review and interview by Meredith Tucker
photos by Susana Meza
Noise-rockers and jam band fans alike will love The Jai-Alai Savant. Waking up the KEXP folks with an energetic set of reggae-infused punk rock (think a more ambient version of the Clash), the energetic set from this band got our blood pumping. Lead singer — “your favorite DJ’s favorite DJ,” DJ Major Taylor — discussed sold out hometown shows, leaving Philly, and touring Europe. A vibrant and fun band that spans the genres, The Jai-Alai Savant are a cross between your favorite dancehall dub band and your favorite eclectic, innovative atmospheric band. Major Taylor’s vocals, lyrics, and delay pedal interjections are only just pieces of the musical puzzle that is The Jai-Alai Savant. Rhythmic breakdowns, jangling and distorted guitars plus a wonderful sense of humor make these talented musicians a really lovable group well worth their devoted following.
I got to meet with all three members of The Jai-Alai Savant — Ralph Darden (guitar & vocals), Dan Snyder (bass), and Mike Bravine (drums) — in the freight elevator where they caught a few smokes before they left Engine Studios.
MT: How do you define yourselves?
Ralph: We’re just a band.
Dan: How do you spell awesome?
Ralph: Well, I’m a product of the late 70’s of early 80’s, so was Mike, and if you take like the music at the time in terms of what we were listening to as kids, in that era you have what I call the golden age of subversive music in America and all these genres that were coming and going — the end of disco, the birth of punk rock, rap music as we know it and all of these combinations as a result. ESG and Grandmaster Flash on tour with The Clash. That’s kind of what has influenced or defined me as a creative person in general. I think that’s kind of where or why everything comes out the way it does. Dan & Mike put their own spin on how the whole flow of everything.
MT: So you’re from Philly?
Ralph: I think just being from any major city in general has an influence on the kind of stuff that I write. Growing up in Philly and being an inner city kid with a black family, I was still exposed to all kinds of people in all kinds of environments and that in and of itself was how I sort of became a fan of subversive music in general. I don’t think it would have been any different if I had grown up in NY or Chicago or LA.
MT: Why did you move out to Chicago?
Ralph: We all got different reasons.
Mike: I just ended up here and moved around a lot. Actually spent some time in Seattle, but moved all over the states after living in France.
Dan: I got the idea to move out here from Ralph.
Ralph: I felt that Philly at the time for the stuff I was trying to do was a little stale, a little stagnant, and Chicago always had a music scene that kind of spoke to me and I had friends out here so it seemed a logical place to go. At the time we were playing and Dan kind of came shortly afterward and the whole thing just kind of came together.
Dan: Chicago has a much wider realm of music.
Mike: People really work hard for their art here. Not just talking and hanging out and it’s not just something that falls through.
Ralph: Chicago always fascinated me because you never see people who are like “I’m a crazy millionaire.” But you see all these cats where they’re like “I’m going to work for the creative.” And they own art galleries and run shows and such. I refer it to the blue collar creative person in this town.
Dan: It’s not pretentious.
Ralph: It’s not a New York kind of thing where we’re just doing it to do it.
MT: Do you have any albums fans can pick up?
Ralph: We have an EP out on Gold Standard, and then an album out, Flight of the Bass Delegate.
MT: How do you guys go about writing music?
Ralph: I usually bring the songs to the band and then just roll with it when we get in rehearsal. We haven’t really written a whole bunch of stuff. We’re just now getting to the writing process now as a band, and generally I write stuff and bring it to Dan and Mike and we see what comes out of it when we practice. We still don’t really know what’s going to come out of it because Mike’s only been on for about a year and Dan’s been around for about two years, but we’ve had a large set of material that we’re working with. It’s kind of a work in progress.
MT: So would you call yourself a new band?
Ralph: I consider us to be a new band because of the level that we’re at. I don’t think anybody really knows who we are and it’s a slow arduous process to define ourselves. We’ve been at it forever through various musical endeavors but essentially we’re still a new band. We’ve existed for five years but never really started grinding until the past few years.
MT: What is it like being a working musician in Chicago?
Ralph: That was the other thing that was interesting about Philly versus Chicago — that I finally find people our age who like to do this stuff. There’s a certain degree of maturity that kind of comes along with a creative community here and that’s why it is so aggressive as opposed to “party party party” — not to say that they don’t do that here because I know ample young folk out here who will do that.
MT: Was it difficult for you to get started?
Ralph: I think it’s hard for any band to get out there, especially at this point. It’s a double edged sword, the duplicitous music industry. Because of the internet, the ability has been placed in the hands of the layman. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. The music industry has been de-mystified and subsequently you just have everyday people writing albums all the time which lends itself you like… you know… shit. There’s lots and lots and lots of bands out there, so why should anybody pay any attention to what we’re doing? I think we’re doing something exceptional and good. I think it’s exceedingly difficult to make your way a band in any sort of independent capacity, and I think that any sort of accomplishment is amazing. Popularity has never been a good gauge of success, and I think it’s insanely difficult.