THE MEMBERS OF JUNO don't wear spandex or have pageboy haircuts. They don't play guitar solos (well, not regularly), and they don't write songs about "the rock-and-roll lifestyle." But the four original members—singer Arlie Carstens, guitarists Gabe Carter and Jason Guyer, and bass player Travis Saunders—have one thing in common with Spinal Tap: They've had their share of drummers. Juno started out in 1995 with one drummer; recorded their first single in 1996 with another one; and completed their second single in 1997 with yet another one, before enlisting current drummer Greg Ferguson.
Crocodile, Friday, July 23
Then, just when the band was ready to release its debut full-length, this is the way it goes and goes and goes (Pacifico/DeSoto), they suffered another setback: Their singer almost died. Arlie didn't experience spontaneous combustion or a bizarre gardening accident; instead he snowboarded into the side of a mountain and broke his neck. This put Juno's future—not to mention any touring in support of the album—on hold. Arlie wore a halo—a metal contraption that holds the spine immobile—and went through all kinds of painful operations while his bandmates waited and pondered.
Judging from Jason and Gabe, who sat down last week to talk about Juno, this rocky road has led the band members to hone their analytical skills. "You get the multiple choice answer on every question" is the way Gabe put it. Thoughtfulness befits Juno's music—somber, intense, cathartic rock with lyrics full of loneliness, recrimination, and disillusionment. What may come as a surprise is the two guitarists' ability to crack funny. "I don't think there's one bit of humor on the entire record," Jason said. "There's sarcasm. . . ."
"Sarcasm's funny," Gabe pointed out.
Much of the discussion involved just this kind of banter. So what began as an analysis of the lovely, wintery this is the way it goes and goes and goes—a cold, shadowy, and spacious record—devolved into a comparison of Thanksgiving side dishes. This is the way it goes:
On skeet shooting (a.k.a. songwriting)
G: We've got to a point, after years, where someone will start playing something and everyone will just go along and do something with it, and maybe it's a song idea, maybe it's not.
J: Accidents play a pretty big part in the shaping of the songs.
G: It's completely accidental. We couldn't come up with stuff on our own. We just accidentally come up with stuff when we're around each other.
What the hell is emo-core?
J: We get called that even by relatively cognizant journalists. I don't even know what emo-core is. I mean, I know who the bands are—the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring. And frankly, our stuff isn't like that at all—it's got a lot more, not psychedelic, but atmospheric stuff going on in it.
G: Usually, when we're making our set list, we lament that we don't have more fast, hard-rocking, pissed songs. Playing a show is a release of energy, and you worry about the pacing so much—you know, "You can't put two slow songs next to each other"—and then it's like, "P.S., those are the songs you wrote, these are the songs you have, and they're all about eight minutes long and they're pretty slow. It's too late now."
Things people say when they didn't like your set
G: "You guys are really tight," or "The sound was great for you guys."
J: Or "The lights were really nice." That's the worst. It usually comes from other bands.
What kind of a name is Juno, anyway?
G: I hate that question. Honestly, I liked it because it sounded a little bit like judo, but it wasn't judo.
J: I think we got named that because it was the only thing we could agree on at the time.
G: And now it's an online Internet server. I'm waiting for the cease-and-desist order. . . . And there's a German Juno, too—exact same spelling. I'm waiting for a cease-and-desist from them, too. . . . Then it's also an analog Roland keyboard.
J: It's total New Wave. We were going to play one on the album, but I didn't get anything together.
Nicknames (for public consumption)
G: Travis is the Sauna. Because he's hot—he's hot stuff. He's Saunders the Sauna.
J: Arlie is the Captain.
G: [grinning] Of course, for a while there, he was the Coat Rack. When he was incapacitated.
J: [appalled] Aw, shit.
G: It's only funny 'cause he's alive, and he can walk. If he was Christopher Reeve, it wouldn't be funny.
Living the Dream
G: Here's some Juno vocabulary which was actually the working title of the record: Living the Dream. Any time you are living absolutely the highest of high life—
J: —which isn't much if you're in Juno. It could just mean that you made $100 the night before at the show.
G: Right. So, if you're rolling down the street in a convertible with the top down on a sunny day with the radio turned up, you're Living the Dream . . . or if you're cleaning out the cat box on a hot day.
J: Like, sometimes, we're in the middle of tour, and we haven't made money for five days—
G: —haven't showered in three—
J: —and we drove for 17, 20 hours straight. We're Livin' the Fuckin' Dream.
G: It's like, you wanted to be in a band. You wanted to go on tour. Welcome to the road, son.
John Cougar or Bruce Springsteen?
G: I'm down with the Cougar.
J: The Boss, man. I used to hate him, then I went to Jersey and I understood.
G: The thing with the Boss is he was real, then he got fake. The thing with the Cougar is he was fake, then he got real. Until he got a supermodel, then, y'know. . . .
J: Now he's keepin' it real fake.
Jewel or Tori Amos?
G: Neither one.
J: You've gotta pick one.
G: No, I don't. Guys who like Jewel and Tori Amos are just afraid to buy porno mags.
Faulkner or Hemingway?
G: I'll go Hemingway, man.
J: Faulkner all the way. Hemingway fucking blows, man.
G: [slightly outraged] What are you talking about?
J: Faulkner's way better. Faulkner is just evil, dark, bananas.
G: Hemingway's that gritty, military man/drinker shit that I love.
J: Ugh—it's like Bukowski without all the fun parts.
Jodie Foster or Claire Danes?
G: Oh, pleeeze. Jodie Foster.
J: Yeah. There's no comparison.
Stuffing or mashed potatoes?
J: Don't let me down, dude.
G: Stuffing, of course. [They give each other a high five.] But corn bread stuffing only—none of that Yankee stuffing.
OK, let's be serious for a moment: is it still possible to be punk rock?
G: A lot of people have a definition of punk rock—some people think it's liberty spikes and combat boots, and other people think it's mid-'80s hardcore. And other people think it's Hsker D. And other people think it's early-Fugazi-but-not-last-year's-Fugazi-record-that-sucked-anything-after-Red-Medicine-is-no-good. Truly, I think that punk rock exists in ethos only—you either subscribe to it or you don't. The only thing really meaningful left from punk rock that hasn't been packaged and sold is the DIY ethic.
J: It's a way of doing things more than a sound. It doesn't have to mean destructive. I think it more means "Be true to yourself." It's like, "Punk is what I say it is, because I'm punk rock."