Snowden and Cartel at the Black Cat, Interview with Jordan Jeffares

Yesterday, DCist ventured out into the rainy evening to catch Atlanta-based Snowden and local band Cartel perform together at the Black Cat’s back stage. We’ve long been fans of Cartel — you can read an earlier review and interview with the band here — and the buzz about Snowden had filtered down to us from New York and beyond.

Turns out that passing some time with these two bands was the perfect way to spend an otherwise dreary night. Both groups have a similar style, with polished melodies, soft, almost melancholy vocals and a sound that seems like it came straight outta England in the late ’80s/early ’90s instead of Atlanta or the District in 2005. Comparisons from Curve to the Smiths wouldn’t be far off for either Snowden or Cartel, and listening to their dreamy, guitar-driven songs was a pleasurable way to pass a Tuesday night. The crowd that filled the Black Cat’s backstage seemed to heartily agree.

Before seeing the show last night, DCist’s Mike Grass had a chance to speak with Snowden’s lead singer, Jordan Jeffares. Read on for his thoughts on everything from how Atlanta has influenced his band to beer bongs.

DCist: One of your quotes in the Under the Radar Winter ’05 issue really struck us:

"Some of my favorite music, when I’m going back to listen to my stuff to burn CDs and A&R people or for bloggers, is the slow melancholy stuff and that may be a sign that Snowden needs to move toward those things because that’s what makes me happiest to listen to and to write. There isn’t the pressure to impress with that music. There isn’t that pressure to open up people’s ears and concert and make them stomp their feet. For me, I’d rather that people were falling asleep to my music, than doing a beer bong to it."
As we’ve been listening to Snowden the past week or so, we find ourselves enjoying it at home in the evening, just chilling out. You say that the melancholy stuff makes you happiest. Do you think that your approach may shift in this respect, or is the mood we see here going to frame your work in the years to come?
Jordan Jeffares:I guess the big thing I struggle with is being unsigned. When you’re unsigned, your music almost exists solely in a live setting … this is especially so for us. Though I’ve released the EP and the 7” I won’t release anything else without label support. Thus our live shows are an extremely important part of what we are right now. I’ve written a lot of stuff that we just can’t or won’t do live because it’s too soft to be received by most audiences. Nine times out of ten we are battling to capture or to demand attention from an audience that doesn’t know who we are. It’s hard to win strangers with melancholy stuff live. It’s easy on an album, but live … to reference Radiohead, I feel like we have to do “the bends” before we can do “amnesiac”.

DCist: You got your start initially in Athens and then in 2002 moved to Atlanta where you really got down and dirty putting together Snowden piece by piece. How did this move shape your music? Are there any characteristics of Atlanta (or Athens) that may not be evident to an ordinary outsider that comes out in your music or influences Snowden as a band in any holistic sense?

Jordan Jeffares: The move didn’t really change the music although I slowed down a good bit in my writing. In Athens I wrote in a vacuum. No band, no practice, no hassles of performing. In Atlanta it became the business of being in and running a band which is quite time consuming. Something I’ve been trying to harness lately about Atlanta is the feeling of sterility that I feel here. The city is truly a business city where you drive in, work, and then leave. There are very few communities in the city where you can go for a walk about. You have to drive everywhere. Athens meanwhile is like summer camp. It’s small, but it doesn’t have all of the hassles of Atlanta.

DCist: In a related geographic note, Rockpile magazine wrote that listeners of your music can "marvel at the fact that such well crafted, faux British dream-pop could come out of Georgia." How do you react to something like that?

Jordan Jeffares: We’ve been sort of guided in the direction of a “brit” sound by both what we are and what our press has continued to lean towards. As for our sound, if the brit thing means nothing more than we don’t play riff rock, then I’m happy passing it around. And “coming out of GA”, people generally wouldn’t expect our type of sound to come from the southeast, and that’s fine … it’s good to stick out and some would say that we really do.

DCist: What do you think of the D.C. music scene? Is there anything specific that attracts you to build a listening base in the nation’s capital? Where else would you like to tour?

Jordan Jeffares: I think DC is an incredible city. It voted 90% against Bush, you have great media outlets, an active public, cool communities. I’ve never researched the DC scene any further than being a big dismemberment plan fan and knowing there was a big punk scene there once.

I’d really like to tour Europe one day.

DCist: This is open-ended. If you could pick three adjectives that describe Snowden’s music, what would they be? If you have to place emphasis on one of those adjectives, which one would it be and why?

Jordan Jeffares: Conflicting; Delicate (sonically, I’m big on layering and arrangement. Overall it relates to how I write and think about every part of the music. I rarely see my stuff as done, yet some songs have been analyzed and deconstructed over and over.); Therapeutic

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