No other Portland band has transformed as dramatically in the past year as the Joggers have. In 2003, the Portland quartet released the surprisingly brilliant debut Solid Guild, a pop fan's delight, grounded in traditional pop songwriting but unique for the dueling herky-jerky guitar work of Ben Whitesides and Murphy Kasiewicz, and the glorious four-part harmonies. The band had uncovered a distinctive sound, and logic dictated that the follow-up would keep in step. But this year's With a Cape and a Cane, recorded after Kasiewicz split from the band, delves into something wholly different. Those dueling guitars have been traded in for sour stabs of Whitesides' guitar, and those four-part harmonies have given way to the leadman's slurring lyricism. The band may have abandoned its pop-loving contingent—including this writer—but the album has received even more praise from national press for delving into ballsy and sometimes grating experimental psych territory. I spoke to Whitesides via phone while the band was stuck in traffic somewhere outside Chicago about the changes.
Riff City: On the new album, the harmonies are mostly gone and the guitar work is different, almost improvisational at times.
Ben Whitesides: The way that we work is just, we try to follow our interests. Two years have passed since we put out our last recording, and we were listening to different things. I don't know one person who listens to the exact same thing they were listening to two years ago except for Jake [Morris, the Joggers' drummer], who only listens to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. I think our tastes were changing. Devil's Anvil put out this amazing record and we really got into this '60s kind of garagey, Middle Eastern music.
How did the loss of Murphy change things?
Well, it's interesting. Murphy was a very good guitar player, remains a very good guitar player, and the difficulties that existed with having Murphy in the band were not really musical. Not fundamentally musical. But it has changed things. And some people have criticized us. I've heard the criticism that it's less of a collaboration between four people and it's slightly more of a Ben Whitesides project. And that's probably not a good thing.
Just to clarify, was it an amicable split, or was he kicked out?
Basically, Murphy and I had some issues. I'm kind of reluctant to talk about it, to be honest. But I will say that it has more to do with me than anyone else.
I saw you play a month ago with new guitarist Dan Wilson. He was keeping up but still seemed to be learning the parts.
Dan's doin' great. He's been in the band five months now, and he's settling in. He was trained on the guitar in a much more traditional sense, though, and I learned guitar without any formal training. I play with a pretty idiosyncratic style, and, because I've written a lot of the songs, you know, he's gotta move closer to my style than me to his. We're giving him a lot of shit 'cause he's the new guy and he's a recovering hippie from Alaska. He wasn't with us when we recorded our last batch of songs, but he keeps getting better. His style is there, and his energy is bringing something new.
He rocks out like a Muppet.
Yeah, it's great. The three of us, we were all young curmudgeons and now we're early-middle-aged curmudgeons. And he has a much more positive attitude a lot of the time—it's really refreshing.
The Joggers play with Gogogo Airheart Sunday, Nov. 27, at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $8. 21+.