PIONEER SQUARED: SEATTLE SCENE ICON JEFF ANGELL DOUBLES DOWN ON LOOKING FORWARD WITH JEFF ANGELL’S STATICLAND
BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Jeff Angell has been a part of the Seattle music scene since the dawn of the 21st Century, when as lead singer for Post Stardom Depression they released an EP titled Sexual Uno. Many years and quirky band names later, Angell is still in the “Jet City” and putting out genre-blurring music. Now fronting a new band, Jeff Angell’s STATICLAND, the group’s eponymous album features 13 tracks that defy genre.
If there’s a lyrical thread that runs through songs like “Never Look Back,” “Everything is Wrong,” and “Let the Healing Begin,” among others, it’s leave the past behind and stare future straight in the eyes. Angell allows himself to spread his musical wings on this new collection, and what he does with “the devil’s music” is equal parts reverent and revolutionary – but never, never static.
Hi, Jeff. Thanks for your time today. So, a little background on me: in the mid-90s I produced the nationally syndicated program Rockline, so I was up in Seattle a lot doing shows with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Candlebox, Queensryche, etc, etc…?
Wow, yeah, I bet!
That said, we all know what the Seattle music scene was like back then, so what’s the scene like today?
Well, there was definitely a hangover after that (time) for a while, I would day. You know how these things go. If something becomes that popular, every five years they replace it with something else. For me being a little bit too young to catch that first wave I think there was almost a kind of stigma from being from Seattle after that. Everybody sort of expected that you must be a grunge band, or you wanna be Nirvana. But Seattle’s always just kinda did its own thing. Of course, the grunge bands got super famous, but there’s always been hip-hop and indie rock and all that kind of stuff here as well. So, I’d say it’s kinda the same, par for the course. There are definitely good bands in quite a few genres here.
So, let’s dive into this record. After my first listen to this new album, Jeff Angell’s STATICLAND, I said that, depending on the song, I was hearing Hooker-meets-Hendrix, which equals haunting. Do you have any objections to my first impressions of the album?
No! That works fine for me! I learned a lot from both those guys.
The 13-track album begins with what I think is a perfect example of that first impression that I had – the somewhat haunting “Everything is Wrong.” Tell me what’s right about this song. Talk about the writing of this one.
Well, I like the swagger of it. That’s one of those songs that just arrives like a lightning bolt. The whole thing just kinda wrote itself in about 20 minutes, and when I played it with the guys it was pretty quick by the time we found the right pocket for it. Sometimes I just like those simple lift songs, and with the blues being about that it’s a good way to vent your frustrations or whatever. It was just a quick, dirty little thing, and I think everybody’s felt that way at one time or another.
I love the use of the word swagger in your answer. Every time I hear that word I get a Rolling Stones kind of vibe.
Ah, thanks a lot. The Stones are by far one of my favorites of all time, for sure. I don’t try to emulate them, but I’m sure listening to them all my life has found its way in there in a few places.
They are called The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band for a reason.
Yeah, they’re not called that because they wear makeup and spit blood and fire.
There you go (laughs)! So, that song, along with “Never Look Back” and “Let the Healing Begin,” among others, sets the overall thematic tone of the record, which is, don’t look back – the past is the past. Is that fair to say?
Yeah. How the record kinda came about is that I was playing in this Walking Papers (band featuring Duff McKagan on bass and Screaming Trees and Mad Season drummer Barrett Martin) thing and Duff got called back to Guns N’ Roses, and I had to basically pick up from where I was at. I was definitely a little bit frustrated cus we had just finished a record that still hasn’t come out. So, I was like, what am I gonna do? Well I could sit there and dwell on that and get myself into a funk. So, I started entertaining these ideas of, you know, don’t look back, leave the past where it belongs, and that kind of thing. So, I found a lot of ideas from that adversity of having to dig deep and create a new thing from scratch.
I wanna quote a lyric here: “Lonely heroes, wasted lives.” That comes off the mile-a-minute song “Never Look Back.” What does that line mean to you?
Well, there’s that thing where you start second-guessing what you’ve done with your life, especially in music. I guess that guy singing that song kinda feels like a lonely hero and kinda like he wasted his time, and this and that, and then it’s kinda like, get over it and what can you do now.
Now is this a universal song, or are you referring to anyone in particular?
Well, all these songs are me and people I know put together, but I don’t necessarily write from a completely biographical or autobiographical form. Those things will be the inspiration and then they come together to create maybe somebody that doesn’t exist, or create something that’s a part of everybody. What do they say – I don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story (laughs). And let’s just say I wouldn’t let the truth stand in the way of a good song, either, and I feel bad for my girlfriend for that (laughs)!
The track we were just talking about is called “Never Look Back.” That said, at the risk of, well, looking back for just a bit, I do want to ask you about what I call your proverbial “Beatles on Ed Sullivan” moment. Was there a song that came on the radio, or an album that you had, or a concert that you went to, where, looking back now you can say, that was the big bang, that was the moment you said, I wanna do this for the rest of my life?
Well, I’ve kind of had a lot of those moments, and I keep having them. I guess there’s two I can give you. The first was when I was a little kid. My dad wasn’t around a lot – he was sort of a cowboy kinda guy – and the song “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Heartbreak Hotel” when I was like four-years-old or something like that. I just loved those songs, you know, the stories in those songs. Those songs are like two or three minutes long, but you could almost see a whole movie in those songs. So, that just really got me into songs, and I really tuned into them – especially lyrics and vibe. And I always liked the more haunting songs with a little more desperation in them. So, that was a huge moment, but then another thing in my 20s – funny because I grew up in the Seattle thing as well – but the first show I saw when I was like 13 was Alice in Chains and Mother Love Bone play, and that kinda changed my life. Then when I stared to get in my late 20s I started to figure this (music) thing isn’t gonna work out for me, because I was getting a little long in the tooth, and then I saw Tom Waits. I thought this guy’s like Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Armstrong, and Keith Richards all wrapped up in one guy. And he’s like 40-something and cooler than all the bands I grew up thinking were cool, and he kind of changed my perspective, and that’s what got me into stuff like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Leonard Cohen, or even Bob Dylan. They were making some of their best music in their 50s and 60s, so all of a sudden I didn’t put an expiration date on my wanting to make music. Once I did that I started making music that I’m a lot more proud of.
I promise just one more peek into the past before we move forward…
Oh, I’m happy to do it – anything you want.
You’ve come up with some interesting band names, including Post Stardom Depression and The Missionary Position. Your past and present bands aside, which band or bands do you think have the coolest names?
I’ve always looked at names like cops: there’s never one around when you need one (laughs). I guess I like STATICLAND the best (laughs). I like ‘em when they’re short and quick. I wish we had a four-letter name. I want something that’s big and short and quick and one syllable and easy for people to remember. And some of those other bands, like Post Stardom Depression and The Missionary Position, I was stoned when I came up with those, so don’t hold me responsible (laughs).
(Laughs) Those are cool! Well let me segue to a question about another song on the album, but I will preface it by giving you a band name that’s more like what you were talking about, though not even four letters, but one letter and one number, and that’s U2. To me, “Band-Aid On a Bullet Hole” sounds a bit like Jimi Hendrix sitting in for The Edge on U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.”
Let me give you a line: “Like the ghosts of my past, my life begins to flash before my eyes.” There you go again conjuring up that lyrical ghost of the past. Tell me more about this one.
I was having these dreams, and I’ve always done this, I was keeping these dream journals, so some of the lyrics were coming from there and some of the lyrics are based on, like, what are the dreams trying to tell you. In that particular song, it’s like metaphorically, like a person kinda seeing their demise. At that particular point in the song the protagonist is kind of at the end of his rope. That’s the whole band-aid on a bullet hole was maybe the person was kind of creating their own problems and then someone else is trying to hold on. That’s what I liked about the whole band-aid on a bullet hole thing directed toward a relationship.
I mentioned The Edge of U2 just a minute ago. Speaking of the edge, track two on the album is titled “The Edge.” Though I doubt it has anything to do with U2’s guitarist…
(Laughs) No, not at all (laughs)!
This one may be my favorite track on the album, and one I can and would love to hear on the radio, perhaps because my former music director ears are working overtime listening to this one. I have to say, the drumming did remind me of U2’s “Two Hearts Beat As One.” Tell me a little about “The Edge” – the song.
Well, I can hear what you’re saying about the drums. The drummer’s definitely got a certain kind of 80s, post-punk vibe to the way he plays drums. He enjoys U2 and The Cure and The Cult. Those kind of bands had a big influence on all of us, so yeah, I can hear that in the drums. That song is another one that’s based off of dreams, for sure. That’s where a lot of that imagery came from. There’s a thing that I saw from Hunter S. Thompson talking about the edge and the idea that no one’s ever seen it. Like people that are sailing to the edge of the world when they thought it was flat. And also like what happens to you after you die. No one lives to tell about it. In that song there’s some kind of near-death experiences imagery in the song.
There’s a line in “Tomorrow’s Chore” that jump out at me, and that is, “The price of admission is my dignity/I’d rather be stuck in obscurity.” Unpack that line for me.
That song is like – I’m sure you’re aware with your experience in the music business – if you’re willing to sacrifice your dignity, they’ll let you right on in. There’s tons of free press out there if you’re willing to make an ass out of yourself. So for me – especially musically – I would rather fail on my own terms and do what I wanna do musically and preserve my passion for music than start trying to write things that I think are gonna become a hit, or start trying to put on some kind of image or façade that I think’s gonna make my band get more attention. Instead, I’m just trying to make art that I would want to listen to, and then hopefully the audience is into the same thing that I’m in to and they’ll find me. And if that means obscurity I’d rather have that than have a bunch of fame and fortune based on something that was just turned into a job, and then I’d lose music, which has been so important to me.
I think that’s the right approach to take. So, the album ends with the somber, sober “Let the Healing Begin,” which features a very sparse arrangement of just your voice accompanied by a very haunting guitar bed. It ends with the line, “What this is I can’t say/there has to be another way.” I found that to be very, very powerful and a great way to end with that last ringing out of the guitar. I felt fulfilled after hearing the whole album, like, okay, that’s how it should end. My question is this: were you looking in the mirror when you wrote this? Is this song autobiographical?
No, no. I’m a sober guy. I’ve been sober for eight years. I’ve lost two friends to addiction just this year alone. That song was actually written about a couple of people that I knew that were out there, and wondering if they were gonna make it back. It’s almost encouraged in the music business to be F’d up. I think a lot of people glorify rock stars, too, because they like seeing people going to extremes or waters that they are afraid to stick their feet in. I think people like to live vicariously through that.
It’s very intimate. Finally, what does the future hold for STATICLAND?
We just got home from doing a tour, some on our own and some with Alice In Chains, and we’re going out again in a couple of weeks with Candlebox on the left coast, and then going to Europe in January. Then there’s a couple more tours that are too early to say just yet, but they’re coming around. And we’re already digging into writing new songs. We’ve got a pretty solid batch of jams right now that I’m pretty excited about.
Cool. Well, thanks again for the time.
Thanks so much for the time, I appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. I had to question my own lyrics, there (laughs).
Well, I am a lyric guy. I like to dig deep into the song and album, and I enjoy these conversations. Congrats on this record and safe travels.
Thanks a lot, man. Take it easy.