Jason Stollstimer and Don Blum of the Von Bondies have alcohol to thank for uniting them in music. It was at a house party — one of the ones regularly thrown by Jason and regularly attended/played at by Don — where the drummer of Jason’s band the Baby Killers had passed out drunk. Don leapt on stage to take over drumming duties and save the day. And so a partnership, the Von Bondies, was born.
Well-known to some for their song “C’mon C’mon” being the theme from FX’s Rescue Me (with Denis Leary’s son to thank for that), and to others for the Jack White Incident, the past five years have been calm in Von Bondie-land. But internally, the band traveled from indie to major label and back again, went through a few band members, and survived the divorce of a founding member. Through it all songs never stopped being written, and the result is a dark and danceable album in Love, Hate, And Then There’s You. We caught up with three of the four Bondies in their hotel last week to discuss neck beards, schools of rock, and the new album, out today.
Tell me about the name “the Von Bondies.” Jason Stollsteimer: I just made it up. I like the way the letter V looks, and I like how with the Ramones the name means nothing, it’s just a name they picked out of thin air. So I did the same thing.
But you’re not going to take it as your last name? JS: I’ve thought about it, because my last name is messed up. But my dad’s a genealogist, and he’d kill me.
How did you come up with the title for Love, Hate, and Then There’s You? JS: I didn’t want to leave anybody out. I want everybody to be suspect. Anybody could be the hate. I think everybody’s all of those things. I was going through a divorce at the time when I came up with the album title, and I was trying to get off my record label. I get along with everybody at our old record label, except for one person who no longer works there. And I don’t hate my ex-wife. It was just a bunch of things happened at the same time, and I didn’t know how to explain how I felt about all these things.
Don, is this your first time writing songs ever, or just for the Von Bondies? Don Blum: Ever. It was stressful. The way I started out, I would just write songs by myself. Because it was kind of like a challenge — he was challenging everybody in the band to write a song … We’d have a melody but no words, and then I’d bring it. So it wasn’t traditional songwriting because I was trying to write for us, but leave things open too. JS: Well, he didn’t get a chance to do something from the raw because he knew that the band was already established with the sound, so he had that going. He wasn’t allowed to go with what naturally may have come out of him because it might have sounded nothing like us. DB: Yeah, I might have come up with free jazz or something.
Leann, when did you join? Leann Banks: About two years ago?
And how did you get hooked up with these guys? JS: Two different engineers locally had recorded bands she was in. And I said, “Do you know any females that can play bass and sing?” We always have to have females in the band because all the music is female vocals. Unless I can find a man to sing high falsetto like me. LB: I jumped at the opportunity. I only started playing in bands for real about four years ago. I was in a band called Ghost City in Detroit, and a band called the Sirens. You can find the Sirens CD. Ghost City kind of fell apart.
Don and Jason, the cover of the new album is just the two of you. Where did that concept come from? JS: We’re the only two people that have ever really been on any of our recordings, besides Leann recently. So there’s always like two songs on every record that everybody’s on, but me and Don have been the heart and soul of the band since day one. It didn’t matter who else was in the band, we’d write all the songs. Even when I’d write all the songs, Don was still the first person that got to hear them. We’re the two that lasted through the three years it took to get off Sire records [a subsidiary of Warner Bros.], suing our old label. We did not get dropped. I had to beg them to let us go. I had to sue them to get out of the record deal.
Just because of one guy? JS: Because of one person who didn’t think we were emo enough. And I said “That’s because we’re not an emo band.” So Don and I had gone through a lot of drama. And with the previous records, none of us had ever been on the record cover. And this one we deserved it. We’re not very self-promotional people. I put myself in a bad situation with the record cover — he has a gun to the back of my head. DB: It was a mix between a famous Clash photo of — what was it, Joe Strummer? JS: Yeah, Joe Strummer, and then Reservoir Dogs. Just then the angle of it. I wanted it to basically be Warner Brothers, like a little Warner Brothers ring coming off camera with a gun to the back of my head. Because they were forcing me to do things I didn’t wanna do. And none of the stuff they forced me to do will ever see the light of day. Like, they forced me to work with songwriters I didn’t want to work with, and I can’t believe we even let that happen. That didn’t slow down the record, but it definitely made me not like music for about a year at all. I didn’t do anything. During that time, Don picked up the slack by writing songs.
You didn’t even write? What did you do for that year? JS: Got a divorce. I was all around just not happy. I grew out a neck-beard. I can’t grow facial hair, really. I just look like a rapist. You picked up an instrument pretty late. If you weren’t a musician, what would you have been? JS: A teacher, probably kindergarten. I like kids. I shouldn’t have said that right after the rapist beard comment, Jesus Christ. I wanted to be a schoolteacher, but I didn’t like school, so I don’t know. Well, in kindergarten it’s just drawing and keeping kids in line.
There’s been a shift in the music industry since you last put out an album. iTunes didn’t even exist. Are you nervous about the album’s reception? JS: When our last record came out, let’s say that it sold 300,000 copies. That was a success. Nowadays if you sell 50,000, it’s a success. Now It’s not about money, it’s more you get to base how many people come to your show based on how many records you sold. You can’t really do that anymore because they’re downloads, and you can’t tell where your downloads are coming from. You can’t tell where your following is, and you can’t figure out where you should tour. And we know because we’ve toured so much that, you know, Canada loves us. Last question, referring to your intro song title. What’s the perfect crime? JS: The perfect crime is when things get overlooked. Like, it wasn’t actually a crime, crime. The song’s about things that go unnoticed, whether it’s music or art or anything. And so the perfect crime is basically when something is perfect no one notices. That’s what the perfect crime is. When something is beautiful and nobody noticing.
Photo: Jim Newberry