Love, hate, and The Von Bondies

THE VON Bondies are from Michigan but aren’t really into The Stooges. They are called ‘garage rock’ but don’t play that kind of music. They always have two women in the band, but it’s not a gimmick. It’s no wonder band leader Jason Stollsteimer feels he has a point to prove.

The Von Bondies will make their Galway debut on Thursday May 7 at 8pm when they play Strange Brew in the Róisín Dubh.

The band’s core duo of Jason Stollsteimer (vocals/guitar/songwriter ) and Don Blum (drums ), will be joined by new members Leann Banks (bass ) and Christy Hunt (guitar ). They perform songs from their new album Love Hate And Then There’s You (Model Citizen Records ) which was released earlier this month.

Jason is in Ireland when I call him for the interview and these days he is here quite a lot. “I live three months of the year in Ireland as I’m dating a girl from here,” Jason tells me.

The Von Bondies must be termed survivors having lasted a decade despite legal wrangles, an infamous punch up, and numerous line up changes. “The band have been together longer than The Beatles were at this stage,” muses Jason. “That’s just weird to me.”

From Michigan

The band was formed in Detroit, Michigan in the late 1990s, with a line-up of Stollsteimer, Blum, Carrie Smith, and Marcie Bolen. Their fusion of garage rock, alternative, pop, and punk, plus their exciting live shows, quickly got them noticed.

Despite the fact Detroit produced The Stooges and MC5 - who grew from garage rock and laid the foundations for punk - Jason admits he’s never been a garage rock fan and that he wouldn’t put the Von Bondies in that category.

“The band was formed in Detroit 10 years ago but only some of us are from Detroit. We’re all from Michigan though,” he says. “I still don’t own any Stooges’ records or records by The MC5. That wasn’t something I listened to when I was growing up. I was into crooner music - Roy Orbison and Otis Redding. Garage rock was not an influence at all. The Pixies and Nirvana were more of an influence on The Von Bondies than the Michigan garage scene.

“We get called garage rock but that’s just lazy British - not Irish - rock journalism - trying to lump everything together. We haven’t played garage rock for about six years. On the new record there are no blues chord progressions or guitar solos. There is a pattern and a way it has to go to be considered garage rock, and we went out of our way to make sure it wasn’t that on Love Hate And Then There’s You.”

Despite not owning a Stooges’ record, the VBs did have the honour of supporting The Stooges (featuring the late Ron Ashton ) in Detroit in 2003. What did he make of Iggy Pop? Is he as mad and as wild as his stage persona suggests?

“He hasn’t done heroin in 25 years. He does yoga. What does that tell you?” replies Jason. “That’s his big addiction these days. I try not to meet anyone famous as you don’t want your idea of them ruined, but he was super nice, almost like a kid. He lacks that ‘attitude’. He was never much of a rock star in the sense of outlandish spending on things like crazy houses like Elvis and Led Zeppelin. Iggy was more a star on the stage.”

Legal wrangles

The Von Bondies released their debut album Lack Of Communication in 2001. It was produced by Jim Diamond, but at the time it was said to have been produced by The White Stripes’ Jack White. This led to disagreements between Jason and White, resulting in a fight on December 13, 2003 at the Majestic Theatre Centre, Detroit. In March 2004, White plead guilty to aggravated assault and was made to pay $750 and attend anger management classes.

A year later The Von Bondies, having relocated to San Francisco, began work on Pawn Shoppe Heart. When released in 2005 it enjoyed positive reviews, and the single ‘C’Mon, C’Mon’ saw the band reach a bigger audience internationally. Things were on the up. Then they disappeared.

“That’s easy to explain,” says Jason. “I’ve spent the last three years suing my old label. I wasn’t allowed play any of the songs live. Warner Brothers would not drop us as we were making them money. I didn’t want to be on a major label anymore and I hired a lawyer to get us out of it.

“I didn’t want anyone telling us what we should sound like. It’s like a marketing person telling a designer what a car should look like. During that time I wrote 68 songs and 12 are on the new record. It’s a ‘best of’ the last four years. It took six months to record and four and a half years to get it out.”

Given that the band could have become overshadowed by the Jack White incident, a major hit single, and permanently being termed ‘garage rock’, it’s little wonder Jason felt he had something to prove on this album.

Tracks like ‘Shut Your Mouth’, ‘Only To Haunt You’, ‘Blame Game’, and ‘I Don’t Wanna’ tell you he’s not in the mood for compromise. Yet despite these sentiments, Love Hate And Then There’s You is possibly the VB’s most accessible album to date. There’s enough big, raw, guitar riffs to keep alternative rock heads happy and plenty of catchy pop hooks to interest more general fans.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a one hit wonder,” says Jason. “Since 1999 I’ve been in the studio with my band, on TV shows, in the charts in the US and UK, I’ve nothing left to prove to anybody but myself. Charts don’t matter to people from Michigan. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could write catchy songs and release this album without major label help, and I think we did.”

Women and men

Jason’s single mindedness also extends to the way he organises the band. The Von Bondies have seen numerous line up changes over the years, but whereas that can weaken most bands, in the VB’s case, it’s all part of the plan. Recording the albums is done by Jason and Don Blum, with the second guitarist and bassist brought in for the tour. Why is this?

“I don’t like arguing,” says Jason. “Too many cooks ruin the meal. If you write a bridge and one of the other members does not like it do you leave it out or do you meet halfway? Why should it get left out if one person doesn’t like it? It’s been a success with this method.”

Why are the other members always two females?

“It was never a gimmick,” says Jason. “Always when I write, I write with female backing vocals in my head, so when we tour we have to have two female singers. It doesn’t matter who they are as long as they can sing in unison. I grew up listening to Motown and there were always female backing vocals. I loved the call and response between Kim Deal and Frank Black in the Pixies. Music is too dominated by male only or female only bands. Adding female singers adds to the songs. It’s more interesting than hearing the same voice squawk along for 40 minutes.”

Support on the night is from Mi Ami and Irish band The Minutes and Jason is keen people check them out.

“Tell everybody to come early to see The Minutes,” he says. “They are a great Irish band. When we’re in Ireland we like to have an Irish band on support. We brought Fight Like Apes on their fist tour of the UK and Europe. It’s always good to find new music.”

Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.


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