Interview: California Wives, Attention to Detail

by: Blaine Skrainka

September 19, 2012

“I felt like I was asleep for years,” reminisced Jayson Kramer of the Chicago-based quartet, California Wives. Abruptly abandoning his path to medical school, the to-be lead of a what we will call for lack of a better term an indie rock band instead chose to indulge creativity and the inevitable uncertainty that comes with the territory. Just after the dream comes to fruition, and ahead of band’s gig with Stars and Diamond Rings at New York City’s infamous Webster Hall, The WILD spoke with Kramer to see if he has been able to wrap his mind around it all.

California Wives interview for The WILD magazine

Your debut record, Art History, just dropped. What is going through your heads right now?
We are just focusing on getting the live set where we want it. Performance is an important part of the whole band package, so we are rehearsing quite a bit these days. It’s also been interesting watching how people interpret or interact with our record. I’ve always believed that each person listens to music in his or her own way, and now I can see proof of that. It’s really exciting to see that happening.

What is it like after all this time to finally give your creation to the world?
We’ve been working on some of these songs for a long time, so it’s great that these songs are finally seeing the light of day. Like most things, a lot of this experience is moving by at such a fast pace. We’re keeping up, but so far it’s been a wild ride!

What person in your life was most influential in exposing you to music growing up?
I would have to say my mom. She worked as a bookkeeper at a record store, so during the summers I would spend everyday hanging out at the record store. They would assign me really harmless tasks to complete during the day, like re-stocking the shelves with CDs. I spent a lot of time memorizing record covers and listening to music. The people who worked at Record City would always suggest new music to me as well. I remember hearing about Ride and Dinosaur Jr. pretty early on, so those were good additions to the Green Day and Weezer CDs I owned.

How did you come together as a band?
I had just finished taking the MCATs and was looking for an alternative to the medical profession. There was an opening in an apartment that my high school friend was renting in Chicago and he just so happened to be friends with Joe and Dan. So, we all became friends and hung out together. Eventually, Joe and Dan asked me to join a band they were starting with the intention of the music sounding a little like New Order. They sent over some demos, we tried a few practices together, and that’s kind of how it all came together. We stopped really emulating New Order when we realized how much we liked loud guitars in our music. We kept experimenting with our sound, incorporating different elements into the music until we had a blend of sounds we really loved.

Why the band name California Wives, and why the album name Art History?
Well, we’ve always felt that a band name comes second to the music that a band makes. The name kind of came about in conversation and we liked the way it sounded at the time. I could kind of tell that some people were going to equate it with reality TV, but that didn’t really bother us. At least not enough for us to want to change it. The album title, Art History, was definitely more intentional. There’s a lot of talk about our influences as a band and that really got us to start thinking about the way we write our music. We are heavily influenced by new wave bands from the 80s, but none of us were alive or old enough to remember that scene when it was actually happening. So, that music influences us in a much different way than it may have influenced somebody in 1982. No matter how hard we try, we will always interpret that music in a different way. The same goes for art or art history. Paintings that were created centuries ago influence artists in much different ways now than they may have when they were originally created.

Do you have a certain songwriting process?
A lot of ideas come from playing guitar or keyboards with a drum machine. Our drummer, Joe, is very much influenced by guys like Phil Rudd (AC/DC) and he seems to enjoy playing straight rock rhythms. So, using a drum machine really emulates what he might do in a writing session. When I feel that I have something worth exploring, I bring it in to the guys and we work it out, sometimes rearranging sections or progressions. We keep working until everything feels right. It’s not THAT analytical of a process, but we still try to make sure things make sense from a songwriting perspective. Dan also writes for the band and his process is pretty similar to mine. Oh, and I always write lyrics in the car.

You have said that thematically the album “comes from a relatable place of losing one’s youth.” — Are you optimistic about the future? Do you hold a sort of nostalgia for youth culture?
I think I will always be able to find a group of people that share similar interests or passions in life. So, in that sense, you could call me an optimist about the future. However, I do believe we place less and less focus on detail these days and I can’t see that getting any better with time. With the massive influx of information from the Internet, it seems like art or creativity has less room to kind of shine on its own. When I was a kid, I sat at home with my CDs and I studied those inserts. I knew who played on what record… I knew all of those “deep cuts.” Those records were my own in so many ways. Nowadays, there’s such rapid consumption that it becomes difficult to find the uniqueness in art. Things get “genre-fied” pretty quickly. That’s definitely not the point of listening to music or consuming art. It may make it easier to deal with, but it’s also overlooking what may be hidden inside.

What is your WILD Wish?
I don’t have a huge wish list, I try to keep it pretty modest. But, it would be nice to see our society start to value the arts a bit more. Art can do some pretty amazing things, we just have to place it higher on our list. We should try to move towards that as a society!

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