Adventure, Danger, and Romance: An Interview with Saint Motel

Photo: Liza Mandelup

I can't remember exactly where I first saw Saint Motel play, maybe The Viper Room in Los Angeles, but I certainly remember the show. How could I forget? It was electrifying. I found myself excitedly writing some form of this review in my head all the way back then. Every element of this band is like watching lightning – the lead guitarist (Aaron Sharpe) literally looked like he was convulsing as he played – and not in an embarrassing way, the drummer (Greg Erwin) slammed the drums like that monkey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the bassist (Dak - great name) – the poster-boy of garage-nerd-pop – sewed each song together perfectly, and the singer (A/J Jackson) is the perfect front man – with a wide mouth that shouts intelligent, honey coated lyrics that pierce your heart all the way through your back and right back through again. Before five years ago, if you looked up Saint Motel in the yellow pages you might have found a cheap place to spend the night or take a hooker. The same might be true today, but if you google Saint Motel you'll find a torrent of small articles, much like the one you're reading now, celebrating the band with a laundry list of confusing genre classifications (garage-nerd-pop), but hailing the band nonetheless. With their soaring, operatic ballads of love and angst in the 21st century Saint Motel might just be the best band you've never heard of. That is of course unless you live Los Angeles. Saint Motel is arguably one of L.A.'s favorite bands. Its hard not to catch Saint Motel on the local indie radio there and its certainly hard not to miss one of their truly inspiring live shows. But fear not, Saint Motel is currently on the road and coming to a city near you to support the release of a new vinyl record with the singles At Least I Have Nothing and Puzzle Pieces. (interview with A/J Jackson, singer of Saint Motel, and the amazing music video for At Least I Have Nothing after the jump).

PAS UN AUTRE: How did Saint Motel come to be a band?

A/J JACKSON: It was right around that time when we were graduating from film school. We had all been playing music together in various bands and we decided to start something new.

AUTRE: Saint Motel has a really unique sound - somebody wrote (was it the Wall Street Journal?) that it's "garage glam" and the New York Times classified it as "reanimated power pop" - its seems like critics and music journalists have a hard time categorizing your music - how would you describe the band's sound?

A/J: I like the weird categorizations like dream pop and indie prog. But I've never been good at describing it by genres. I usually describe it like a movie. It's an action-packed thrill-ride of adventure, danger, and romance that is full of twists and turns but leaves you feeling real nice inside at the end.

"It's not always easy to sell shampoo

with lyrics about plastic surgery

or gender confusion."

AUTRE: There is a lot of story telling in your lyrics and a lot of existential rumination about love, money, art, etc - where do the lyrics come from – can you describe the process?

A/J: There are a couple different methods that I seem to use for this. One involves the gibberish I make up when I'm writing a song. Just filler to get the melody in place. Sometimes, the filler actually has a couple words that inspire me. A good example of this is one of our new songs, "Honest Feedback." I kept on saying that for some reason in the gibberish phase. Then, when it was time to sit and really write out the lyrics I decided to base the story around that. At first I was thinking, "oh man, no one wants to hear honest feedback" and then I thought, "wait, that's exactly why it's a good song topic!"  Another method is I go through my lists of song ideas that I just compile as things pop into my head. That's how "Puzzle Pieces" and "At Least I Have Nothing" came about. In all cases, I like to write lyrics that are different. Each song needs to have a raison d'etre and ideally each should be a concept that is interesting. A lot of times my song concepts aren't necessarily commercially viable. It's not always easy to sell shampoo with lyrics about plastic surgery or gender confusion.


AUTRE: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

A/J: Oh thats a tough one. I know the first single I bought was Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry Be Happy." I know I was obsessed with 50's pop, Motown, and doo-wop when I was really little, and I know that the first piece of music to bring me to tears was Beethoven's 7th Symphony (2nd Movement). I feel like I absorb a little bit of everything I hear.

AUTRE: Your live shows are really exciting – really powerful – and there are a lot of aspects that make it like theater - including set design, I remember seeing potted plants and lamps - can you talk a little bit about your live shows?

A/J: We try to make the live show an experience that transcends the normal concert. We are constantly scaling up and scaling down our theatrics. We've decorated the stage to look like a living room, we've played shows in our underwear, we've done shows wearing lasers on our bodies, we've played shows covered in fake blood (and sometimes real blood). Never really been fully satisfied so it keeps growing and morphing to reflect our current state of mind.

"....we've played shows covered

in fake blood (and sometimes real blood)"

AUTRE: You just released your first vinyl record – what made you decide to put out a 7"?

A/J: We wanted to put something out before the full album. We also have always wanted to release a vinyl.

AUTRE: I remember going to some of your earlier shows way back in 2007 – I remember one specifically at Pershing Square in Downtown L.A. – what have been some of the biggest of changes for the band since then?

A/J: We're all jaded as #$%^ now. Nah, we're still those nice guys who just get some sort of cathartic release from playing music.

AUTRE: You guys are currently on tour - any crazy stories from past tours?

A/J: I'm not allowed to discuss crazy stories until the trial is over.

AUTRE: Whats next for Saint Motel?

A/J: New music, new videos, more touring, more clothing collaborations, new crazy show ideas, etc.

Purchase Saint Motel's new 7" here and check out their tour dates here.Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Pas Un Autre.