Rebel, and we got talking to the beaming, proud, father of the lead singer, Jordan White. He was a cool dude, and we enjoyed talking to him. What I was inspired by, as a father, was the man’s sheer glowing over his daughter’s stage prowess, hard work, and business acumen. As I got talking to his daughter and her charismatic guitarist, months later, it was easy to see that it was exactly those qualities noticed in her by her father, that are proving to be Jane ‘n the Jungle’s golden ticket when it comes to raising from the ranks of Indie Obscurity.
The fact that I had sat and visited with Jordan and Brian before, certainly chipped the ice off of doing an actual interview quickly, and before I knew it, conversation had whipped up around the table as we waiting for the waitress to bring us our drinks. I had come with an outline of questions, but I was more concerned with having a real dialog and taking some notes, than I was about asking specific questions and getting specific rote answers. I quickly established that the two of them were long time friends, and Arizona natives, who grew up together and attended Shadow Mountain High School in Paradise Valley.
“So, some history”, I asked, as Jordan’s wine arrived just ahead of Brian’s Dos Equis and my own Modus Operandi. “Whose garage was the first garage, and talk to me about the name Jane ‘n the Jungle. I have a hard time believing you are both just awesome Tarzan fans!”
Brian laughed, “Jordan’s house was the first and only garage: complete with both entertained and non-so-entertained neighbors.” The band’s original name was Skybrook, and under that title they played their first gig at Whiskey GoGo, just over two years ago. Soon after the name was changed to Jane n’ the Jungle, and it was on a suggestion from a friend that they needed a name that would almost characterize Jordan as a character in her own experience.
Jordan is non assuming, non emotive, pixie-ish, and quite possibly underestimated. She almost seems like a porcelain doll from a beautifully civilized place lost in a jungle of business… sheer business. Like Tarzan’s Jane, underestimating the quiet Jordan, is only easily done for as long as it takes to watch her burst to life on stage where she is a commanding presence, and in all ways at home in the jungle she had chosen to grace with her talent and tenacity. As Jane n the Jungle, the band’s first gig was at North Mountain Brewery.
One of the recurring elements in our conversation that stood out to me was the number of times various eateries were mentioned as gig locations. “When I think back to the hey days of the Tempe Music Scene in the mid 1990s”, I asked trying to seem much more Peter Pan than Old Guy asking questions about a bygone time. “Several live music venues immediately jump to mind: Minder Binders, The Electric Ballroom, Long Wongs on Mill, Bash of Ash, Nita’s Hideaway: these places defined the large part of a decade for me, going to ASU, learning to love live local music, and watching the town literally have a pulse with the vibe of the music scene.” Not for the first time, sitting there visiting with my two young friends born in 1989 and 1990, I wondered how many of my references were simply too far out of the frame of reference to be relevant. “First, would you say that there is a new pulse in the Phoenix music scene, and if so, what live venues form the new core of that scene?”
Brian quickly nodded an affirmation over a bite of the recently arrived wings. (And the wings! Oh my! Like I said, I had no idea the treat to which I was being subjected, but those double done wings are to die for JT!) “Absolutely there is a very real pulse in the Valley for music.”
Jordan continued from her story about North Mountain Brewery from earlier. “Because of the variety of venues, there are many indie showcasing radio shows, the local news is very supportive of local arts, and with so many restaurants and breweries providing live music venues it is easy for a band to find places to play if they have the tenacity to chase after the gigs.”
Above shows Jane ‘n the Jungle on Fox 10 with their feature promoting Independent Music in the Valley.
Both agreed, almost immediately as to the heart of the Phoenix music scene. The Crescent Ballroom, The Rebel Lounge, and the Rogue Bar…. there it is…. from the horses mouth…. those three venues will show you the pulse. Personally, I was excited to have the information, as …. well….. many of the old dives have gone into history, and there is much to be sad about when one thinks of the inevitable passage of time. Just the bathroom wall of the men’s bathroom in Long Wongs on Mill was enough to be considered a museum piece for a time when Tempe was just about on the cusp of a Seattle-esque explosion in the 1990s.
With food on the table, and conversation rolling naturally right along, I began to segway from the historical aspect of questions to those themed more around the influential nature of music. Brian mentioned both Third Eye Blind and Brand New as influences both musically and lyrically. In terms of guitar, the band Jawbreaker also deserved mention: much to my delight! Jordan then threw me for a loop admitting that she has seen Celine Dion in Las Vegas twice with her parents. I chuckled through my wings, but seriously…. what better influence for a girl who from a very young age wanted to grow up and be a singer? Jordan followed it up by voicing her appreciation of Florence and the Machine… and the vision was fairly complete. Jordan is the rock star; she is the beautiful singer commanding the stage with a powerful and versatile voice. The influence of Celine has done her well…. and then Deloris D’ Riordan, Alanis Morrisette, and Florence growls out and one is fully able to see it is a musical versatility that molds together in an artist to meld into something new.
It was when we moved on to talk about live shows, and one of my worst fears about music was somewhat realized. I asked the question of what touring bands, like big bands, they would like to go see. You know, like what concerts do the concert performers get excited about. “We don’t really take in many shows”, said Jordan. “Most of our nights are writing, working, resting, or touring. Playing shows. The bands we see are the bands we play with.”
“So Lollapallooza has kinda become our thing”, said Brian. “That is the one show we try to clear out our schedule for and allow ourselves to be able to take in.” The answer made me a bit melancholy, honestly, but it reminded me in many ways that no matter what any of us do, we in many ways all labor in our own salt mines. As a music fan, I would be totally bummed to remove live music, being able to feed off of that energy, from my slate of fun outlets, but Brian and Jordan somewhat forced a reality check about thinking about that world from the perspective of those who actually put off that energy.
The exchange solidified how important it is to do something that you truly love with your life. No matter what we chose to do, whether we are rock stars, writers, or stockers at Costco, we give so much of our blood, sweat, and tears to what it is we make a living at. Even creative people. Even the artists. Perhaps especially so, as most of us are doing what we have to do to hopefully discover a way to do want we want to do…. well…. on second thought, that is pretty much everyone’s dream. All of us, regardless of walks of life, are more alike than we tend to acknowledge, and it is cool to have a moment, sitting with people that in many ways you are inspired by, to realize that many of us are having the same thoughts.
“Talk to me a bit about the creative process,” I asked moving into my final group of questions. “ Are you a jam band?” I almost laughed out loud at the emotion lurching across Jordan’s face. No. Jordan instantly shook her head like I had broached onto some sort of treacherous territory. I got the impression she locked those shenanigans down pretty quickly. So I followed up with a related question, “Is there a unified vision, or is it more of an organic process?”
It is an organic process, was their mutual conclusion. Sometimes Brian comes in with a rift, and Jordan will see it as a verse or a chorus. “As a poet, I have no problem imagining this type of writing, but I do not hear my verse as a song.” I continued. “Do you hear your words as lyrics, already as a song in your head, as you are writing them?” Jordan nodded, “Yes, always, and for us I think sometimes too much forcing on a particular song just shows that the magic is not there with it. So we set it aside and move on. I like to be able to write and work out a song in one sitting, if it goes much past that – you start to wonder if you are putting too much effort into one that isn’t meant to be.” The writer in me understood immediately, but winced at the loss of possibility. As a writer, Jordan was describing something with which I am intimately involved… too many ideas and not enough time to write them all down. My answer, a list called Next-Project-Up starts to set up in your mind which you are continually chipping away at. Jordan’s answer, a notebook full of Gibberish and passed up moments, so that nothing is lost while she continually chases the muse of inspiration. Not that different actually. That is one of the goals of this blog…. to show the intimate relationship and need for community in Independent Arts.
The wings were almost gone, Brian and I had both ordered a second and final beer, and as our conversation started to roll towards its conclusion, some of the most profound parts of our dialog ensued. My good friend Stephen Ashbrook wrote a song all about the more you think you know the less you learn, and as my interview with Jane ‘n the Jungle turned to the state of modern music, Brian offered me one of those moments when that lyric really resounds. I consider myself a life long learner, and Brian Dellis taught me something that day at JT’s Bar and Grill.
“There is this huge disingenuous feeling in music, or rather, there seems like there is this rush to judgment that modern music has become disingenuous,” Brian began as he answered my question about his thoughts about the state of the radio. “I struggle with that. I don’t really want to hear Bieber anymore on the radio either, and he certainly doesn’t inspire me to do much besides turn the radio off, but diversity in art forces a realization about inspiration.”
He had me, and I was simply writing the words down on my note pages as fast as I could so as not to miss what he was laying down.
“I don’t have to commit to something to make it genuine to somebody else. I’m not Bieber’s audience, but because I am not, does that make his work less impactful on those who are?”
For someone who prides himself on his open mind, musical taste, and general ability to critically think, sometimes I am humbled by others’ ability to put simple clarity to an issue. I too, as someone who thought the best part of Zoolander 2 was watching Bieber’s ludicrous death scene, have very little appreciation for Bieber’s talent, but perhaps allowing that view to color my respect for musical creativity has cast some shade on my own ability to truly see the beauty if art – simply for the reason that it is art.
“So you two have just come home from touring to the South by Southwest music festival. You shared the same stages as some huge acts. You were asked to meet with Snoop about future show possibilities. You have two commercials with Honda running across the United States. What did you learn the most from this most recent tour?” My final question hung in the air for a moment, as two two musicians allowed their thoughts to formulate.
“That we are exactly where we need to be”, Jordan answered. “We toured on our own this time, not with another band, and it was awesome to have some time to really ponder on some heavy questions. Are we any good? Are we wasting our time? Do we have fun doing this?”
“The answer to those questions was yeah, we are. We are the hardest on ourselves, and that is what is necessary for good artists to get better.”
“We learned that everybody has a job, and it is everybody else’s job”, Brian added. “We learned a lot about what we can do and what we can handle. We learned that we have to be a team to succeed. We learned that the most important parts are the human connections you make a long the way.” Jane ‘n the Jungle will next be seen here in the Valley on June 2nd, at what looks to be just an Awesome, Fun time at Last Exit Live. Hit the Jump below, for ticket info….
Jane n the Jungle are an Arizona Rock Band with strong, well written, catchy songs: powerful female driven vocals, and an amazingly fun live show charisma that will make you believe once again that the heart of rock n roll is still beating.
They are hugely down to earth and awesome to take the time to work with and talk to a fellow Arizona Indie! Soo drop them a line; show them some love! There album and some other really cool Merch can be found here !