jason kundrath looks at the reunited Hot Rod Circuit …
There was a time in the early 2000s when it seemed the most vital and exciting new sounds in American music were all coming from Vagrant Records. The Get-Up Kids were a certified phenomenon, turning pop-punk energy on its head, and releasing the emo landmark Something To Write Home About. Chris Carrabba’s Dashboard Confessional had legions of kids singing their collective hearts out. The Anniversary were delivering fantastic and frenetic pop sounds. But only one band among them was bringing the rock ‘n’ roll.
That band was called Hot Rod Circuit, and their third album and Vagrant debut, Sorry About Tomorrow, still stands as a classic. Released in 2002, it’s jam-packed with hooks, harmonies and heavy riffs. With a slightly-stoned charm, singer Andy Jackson wound tales alternately poetic and paranoid around super-sticky melodies, making for an album both intimate and explosive. Backed up by bassist/vocalist Jay Russell, drummer Mike Poorman, and lead guitarist Casey Prestwood, the band seemed poised for success. But although Hot Rod Circuit would go on to release two more studio records before calling it quits in 2007 — Reality’s Coming Through in 2004 and The Underground Is A Dying Breed in 2007, Sorry About Tomorrow was the only record to feature this classic lineup.
Fans, however, were astounded earlier this year when the roster of bands performing at 2011′s Krazyfest in Louisville, Ky., featured a reunited Hot Rod Circuit. Soon after the success of that performance, the band announced a string of tour dates that finds the classic lineup coming to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J., this Thursday night, Nov. 17. Pop-Break.com had a chance to chat with Jackson recently about the tour, new music, and new perspectives on rocking out.
Pop-Break: Hot Rod Circuit originally broke up in 2007, but this particular lineup hasn’t been together since 2003. What brought the four of you back together?
Andy Jackson: Well, we got asked to do Krazyfest. And Dan [Duggins] — the drummer who had been playing with us — he’s had some some medical conditions and he’s been pretty much bedridden for awhile. But when it came about, me and [Mike] Poorman had just worked on a record together, and we’d been hanging out and talking a little more, and I thought, “well, what if we could just get the old guys back together to do this?” And so it kinda fell into place, really. Jay [Russel] was totally down. Casey [Prestwood] was totally down. So we just started talking about it, and then we got together; did Krazyfest. It went extremely well. And we thought we definitely need to be doing this. There’s still fans out there that care about us. And one thing kinda led to another, and [Brian] Ellis [the band's former booking agent] called us and said “I think you guys should do these dates.” And it’s just a handful of dates. We’re not like “officially” getting back together and going out on tour. We’re just doing these few west coast shows and, like, six east coast shows. And we recorded some material as well, and released some unreleased material that we had just sitting around in a vault basically.
PB: Tell me about the unreleased jams.
AJ: We just put some up on our Facebook page just trying to get people excited about the tour. We had a couple of tracks that we never released from Reality’s Coming Through. We put two up over the last few days and we have one more we’re going to put up. And we recorded a new song that’s on iTunes, a Superdrag cover, and another new song, and all three will be on a 7″ we’ll be selling on the tour.
PB: How would you describe the new song “Forgive Me”?
AJ: Well, it was right at the period of us talking about recording, and I had written a handful of songs that didn’t really fit with what I was doing with Death In the Park, and every time I’d play them for somebody they’d say “that’s a Hot Rod song.” [laughs] And when I first sent it to Poorman, he was like, “Let’s do it.” It just kinda came about. There was some stuff going on in my life over the past few years — I went through a divorce, an engagement that went bad — and I was in a different place in my life. I feel like “Forgive Me” is more of a grown-up version of Hot Rod Circuit, if you will.
PB: There’s a rumor since you left Terrible Things, Hot Rod was going to become fully functional again. Is that not the case?
AJ: No, I mean Jay’s got two young children and Casey’s got a kid now. Everybody’s spread out — Casey’s in Colorado, Jay’s in Connecticut, Mike is in Rhode Island, I’m in Alabama. We’re kinda all over the place. I think it’s more like, Let’s see how this tour goes. We have talked about possibly doing a record. Like a full record. But if we do it, it’s gonna be us actually getting together and writing together and spending a week or two, because everything we’ve done up to this point — all these new songs we’ve been doing — have all been over the Internet. It’s been me tracking in my studio. Send it to Mike. He tracks drums; he sends it to Casey. He tracks the guitar. And then Jay. So none of us have actually sat down together and played these songs. In the past, I may have been the main writer, but there’s always been input from everybody. We talked about it, and if we do it, we’re definitely going to get together and spend some time writing. And then we might record it that way over the internet since we live so far apart. But we at least want to get together and get the core of the songs together. It’s mainly we want to see how this tour goes. And we’re all just great friends and it was a chance for us to go hang out and kinda have a vacation and play rock ‘n’ roll together.
AJ: Oh yeah. It’s been incredible. With Krazyfest, everybody had their wives and kids, and we went out to eat — just hanging. It’s a different vibe. Jay’s been sober for four years so his entire life is different. Everybody’s grown up. We all have families and different lifestyles from being on the road all the time. So it’s back to the friendship, but then looking at it more from the business aspect instead of just being a party band.
PB: Had you always suspected that Hot Rod would eventually get back together? Or was it as much a surprise to you as it was to anyone else?
AJ: It was pretty much a surprise to me, man. I mean, I love Jay Russell, and that’s the thing: none of us ever had any bad blood. It just kinda fizzled out. We toured for a long time. But I never really saw us doing it again. I mean I figured Jay [pauses] ‘cuz that was one thing — dealing with his alcoholism I knew him being around bands and stuff. We always thought, “well, that’s not good for him.” But it seems like he’s dealt with it enough now that he can handle it, and it’s really good. He’s healthy; he’s happy. Not that he wasn’t happy before. It’s just a different vibe altogether. And I’m not trying to blame Hot Rod not being a band because of him, because we definitely continued on a long time without him. But he was the core of the band. He was my Richie Sambora, if you will. [laughs]
When I sing, his harmonies come out, and it’s like a double me singing, or something, y’know? It freaks me out almost. I feel like we missed a lot of that on the last few records ‘cuz he wasn’t singing with us. And he was a big part of Hot Rod. But back to your question, I didn’t really foresee this happening, it just kinda happened. I’m glad it’s happening. I’m really excited about it. Everybody in the band’s excited. It’s really funny — Jay’s wife has been sewing, taking a bunch of our old merch and making little kids’ dresses, and little kids’ pajama pants. Just things like that. Like the family members are becoming a part of the band now and putting their two cents in. My girlfriend just did artwork for the 7″, and everybody’s just helping out. It’s more of a big group effort and not just these four guys in a rock ‘n’ roll band.
PB: What kind of set list can fans expect at these tour dates?
AJ: Well, you’re gonna hear a lot of the old stuff. A lot of Sorry About Tomorrow. We are going to be playing a few of the later songs as well. That was something else. In my mind I thought we’d just be playing Sorry About Tomorrow and anything before that, ‘cuz that’s the band. Then Jay came to me and he was like, “I really like these songs off of Underground, and I really like these songs here, and I don’t mind learning these if you guys wanna play them.” And the same with Mike ‘cuz he didn’t play on the last two records. But they were like, “we’re fans of what you did, and we love these songs.” So it’s gonna be a pretty big list of songs. At Krazyfest, we pretty much did Sorry About Tomorrow, so we’re gonna spread it out a little bit more. But it’s gonna be a good time.
PB: That’s a great compliment to you, and it shows the vibe and the lack of ego. Because you don’t see that a lot. When former incarnations of bands reunite, they generally stick to the material they worked on together.
AJ: I totally agree. It kinda took me by surprise, and it wasn’t anything I brought up. I had no intentions of playing anything off Underground, and it’s one of my favorite records. But Mike didn’t play on it. Jay didn’t play on it.So I wasn’t forcing them to learn anything. They brought it up. And it was cool. The whole process this whole time has been e-mails between us about merch, about who’s doing interviews, who’s doing this and that. It’s just been a really good group effort for once. I think in the past, I might’ve controlled a little more, or Mike might’ve controlled a little more, and we just kinda evened it all out. And we all talk about it. Everybody is doing there part. And everybody’s busy, too, and it’s really awesome that everyone’s taking the time out to do this.