The reply to the “Happy New Year and hey-guess-what-I-started-a-music-site” note I sent to Jason Hill just after New Year’s, came a little late.
Like, July 8 sort of late.
Jason Hill – Jay to his friends, eyelinered-waist-coated-dapper-often-beardy singer in LouisXIV to his fans – had been off the grid for nearly a year.
San Diego rockers Louis XIV had decided to put the band on ice precisely at the time when their currency was increasing. They’d been opening up to thousands on a world tour with The Killers, gaining some critical attention for their last album Slick Dogs and Ponies (one of BSR’s most played) and gaining a new fanbase.
Then it all went tits up.
The band – which included longtime friends Brian Karscig and Hill – split. Karscig immediately poured himself into a new venture, The Nervous Wreckords, which he’d recorded bits and pieces of with Anthony from Cornershop and Mark from the Killers. The Nervous Wreckords are now a four-piece and they tour. Do videos. Proper catchy songs, too. The debut full-lengther, Valuminium, drops on August 31.
He seemed….quiet. Which was strange for someone so prolific and driven. He was on Facebook, well, sorta, but wouldn’t reply to people. His photo hasn’t changed for about a year. There was no sign of gigs, or new music. No SoundCloud or BandCamp or MySpace. There was no sign of Jay, really.
Then, just this month, came a flurry of photos. Of a new studio he’d built, out the back of his new, reclusive hideaway. He called the studio “Ulysses” because that was the name that came to him when he walked in to the stone room. Suddenly, Jason Hill was back. And to be honest, the Backstage Rider is a little f*cking excited about this fact.
But where was he?
In his own words and based on a conversation between us over a few days last week, HERE’S WHAT JASON HILL DID NEXT:
“It’s been an amazing year for me, actually. I’ve spent all my life since I was 14 being in a band with the exception of a month or two when I was 19, so I was in need of not having to travel or think in a pack. I was in a dark place before we went on our last tour and then just after. Not so much because of the band, but now I’m actually doing quite good.
A dark place? In what way?
“Just feeling a bit claustrophobic and trapped from my life. I guess, the band, some business associates we were having issues with, and my girlfriend of several years and I had just broken up in Spain. The last tour we did was about two-and-a-half months in Europe and Australia, and although it was a great and huge tour, playing to enormous crowds of 15-25,000 people a night, I just wanted to step away and stop having to run in a pack.
There was a darkness around and I wanted to leave it in the shadows.
It’s very liberating being able to completely wake up and have absolutely nothing planned for the rest of your life. Being able to be my own man for the first time since I was 14, because it was the first time I didn’t really have a band. I didn’t have to make decisions about where I lived…or anything really.
I also wanted to work with other people, Brian, Mark (Maigaard), Jimmy (Armbrust) and I had been playing with each other a long time and we were all just in need of some time apart. It was getting to that point of not really helping each other bring about new music, not working together, we were really only recording separately at that point, and not really leaving room for each other. It was just time.
So I split town.
I moved to Laurel Canyon in Tinsletown, built a studio out of this 100-year-old house tucked high into the canyon, and been writing with people and producing for their albums. Really busy but it’s been a wonderful time mostly. Been writing and recording like crazy, my own stuff as well. A number of songs with the old bass player of Jamiroquai, Nick Fyffe, and Alex Carapetis who played with Phoenix but now plays with The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. But mostly just been producing. It’s been nice to just be in the studio creating music.
Ah yes, Ulysses. Tell us more about the studio.
I have this wonderful old Spanish house in the hills originally built in 1916. It’s very isolated and a place where I see deer several times a week on my deck. Yet it’s just about a half-mile from Sunset, so I don’t get too bored.
First night I moved up here I found myself sleeping on a wood floor in front of a roaring old fireplace after having dinner with Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran, Matt Bellamy from Muse and Mark from The Killers and it’s been pretty much eventful ever since.
Woah. Rewind. Nick Rhodes?
We had a mutual friend, and he actually asked all of us for dinner. Only Mark and I knew each other at the table. Pete Katsis is a big manager who manages lots of big acts like Jane’s Addiction and Korn and many others were there as well. I actually hang with him a lot. Nick was really cool, very funny guy. We were laughing a lot. I remember a big discussion on how once any great artist gets a beard, they stop making good music, at least while they have the beard. This was mostly funny because Mark and I both had the makings of beards at that moment…which was a bit of the joke. Nick referenced Bowie with a beard in Tin Machine.
Okay, back to the studio.
So I built a studio out of the old house and immediately just starting to get all sorts of requests to produce other people’s records. The Virgins, Sky Ferriera, Mark Stoermer from the Killers, all sorts.
Seemed like it would be fun and I needed a change. I just wrote and produced a song with a boyfriend and girlfriend from Seattle called Thomas and Lonnie that I absolutely love. Been asked to write for and with a lot of people, and that sort of thing.
What about the LouisXIV lads? Are you in touch?
I do keep up with Brian, Mark as well, we send messages back and forth a lot lately. We decided to do a show in October with our band prior to Louis XIV called Convoy, mostly to get the other guitar player Robbie Dodds back on a stage – he’s an incredible player, it will be good to play with him again. We all thought it would be fun to do all the early stuff of that band. We all weren’t very happy with our last record, similar to how we felt in some ways to our last Louis XIV record, so we wanted to sort of get back to those basics. Just for a laugh really.
When will see you play live again?
I’ve gotten to that point where I’m thinking of playing live again. It’s been a year and some months since I’ve been on a stage and I’m starting to get the itch to play. I can feel the twitch in my legs creeping in, my fingers getting a little jittery, my walk gets a little more upright and swaggered, it’s like a magnet to a refrigerator.
So how is your own music sounding? What shape are the songs forming?
Songs have just been pouring out, all sorts. Hard to explain what they sound like. Just very different, I think, unlike anyone else I can think of. Some are very dancey, some of the ones with Nick Fyffe are sounding like nothing anyone else has heard from me. Some very ‘70s French disco sounding and others are very stripped down rock numbers with saxes and Serge Gainsbourg Melody Nelson-era string sections. Some just a vocal and a horn. All over the place, really, I’m now at the point of assembling the year of recording.
Not sure exactly yet what I’m going to do with all them, what will make a record and what not. Been just trying to get my head around that at the moment. But it’s been amazing to listen to music again. For a while I was feeling very isolated and wasn’t listening. When a musician stops listening, it’s like a runner wearing cement shoes. Right now I feel more like I’m wearing clouds for socks. \m/
NEW YORK DOLLS UPDATE: AUGUST 2: The Convoy reunion show slated for October has now been postponed until at least December because Hill is going to be producing some new music from The New York Dolls, starting in September, in Newcastle, UK. Jason had met the band over the past few years – apparently David Johansen’s girlfriend and daughter came to a few LouisXIV shows in NYC. And the band contacted hill. “I instantly said yes and there you have it.” said Hill. “I fly out aug 21-25 to write with them in ny and then Ill be in Newcastle Aug 29-sept 21.” Now, THIS should be interesting. 🙂