The Jade Shader
Curse of the Tuatara (Sonic Boom)
An interview with guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Chris Prescott
By Tim Den
Featuring members and ex-members of No Knife, Boilermaker, and Pinback, The Jade Shader is the logical continuation of the sounds San Diego has been stewing under its vibrant sun for the past 20+ years. It’s jazzy dissonance, catchy uncatchy melodies, gymnastic rhythms, and jagged sweetness that you’ll learn to love after repeated explorations. With ambitions to not only bring together the members’ love of rock, but of music “stretching back across the ages,” Curse of the Tuatara hopes to embody as much of Slint’s sinewy attack as it does 20th century minimalism. The result? Another success story for good ol’ S.D. Take a listen and be rewarded by its subterranean layers.
Did The Jader Shader come together rather quickly? Or was it planned over a period of time between the members? What are some of the musical goals/visions that drive the sound and aesthetics of the band?
This incarnation of The Jade Shader began three years ago. Terrin and I wanted to play music together. We’d been friends for years, and our old bands had played together a bunch. We began writing songs when we met up once a week to hang out. We also had lots of material to go through from unused demos that’d been collecting over the last few years. We began recording a demo and then scrapped it once we realized we could record it a bit better and actually put it out. We changed the line-up a bit and recorded what was to be a our first record. Then we scrapped it since it wasn’t coming out quite right. We changed the line-up again and then recorded the one that finally came out, Curse of the Tuatara. So actually, we worked on things quite a bit before ever playing live, and we’d recorded and scrapped several songs before arriving on what we felt comfortable with.
Originally, there were some things we’d talked about regarding musical concepts, and I think we’ve kept with it somewhat. First, it was to do something a little different from our past projects. Terrin felt a lot of pressure, since a lot of people really loved what he did with Boilermaker, and since it had been years since he’d put out new music, he wanted it to be solid. Another concept that we have sort of kept with is to draw from different influences. I have always been a big fan of jazz, classical, experimental music, etc., and had studied it quite a lot on my own and at UCSD. It seemed like there would be a way to bring these elements into our sound without it being totally inappropriate. One of the songs is written using primary jazz guitar voicings. We do several covers, including a Philip Glass number, an excerpt from a Bernard Herrmann score of Jason and the Argonauts, and more recently, an Otis Redding song. Another thing we’re working on has a section from a transcribed baroque harpsichord piece.
While I’m of the same school of thought – bringing more intelligence and surprising elements to rock – do you think audiences these days care for nuance and forward-thinking? Audiences are getting lazier and less willing to listen/analyze/understand anything that isn’t instantaneously gratifying (thank you, media overload, for widespread A.D.D.).
Actually, it’s not really a problem. If anything, maybe we’d open up some people to things outside the alt rock realm. We try to add elements from other places that are still basically in our style. It’s sort of like tricking people into listening to different things without perceiving that they’re being exposed to anything. If someone asks about a song, I’d be glad to say “hey, check this out if you’re into that.” That being said, the bottom line is that we bring in other compositional elements because we think it sounds good. We’re not trying to be elitist musical crusaders. It’s just fun to see what we can bring in without detection.
The San Diego scene is known for intelligent yet visceral music. What’s it like to be a part of it?
There’s a good history to the San Diego music scene. I’m really proud to’ve been a part of it. As a kid, I was a rabid local music fan, and it seemed sort of outside my grasp. I didn’t really understand what these people were doing. It seemed so different, but exciting. This is the late ’80s, and tons of different bands would play together. It was less clique-y back then. The early groups were The Pulltoys, Pitchfork, Night Soil Man, Fishwife, Sub Society, Funeral March, Heavy Vegetable, Amenity, and Plum Daisy. These bands morphed into Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From The Crypt, No Knife, Three Mile Pilot, Inch, Pinback, Tanner, etc. Basically, the whole Headhunter Records world.
My own involvement with these bands started in 1989 when I auditioned to fill in as drummer for Fishwife while their drummer was on tour in Europe with another band. My playing with them turned out to be a good musical fit, so I dropped out of college and started touring with Fishwife. I was writing a lot of music, so I formed a side project, Hemlock, and recorded a few albums as the guitarist and singer.
Fishwife eventually lost the singer, and the three of us continued as Tanner until about 1997. After Tanner broke up, I started playing with Rocket From The Crypt as their keyboardist, percussionist, and backup singer. I toured with them for a year around the States and over to Europe. Missing the drums, I ended up joining No Knife in 1998 when their drummer left. We played together until around 2003 and put out a few albums. This is around the time that The Jade Shader began…
What’s the status of No Knife? And what exactly led to some of its hiatuses?
Well, we never really broke up, but I remember distinctly thinking tonight is the last show. A couple of us knew that we were done, but no one talked about it. The last year and a half really had been totally on borrowed time, anyway. Mitch had quit the band right before our first trip to Japan, but then said he’d still do the tour. Somehow, when we arrived, our Japanese hosts knew all of this was going down. I’m not sure how they were so informed, but they really knew all about it. Anyway, we had a great time in Japan and were all getting along really well, so we continued to play a bit. The end was still near, but we were still playing occasional shows. Then our producer from Australia (Greg Wells) said he wanted to record another album with us, so we figured okay, we’ll record the songs we have, just to kind of record the last bit of material. Greg flew over and we did the record (Riot For Romance!). It came out better than we’d expected, and it did really well. So we kept playing, and went back over to Japan, did another tour with Jimmy Eat World, and another with Cursive, and by that point, with all the activity, tensions were high again, so we all just walked away from it.
Does this mean that NOW No Knife is officially broken up? Or merely on yet another “break?”
Who really knows? I had a good time playing with those guys, and we may play again, but right now, it’s not something that feels right. We were discussing the possibility of releasing a compilation of different tracks from our catalog as well as some new songs, unreleased stuff, live things, and a couple videos, but I don’t think everyone is into putting energy into it. We’re all into our new projects and feel that new work is more worthy of our efforts.
Will The Jade Shader embark on the usual “album/tour/album” schedule of a full-time band? Or are you not able to handle such heavy loads?
I don’t think that we’re gonna do that sort of thing. I totally understand that, as a band, you have to do some touring to make things stay afloat, but we kind of need to stick around home. Terrin has a family, and we all need to keep our jobs. It’s just sort of grown-up life. It’s great, but it doesn’t always allow for splitting for three months and then coming back to unemployment.
I love touring, but I’ve done it for 15 years. Now it’s more about doing short trips and bigger tours when a good opportunity arises. There are some things in the works, so chances are that we’ll do the whole country at some point this year. We’re also planning on making it over to Japan in the next six months or so.
Could you elaborate a little on your musical upbringing?
Like most kids, I started on piano at around five years-old. Both of my parents are professional musicians, doing primarily classical playing. My brother and I were always encouraged to do music. It’s funny to think about how my parents were freaked out when I didn’t seem very interested in music and couldn’t find my passion with any instrument. I was like eight years old. There’s a long lineage of music in my family, and I think they just assumed all along that I would do it too. After the piano, I played cello for a while, and then found the drums at around age 10. Then it was guitar the next year. Now I’m sort of an obsessive nut about music.
What’s the collaboration process like in The Jade Shader?
Most of the time, the songs come from demos that I record here in my home studio. Then I email the song to Terrin. Sometimes we make mixed CDs of all the demos that we like and give them to each other. We have about 30 songs floating around. There’s a bunch that are done, but the band hasn’t learned how to play them yet. After we learn a song, the last part is to do the vocals. Often, these get tweaked a bit in the recording process, too. You just never know exactly what’s gonna happen.
During one No Knife show, you wore a Mexican mustache the entire time. What the hell?