Seismic Interview: 10 Years of Purrfect Music with The Purrs.
Interview By: Tilly Rodina
Local band The Purrs, with their dark melodic sounds, edgy guitars, and groovy bass lines, have been a staple in Seattle’s psychedelic pop scene for over the past 10 years. I decided to catch up with them to see how things are going 10 years in.
I arrived at Jason Milne’s house just as the band finishes an intense practice session in the basement. Sweaty and exhausted, the band ascends into the living room, where, after the mood is set with psychedelic wall projections and scotch pours all around, I sit down with them to talk about the band’s 10 year resilience, the kidnapping of Sunset Valley and Little Pieces front man, Herman Jolly, and “pie in the sky”.
You guys just celebrated your 10 year anniversary. When was the actual date … hasn’t it passed?
Jason Miln (JM): I think it was in the later half of 2000 because the first half of 2000 we were kind of a different formation with a different person singing. I think we’re close to that exact 10 year anniversary.
Jima (J): We just don’t know where that specific day is.
Herman Jolly (HJ): If you cut them [in half] and count the rings…it’s about 10.
10 years is a long time. What keeps you guys going strong when other bands have come and gone?
J: If you don’t pursue the things you’re supposed to pursue during the course of a normal human life. If you can do that, then you can be in a band for 10 years; especially a band that doesn’t pay.
Is that true for all of you?
Craig Keller (CH): I was gonna say that liking the music, and uh… the people…
JM: Yeah, I think I was gonna say the same thing. I mean, I think we get along and we’re all very much into the music we’re doing, and we have a lot of fun doing it. In fact, if we could do that instead of our jobs, that would be the ideal situation.
J: But if you think of 10 years through a normal person’s life there are so many forces and things they would do in a 10 year span that could easily pull them away from doing music. I mean, there are things that could happen. You could move to another town for another job. You could decide to get married…
So many things could happen in the course of your life to change your direction, and yet that’s what’s so remarkable, because you’ve been together for so long that you’ve maintained it.
J: Right, especially without being paid. I mean, I think it’s a lot easier to be in a band for 10 years if you make enough money that you don’t have to do your day job and pay your mortgage in any honest way, you know? …you have to actually have a stupid job during the day and your band at night.
JM: I don’t know and I think, I’m not sure if I’m speaking for you guys, but I think the band is what we do, playing music is what I think gets me through the regular rut of working the regular job. This is the release. This is the fun. This is what we wish we could always do.
J: I would completely agree with that. That’s how I decided to arrange my life. I try to surround myself with people who have the same sort of goal.
Along those lines, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
J: Well, personally, every band’s got one position they can never keep filled and ours has always been rhythm guitar. So, our one big challenge is every couple of years we have to slough off the exoskeleton of a rhythm guitar player and grow a new one.
J: It makes you un-gigable for however long a period of time it takes until you can get rhythm guitar boy or girl up to speed. So that’s been a challenge, cause about every 2 years we tend to get a new one. They decide to do something else with their lives. I mean, people go and do other things with their lives. I completely understand that. I decided I didn’t want that for me. Another thing, which is a big challenge, is to write songs that everybody in the band can get behind. You know? I mean, whatever your song writing process as a group is, it’s gotta be something that everybody can deal with and it’s gotta be there for the long haul…But you gotta put that ego behind you and go, “what’s serving the song better?” typically. And typically that’s what we do. I mean, we don’t jack off a lot on our songs, right?
JM: No, we’re cutting that out. Trying to…
Speaking of which… (Laughter) Each of your albums has its own feel. How has your music evolved over the years since you started playing music together?
JM: I think part of that’s random. Um, well, maybe semi-random. Based on the songs that come in that we play… we never talk about a certain feel for the next record. Sometimes we say, “Oh, the next one is gonna be all wah or whatever…
J: But it never happens.
JM: No, no. I mean, basically Jim brings in the songs. Over the years we’ve gotten better at learning them, working them together. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We’ve become more streamlined in that process of getting ready to record or to play out live. You know, we don’t try to make each record sound a certain way. I think it’s just the way it happens. There’s no master plan that we have.
Herman Jolly has recently joined your line up (temporarily). How were you able to coerce him into playing with The Purrs?
JM: A lot of trickery.
HJ: Have you ever seen those movies where someone comes up behind them with gauze and chloroform? I woke up in a basement.
JM: We let him up to feed him, then after we get back from work, he gets back up to rehearse and crap in a bucket.(Laughter)
HJ: I knew they were without a rhythm guitarist, harmony singer. I didn’t hear anything about it for a while. Then I got an email saying, do you wanna do that stuff in the band for and I just said yes. My band, Little Pieces, we toured with them and played lots of show with these guys and when you hear them every night and listen to their records you really realize the genius in the music. It’s kinda like I get to be in a tribute band that’s actually the real band, just for a little while, just for this show. And it’s this super cool opportunity. I hope they find someone good to do it permanently. But then when they play down in Portland, where I’m moving in a couple weeks, I hope that I get to jump up and get to sing on ” Loose Talk”.
I hear the next album is already in the works. What can Purrs fans expect and when can they expect it? Maybe next year?
J: We are working on the record. We’re in the middle of six songs right now. And there’s definitely more coming, but we’re sort of taking our time cause we’re looking for our permanent fourth for our next push.
One of your songs on the album is called “Pie in the Sky”. What do The Purrs’ consider to be “Pie in the Sky”?
JM: Quit our jobs and just play music.
J: Yeah, but you’ve gotta have something more concrete behind you other than you just want to go there, right? You gotta do the things that actually get you there. I love our music, I love this band and I hope someday we can… [In the meantime] we’re gonna continue to put out really good records and build on the fan base that we have. Our goal has always been to play bars, as many as possible, as often as possible, and towards that end, I think we’re a total freakin’ success. Quitting our day jobs would be great, but that’s not the goal, the goal is to have as much fun as humanly possible before we’re snuffed out.
I love your latest album and I like that it’s a combination of new songs and rare tracks. There are two cover tracks. You’ve got the 80’s hit “Only Dreaming” by Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Lee Hazelwood’s” I Move Around”. These are two very different artists. What is it about these songs that made you want to cover them and the influence they’ve had on you?
J: This RLYL song has been in my head since the day I saw it on MTV in like, ’84. There was a video, I can remember this … they had actually taken their video camera to a fairground somewhere and went around one of those spider rides or whatever and just let the lights go around and interspersed that with this guy in a wife beater going, “ughr, ughr, ughr, ughr, ughr…” and that was the whole fuckin’ video. It impacted me greatly [because] there’s this bass line hook in the song and it hooked me forever and I always felt that song was just, so… They just screwed it up so bad, right? Have you ever heard the original? It’s almost unlistenable, it such garbage. I’m like, why would anyone take such a beautiful fuckin’ hooky riff and just flush it down the toilet. Obviously this needs to be done by someone else. It had to be done right. It blows my mind that they couldn’t see the crystalline beauty that was that song and they have to crap all over it with their mediocre bullshit. It has been hanging over my head for like 15 years.
The Lee Hazelwood song was covered for a completely different reason. Have you heard the Lee Hazelwood original? It’s brilliant. There’s no way that song was done wrong. That song fit with our sorta happy sad melancholy happy thing we have going on and it was a good fit for us. That song didn’t need to be redone because it was an incompetent job first time around. I just thought the lyrics were really cool. Only an idiotic band would want to do only songs that were cool. What kind of band does that?
J: I mean, seriously, you ask a band why they do a song and they say, “cuz it sucks!”. I mean, no one does that.
JM: Except for you with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry!
J: The song had obvious elements that were so brilliant and they just dropped the ball; and the fact that they wrote those elements is doubly weird. Why?!?! Can you put a link to the original so people know what I’m talking about? Because you’ll hear it. You’ll hear it!