After being nominated in the 2011 Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards as best comeback band, JJ & The Rogues want to begin showing Fort Worth they never actually left. “It’s always an honor to be recognized, but I never knew we were gone,” said frontman Jameson Cockerell with a smile.
In the Weekly’s defense, the band’s brand-spankin’-new EP, Stare Down, is three years removed from Indifference, the JJ & The Rogues debut EP. In that time, Cockerell, co-lead vocalist and guitarist Joshua Townley, bassist/vocalist Chris Carfa, and drummer Eric Navratil have changed their outlook on what constitutes good music. To them, it’s less about just getting music out there and more about honing their craft. “This EP was created from the ground up,” Navratil said. “It’s a much more concise effort. The music and lyrics seem much tighter and cohesive than in our previous album.”
The band’s rollicking, pianistic, expansive brand of ’80s guitar-based New Wave is still intact. It’s just a little warmer, friendlier. Stare Down was produced by the four guys on their own in their home-recording studio. “It all comes down to not just making a product but making the right product and doing it well,” Navratil said.
Performing live has also presented its share of obstacles. “I feel like we have to convince people to listen to us because we sound so different,” Townley said. “When people listen to us, they can tell we’re different, and you can kind of see that they don’t always know how to take us.”
Well, maybe not always. At the band’s recent performance at 7th Haven as part of the Music Awards Festival, listeners were not only numerous but pretty enthusiastic.
Cockerell said lyrics are as important to the band as its sound. “We don’t do songs like ‘Friday,’ ” Cockerell said. “That’s a bad example, but we’re not trying to write songs that are about something that has no lasting value.”
All of the band members contribute to each song, but Cockerell does most of the writing –– and Townley has written a few tunes. “We approach songwriting the same way we approach writing an essay,” Townley said. “I like to have a focus and then figure out what I want to say and how to say it in the most effective way.”
The band members admit that when they were younger, they played just because they could. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Cockerell said. “We could play it, so we played it. We didn’t have a point to our music.”
Naturally, sticking together for nearly 10 years has given the band the kind of perspective required to transcend playing “just because” to thriving. “We’re not ashamed to say we want to be like the best bands,” Townley said, adding that there’s a good reason the best bands are at the top of the pecking order –– they’re excellent.
Another thing that’s changed for JJ & The Rogues is their approach to promotion. In the past, they never really promoted themselves or their shows. Today, though, they’re active on their Facebook page and personal web site, where some music is available for free download. The group also recently participated in a battle of the bands of sorts in Austin, getting to the final four out of dozens of other Texas bands.
“When you get older, there just comes a time where you have to ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” Townley said. “We don’t play as much as we used to, but at the same time I’m not saying we’re not serious about it anymore. We’re just trying to have a good time with it.”
Cockerell said the group tries to schedule a gig every five or six weeks and is now planning a mid-July show in Fort Worth and a fall show in Austin. “We don’t want to have too many shows too close together” and over-saturate the market, he said.
Navratil is hoping that the band’s long experience together will draw more fans. “We have a great energy, which I think comes from us knowing each other so long, and audiences seem to feed off that,” he said. “We only get better with time.” l