Jank- All purpose noun; can literally mean anything. There are a multitude of uses for this tiny word ranging from awesome, to funny, to terrible. Though this band’s music covers topics over the wide range in which their name echoes, only one word can describe this band, badass. Badass Band 55 is LA’s own The Janks.
I heard The Janks for the first time when I was at a show to see another band, These United States. I remember walking up to the door and running into a couple of friends from another Badass Band, Roman Candle Wars. Greg and Joseph assured me that I was going to love The Janks, whom they were ultimately there to see. Greg and Joseph were dead on. The Janks were the first band to play. By the end of their set I was a fan and I knew I had to feature them. I remember being mesmerized by the killer mandolin playing (there can never be enough mandolin!), guitar riffs that felt like they were pulling on my own heart strings, a heavy hitting rhythm section complete with a backpack wearing drummer (Which begs the question, what is in there?!), and a vocal range/sound that reminded me of one of my all time favorites, Jack White. Their newest album, ‘Hands of Time’ is again, much like their name, a collection of songs that range from topics like childhood, love, leaving, demons, inspirations, etc. Each song is entirely its own entity, but overall develops into a giant story leaving listeners satisfied and inspired. My personal recommendations for songs to showcase their diversity? First, ‘Dead Man’, which leans more toward a story than a song, in which someone gets into a relationship he knows is going to end up bad for him. I think we’ve all been there (or if you’re me, a few times). This is has a slower build up with vocals that match the intensity of the plot line of the lyrics, and the fact that he’d be, “Way better off dead.” Second, ‘Rat Racer’ which starts with a ghostly harmony of vocals and deep key tones, and turns into a raging combination of punky funk boasting that money and sex drive everything. Third, ‘Drama King’s Ball’ boasts dark lyrics coupled with a fun almost circus-esque melody and vocals that follow the song expertly, from deeply smooth to screechingly chaotic. Finally, ‘Get Outta Town’, a slower more inspiring tune whose message is ultimately, “If you had any sense you would get outta town, hit the ground runnin and never look back.” This is the track that ends the story.
Though The Janks have been through their share of lineup changes, the current talented bunch that makes up the band is Zachary Zmed- Vocals, Guitar, Keys, Dylan Zmed- Vocals, Mandolin, Paul Inder- Bass, and Leon LeDoux- Drums. These guys play with enough ferocity to get LA crowds dancing, and if you know LA crowds, that is the sure sign of a badass band.
Not too long ago, Dylan and Zachary took some time to have a chat with BBB, so read on to find out who was inspired by Looney Tunes, the variety of ways to use Jank, and what you can expect from them the rest of this year. BE SURE TO SCOPE THE JANKS THIS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10TH WITH THE WHITE BUFFALO AT THE MALIBU INN!
When and why did you start playing music?
Z: What is music? Define music? Like hitting shit? Properly like age 12. I wanted to play guitar when I heard Led Zeppelin. Someone brought home Led Zeppelin II. I was into early rock too like Billie Holiday and stuff, but it was Led Zeppelin that really got me going.
D: Watching Zack play got me started, but also being around musical theatre with our dad from super young. Like at 5 seeing/hearing people sing and make something exciting with their voice.
Z: Yeah, there would be like the chorus mic backstage and they would be like, “Hey come here!” and we would go up and sing some of the background parts but that was in passing. It really the teenage years when we got going.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up and how does that maybe differ now?
Z: Well, both of us were definitely exposed to the musical theatre that was the first stuff.
D: My first thing that I was like ‘Oh I really enjoy this music!’ was Looney Tunes Christmas. It was a Christmas CD created by the Looney Tunes. That kind of thing was cool. Then I jumped to Spice Girls and then I jumped to my first band, which was Queen, on tape. I just listened to Queen and I was like, ‘Oh there is something crazy happening with sounds.’
Z: I think the musical theatre thing because the play my dad was doing was ‘Grease’ and before the show began they would have just 50’s tunes playing in the house and I just loved that stuff. I got into that, and so much of that music was made by teenagers and it just has that angst. Its teenage angst-ish without being mopey. It’s just fun. That’s where it started but then in moved into Led Zeppelin and Hendrix, etc.
Which musicians do you admire and why?
Z: I like people that were alone and facing the world, like composers like Beethoven or Moller. I like the idea of someone alone with a piano and a piece of paper. Someone who sends time studying as well. I admire that, but I also like people like Bob Dylan, he was kind of a contrarian all the time. I admire words.
D: I think Jeff Buckley has been someone to admire too. Just his reservation for grace, I have admired him a lot.
Z: This might be a lot of random people but I love Nina Simone, James Brown (without the wife beating), and Gene Ween. I like when artists have a wide range of what they do, like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, or Ray Davies. You listen to the White Album and you’re like ‘What the heck is going on?’ because every song is different.
D: People who doesn’t compromise representing their feelings for other things going on that are superficial, just wherever it takes them, they want to give in to that feeling. That’s an admirable trait.
Why the name The Janks?
Z: That name is kind of, and like the definition, one of them is it can take the place of ‘Fuck’ so you can use it in so many different ways. It has contrasting definitions. It can mean like something of poor quality or something of high quality. It can be a hybrid of jerk and wank, dank and junk. I also like the fact that it sounds a little irreverent as well.
So you guys have gone through a few different versions of band, how do you feel about where you are at now versus then?
D: They all have their good and necessary qualities, each incarnation we’ve had. I think now we feel really happy and connected. It makes a lot of sense what’s happening now. Zack and I, brothers singing harmony and playing. Then we have this amazing bass player and drummer supporting us. It just makes sense and feels right, it just fits.
Z: Not to devalue all the other musicians that have been in the band, because they were all so talented but there was always something that was in the way. Whether it was individual personality stuff or things that just didn’t allow for us to really do it and flourish. Dare I say, I guess there is some chemistry involved. Its working out. It’s so lovely to sing with him and model what we’re doing after the Everly Brothers.
Describe your show visually and musically for those who have never been.
Two bros in front, singing ranging from belting to whispering, smiles to cynical meanderings. Our drummer is like the happiest person in the world, and he is so intuitive, if I turn toward him he is already looking at me. He is a true musician. We would like to expand the visuals though, like have a light person who can do something else. But we are doing a light show with our personalities. Within the same set you’ll hear belting and screaming and playing as loud as possible and then you will hear like finger picking and us being tender, with hopefully sensibility involved and not just janking off. People want to hear a little bit of janking off though, just the right amount.
How does your creative process typically work?
D: For The Janks, Zack is writing all the material pretty much. I have songs, but really what happens is Zack writes stuff and then we start working on harmonies. So the song starts are just like a core and an acoustic guitar or mandolin and two voices. Then they can be taken on to the next. Some of the songs that we play in the set now though, like ‘Rat Racers’, that was written by Garth Herberg with The Janks. Garth was a guitar player in the band who left to do other stuff. But overall creative process? Mainly individual songwriters bring ideas and then it’s passed out naturally. Let’s play through it, what the sound of the idea of the song is, the sentiment of it.
Z: I feel good about working it out with Dylan first. We can start from that point where the song is there and whatever happens gets thrown on top of it. No matter how big it gets though, the song is always there at the core.
What has your greatest opportunity or biggest break so far?
D: I have a few answers to that but I think literally every show you get to play is the best opportunity to connect with people. That is what is what is more important than anything else.
Z: Yeah, just individual shows, even if it’s just one or two or a handful of people.
D: But in terms of accolades, we got to play with Billy Steinberg and Rick Knowles at the LACMA. Billy Steinberg is a songwriter, he has written with Tom Kelly, they have written songs like ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘True Colors’, ‘So Emotional’, ‘I touch Myself’ etc. That was amazing.
Z: The experience was so cool because they are people that have lived through it, the fact that they let us play their songs with them. Aside from that, I would say the biggest opportunity so far has been the last incarnation of the band falling apart. It was the best thing that happened. You don’t see it but sometimes the worst fear is actually a really good thing.
D: Yeah, because you have nowhere else to go except up.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Z: As a whole, I think its been finding a group that really works and finding people to work with, like a manager and booking agent.
D: Personal struggle: I don’t know music, I don’t read music, I am very new to playing. So just becoming a seasoned musician, every show it gets better and I am playing with really good musicians so I am learning every day. Its so exciting though when you finally get something and you can use it as a tool while you are playing and you think ‘I can go there, and it sounds good!’
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you the rest of this year?
You can expect basically that everything we are doing live, we are going to do in the studio and make videos of multi-camera shots through the board and put those up. Rosewood studios is our bass player’s space and that is where we will be doing it. We are a live band, so these ‘in the studio shows’ can be expected. You can definitely expect some output, EP, album, we have enough material but its finding the swing of it all. Of course, more shows.
Why should people listen to your band and if your band had a slogan what would it be?
D: If you’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.
Z: I think we have something to offer emotionally and there are stories in there if you like stories.
D: We’ve got harmonies and brothers, if you want to see family. We are a group of attractive young, virile young men. We have an amazing drums section and an amazing bass section, Zack is emotional, like Chris Farley going after a donut, on guitar. He just attacks it. We are living when we play, so if you want to live a little bit with us, come out.
Z: When I am playing music, I almost feel like I am playing in like a sporting event. There is athleticism involved and by the end I’m sweating and tired.
D: So if you’re tired of watching the Lakers come see us…
As for a slogan, “We’re our mom’s favorite band.”
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
D: Everyone who works in the music industry should have a tattoo on their forehead that says, ‘Fart Monkey’.
Z: What I would like to change is to destroy all computers and for there to be less producers and more musicians that actually study. I think that the computer is incredible and I am all for technological advancement but the problem is that music has gone into the computer and its turned more into something that people see like, ‘Oh there’s my wave form, oh there’s my vocal.’ Just get in a room and sing with your band. I like the way the Elvis, Buddy Holly, or The Beatles did it where they just rehearsed a ton. I am not trying to devalue producers but the way it has become a producer’s world and you don’t have to have talent, I just don’t know how much really comes of it. I also want bands to help each other more, the more that could happen the better.
Talk about the work you’ve done with the Silverlake Ballet Company.
D: The Young Romans are doing their most recent. We have done three things now with them. We played with them, it’s a really cool thing to be with dancers playing music. We also do Jeff Buckley covers for them. It’s a good opportunity to do something different and exercise our range. They work hard.
Z: We will be doing it again for sure. We would love more dance at our shows. We have had some friends do like flash mobs and stuff at our shows where they just started dancing. We want more of that.
One song you never get tired of.
D: Michael McDonald-‘What a Fool Believes’
Z: Queen- ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ every time I hear it I think ‘I can’t believe they actually did this.
Best live show you have ever gone to.
D: Honestly, more recently going to see friend’s band’s has been so inspiring. I saw Queens of the Stone Age play with Nine Inch Nails, which was a random thing but it was really awesome. JP Sweeney, he is like a digital era wacked out pop culture James Brown. He is a hype man and he makes like these 45 second to minute long tracks that he just plays on a computer. He gets the audience super involved. Oh, and Chris Healy a world-renowned mandolin player. He is the reason I got into mandolin.
Z: George Carlin was really awesome. Even classical performances have a huge impact on me. Ween, Arcade Fire, Clapton, these have all had impacts on me. If I had to reduce to one thing it would have to be to seeing George Carlin.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
D: I like donuts, I draw- I have a BA in Fine Arts, I like swimming- getting to pretend I’m a dolphin, being near rivers, and conversation.
Z: I love being outside, nature, but I also love being hunched over a piece of paper inside.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
D: Gandalf, wise, knows how to use the power he has, chivalrous, good heart, you can’t beat that.
Z: Faust, to have a whole bunch of power would be cool and I don’t believe in a conscious after life so I would be good there. Or I could be The Devil, or God, like asshole God from the Old Testament. I don’t know that I would want to do it forever though, eternity, that is a long time.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, what is a band you would feature?
The Lonely Wild, The Mowglis, The Wind, Terraplane Sun, King Washington, La Mer.
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