On Saturday, Like Totally ’80s Festival  will hit Huntington State Beach. With a line-up including bands such as The Human League, The Alarm, Tiffany, The Untouchables, and Dramarama (among others), there will be a great cross section of period music represented. Among the line-up, the new wave / goth / pop outfit Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel  will be making its first visit to the states in around 10 years. The group’s visit follows the band’s 2017 album, Dance Underwater, which it created through crowdfunding. In advance of their show, the Weekly had an opportunity to talk with founding member Jay Aston about the process of producing the new album, the complications of sibling rivalry, the music business, and the luxury of hair dye.
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): Congratulations on all the great press that your new album’s been getting.
Jay Aston: Oh thanks, Scott. It’s been great!
Considering that and the fact that you produced it through crowd sourcing, you’ve obviously still got a lot of support and a lot of people loving your music. What inspired you to produce the album at this time?
It’s a weird thing, you know. Obviously I write a lot of songs and the band has all grown together — we all kind of write a lot these days. We get together, do gigs, and every time we get together (we live all over the place), we always say, “Oh, let’s do an album.” But as soon as we got on a plane to go home, we always forget about it. About a year and a half ago, I said to them, “Look, if you want to do it, let’s do it, and then Pete Rizzo, the bass player and guitar player said, “Okay, let’s do a pledge,” and we had amazing response, and we wanted to do it with Peter Walsh, the producer who [worked with] Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, and loads of other bands, and we could use a real studio. That was expensive to do, but luckily the fans were up for it, which was great!
In the press release, it said that during the campaign, you provided fans with an intimate look inside the writing and recording process and basically shared the experience through social media. How was the experience of sharing your creative process with your fans?
I find it rewarding. We enjoyed it because we like people; we’re a really sociable band. We’ve been friends for so long, and usually when you’re in the studio, you’d be locked away and the only contact you’d have really would be a few friends, family maybe, girlfriends, boyfriends, and you’d have no contact with the public at all. And so you’ve got the record company A&R guy to tell you [feedback] about the record, and that would be about it. But what you do these days, with the pledge, the way you interact with the fans, you can really sense they love what they’re hearing, and the whole experience is very positive. We enjoyed it a lot.
Did doing it in that manner affect your actual production at all?
No, no. We knew they were going to come down certain days, etc. So we just made arrangements to do guitars that day. That way I could talk to people, but it was fun, and it was great because it enabled Peter Walsh to do rough mixes, so it pushed us ahead in many ways, where we could hear much closer how the record was going to sound. If the fans hadn’t come, we’d have probably waited until much later to start mixing. So we had a real sense of how it was going.
How has the touring been going for the new material?
We’ve done some gigs in Europe; we did one gig in London, but we’re literally, now, beginning this year to do gigs…because James [Stevenson, guitarist] plays with The Alarm, Chris Bell [drummer] plays with several other bands as well, and getting everybody at the same place, at the same time is not easy. So, this first gig that we’re doing in Huntington Beach is pretty much setting up for the rest of the year, and a lot more gigs will be added [to help] promote the album.
So yeah, the gigs we’ve done have been amazing; half the set is the new album, which we won’t do in California because, obviously, that’s an 80’s festival, and we figure people want to hear the hits there, so we might have maybe one song from the new album, but normally we’d do at least half the album, and the response has been amazing.
Have there been new songs in the workings as you’ve been going around and doing these latest gigs?
We always write, you know, it’s a weird thing — once we get together, there’s a chemistry there. I’ll start singing, strum a couple chords and everyone just…I guess that’s why we work together so well as a band; when we get together, stuff works. We should do it more often! Now that we’ve done it this way, maybe we’ll do another album next year, maybe, we’ll see. That would be cool.
I don’t mean to bring up a thorny subject, but it is an elephant in the room. How is it going to be sharing the state with your brother?
He makes it difficult as he can. It’s never pleasant, you know, but I can’t say much about it, really. It’s unfortunate he’s that way. I formed the band Gene Loves Jezebel; I thought of the name and wrote most of the songs and sang most of them, too. So, it’s difficult, but we’ve been through all kinds of legal and family stuff, and nothing has worked really. He’s not very rational when it comes to dealing with…it’s just a band in the end; he gets so upset about it, but I’ve been with Gene Loves Jezebel since 1980, you know, I never left. But he left, so we’re just used to his nastiness — the kind of stuff he writes about us. We try to ignore it as much as we can. In the big picture, it doesn’t really matter, does it? There’s a lot worse things going on than just sibling rivalry. I just sing and make music and live my life and try to be happy like everyone should.
Sorry that had to befall you.
It’s not uncommon, I have found. There’s loads of people who could relate to it.
Getting back to your upcoming show, in Huntington Beach, obviously, as you said, you’re going to focus on the old stuff for the ’80s themed festival, but is there anything else that fans should keep their eyes and ears open for during the coming days and the resurgence of your work?
We’ll see. People love the album, and once you make music, anything can happen. I mean, we haven’t played together in the US for such a long time; it will be amazing for us to come out on the stage, and we’ve got our new album out, which is… we never planned on doing ’80s festivals and things, but the promoter’s been so amazing and so supportive, and everyone’s been so positive about us coming we thought, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
There are a lot of older bands that are kind of taking up the mantle of production on their own. How do you find, generally, the experience of taking the reins of the machine yourself as opposed to going through a label?
I always write songs. It’s never been hard for me to write pop songs or rock / pop songs, whatever you want to call them. Sometimes we’re called alternative, but that kind of pressure has never bothered me too much, but it’s nice when we get the final say and just say, “This is how it goes,” and that’s the lyric and this is the album cover and all that kind of stuff. It’s great! It was so difficult in the past, when the record label wouldn’t like your hair being bright red or they’d want to change a lyric or you’d have to fight with them. There’s none of that. Expression is free now!
Are the trade-offs worth it?
Well, they made us famous; they put so much money into us, the Geffens and the Beggar’s [Banquet Records] of the world, so we wouldn’t have any fans without them, would we? I mean the kind of promotion they gave us back in the ’80s and early ’90s is why we’re coming over [to the US]. So, the trade-offs, obviously you can’t make a lot of money selling records anymore, and Spotify is not going to make too many people rich. The trade-off there is: financially, it’s more difficult for people but I was never in it to be a millionaire, so it’s just as well I’m not. [laughs] I like singing; I like travelling; I like creating things. It’s just we went through a phase the last hundred years or less where the music industry boomed, and now we come out the other side, where technology has taken the financial gains completely away from it. We’re fortunate we were around when a record label did make you famous with promotion, and obviously these days it’s really difficult for young bands. I mean, if you ask them about a trade-off, they’d dream of having a label, you know: “Here’s half a million dollars to make a record.” That’s not going to happen again.
I guess not, but at least you get to keep the bright red hair when you like.
[laughs] That’s good. That’s the most important thing!