Interview: Jimmies Chicken Shack: “Bring Your Own Stereo Turns 15”

Jimmies Chicken Shack will celebrate the 15th anniversary of “Bring Your Own Stereo,” which featured the smash hit “Do Right,” this Friday at Rams Head Live in Baltimore. The band will invite the BYOS lineup to take part in the show, playing the album in its entirety as well as songs for the rest of the JCS catalog.

Band founder and lead singer Jimi Haha took a couple of minutes to reflect on the recording of  “Bring Your Own Stereo,” and the time around the release of the album.

What is the biggest difference between 2013 Jimi and 1999 Jimi, as far as perspective, etc.?

As far as perspective, I am larger. Oh and my knees hurt. I imagine it has something to do with being larger.

Being signed to Elton John’s label at the time, was there a lot of pressure going into the sessions for this album?

I never felt any real pressure. My goal was to make a record that was completely different from our first record we did for the label. When we finished the record Elton’s label got dropped from Island/Def Jam as did all of the artists on his label.  Island/Def Jam loved our record so we were the only band that survived.

“Do Right” was a pretty big hit for you guys. I think you guys got to visit TRL and do some media in support of it and the record. What were some of the coolest places the song took you?

Everywhere it took us was cool.  We got a lot of airplay in Europe and Australia.  We toured for quite awhile as a result of it’s success.  I think my favorite leg of that tour was Germany.

Do you feel like “Bring Your Own Stereo” has any themes that hold true throughout the entire album?

Heartache and Healing it.  The record goes all over the place stylistically.  We were getting lumped into a category that i thought we were much more diverse than and I wanted to show it. The music industry was full of acts that made records that all sounded the same. Labels like to have a clear and consistent package that they can market to the people who bought your first or second record.  I always thought it was myopic and I refused to pander to that practice.  Music makers and music lovers are much more diverse in their tastes than the music industry gives them credit for.  In an effort to flip the bird to that notion I decided that we would make it seem like someone was listening to the radio and was switching through the channels. Thus the radio static and channel switching that is heard between some of the songs.

I remember there was some pretty fun marketing stuff going on with the album  – the 4:20 shirts/jerseys, the album art, the interactive web site. Being that you guys were so DIY, did you guys have a hand in doing all of that? Where there any great ideas that weren’t used?

I was the art director for all of our albums.  I came up with the concept and I recruited my friend, Baltimore artist Charles Lawrance, to paint the album covers.  I also wanted the website to be like you were driving the car that was on the album cover.  It was a cartoon version of my mom’s first car, a baby blue 1964 Chevelle Super Sport.  Back then the site was kind of slow because the ole interweb was still like a steam locomotive and people didn’t have fast connections. It was a fun site though.

Can you give a little explanation about each song on the album? Elaborate as much or as little as you’d like.

Spiraling –  Heartache and Healing it.  I remember our A&R guy hearing the demo for this song and just not getting it.  He didn’t even want us to record it. Once he heard the final version he insisted that it be the opening track.

Lazy Boy Dash – Everyone called us the “slacker generation”.  We didn’t slack.  This was my answer to that tag.  The song actually was a ska tune. When we went to record it Jim Wirt, our producer, said that “ska was illegal in California”. He wanted nothing to do with it. So i slowed it down and made it like a swing tune.  The main hook to the song was actually just a guitar riff that was supposed to be a trumpet part when the song was faster.  When I slowed it down it just didn’t work so it became the lyric “I’m a lazy boy there’s no doubt about it. Might take a miracle to get me started”.  I’m glad he didn’t let us record it as a ska tune.

Do Right – This song was 7 years old when it finally got recorded and released.  The original guys in the band thought it was a silly song, which it is.  They didn’t want to play it because they thought it didn’t fit in with our sound.  I didn’t want to have a particular sound so was glad to record it for this record.  I wrote it at 3 am when I was flipping through the channels and I saw Green Day live.  There was a huge crowd going nuts and I thought their music was just silly so I thought “I could write a silly song like that in 5 inane minutes”.  So I did.  It was about my girlfriend at the time.  She loved it when I would write songs about her driving me crazy.

String of Pearls – This song was inspired by a different girl friend. She tore my soul out right when we got signed a few years earlier.  At one point when she was stringing me along i walked by her house in the morning.  There was a little flower shop next to her house and i grabbed some flowers out of a trash can and put them on her car.  When she saw me later she actually said “you never give me anything of value. why don’t you get me something like a string of pearls.”  I thought that was a dick thing to say. At another point she said something like “will you think of me when you die”.  I thought that one was a winner to.  She had a way with words and she wielded them like swords.

Ooh – This song is pure nonsense. It was about the pure nonsense of the music industry.

Let’s Get Flat – This was written with my friend Joe Karr (JoKing).  It about perspective and point of view.  It’s about life death and everything in between.  The title is something you would say to your girlfriend if you wanted to fool around or something you would say to a buddy if you wanted to party.

Trash – At one point when we were making the record, our A&R guy said that all of our songs had strange arrangements.  I agreed.  He asked if I could write a song that had the traditional arrangement of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus outro.  So I obliged him.  I thought “I will give him his piece of trash” so i wrote a song called Trash.  I used a line from a Tshirt i had made that quoted a friend of mine. The line was “tell your mom to stop calling me”.  I then wrote a song that sounded like it was about a girl friend and a family blood line but was actually about a record, a label and the music business that bastardizes both of them. I wrote it a week before we recorded the record. It was Elton John’s favorite song on the record.

Fill In The Blank – I was empty. I had nothing in me to write about. I felt like a square hole had been cut into my chest and my heart had been removed.  I wrote a song about being empty.  It’s my favorite song on the record.

Face It – This song is about getting over yourself.

Silence Again – This song is about getting over someone else

Pure – This is the oldest song we play. It was written before we were a band. I was in a band called 10xbig for 5 years. When that was done I continued to write.  This song is about the promises we make and break to ourselves and others.

Waiting – This song was written a month before the record was recorded.  It was my futile wish that the girl who extracted my heart, would one day come around.  She never did.  hahahah.

30 Days – This was written during a month when said girl went to Outward Bound.  It’s a 30 day program where you hike around the mountains and have no contact with anyone. No phones. No letters.  I wrote this in lieu of not being able to send her a letter or give her a call.

Any additional fun/interesting stories to share from the BYOS days? 

It feels like another lifetime. Making this record was so much fun as well as cathartic. We put out an E.P. that you could mail in for if you had bought the record. It was called Slow Change and i did the paintings for it. It featured my favorite song we have ever played and possibly my favorite song i have ever written. The song is called Slow Change and is probably 8 minutes long.  It was decided, much to my chagrin, that it wasn’t going to be on the record. As a consolation, the label put out the E.P.  Bring Your Own Stereo was actually supposed to be called Slow Change.  I think the funnest most interesting story about this record happened before we made it. We were playing in Cabo San Lucas at the Cabo Wabo (Sammy Hagar’s bar) and the manager asked if we would mind if Slash from Gun’s and Roses could sit in if he came in that night. I have never been a fan of that band but figured what the hell.  So he sat in with us. It was a lot of fun. Later that night we were partying in our cabana and Slash and i were trading songs on my mom’s old acoustic guitar which i have written most of my songs on and dragged around since i was 12.  At one point I played the song 30 Days and after I was done I looked up and Slash had teary eyes and he paused and looked at me for a moment and said “that is the most beautiful song I have ever heard”.  All I could say was “You’re Slash hahahah”.  It was priceless.

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