It’s been a long wait for July For Kings (JFK) fans, but the band’s new album has finally arrived! Monochrome, their first CD since reuniting in late 2007, is a return to the band’s signature hard rock sound, which made their 2001 debut, Swim, such a success.
After a break that allowed time for singer Joe Hedges to release a solo effort, Curvature, and some member changes, JFK is now a quartet rounded off by John McGuire (Guitar), Brian Ives (Bass) and Dan McQuinn (Drums).
Recently, Brian and Joe gave The Rock and Roll Report their undivided attention to talk about their reunion, hometown of Cincinnati, OH, disappointment with major labels and the future of JFK.
Q: As a fan of the first two albums, Swim and Nostalgia, you can imagine my disappointment when it appeared that JFK had broken up. It was great to hear about the reunion – how did it come about after Joe’s solo record, Curvature?
A. JOE: I put out Curvature, the solo album, at a time when I was really uncertain about where JFK was heading musically. I had a lot of songs that were very different from what we were doing with Nostalgia and I needed an outlet for them. After Curvature’s release I had a lot of conversations with Dan McQuinn [and] the more we talked, the more we just felt that we had jumped the gun a little. There was something unfinished or missing from the JFK catalog and we needed to keep going. After Curvature, a lot of my writing became more upbeat and had more energy again and at that point I decided it was best to revive JFK and keep making solo albums concurrently.
Q: Swim was released on a major label, MCA, but the most recent records have been put out independently – how do the two compare?
A. JOE: Well, for better or for worse, most bands don’t have a choice anymore. The days of a band getting signed off the strength of their songs and a big local following are gone. Now, in order to even register on a major label’s radar, you need to be already famous, teenage and blonde, or be selling hundreds of thousands of units on your own. The bands who are already selling a lot on their own are finding that they don’t even need the labels. Artists can be more profitable without labels taking big cuts off the top. So, for artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, it doesn’t even make sense to have a label. And for bands like us, who are not profitable enough, we are ineligible to be signed, regardless of our songs or our marketability.
So, essentially, the majors are shrinking and shrinking and taking less chances and it’s harder and harder to find a good reason to be with them. MCA was almost incompetent while we were signed with them. This became clear after they merged with Geffen and fired the majority of their staff, shortly after our record was released. I am grateful to have had the major label experience, and it did certainly bring us more fans, but there are definite pros to doing things on your own terms.
Q: JFK has undergone quite a few personnel changes since its inception in the late 90s. Can you tell us about the current line up and the chemistry you guys have?
A. JOE: The current line-up is the most cohesive [and] most musical we’ve been in a long time. I’ve been with Dan McQuinn, our drummer, and Brian Ives, our bassist, for years now and the three of us have developed a unique chemistry. Dan and I have been playing together for so long that we almost don’t have to speak when we rehearse or play live. Sometimes we have a laugh about just how far inside each other’s head we can be. It’s kind of creepy!
John McGuire is the most recent addition. He not only comes with amazing chops and the ability to rip out a tasteful, catchy solo in any key or mood, but he is an accomplished recording engineer and producer as well. John and I finished most of the new album, Monochrome, in his J-Mac studio in Cincinnati.
Q: Brian, how did you become the band’s new bass player? Any good audition stories?
A. BRIAN: About four years ago I was moving to Cincinnati from Pittsburgh, and about three months before I moved I checked a local Cincy music forum and saw a post Joe made saying: “Former major label act seeks bassist.” I figured I better check into it, not knowing what the style of music was, but I was pleased to find out that their style was exactly what I was looking for. I was worried that with three months before my move they would find someone so I offered to drive out and audition, but he said not to so I was a little scared that he wasn’t really interested. Three days after I moved, I auditioned and here I am now. Happy to be here with them. Not a great audition story, but I did wreck the van the first time I drove it. Now that’s a good story! For another time though [laughs].
JOE: Brian did wreck the van, but his audition was nearly flawless. We knew immediately that he was the guy!
Q: So where do the origins of the name, July For Kings, come from?
A. JOE: The name is combination of two old songs we had. Back before the MCA deal we were called Swim, but due to legal reasons we could not keep the name. So, after much brainstorming we came up with July For Kings from a song, July, and a song, Kings. It really has no meaning. We just needed some words that were not trademarked and could be shortened easily [JFK].
Q: It was great to find that Monochrome was a throwback to the melodic, hard rock sound of Swim. Not to mention the songwriting is flawless and Joe’s voice sounds better than ever – can you tell us more about the band’s approach to songwriting and recording?
A. JOE: I am happy to hear that! We really wanted to do a record that was kind of back to basics. A lot of 4/4 grooves, big sing-along choruses and melodic guitar hooks; stuff that would be a blast to play live and would really work with our crowd. Dan McQuinn and I discussed this at length before we even started recording. When we started with twenty songs or so, old and new, that became part of the criteria. Does it make you want to sing it? Does it groove? Not that there aren’t some creative moments on the album too, but we didn’t want to worry too much.
Monochrome, probably more than anything I’ve ever done, is just about good music and having fun. Emma, the last song we recorded, was recorded almost all in one day in one session live. It really captures the dynamism of the new line-up and the goals of our songwriting. I think we have succeeded in making JFK a little more modern without losing the edge and the relentless melodicism that our fans have come to expect and appreciate.
Q: How is the rock scene in Cincinnati, Ohio? Any local bands we should be checking out?
A. JOE: There is a great indie-rock scene in Cincinnati. One of my favorite mostly unknown bands is Sohio. They make great records and put on good shows. Other more well known bands include the Buffalo Killers and Freekbass. Oh, and I make music occasionally with my sister Amy Hedges under the name The Majo.
Q: What can we expect from JFK in the future?
A. JOE: In the near future we are going to begin working on a live EP. We’ve been playing this club, The Mad Frog, in Cincinnati for years and we want to get together a few songs that really sum up that experience for us and our fans. A little further down the road we are hoping to do another full-length album. Basically, we’ll just keep putting in the time and making the best music we can – as long as we have people who keep listening and supporting us […] Rock and Roll forever.