Here's a sentence you don't hear every day: The Cops showed up on time. Unfortunately, this reporter didn't: Scheduled to interview them at 11 a.m. last week, I'd misread the e-mail, thinking it said 11 p.m. When I found out about the gaffe, I called Michael Jaworski, the Seattle rock quartet's 34-year-old vocalist, guitarist, and de facto leader, and in the middle of my apology, he said, "Oh, that's OK. We had a good bonding session, so it was fine."
"Bonding" seems to be the right word. The three Cops I wound up meeting at the Palace Kitchen later—Jaworski, bass player Brian Wall, and drummer Dave Weeks (guitarist John Randolph was busy at his job, working sound at the Sunset Tavern)—exuded an easy rapport, which you'd figure from listening to their first EP, Why Kids Go Wrong (released on their own Mt. Fuji label this past November), and from any band that goes on tour less than four months after playing its first hometown show.
If that seems a bit sudden, it's not, really—Jaworski, who moved to Seattle seven years ago from his native Omaha, and Randolph, who came here a decade ago from Ohio, previously played together in the power-poppy Hello From Waveland, before their rhythm section absconded to San Francisco to join a band called Swell. Weeks, who'd previously played with Kinski, soon joined them and pushed their musical balance further rock-ward. "A lot of my friends have said [we] remind them of mid-'80s underground rock when it was becoming more popular, like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements," says Jaworski. That seems right enough; even a cursory listen to Why Kids Go Wrong demonstrates a still-aching sweet tooth for poppy hook-craft. Wall, the only Seattle native in the band—Weeks had attended college with Randolph at Ohio University in Athens, near the Appalachian Mountains—came in via Weeks, with whom he works at the Palace (they're both waiters).
I'd worked with Dave for five years when he asked me to be in a band with him, Wall says as Weeks, who's on duty, walks by with a smirk and smacks him on the forehead for the fourth time during the interview. ("I think Dave just saw Napoleon Dynamite," observes Jaworski.) "I said, 'Hell, yeah!' And now I'm like, "NO!"
Wall's previous musical experience was limited to recording alone on a four-track, tour-managing a pre-Sony Vendetta Red ("It was more like I was their roommate who drove the van"), and "jumping around onstage in my underwear wearing red body paint" for Raft of Dead Monkeys. ("I was doing a lot of acid at the time," he shrugs.) According to Jaworski, whose day gig is helping manage the Sonic Boom Records in Fremont, "Watching Brian and Dave fight on the road is great comic relief. Brian reads every single sign on the road out loud."
Comic relief will probably come in handy, since the Cops are planning to hit the road again in March, when Why Kids Go Wrong reaches stores nationally, via a distribution deal with Red Eye. Jaworski figures, "If we're gonna make any impact, we'll have to tour a lot. There are a lot of great bands in Seattle who, if they went out on tour, could really have an impact, but are tied down and have families. I think you need face-to-face contact and to put on a great rock show so people can see you in person. To this day, if I'm impressed with a live show, I'll be a fan of that band for that much longer. Downloading is a great way to turn people on to new music, but you still have to pound the pavement unless you want them to forget about you. We're not planning to make a lot of money doing this, anyway; we're a bit smarter about things than that."
"There are a lot of good bands here," Wall says. "It's not competitive, but it's challenging. You have to work really hard to stand out."
"Yeah, but it's easy to drum up a conversation and start a band or get involved in the arts scene here," says Weeks, during one of his frequent sit-downs during the quiet night shift. "It's like, 'My buddy owns a cafe and has space; we could hang 10 pieces there in two weeks. Let's do it.' When I played with Mike and John the first time, it was really exciting. I've been playing in bands for 16 years now, and I've never been so excited about playing in a band before."
The Cops, who are preparing an album they'll record in April after coming back from tour (they're shooting for a fall release), write the songs more or less equally. "I've been the main songwriter in bands before," says Jaworski, "and that's really cool sometimes, but I came to the realization . . . Peter Buck said something in an interview once about when there's four guys working together, everybody has to have a say in it. For this situation, we all have so much input."
Jaworski, Randolph, and Weeks' experience comes through in their efficient organization of the band's business as well as its music. "The front and tail of our rehearsals turn into meetings, and when we're not rehearsing, we're talking about tour plans," says Jaworski. "We actually have a whiteboard we use. . . . "
"And it's in your basement!" says Weeks. "John likes to pretend he's the CEO with it."
The Cops play the Nightlight Lounge, 211 E. Chestnut St., Bellingham, 360-650-0331, with the DT's and At the Spine at 8 p.m. Fri., Jan. 14; and the Sunset Tavern at 4 p.m. Sun., Jan. 16.