IS THE PROMISE RING’S JASON GNEWIKOW A BUDDING FILMSTAR?

Jason Gnewikow, guitar player from original boy-band THE PROMISE RING, has recently found himself the focus of an ongoing documentary made by Slowtron, an LA based directing team founded by designers Eric Helin and Andrew Neujahr. Entitled Western State the series is an examination of artists who approach their work in a non-traditional way.

Also featured on the site are Geoff Mcfetridge known best for his work on the opening film titles for "Adaptation" and "Virgin Suicides,” Andy Mueller of Girl Skateboards, and Cory McAbee.

DON’T FORGET THE PROMISE RING

Even though The Promise Ring has moved on to the Anti label, we can’t let all of you fans forget about the many wonderful releases that they had on Jade Tree! From the 7" that started it all, Falsetto Keeps Time (JT1023) to the pop fest Electric Pink (JT1048) CDS, The Promise Ring was one of Jade Tree’s greatest pleasures. The band is on tour right now with Jimmy Eat World, which makes this a perfect time to catch these two friendly acts tearing it up across the states.

The Promise Ring Jade Tree back catalog (All items and a ton of merchandise are available at the E-Store):

Electric Pink (JT1048) CDS
Very Emergency (JT1043) LP/CD
Boys & Girls (JT1040) 7"/CDS
Nothing Feels Good (JT1035) LP/CD
The Horse Latitudes (JT1031) CD EP
30¡ Everywhere (JT1026) LP/CD
The Promise Ring/Texas Is The Reason (JT1024) 7" (Currently out of stock)
Falsetto Keeps Time (JT1023) 7" (Out of stock right now)

Jimmy Eat World Tour

07/25/02 New York City Roseland
07/26/02 Baltimore, MD Otto Bar (THIS SHOW IS TPR ONLY)
07/27/02 Asbury, NJ Asbury Park Convention Hall
07/28/02 Philadelphia, PA Electric Factory
07/29/02 Pittsburgh, PA Club Laga (THIS SHOW IS TPR ONLY)
07/30/02 Hamilton, ON (Canada) Convention Center
07/31/02 Cleveland, OH Agora Theater
08/01/02 Newport, KY (Cincinatti) Southport House (THIS SHOW IS TPR ONLY)
08/02/02 Indianapolis, IN Egyptian Room
08/03/02 Milwaukee, WI Eagles Ballroom
08/04/02 Chicago, IL Riviera Theater
08/05/02 Chicago, IL Riviera Theater
08/07/02 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue

The Promise Ring [I]Very Emergecy[/I] Review

Abstract: Subject was transgenre ("emo-pop") musical group that requested treatment for full transformation to "power-pop" genre. Conventional cosmetic surgery was initially suggested but declined. Genretic therapy was conducted on-site over a 10-month period (12/97-10/98); a preliminary evaluation (cf. reference EP document Boys and Girls EP) was inconclusive. A six month period of continued treatment and recovery was followed by a period of full evaluation.

Complete results of evaluation published 9/21/99 under title Very Emergency (see attached reference document). Initial results appear mixed; subject’s newfound commitment to conventional pop song structures and chord progressions appears to displace energy levels to detrimental effect (cf. previous full performance evaluation, Nothing Feels Good, for comparison). Chorus integrity has increased significantly, but melodic development in verse lags behind (Figure 1, "Happiness Is All the Rage;" Fig. 4, "Happy Hour"). Lyric quotient slightly higher than before, but given new reliance on conventional structures, still below average.

Promising signs for full recovery include Fountains of Wayne/Weezer emulation (Fig. 8, "Skips a Beat [Over You]") and successful resolution of relapsed "emo" tendencies with new pop paradigm (Fig. 3, "The Deep South"). Additionally, subject’s exhibition of ballad-like behaviors (Fig. 5, "Things Just Getting Good;" Fig. 10, "All of My Everythings") is consistent and comparable with past performance.

Conclusions: Results are still inconclusive. Projections for full recovery remain at 82% for the time being.

Promise Ring [I]Nothing Feels Good[/I] Review

It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that’s leapt forth from my stereo speakers with such determination to restore my faith in indie rock. Within the first twenty seconds of "Is This Thing On?", the leadoff track from Nothing Feels Good, I cast my vote for the Promise Ring as "Most Likely to Vanish in a Puff of Buddha-Like Perfection." With a sound like Superchunk on Red Bull, the Promise Ring play tight anthemic power-pop with the devoted, passionate energy of true believers.

The high couldn’t last forever, though; after the smoke cleared, it turned outthat Nothing Feels Good strongly hints at the Ring’s promise, but never fully delivers. The Achilles’ heel of the album, for me at least, is the dearth of lyrics. Davey von Bohlen ends up singing the same three lines over and over– and he sure sings the hell out of them– but repeating anything more than ten times can really take the piss out of a good song. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise damn good album.

"Is This Thing On?" sets expectations abnormally high for the rest of the disc, but on the whole, Nothing Feels Good performs admirably. The extraneous background chatter that kicks off "A Broken Tenor" sets the scene for a hiney-kicking dance party. "Perfect Lines" and "B is for Bethlehem" follow in the footsteps of "Is This Thing On?", upbeat and bouncy, with just a tinge of melancholy for flavor. Luckily, the Promise Ring never let the melancholy get out of hand, even on slower songs like the title track. Von Bohlen is smart enough not to indulge in overwrought emoting, letting lines like, "I don’t own any albums/ I don’t know anything/ I don’t go to college anymore," reverberate with post-grad ennui on their own.

Although they have more in common musically with Knapsack than Rites of Spring, it’s worthy to note that the Promise Ring has a strong fanbase in the emo community, mostly due to the fact that the band’s members were previously in more emo-like bands. While they’re definitely at the accessible end of the emo spectrum (if on the spectrum at all), there’s no denying an emotional depth in the music that you don’t normally hear in similar-sounding albums. As a result, the Promise Ring winds up neatly avoiding the negative aspects of both power-pop (often chirpy and vapid) and emo (melodramatic, too much screaming). Keep an eye on these guys; they have an almost frightening amount of potential.

Promise Ring-Electric Pink

Luckily for Milwaukee’s the Promise Ring, it’s true that you can never get too much of a good thing. Having just released their delicious Very Emergency record a few short months ago, they’re already back with a four-song EP. Two of the songs here, the title track and "Make Me a Mix Tape," are driving, melodic rockers that were recorded earlier this year before singer Davey von Bohlen’s brain tumour operation, while "Strictly Television" and "American Girl (v0.1)" are outtakes from the last album sessions. Perfect summer driving music.

The Promise Ring [I]Boys and Girls EP[/I] Review

It’s hard to figure out whether to take the Promise Ring seriously or not. Kings of the "Boys Who Cry" scene and champions of the picked-on, the Promise Ring serve as the Sanrio of the indie rock world, and they’ve been stockpiling happy fans like Pokémon. The artwork for Boys and Girls (guys, make that check out to Blur…) consists of two identical photos of a boy and girl fixing themselves up in bathroom mirrors. Given the nature of their fanbase, who treat the floors of small college clubs like Milanese runways, this should be an obvious joke– the length of the pre-concert dress ritual of some of these kids must reach near Kiss-makeup levels. But the band cuddles such teen melodrama in their music and appearance that it’s difficult to chalk this up in the satire column.

Take, for example, the song "Best Looking Boys," containing the lyric, "Best looking boys go all the way," as evidence. The Promise Ring often dangerously redlines into "Family Circus" levels on the sickeningly-cute-o-meter; singer Davey von Bohlen has a lisp, which I’m starting to believe is not in fact anatomical, but rather just a unending supply of Jolly Ranchers in his mouth. But all of this doesn’t seem to matter so much. The music is such a sugar kick addiction, particularly in this swallow-size EP format.

The band are obviously faithful followers of the Church of Weezer Christ and Latter Day Superchunk; the pogoing bass and repetitive riffs are pure pop. But in the mix, the Promise Ring reveals their secret ingredient: danceability. Sure, it’s "Baby Sitter’s Club," bouncing-on-bed, sleepover-pillowfight dancing, but it’s dancing nonetheless. One gets the idea that the boys of the Ring tickle and giddy-slap each other for pep.

But once again, von Bohlen’s lyrics fashion him into a Mark Rothko of songwriters– minimal, abstract, chock full o’ primary colors, suggestive, repetitive. Part of me had problems with the fact that Promise Ring can only describe boys as "going all the way" and girls as… um… well, on the moody "American Girl" all von Bohlen can offer is the phrase, "American Girl," ad nauseam. This doesn’t do much for the advancement of gender politics. But, oh yeah, it’s pop music! You’re not supposed to take it seriously! So, in that case, the boys are in top form here.

The Promise Ring [I]Very Emergecy[/I] Review

Maturity is one of the nastiest words a young band can hear when they release a new record. Generally speaking, it means the youthful exuberance evident on early releases has been replaced by something that dulls their edge and causes the music to get mellow and uninteresting, but the Promise Ring’s third album is the exception. Having fully recovered from a near fatal 1998 van crash and a Spinal Tap-ish series of bass player changes, the quartet is back with what is not only their strongest effort but one of the best records of the year. The answer lies in the musical and lyrical maturity the band displays on each of the record’s ten tracks. Guitarist Jason Gnewikow says that is the result of a different writing approach. "On the last record, there are a lot of songs that would come from us playing and jamming things out," he says. "With a lot of these songs, Davey (von Bohlen, vocalist/guitarist) came in with a basic rhythm guitar part and vocal melody and we would structure them and add the embellishments. Before, we were stumbling over ourselves and we were lucky to write a handful of good songs. This time we really paid attention to how we were writing them. It was an exercise in writing pop songs." Utilising the talents of producer J. Robbins (Burning Airlines, Jets to Brazil) once again to harvest the material and get it faithfully committed to tape, those songs come together to create a deliciously melodic and genuinely inspired collection of music that sways from driving post-punk rock to tender emo ballads and back again with ease. They’re being widely hailed as a band to watch at the turn of the millennium, something Gnewikow takes as a mixed blessing. "I won’t say we can’t not pay attention to it, but what people write about you can be an evil thing either way you look at it," he says. "If they’re writing good stuff you shouldn’t believe it because they’re probably full of shit and if they’re writing bad stuff… well, no one likes to hear bad stuff.” The Promise Ring embarks on a warm-up mini-tour in mid September that brings them to Toronto Sept. 14 and Ottawa in Sept. 14 with Eupone.

The Promise Ring [I]Very Emergecy[/I] Review

So much has been written by reviewers (and in profoundly disparate publications) about the forthcoming industry commodification of "emo bands" that it hardly seems worth talking about — even with the advent of the album which most have preliminarily noted as having the greatest potentiality to spark such an event. I am, of course, talking about the new Promise Ring album — an album that comes replete with a bevy of discourse about this phenomenon (the commodification of the underground) and of the "emo" genre.
This band gets props from such unlikely sources as Sin and Gear. Most of the talk seems to come back to Matt Pinfield liking them (and playing their video a couple times) as well as the marketability of "emo" as "the next big thing." So the band has been tagged — much to their chagrin — an "emo band."
Moreover, they have become synonymous with the term, although they have little to do with "emo" and have nothing invested in its surfacing (except, perhaps, monetarily). The band has remained pretty realistic about it, having elected, at one time resolutely, to stay on their indie label Jade Tree.
But while I’m sure some major-label guru in a Porche is indeed out searching for a Sunny Day Real Estate for the masses, that is not what they’ll get here. The new album sounds somewhat like Weezer, or some other pop band that they’re much better than.
Though I’ll concede it is a little weepy eyed, lachrymose pop is nothing new. This is pop music, very simply, and it has more to do with Sugar than it does Hoover (or Cap’n Jazz for that matter). So for now, "emo" will have to stay underground, where, ironically, it doesn’t really exist.
Thankfully, the album transcends the hype. It probably won’t disappoint you unless you walk around calling yourself an "emo kid" and claim that they sold out (something I don’t even want to touch). So "emo kids," put down your backpacks, graphic design tools and hamfisted song progressions and enjoy pop perfection the way you always knew the Promise Ring could serve it up. Just don’t expect your pop fix to last very long (35 minutes), as perhaps it shouldn’t. Producer J. Robbins’ tincture (or lack thereof) makes for stripped-down pop, crunchy and warm. The music is familiar without being boring — a hallmark of good pop.
"The Deep South" might be the best track, exemplary of the Promise Ring’s euphoric choruses, which seem to go on forever. You’ll know all the lyrics to the album after the first close listen. "Jersey Shore" is weird departure from the formula, but a fun one, displaying their ability to create so much with so little. A couple songs on here are just silly, even awkwardly so, such as "Happiness Is All The Rage."
And, of course, a couple are thoroughly depressing (see: "Things Just Getting Good"). The album sounds very little like its predecessors, but is still part of a logical continuum (check out the Boys + Girls EP for the missing link to their past). I hesitate to offer this, but I believe that this band (still) has not lived up to its potential. Certainly, they’re getting there, but this album is only slightly more "complete" than the last. They seem to have changed their style up (presumably so as not to get stagnant) only to find themselves starting the project over. For these reasons, I don’t think they’re quite ready for MTV-style fame…yet.

Nothing Feels Emo

Emo this, emo that. Everything, it seems, recorded since the Eagles’ reunion has been tagged with the emo buzzword at least once in the past few months. Much to the chagrin of the members of the Promise Ring, their band is continually harnessed with the elusive emo label.

“I would never use that term. A lot of people do. It’s kind of like you have to give in to it,” bemoaned Promise Ring guitarist Jason Gnewikow. “The way people use it, it doesn’t really describe anything, because you will hear different arguments. Somebody will say Fugazi is an emo band and someone will say the Get Up Kids. They don’t sound anything alike!”

Whatever its sound—pop, emo or something else—the Promise Ring’s blend of upbeat, melodic tunes with minimalist, though strangely expressive, lyrics slowly built the band a reputation as one of today’s most promising indie-label bands. Building a nationwide following with a hectic touring schedule as well as cropping up in the Spin reviews section and on MTV, the Promise Ring leads the pack of the “we’re not emo” bands.

Like many of his contemporaries, Gnewikow fiercely dodges the emo label, though has little advice for serving up a description of his band. “I don’t know what I’d describe us as. That’s a hard thing to do,” he said.

Regardless of the poor state of rock terminology lumping Gnewikow and Ian MacKaye into the same boat, the Promise Ring certainly has cut the right profile in recent months. With the recently released Boys and Girls EP (Jade Tree) following up 1997’s Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree), the band continues its ascent to the top of the imnotemo scene. Predictably, with the success of bands with a sound such as the Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World, a huge new wave of imitator bands are starting to spring up across the country. Gnewikow takes it in stride, recognizing it as a fact of life in the music industry.

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” he said. “Bands will do that. Things you are listening to totally have an affect on things you write.”

Last year’s hardcore and punk bands now feature a more streamlined look, trashing the phony Cockney accents and belabored three-chord progressions for complex melodies and gut-wrenching lyrics, largely because of acts like the Promise Ring. With countless minor acts jumping the Promise Ring train, many other bands would be at least a little peeved at the frequency their sound was cropping up in other bands’ sets. Not Gnewikow.

“I wouldn’t say it ticks me off. I don’t really care,” he said after a moment of near-zen introspection. “It has no fact or bearing on my life.”

Gnewikow’s philosophic wanings wear a bit thin, however, after given a moment to consider the rate at which hardcore kids have dropped their hard-edged mantles in favor of a more emotive identity. While the music climate tends to follow certain sounds, like Gnewikow mentioned, with bands influencing each other, he does take issue with bands modifying their sounds with a cold and calculated eye on the season’s latest fashions.

“It depends on the band,” Gnewikow said. “Specific cases are really pathetic and embarrassing when you see bands that see something and take it. It’s like ripping someone off because you think it’s going to get you somewhere.”

The higher profile of bands sporting a style similar to the Promise Ring has helped the band rope in a few more fans over the past few months. In the past, most of the band’s shows were attended by punk and hardcore cliques, though the band’s recent mainstream exposure lured more mainstream fans to the band’s shows.

“That’s something I actually like,” Gnewikow said. “It’s nice to be playing for other people.”

While the band’s sound is more accessible than many of its more abrasive punk counterparts, Gnewikow said the sound is still too novel for easy mainstream acceptance.

“Punk kids will say `Promise Ring’s new record is so mainstream,’ but, really if you think about it it’s not at all. If you play it for someone who only listens to the radio they’d be like `What is this weird stuff?’” he said.

Sitting on the fence between the standard driving sounds of punk rock and less spicy mainstream alternative rockers such as Third Eye Blind has put the band in a position where it must continually battle to get new fans. “We’re kind of in the Bermuda Triangle of rock,” Gnewikow laughed, describing his band’s position in the modern music world.

The band’s higher mainstream profile has helped the band lure fans to shows without having a social aspect climate such as the punk scene to tie it to. Gnewikow said, relating a story about fans they talked to after a show who came out to see them after catching the band’s video on MTV earlier in the month.

“A lot of people would think that’s kind of lame, but it’s actually pretty awesome,” he said. “The means they just saw it, liked it and had no frame of reference for it and genuinely were like `Hey, that’s cool.’”

Now in the midst of a European tour, the Promise Ring plans to head back into the studio to record its next LP for Jade Tree soon after the band’s homecoming. Scheduled to hit shelves Sept. 11 and tentatively titled Very Emergency, it will be the band’s first full-length release in almost two years, though the its hiatus was more a matter of fate than a self-imposed exile from the studio or a dry spell in songwriting. Between the band’s heavy touring schedule and recovering from an auto accident, it also had to contend with replacing its bassist twice since the last tour.

“It kind of made it so we couldn’t really write much,” Gnewikow said. “Practice meant teaching the bass player old songs.”

With 15 songs demoed, the band plans to weed their catalog down to 10 choice tracks for the album. Very Emergency will also feature a much more dynamic sound, Gnewikow said.

“This record is a lot more aggressive,” he said. “It’s poppier too. A lot of the stuff is really fast. We just decided we wanted a really rocking record.”

The Promise Ring’s future? Don’t ask Gnewikow, who is just content to focus on the moment and enjoy the fruits of his band’s work.

“At this point we’ve done way more stuff than we thought we would, so it’s just like go along for the ride,” he said.

The Promise Ring [I]Boys and Girls EP[/I] Review

Christ! Why can’t I get these songs out of my head? They’re stripped down, thoughtful, fuzzy, warm, fey, sentimental pop. It couldn’t be that I really like this stuff — could it? I thought I was sick of this band, this idea. I thought I didn’t want to like them anymore!
But alas, there is no denying the (amazingly still developing) skills of the Promise Ring. Who could ever get sick of really convincing and well-conceived pop music? I had always assumed the existence of a glass ceiling on these guys in terms of musical development, but their pop sensibilities and amazing live shows keep me clamoring for more and buying everything they release.
This EP progresses from the ideas of the Ring’s last album, Nothing Feels Good, and is perhaps a glimpse into what their next full length will have to offer. Boys + Girls is certainly not a dramatic departure from Nothing Feels Good, rather an expansion of that album’s infectious hooks and interesting song progressions.
With the exception of the Backstreet Boys, this is clearly my favorite act voted "hot new band" by Teen People (although rest assured I’ll keep reading in hopes of finding about something this good again!).