Everyone's a bitch tonight / I must admit that I've been feeling like I want to die."
To rock out honestly requires perhaps a bit of dreariness to go along with tantalizingly jangly guitar rock. But for Jaill singer, songwriter and guitarist Vinnie Kircher, the lyrics of impending doom that show up on the band's new record are simply those feelings that crop up in day-to-day life.
"I wouldn't describe my lyrics as dark, (but) almost more matter-of-fact," he says. "These are things I'm seeing, things I'm experiencing right now."
Traps, the band's third full-length album and second for Sub Pop, is an accomplished and well-crafted burst of guitar rock, with elements of power pop, big garage riffs and psychedelic tangents. It's the culmination of 10 years as a band, learning the ropes of hometown gigging in Milwaukee, as well as beating up the road. It's also the sort of nonchalant achievement that announces the second decade will be even stronger for Jaill.
"You can look back and say, 'Jeez, I didn't learn anything through the first six years,' and then it comes in waves," Kircher says. "When it comes, it clicks real easily—getting the job done and knowing what to expect on a day-to-day basis. You don't even consider what you've learned, because there's so much more in front of you to accomplish."
In 2009, the band improbably caught the attention of Sub Pop in a bit of pre-digital-era exposure—a mail-ordered copy of the debut There's No Sky (Oh My My)—that perfectly encapsulates what Jaill is all about: patient, humble and hardworking dedication to the music. It's rarely so easy to root for a band, and Jaill is on a well-deserved burst of ascendancy, on various tours this summer and fall with label mate King Tuff, Fergus and Geronimo, and Atlanta's the Coathangers, who bring Jaill to Club Congress on July 29.
"I feel like the smallest fish in the hugest sea. I haven't learned a thing. I'm still just scratching my head," Kircher says. "As long as you're focused and passionate about it, the things that you learn come slowly and naturally. The upside to our longevity is that after a while, it appears like you have your head on your shoulders."
The band's roots date to 2002, when Marquette University student Kircher and University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee student Austin Dutmer started the lo-fi band the Detectives. Kircher and drummer Dutmer paired on some basement recordings and took the name Jail. Bassist Andy Harris joined in 2006, and the band zeroed in on There's No Sky (Oh My My), later to be reissued by Burger Records.
Signing to Sub Pop, the band tweaked the name to Jaill (to differentiate from a long-defunct European band) and for the first time went into an actual studio, recording That's How We Burn with Milwaukee producer Justin Perkins, who had mixed and mastered the band's debut.
"There have been great jumps. Getting signed and getting the records put out—those are no-sleeping-type days. In general, you have to remember that it's a career. You're out doing it, and it's a difficult slog, but there are people who reach out and give support," he says.
Kircher gives a lot of credit for the band's rise to Milwaukee, comparing the city to a smaller high school that would give an undersized football player a chance.
"If we were in a huge city, we might have struggled to get above the fray," he says. "Milwaukee is great. There's a smaller scene, and it's more of a tight-knit family, and you can get a crowd out to a show because it's a group of friends. You can definitely get a show any night of the week. For a long time, we were playing once a week around town, because the gigs are available, and there are always bands coming through."
For Traps, Kircher says the band wanted to go back to their comfort zone and record in his basement again.
"For this album, we were more into the idea of doing it at home, because we're not always the most-fast-paced movers," he says. "We just decided to get at it slowly. We enjoy it. It's a little extra stress, for sure, but we like to try out many different options, and that's one of the most-rewarding parts of being in music, having a feeling before anyone else has heard it that you really like it."
The songs on Traps—like "Everyone's a Bitch"—tend to trace those more uncertain and troubled moments in life. To Kircher, it's not about making any particular type of grand statement, just writing songs that reflect what he's been feeling.
"It's all period-based. There's a time frame; you get to a certain point in your life, and the songs come easier. I guess the album hit a spot where those emotions were a little bit more present than they were in the past," he says. "Sometimes, I feel like the melodies are more haunting than we get credit for. On this album, the tempo and the melodies a little bit more matched the impeding-doom sentiment."
It's a record that has everything where it needs to be, but sounds loose and not fussed over. Kircher sings with an off-the-cuff style that blends his vocals well into the mix, letting the lyrics hide a bit behind the big guitars.
"We're pretty stoked," Kircher says. "It's a pretty overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. As long as you focus on it and keep putting out records and keep touring, people appreciate the hard work."
Joining Kircher, Dutmer and Harris on tour are guitarist John Mayer (not the well-known "Wonderland" chap, though he does replace a similarly nonfamous Ryan Adams in the Jaill lineup) and Mike Skorcz on synthesizer.
"We're all neurotic, in the most opposite ways. It's sort of like the Seven Dwarfs: Chill, Spazzy, No Brain ... we form like Voltron," Kircher says. "I'm excited to see the mob mentality we can get us into. When you're five rambling, stinky dudes, there's a tendency to be a little bit louder. It's going to be a rowdy tour."