Punk, Pop and Cellos
Jeremy Freer of The Juliets talks about “Perfect Season,” the band’s harder-edged new album, the upcoming release party at Woodruff’s and reclaiming what it means to be pop.
While bands with deep roots in punk, classic rock and blues music may seem old-hat, few bands are doing it like The Juliets. The Juliets combine the traditional rock arrangements of a hard-driving rhythm section, add punk-infused violin and cello and wrap it all around melodic pop hooks. It may seem like a recipe for disaster, but the band that refers to their sound as “baroque with backbone” is somehow able to pull it off and combine it all on a record that is hauntingly beautiful and decidedly pop.
I had a chance to sit down with lead singer / guitarist / pianist, Jeremy Freer, to discuss the band’s new album, their evolving sound and upcoming plans to share the stage with local acts Lightning Love, Bear Lake and House Phone at their November 5 record release party at Woodruff’s in Depot Town.
Since their self-titled debut album in was released in early 2010 as a trio with Freer, Kaylan Mitchell on cello and Sarah Myers on violin (a temporary rhythm section was brought in for the album), The Juliets have grown into a permanent lineup that includes Ashton Hopkins on bass and Jaclyn Phillips on drums. And, while the songs on their first record were originally arranged as a trio, bringing a rhythm section into the mix from the beginning for their latest release, “Perfect Season,” has resulted in a decidedly harder sound. As Freer suggests, “It’s more in your face. Turning up the guitar and drums was a conscious decision. There are some bigger and rawer moments on this record than you hear on the first one, and we wanted it that way.”
But that’s not the only thing that has changed on their sophomore effort. Reflecting on the contributions of the classically trained Mitchell and Myers, Freer says, “There are a lot of other rock bands who use strings, like Arcade Fire, which I like, but I don’t really hear the strings very prominently. We wanted to find a way to make aggressive music with strings, and luckily Kaylan and Sarah were up for it.”
The band recorded “Perfect Season” at Tempermill Studios in Ferndale, MI with legendary engineer (and co-producer of the album), David Feeny, who has worked with the likes of The White Stripes, Loretta Lynn, G-Love and Special Sauce and Goober & The Peas – just to name a few. “I’ve always wanted to work with Dave, so when we were looking for a studio, he was the first person that came to mind. He was absolutely amazing to work with,” says Freer.
The cover-art for the new album features an ornate, retro-looking, vaudeville-esque theater designed by Brian Lawson. “I don’t know exactly how he put it all together,” admits Freer, “but it reminds me of a Rolling Stones’ cover, which is perfect for us because this feels like a more raw rock n’ roll record. And I’m a huge Stones fan, so I absolutely loved it when he showed it to us!”
While the songs on “Perfect Season” are certainly diverse, ranging from the hipster-rock, Strokes-like pop songs of “Loon” and “Heart In Heart,” to the classically arranged ballads (and I mean Brahms- and Beethoven-classical) “Hey Stars” and “The Lost Memory,” the band has no fear of being labeled with the dreaded p-word. “When I think of pop music, I think of Motown before I think of Brittany Spears or Ke$ha,” says Freer. “Pop music has always encompassed a lot of different things, and we’re kind of a schizophrenic band, so that works for us.” Further, Freer asserts that, “If you’re a good musician who can write good songs and you’re angry with the term pop, instead of shying away from it, you should try and take it back.”
While The Juliets may still be a very local band, they’ve recently enjoyed some rather high-profile PR. In addition to playing a morning spot on the Fox 2 News to promote MI Fest, a gig that they ended up getting dropped from last-minute along with a number of other Michigan bands, The Juliets first single off of “Perfect Season,” “Loon,” has been featured in the popular “Imported From Detroit” line of Chrysler commercials. In describing how the partnership came about, Freer says, “Someone from the organization started coming to the shows, became a fan and just started spreading it around the company.” Freer adds that, “The people we worked with were really genuine and just really loved the music. They even offered to take the extra footage and cut a video for us (available on YouTube). We really enjoyed working with them.”
In order to promote the new album and have fun doing it, The Juliets will be holding a record release party November 5 at Woodruff’s in Depot Town. “I’ve known Andy (Garris) for a while, and it’s kind of like home for us,” says Freer about choosing Woodruff’s. “We wanted it to be somewhere that would be really comfortable for us.”
Joining them that night will be local bands Lightning Love, Bear Lake and House Phone. “We like playing with diverse bands, and all these bands are really great. It should be a really fun night.” In addition to a live show, Freer tells me that everybody who pays a $5 cover that night will also get a CD copy of “Perfect Season.” Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10 p.m.
If you can’t make it to the release party, you can also download a copy of “Perfect Season” at TheJuliets.bandcamp.com, on iTunes or at your local independent record store. You can also catch them playing with Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas and Bear Lake on December 2 at The Magic Stick in Detroit.