Musician to Musician: Jealous Creatures
Jealous Creatures consists of singer/rhythm guitarist Sarah Hirsch, lead guitarist Ian Hlavacek, Lisa Gallo Roth on bass, and Josh Barry on drums.
Over the last year or so, they have amassed favorable comparisons to Aimee Mann, PJ Harvey, The Pretenders, and now, from me — The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Dum Dum Girls with a slight country twang. They will be part of the big Chris Gray Benefit Concert on January 14, so if you’ve been meaning to catch them, that will be the perfect time to introduce yourself to their brand of rock and roll.
SCR: First off, give me a short bio on the band — anything about how you met and what drew you to each other would be cool to learn.
Josh Barry: Sarah and I had been fans of each other’s past stuff, and we tried to put something new together years ago. It was going pretty good, but then we both went crazy, unfortunately. After many pills and some cognitive therapy, we decided to face the world again and pick up where we left off. We added Lisa and Ian after that — two relatively sane people to balance everything out and whose past bands I’d also been a fan of.
Sarah Hirsch: Yay for sane people! And cognitive therapy… Working with Josh has been awesome. He can listen to my demos that I play on acoustic guitar and hear the rock song lurking underneath. I think that was a major issue with the original incarnation of our band, just with the others not really hearing what the songs could be. Josh brought Lisa on board in the beginning, and we’ve got great chemistry. Ian finally succumbed to the desire to be a lead guitarist after Lisa, Josh, and I had been playing together for a few months.
Lisa Gallo Roth: Josh and I knew each other from high school; the same goes for Sarah and Ian. I guess it just made sense for all of us to end up together.
Ian Hlavacek: Yeah, Sarah and I have been playing music with each other since high school. I actually resisted becoming a Creature for quite some time because of sour memories from previous band experiences. However, I went to several of the band’s shows and started hearing guitar riffs in my head. But it wasn’t until they started trying out other guitar players that I finally caved, because it would have been so hard to listen to someone else’s interpretations of the songs.
JB: I’m glad you’re creating all new sour memories with us.
Where do your song ideas come from? A single person or as a group?
SH: I will bring the skeleton of a song to everybody — chords, basic rhythm, lyrics, and melody — and Josh, Lisa, and Ian will flesh it out.
JB: Yeah, Sarah puts a bunch of puzzle pieces on the table, and we get to help her put it all together. It can end up really different from her initial idea, or sometimes it sounds just like her demo…you never know.
My first impression of you guys was the song “Such A Tease,” which might have been on the Space City Rock Website’s player. It put you on my radar, so to speak. I thought it was brilliant that you had reclaimed an early 20th century melody by Erik Satie. I knew it was a melody that most people probably weren’t familiar with — chalk it up to my music major classes — so I had to double-check it with you, and sure enough, you told me that it indeed was the melody I was thinking. What’s the story behind that song?
SH: When I was little, my parents would play the stereo all day Saturdays and Sundays, and this was a common Saturday song they would play. I always dug that it had this really straightforward melody and was super-short. I thought of it as “classical music” because of its age, but it doesn’t sound like classical music at all. It’s about the same length of a present-day radio song and has this calm, haunting aspect to it. And I guess I kind of associated it with my childhood.
Fast-forward about 10 years to when I’ve moved out and am living with some friends: the song lyrics chronicle our general debauchery. Ian was playing harp for a while in college, and it got me reacquainted with the song. Because of the special significance the melody had for me as a song of my childhood, I kind of used it to play off the idea of innocence and growing up, just dealing with people I knew as we turned into adults.
Has anyone else noticed the melody?
SH: Up to now, you’ve been the only one outside of my immediate family. Good ear!
Tell me about your instruments and what amps you use. Is there a reason you chose them? I’m a fan of the Fender Jaguar Bass — at least, the look, since I’ve never played it. Was there a particular reason you picked that?
JB: We don’t make for very good gear-heads. All of our stuff is probably classified in the “budget” price range for any thieves that may be reading.
SH: Yeah, thieves suck. I once had the best guitar in the world. It was a black Fender Toronado with a red pick guard and it was an amazing guitar. Unfortunately, it got stolen, and I promised myself I’d never get that attached to an instrument again. Like, after it got stolen, I didn’t even play guitar for a year. It was fairly traumatic. The guitar I play now isn’t super special, but it gets the job done.
JB: It’s a lot easier to be dragging around stuff that can take a few dings rather than something you gave one of your kidneys for. We make the most of what we’ve got, though, and it sounds great.
IH: In addition to the ding-ability of budget instruments, they also appeal to me because I’m a cheap chump. Even my newish Les Paul has a distinctly vintage look to it after Sarah helped it find the concrete.
SH: Yeah. Gave it some character…
LGR: I started out with a P-Bass, but I really needed a thinner neck for the ergonomic side of things. The Jaguar came from that. I located one in town last spring and I love it! The GK amp is way more practical than my old ’62 Kustom. It’s lighter weight and has a great sound. If I could just find an old-school Sovtek Big Muff, as opposed to the newer featherweight one I have, I’d be elated.
JB: What she’s saying is that the framus intersects with the ramistan approximately at the pater noster.
SH: Note to self: Do not take Josh with me to purchase a guitar. The Jaguar is very photogenic, as well. Definitely the most photogenic instrument in the band.
Do you have a favorite place in Houston to play?
IH: My favorite places to play are ones where there’s lots of unrelated activity happening all around. They make me feel like I’m actually living in a city — places where people can just walk by after getting dinner somewhere, happen to hear a chord that strikes their fancy, and what the hell, give the local musicians a shot. These are places like Avant Garden in Montrose, the Continental Club, and Fitz. My current favorite is Dean’s. It just seems like there are always cool people hanging around the place, baklava is just a block away at Niko Niko’s, and it has great transit access via the light rail.
JB: Different ones for different reasons. Continental Club and Fitzgerald’s have a great stage, Dean’s is really hospitable to the bands, and the sound at Rudyard’s is unmatched.
LGR: I have to concur with the guys. They all have their own pluses and minuses. Nice restrooms are a definite plus. Like Ian said, I like to be around all the action, not hidden away, having to be “hunted.”
Have you had a show that made you feel like you are starting to gain some momentum? How about a review?
JB: The reviews for both of our records on SCR were total morale boosters. Anything that shows us people are paying attention, whether it’s 10 people or 100.
LGR: I can’t remember which show it was — maybe Fitz? — but we sold out of all the merch we brought that evening and were having to take orders for shirts, CDs, stickers, buttons, even the little “goody bags” of creatures. Oh! And signing autographs at Cactus. That was new.
SH: We played this show one time at Avant Garden where this kid was turning 21 and we went on super late, but they were incredibly drunk and energetic and had the whole audience jumping on tables. It wasn’t a huge show, but it was a ton of fun, and it was right before we went in to record our album, so that was pretty awesome.
What is your favorite part of being on stage?
IH: When you can tell the audience is really getting into something you’re playing: bobbing heads, rock grimaces, and other gestures that could equally well indicate an orgy of fellatio.
IH: I think it’s important for people to know how to make me feel comfortable on stage so I can appropriately tickle them with my rock feather.
SH: Rock feather? What does that even mean?
LGR: As cliché as it may sound, there is a distinct energy at every show. The other bands on the bill also help set a vibe that is going to happen only at that show at that time. It’s also a nice perk when someone becomes generous and brings us drinks “just because.”
Do you tend to play the same set or do you change it up?
JB: At this point, we’re able to choose from a few records and some newly-written songs, so we change it up all the time. Some songs seem to always be in there, though, just because they’re so fun for us to play. I like to throw at least one wrench in the works to keep us on our toes.
SH: Plus, we’re working on a new EP, so we’ll be introducing new tunes as well.
Where do you guys record and what has that experience been like?
SH: We recorded the first EP and the LP with Frenchie Smith at The Bubble in Austin, Texas. Both recording sessions were awesome. Frenchie is great to work with. He’s lots of fun and he knows how to get virtually any sound you’re after.
IH: That man really goes above and beyond. Lots of positive energy in the place, which I guess isn’t surprising with how many double-shots are consumed.
LGR: Frenchie has a great ear for music and how a recording should sound. I also really appreciate his work ethic. “Come on, man, this may be your epitaph. Let’s record it well, your future grandkids will be listening to this.” He gets “in the zone,” and if you’re not there with him, he pulls you in.
What do you like about Houston? What can be better?
JB: It can always be better. Thieves are rampant, noise ordinances are a joke, and there’s some backbiting among bands, but I think things are on an upswing. Everyone seems to band together when bigger, oppressive forces are trying to hold everyone back.
SH: I like that Houston isn’t a really pretentious town. I would like to see more pedestrian-friendly music venues, though.
IH: Sarah, you’ve clearly been hanging out with too many transportation planners. I agree, though: being able to walk from venue to venue to bar to restaurant to venue seems to really go hand-in-hand with a successful music scene. See: 6th Street in Austin. Also: just about all of Berlin. Freaking awesome city. Hop on the subway and get dropped off in the middle of activity. Lots of people, hanging out, drinking, listening to music, generally enjoying life and each other.
SH: Yeah, two of our good friends took us to Tacheles in 2010 when we were visiting them in Berlin. It was this huge artist collective with bands and painters and metal workers. A lot of awesome stuff was going on. It was always on the verge of foreclosure, though, so I don’t know if it’s even there anymore. I think going there kind of made me realize that I really wanted to be in a band again…
IH: We don’t have very much of that here, although some clusters of music activity seem to be forming — Dean’s/Notsuoh, Continental/Big Top. Additionally, the HIVE project that’s being planned just east of downtown has the potential to create that kind of art and music cluster, too — maybe even a kind of Tacheles for Houston.
LGR: I like Houston. I grew up here and love how Downtown has transformed for the better. What I think we really need here? More — and affordable — parking and less humidity. I think we have the capability to fix one of those. Right, Ian?
IH: Well, I think Houston has shown that it can do a pretty good job of providing lots of cheap parking. But would you rather play at Fitz or a Super Wal-Mart?
SH: Is this Super Wal-Mart in the Heights?
IH: I think some of the best places to be are those with limited parking — not because of the limited parking, but because these places focus on packing in as much awesomeness for people as they can instead of providing resting spots for each and every 19′ x 7′ automobile. Remind me to let you borrow my copy of The High Cost of Free Parking. Free Press Houston also recently did an interesting article and podcast on the subject. But wait, isn’t this a music interview?
Other favorite Houston bands and national bands?
SH: A Sundae Drive! The Wheel Workers! We play with ASD all the time, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to play with The Wheel Workers soon, too. And I’ve definitely been digging what I’ve heard from Alkari, as well.
IH: Can’t beat A Sundae Drive. I’m also really enjoying The Tontons, though I haven’t been able to make it out to see them live yet. Was really sad to see Bring Back the Guns dissolve — they’re probably my favorite Houston band of all time, and the fact that they weren’t able to break through makes me wonder if any of us really have a chance.
LGR: ASD and Wheel Workers, definitely. A show that I highly recommend for a night of greatness will have to include Murder the Stout. They’re fun and they really put the chest hair on the old pub standards. As for national acts, I keep finding myself drawn to that incestuous grouping of the Foos and Queens of the Stone Age with all their other incarnations. They exude that Rock and Roll energy that I was steeped in growing up in radio stations in the ’70s.
SH: When I was in high school, I wanted Dave Grohl to be my big brother… Back in real life, Kelly Doyle is also awesome. We saw him at Cactus in December, and it was a great show! Free beer and giant stuffed tigers? I’m there! As for other acts, I love PJ Harvey and I share Lisa’s love of QOTSA with the fire of a thousand suns.
Is there a band New Year’s resolution?
LGR: Buy a dolly for hauling equipment when the parking lot is blocks away. That’s about all I can think of. Anyone else?
SH: I hope for more shows with awesome local bands, getting this new EP out and into peoples’ hands by August, and more or less taking over the world.
JB: I like turtles.
SH: Thanks, Jason, for taking the time to interview us! END
(Photos: Ian Hlavacek; Lisa Gallo Roth, Sarah Hirsch, Josh Barry, & Ian Hlavacek; Lisa Gallo Roth; Lisa Gallo Roth & Sarah Hirsch; Josh Barry; Sarah Hirsch & Ian Hlavacek. All photos by Jason Smith.)