Ten o’clock in Deep Ellum and the streets were occupied. Pedestrians wander from bar to bar, and some stray into Serious Pizza which seemed to gain the most traffic. It was a relatively normal Saturday for the scene. I walked up to Club Dada and peered inside, not entering just yet. There was a wide void between the bar and the next person standing facing the stage, something surprising considering I’ve been here a previous Saturday and the venue was person-to-person packed. I saw my friend walk toward me from down the road. We entered Dada and it was indeed a low turn-out. I recognized the song from the sound system, a banging version of Brothertiger’s “House of Many Ghosts” pumped from massive speakers; an instant groove.
The one man band stood behind a panel of mechanistic boxes, one laid across two chairs facing each other and 3 more surrounding him and creating a cockpit of instrumentation and control. He sang into two microphones at once, which supplied an ambient dual tone and reverb touch to the vocals. The man playing is John Jagos, also known as Brothertiger, and he was probably the person most into the beat at the time, although I will definitely admit to twisting and bouncing to the rhythm. I had apparently already missed the opener, Botany, but we didn’t miss him entirely (we’ll get to that later). Brothertiger’s set was short and mild, sporting a decent selection of older and newer tracks, including a catchy cover of “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” by Talking Heads. The soft synth vibes of 2012 vividly came back to memory and it was loud and there at Dada. I’d say a pretty decent set.
It has been a long time since I personally listened to the music of Brothertiger, and even longer since John Jagos last came to Dallas to perform. It was a nice throwback, allowing me to reminisce a narrow moment in my life where I’d have headphones on, sweat dripping, chillwave blazing down suburban streets. My music roster: only the essentials. Washed Out, Neon Indian, Small Black, NIVA, and of course Brothertiger, were choice back in the day (really not that long ago). Music has changed since then though, and me, the listener, is not the only one aware of that. It turns out artists aren’t that different from the audience, liking and disliking certain types of music with complexity and exceptions to their own rules. With this in mind, I decided to treat artists just like another fan. After his set, I walked up to John Jagos and asked for a brief interview. He smiled and said, “Totally.” We walked out back to the courtyard of Club Dada and ensued this impromptu, unfiltered and frankly unprepped dialogue about music, touring and a little bit of something else which made the moment that much more unique. Just as we hit record, Spencer Stephenson, AKA Botany walks up to join in. With iPhone microphone recording app in hand, we commenced:
Radio UTD: Wow. This is such an impromptu occurrence, but still, thanks for joining, you guys.
Jagos: Oh yeah, just a fire-side chat.
UTD: I enjoyed your set. Those tracks bumped pretty well from our end.
Jagos: Oh, that’s good. I actually felt like they kept feeding back.
Stephenson: Yes! It kept feeding back for me too from the microphone.
UTD: It didn’t seem too bad.
Stephenson: Oh that’s good.
(pause of silence between us all)
UTD: Since you’re both here, why don’t you two interview each other? Just chat it up. We can start a debate!
Stephenson: Great idea.
Jagos: Yeah, I’m down. First topic: ISIS. I don’t like ‘em.
Stephenson: I’ve heard bad things.
UTD: I heard they’re just a myth.
Stephenson: Just like my fan base.
UTD: Hey, that’s not true. On the internet I read how people are anticipating your album. I’m anticipating your album! It’s going to be good. Actually can you send me one early?
Stephenson: Oh wow! That’s great, I didn’t know that.
Jagos: (To Stephenson) Are you on a label?
Stephenson: Yeah, Western Vinyl.
Jagos: Dude! Fuck yeah! That’s rad man. How many records have you put out with them?
Stephenson: Yeah, I’ve been signed with them for 5 years. This will be my third record; my second full length.
Jagos: Awesome, have you done tours?
Stephenson: I mean, I’ve done brief tours, but nothing huge. I’ve never found footing with tours. And I’ve never really had time to just go out and bootleg a tour. I don’t have a booking agent, so you know, that’s part of it.
Jagos: Yeah, I have a booking agent but I don’t have a label. So, the exact opposite. We should totally tour together. It’s perfect.
UTD: And now, my job here is complete. Networking: done. You’re welcome guys. That’d be a great tour, actually. I’d love to see those shows.
Jagos: Yeah. It’d be good. It’s funny because they asked me to do this show like 2 months ago, and were asking me if I knew anyone who I wanted for opening. I said I wanted them to pick someone. So they picked you and I said, “Yeah!” because I’ve heard of your stuff before, but I forget where.
Stephenson: Likewise. Likewise.
Jagos: Yeah it was a nice pairing. Except for this – (pointing to the inside stage at the band currently playing after Jagos; the singer scream-belting a note) – I’m not really sure what this is. I only looked them up today, and I talked to them a lot before the show, so I know what they’re about. I just thought to myself, “This is an odd show.”
Stephenson: They told me about them too. I didn’t look them up, but I still just said, “Cool. Go ahead.”
“The biggest reaction I got from the entire set was me saying “Thank you for letting me be your background music,” and the entire place erupted in laughter. And that was it.”
UTD: Did they bring more people to the venue?
Jagos: Yeah. You can kind of tell a lot of people were here for them. They are local, and you can tell who came to hear them, because when you and I played those people were at the bar. Or the people were just looking up at me confused.
For the 10 minutes of interview that followed, I had little input. The two ensued in a conversation about their setups, including technical jargon in regards to synthesizers, 404s, gates, pads, analog and arpegiators. I could have transcribed, but it would have increased the lines of dialogue exponentially with the back and worth Q&A’s. They also discussed pricing of certain equipment, planting a “hashtag: Roland, hashtag: Korg, hashtag: Arturia, thanks for listening.” I let the two artists converse freely trying not to interrupt.
Jagos: I just have to fly everywhere, so those flight cases really come in handy.
Stephenson: Where did you start the tour?
Jagos: In Colorado. I did a music festival. I was in Austin last night, Dallas now and leave for New York tomorrow.
Stephenson: Oh and that’s where you’re from?
Jagos: Yeah, Brooklyn. I live in Bushwick. Bushwick is cool. Have you played there before? You’d love it there.
Stephenson: Yeah I’ve been there one time. I don’t know if I’m getting any of this right, but, I stayed in Greenpoint. I played at the Cakeshop, which is in Williamsburg I think. Is that still open?
Jagos: That’s not in Williamsburg, that’s in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. It has the basement part right?
Stephenson: Right. Yeah, I played a good day set there-
Stephenson: Yes! CMJ 2010.
Jagos: Whoa! Holy shit.
Stephenson: Yeah. Five years ago. At night I played another set to nobody. Everybody was just crowded at the bar and to the wall, and there was nobody in between.
Jagos: Oh man, those are the best sets. When people are just at the bar and people are just looking at you like, “What are you doing?”
Stephenson: The biggest reaction I got from the entire set was me saying “Thank you for letting me be your background music,” and the entire place erupted in laughter. And that was it. But still, it was good and it was fun. New York is fun.
UTD: Sorry to disturb this flow, but I’m curious. (To Jagos) What made you originally want to go to New York?
Jagos: Well, I’m originally from Ohio. And I moved there pretty much because of music. I went to school for audio engineering. So when I’m not doing this, I work in a studio. So basically I went out there to find a job and also do music. I also do freelance for, like, eight different companies doing live sound. So it’s pretty much all bundled into a day job. It also allows me to get the fuck out whenever I want.
Stephenson: That’s exciting. You get variety.
Jagos: Yeah, it’s not bad. And you; are you from Texas?
Stephenson: Yes, I grew up basically in Fort Worth. Have you ever been there?
Jagos: No, I haven’t. I’ve only been here, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Is there anything else? I hear El Paso.
UTD: That’s pretty much it. There are other spots more rural I guess. There is Marfa.
Jagos: You know, my friend just played Marfa. They stayed in like a trailer park. I would do it. I think it would be a great time.
Stephenson: I actually play in El Paso next week. I’m looking forward to it but I don’t know what to except. The event is called La Parada.
Jagos: Man, you should play Bushwick. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Silent Burn. It’s kind of like this DIY spot that’s become a legitimate venue. They added like a $20,000 sound system, and it is right down the block from me. They always have cool bands playing there. Big acts show up there too. You should come back. The best place that I’ve played at, though, in terms of sound and guaranteed crowd, is Rough Trade. I played there 2 weeks ago. I was opening for Reptar, and I thought this is such a weird venue because it has like a huge stage, probably stands like 500-600 people, and on the sides they lined it with colored ship containers. It was meant to happen though because they have positive acoustic treatment on those so it makes the sound bounce off them. It sounds insane in there.
Stephenson: I’ll just shoot them an email and see whatsup.
Jagos: That may not be a bad idea, actually.
UTD: (To Jagos) So are you touring on anything right now? Like any particular record or anything coming out?
Jagos: I’ve got nothing recent, but I do have a record ready for the end of the year. I think I’m going to release it myself. The last two records I did on the label, Plush, but I think I just want to do it myself. It’s just something I always wanted to try, you know, like pressing it to vinyl myself, selling it all myself. The hope is getting it picked up by another label and them repressing it. But yeah, that’s for later this year and hopefully I’ll be touring on that record. I actually have plans with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. opening for them.
Stephenson: Jr. Jr.?
Jagos: Yeah they’re now Jr. Jr.
Stephenson: Because they can’t do just Dale Earnhardt anymore?
Jagos: No, it was actually their choice. It wasn’t like a cease and desist. They changed it, and apparently Dale Earnhardt found out they changed it and sent them a letter saying, “Why did you change your name? I liked your name a lot.” And also said, “Well whatever you do, you got a fan here.”
Stephenson: Can you imagine that dude in his mansion just sitting down and listening to that band.
Jagos: Yeah with some ear buds.
UTD: (To Stephenson) And what about you? Do you have anything coming out?
Stephenson: I’ve got my second full length album coming out in September. I’m really excited about it, but at the same time, I’ve been at it for 5 years, like, I have no allusions about it or anything crazy happening from it.
Jagos: Yeah, but, Western Vinyl is totally legit though. I mean, they press it to vinyl for you and all that. That’s rad.
Stephenson: Yeah, totally. I’m eternally grateful for them. I was actually playing in this post-rock band that was kind of experimental, psychedelic and poppy. They were doing their own thing for a while in this area under the name Mom. It was just two guys, one of them would play cello and the other would do samples and stuff. It was very much indebted to the books; the electro-acoustic era if you will. And then they decided they wanted to expand to a four piece. I was 20 years old; right place, right time. I had just gone over to their house to record with a friend of mine. I knew they were expanding so I told them, “I play drums- I play everything,” and just wormed my way into it. They had just recently signed to Western Vinyl. So after about a year of playing drums for them, the owner of Western Vinyl knew I was doing my own thing and was very interested in it. So when I started to lose interest in the band, I wanted to just put out my own record of my own.
Jagos: That’s pretty sweet. I feel like everyone I know who has a solid record deal got in like you in some weird way. It’s never a normal way, you know? Like, going up to them and saying, “(sigh) look, guys, you’re good. I love your stuff. Hashtag… Western Vinyl.”
(We all laugh)
Stephenson: Oh yeah, and they treat me very well. They’ve put a lot of faith in me and my work. It’s been great.
UTD: So before you leave, (to Stephenson) just wanted to ask, more from an audience perspective, what can we expect from the new record?
Stephenson: Well, not a lot has changed between now and the last time we talked. I’ve just been slogging it out, doing my thing. It’s been smooth. I think the last time we talked I was saying the next record was basically going to have tracks that I couldn’t put onto the last one (Lava Diver: True Story).
UTD: I think I recall us discussing features? Did you try anything on this new one?
Stephenson: That’s actually a large part of the new record. I have a lot of features. The rapper, Milo, who’s originally from the Chicago area, moved to LA, then moved back to the Midwest. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that he’s a genius at what he does. I just heard his music and emailed him asking if he would be willing to be a part of this. So he contributed to two songs. Matthew David, who mastered my last record, actually mastered this one as well, and does a vocal feature on a track. And there’s Ryat. I’ve been working with her for a while, and she’s on a track as well. Instead of bravely putting my own voice on the record, I reached out and had other people do it more me.
UTD: Do you prefer more collaborative work?
Stephenson: I love working with people, especially these people. But you know at some point I’ve like to fill those spots on my own, too.
UTD: Well thanks so much for talking. We appreciate it.
Stephenson: Totally, man. Always good, and thanks so much for the very bloated discussion.
Once Stephenson left, Jagos and I continued for a little bit just to be filled in on his new record coming out later this year.
UTD: So, I came in when you were playing “House of Many Ghosts,” but it didn’t sound the same as the recorded version. Do you generally update your older tracks?
Jagso: Yeah! Or I try to at least. A lot of the songs I revise; I make them more “modern” sounding I guess. But I’m obviously playing a lot of newer stuff as well so it just makes it consistent. Pretty much everything that I play that’s from 2012 and beyond is revised. I get bored with how they sound when I play them live, so I would much rather make them fresh for me.
UTD: Do you ever tweak something for how you think it should sound, sort of like responding to your audience in a way?
Jagos: Oh yeah. Definitely. My sound is changing constantly. The new stuff that I have ready to go is a much different vibe than everything else put out. I can’t really explain other than it has a new vibe, and I trying to transition from everything I’ve done into that new vibe. That way it’s more uniform across my whole set. It’s just a matter of new sounds; new synth tones; a new way of approaching my songs. I always upgrade m equipment too.
UTD: So obviously you follow other music out there, including the new and trending stuff, such as the rise of the PC Music from last year. My follow up to that is what are your thoughts on that and how you think your music fits in with it all?
Jagos: I love that stuff. But the thing is I have no idea how they make that sort of music. It’s so different. I honestly don’t think my music really plays a part in those trends. That sounds really bad and pretentious, but yeah I don’t think it evolves with the times. Like, I’ve really only been listening for inspiration from obscure 1980s electronic music. That’s the kind of music that I think, “I’ve been looking for this my whole life,” so I’ve been modeling my new sound off of that. In terms of the material I put out, it’s the kind I’m most excited about.
UTD: So should we expect a lot of singer-songwriter melodies, or straight dance tracks, or maybe a combination?
Jagos: Yeah something in between. A lot of the stuff I listen to has some New Wave, or Italo-disco, or some shoe gazey stuff. All of that together has really changed my sound. I really want people to hear it.
UTD: Do you consider doing features or collaborations?
Jagos: I thought about features, but at least for the record it’s all me. I don’t think my music really caters to that sort. Like, Botany’s style definitely allows that collaborative music. Where someone can sing of on top of it, it’s perfect. For me, I just wanted it to be me own thing. Not that it’s not collab-worthy, but more that it fits better in my mind if it’s just me. So, I just wanted to run with that and see where it goes.
UTD: Back to the new record’s release; what made you want to do this independently?
Jagos: Sort of a change of pace, but really I just think the people respond better to the more personal release. That’s what I’ve observed. It’s going to be limited to the point that the hope is label will pick it up and repress the vinyl and distribute it, but we’ll see how that goes.
The interview concluded a few sentences later. The closing band finished their set and the bar tender basically kicked us all out from the back courtyard. Jagos gathered his things and hailed a taxi to take him to his hotel near DFW airport. I thanked him for his time again and told him we’ll be playing his tunes in our station throughout the semester and we’ll be anticipating both of their releases.