Interview with Jason Stollsteimer
by Alexander Laurence
*** Noise Pop Special ***
The Noise Pop music festival took place during the last
weekend in February 2003. No local bands in San Francisco
are much about pure rock and roll though. That's why Noise
Pop had to look to Detroit to deliver some punch. There
has been an underground musical movement which erupted from
Detroit, Michigan, (that had nothing to do with Eminem)
with bands such as the White Stripes, The Dirtbombs, Soledad
Brothers, and the Von Bondies all following the muse in
the high energy, minimalist punk rock. San Francisco knows
this with all its emo combovers and shoegazers that hang
at Popscene every Thursday. Noise Pop knew it had to bring
the Von Bondies to save the day and inject some rocking
blood into the dirty streets of the Tenderloin. It came
The Von Bondies are Jason Stollsteimer (vocals/guitar),
Marcie Bolen (guitar/vocals), Carrie Smith (bass/vocals),
Don Blum (drums), and originally formed in 1999. It didn't
take long for Jason and company to take over the city. After
Jason started tuning his first guitar, in came Jack White
to produce their first record, Lack Of Communication (2000).
This record changed the world. The band embarked on their
first European tour towards the end of 2001, opening for
their friends the White Stripes. They recorded a few sessions
for John Peel's BBC radio show, which are still highly regarded.
Soon they had a large following in the UK and were headlining
tours themselves. The whole time their record was difficult
to obtain. They became a curiosity in the United States.
In 2002, they were signed to Sire Records. I caught them
at the height of their ability and poised for a new revolution
in rock. Please let Jason speak for himself, and let me
excuse myself. I was lucky to talk to him before a sold
out sold at Great American, the first jaunt on another sold
AL: Have you played
Great American before?
Jason: Yeah. About two years ago on our only tour with
The White Stripes. We have played here and we have played
Bimbo's. It was cool. Great American is better than Bimbo's.
It's hard to get into a show there. Great American has more
grittiness to it. I could imagine the MC5 playing here.
AL: You have a lot of friends and family coming to the
Jason: Carrie, our bass player, was born in California.
Her dad lives out here. I moved out of my parents' house
immediately when I was eighteen. I always lived in Ypsilanti
or Detroit. I have a bunch of friends who live out here.
I have never lived out here in California. I get lost. I
am very overwhelmed by how people look and dress.
AL: I am from Los Angeles, but I have lived in New York
City off and on since 1995.
Jason: If you are from New York, LA, or London (those are
the three big places that I have been to) you couldn't accept
living anyplace else. You couldn't handle Detroit. There's
two bars. You would freak out. Right now, you are probably
bored of San Francisco because you have been here a week.
My friends go: "New York is so boring." And I
say "Are you crazy? You have infinite choices. Bands
always come to New York." There are options. You are
AL: What were some of the jobs that Von Bondies had to
make life better?
Jason: I worked graveyard shift at a bowling alley. Carrie
was a student. She got a degree in physics. Don is a writer.
He is a journalist and he writes short stories. He is very
shy about showing his stories to people. We don't have a
lot of opportunities in Detroit. You could be the greatest
writer in the world and live in Kansas and you could be
dead in the water. There's no way to get out. That's why
people dream about moving to LA or New York, or even San
Francisco, because that's where things happen.
AL: Some people in those cities could be hanging on to
Jason: It's delusional. Growing up in the Midwest made
us very much the opposite. We are very non-delusional. We
know that nothing last forever. We know that there are always
scenes and groups. You are never the greatest band in the
world. People always say "The greatest thing since...."
None of that matters because twenty years from now do you
want to be remembered for being a good band, or a one-hit
wonder, or do you want to be remembered for being a joke,
like ska? Ska was huge about five or six years ago. It came
back with bands like Suicide Machines and No Doubt. Many
of those bands are now seen as a joke. No Doubt may be the
only band that made it out of there. Skanking? What were
you thinking? My friends can look back and scratch their
heads. Nobody will look back at The Cramps or Radiohead
in twenty years and say "What were you thinking?"
Radiohead had something special. Or The Pixies. Does anyone
go back and say "We were stupid for listening to The
Pixies." That stuff is classic.
AL: The Stooges weren't the most talented group, but everyone
who has went back to the first few records can find something
Jason: To tell a story is the biggest thing for me in music.
If you are not telling a story you shouldn't be on stage.
You either trying to change the world or you are trying
to explain your life. You should be up there telling stories,
whether it's fact or fiction. You shouldn't be up there
with some catchy phrase. To us, that's not what music is
about. We have met a bunch of people in the past two years
where that is all they are about.
AL: Do you play special shows in the UK with pop stars?
Jason: Famous people do come to our shows I guess. But
to people in Michigan, famous people are like: "Hey
the guy from Jackass showed up to our show once. Holy Shit!"
We freaked out. Random people like Tim Robbins came once.
It was just because we were with the White Stripes. I think
that Jello Biafra came to check out us out. They heard that
we were good.
AL: What is Detroit really like? Can you describe it to
people who have never really to the Midwest, other than
on a connecting flight? Why are there a bunch of rock and
roll bands on one hand and then there's a bunch of people
who are into rap music and hiphop? There's not many writers
Jason: They all leave. Detroit isn't very good for Rock.
It's good for Rhythm and Blues or just Blues. For us, Rock
Music means bands like Kiss. We are not like that. We see
ourselves as being Rock and Roll. There's tons of Rock and
Roll bands in Detroit. I have never seen a show at Cobo
Hall. Nobody in Detroit likes a band like Kiss. But all
the white trash people in the suburbs love Kiss. A few of
my friends are into Kiss. It's a joke though. I don't think
that they like the music. They are into the dolls and stuff.
All that is just entertainment. Rock is populist music for
the masses. Rock and Roll is not. A lot of kids want to
be part of Rock and Roll because it's cool. A lot of people
want to do Rock so they can yell a lot.
AL: Are you looking to connect with a specific crowd?
Jason: No. Before we started the album, Lack of Communication,
we had no goals. The songs on this album are about my life.
It's about no one else in the band. The next album is going
to be about my life too. I wasn't writing for anyone else.
I did it because it made me feel better than drinking every
night. After doing this record I cut down on drinking quite
a lot. It was my release. Musically, it's my solo record.
Nobody else has written a song yet.
AL: How did you get together with the other members of
the band? You had another bass player at one point?
Jason: She moved to New York to go to Columbia. She was
in the band for eight months. Carrie joined two months before
we recorded the album. I showed her all the bass lines.
I am a bass player originally. I write all the songs on
AL: Did you play in other bands before this?
Jason: I did another band called The Baby Killers. That
was mine and Marcie's first band ever. I was in a punk band.
"Sound of Terror" was a Baby Killers song. Don
Blum has been in about twenty bands. He plays like he's
been in a hundred bands. He's one of the best drummers.
In England, he was voted one of the top ten drummers of
the year. He doesn't use a hi-hat or cymbals. Carrie was
in a band called The Fags. It was a riot girl punk band.
It was her first band. It was two-chord punk. Not even three
chords. As The Baby Killers we used to drink ourselves asleep.
Our drummer would pass out while playing. We were wild and
into partying. We have toned it down. We save all our energy
for the live show. When I get drunk I am louder at a party
than I would be onstage.
AL: I saw Carrie and Marcie join The Datsuns onstage to
sing a song recently.
Jason: The Datsuns opened up for us all over England and
Europe. Carrie and Marcie recorded some stuff with The Datsuns
in the studio. The Datsuns used to come onstage with us
every night. They played with us. That was sixty shows.
Nobody knew who The Datsuns were then, but now everyone
knows who they are. What was weird is that we had done two
tours where the opening band for us had these huge record
deals, and we had nothing, not even a record in the store
in some countries. But we sold out all the shows. And the
opening band hadn't released a record. It was sort of flattering,
but then we thought, why don't we have a record deal? Everyone
thought we were signed.
AL: So the deal with Long Gone John and Sympathy was a
one record deal?
Jason: Yeah. When we put out the record I knew that when
he put out the record: that's it. He might sell a million
copies. When he puts it out there, don't expect anything.
We might have sold one hundred thousand copies and we would
never see a dollar. I understood that. He doesn't own the
record. He is renting it from us. It wasn't really in stores.
AL: When I was at that CMJ show, I was walking around the
balcony I saw Seymour Stein from Sire Records go past me.
I thought he had died?
Jason: He signed us. He flew out to Amsterdam to see us
and The Datsuns. It was either to see us or The Datsuns.
All these people from V2 came to see The Datsuns eight months
ago. The place was sold out. All the label people left.
Twenty people from the label went downstairs to have drinks
with The Datsuns while we were onstage. Seymour decided
to stay up with us and watch. Every review of that show
said that we blew them off the stage. Only if they would
have stayed and watched. But they didn't know who we were.
They probably thought that The Datsuns were the only band
playing. They are label people. Their job is to make money.
Seymour's job is discover talent. He is out to make billions
of dollars. When he signed The Ramones, nobody thought they
would have made a dollar or sold any records.
AL: Will Sire Records re-release your first album?
Jason: No, we don't want them to. I am going to keep that
for myself. It's my own record and I personally own it.
I might released it on vinyl only.
AL: Have you recorded the new album yet?
Jason: We recorded five songs and we didn't like the way
it turned out. We are going to start again. We love the
way we played but we didn't like the sound. It was our fault.
We didn't have the right amps. It wasn't the right day.
Recording our first record took three days and it was just
perfect. Everything went right. We did all the songs in
a row with live vocals. We tried to do that for this new
one. One or two songs were good, but it was no good after
that. We recorded all of our stuff at Jim Diamond's of The
Dirtbombs. Now we are going to try a new place.
AL: What about Toe Rag Studios or Abbey Road?
Jason: It is very small. I have just heard two records
recorded there. Abbey Road is an option. It's not that expensive.
You have to find a smart producer who knows how to make
everything sound full. Don is a great drummer. But that
is buried beneath the guitar sound. We record everything
on tape and analog. It takes longer. All the digital stuff
can be fixed on a computer.
AL: How do you start writing a song?
Jason: It usually starts at four in the morning. It's pitch
black in my room in Detroit. I grab my guitar and play bass
lines in the dark. I keep trying things. I go to bed. Then
next morning I go to practice. I show the new bass line
to Carrie, She plays it and always adds her own little thing
to the final product, especially now, since she has been
in the band for a while. Then I play along to it on guitar
and Don joins in. That is about half of our songs. I will
add the vocals the next day. I am very picky about vocals.
I don't have vocals for one of our brand new songs. I am
terrified because it is one of our best songs. It's our
catchiest songs yet. I can't think of anything.
AL: Have you read any books lately?
Jason: I haven't read a book since I was twelve. I can't
read. I have one good eye and one bad eye. So when I read
it makes my eyes water. I have double vision. I can't focus.
I have one contact in all the time. Because of that I can't
read. I can spell like there's no tomorrow. When I write
lyrics I do it in the dark with my eyes closed. My handwriting
is like a twelve year olds. It's horrible. In school I got
all As on scantron tests but flunked every homework assignment
because I never turned them in. It was embarrassing. I was
in community college for four years. I am still a freshman.
I had to drop out because I would have roommates who had
drug problems and they wouldn't pay the rent, so I had quit
school to pay the rent. Around that time I started playing
AL: What musician changed your life?
Jason: It was Otis Redding. Everyone I love is dead. Screaming
Jay Hawkins died about six years ago. We played with Eric
Burden. I wanted to play with him. I would have liked to
seen The Sonics. I am a big music fan.
AL: Since I have a copy of the Hipster Handbook, let me
ask you a few questions from the Quiz here.
Jason: Let's see if I am hip.
AL: When shopping for a new pair of shoes which brand are
you likely to buy?
Jason: Look at my shoes. (He shows me his boots which are
worn and falling apart). I have had these five months. I
have duct taped them. I am ghetto. I duct tape and marker
it. I wear tennis shoes. I wear converse.
AL: Next question. You are more likely to read which magazine:
Harper's, Maxim, Redbook, Wallpaper, Italian Maxim?
Jason: Italian Maxim. I have seen that.
AL: Your ideal car is an SUV, a seventies Mustang, a PT
Cruiser, a vintage Volkswagen bug, or a Hummer?
Jason: Number two. A Mustang would be cool.
AL: You go to a bar. Which beer to you drink?
Jason: I don't drink beer. Only hard liquor. Only Jagermeister.
I am very unhip.
AL: If fans want to come to gigs they should bring a bottle
of Jagermeister or Jim Beam and place it on the stage as
Jason: They do. I wouldn't mind getting free liquor.
AL: Your dream vacation with that special someone would
be: Seville, Spain, The Poconos, A Sandals Resort, Paris,
France, or Disneyland?
Jason: I like going to Paris but I would pick Spain. We
played Madrid. It was actually the worst turnout on the
tour. Mogwai headlined over The White Stripes. We played
before The White Stripes. There were seven other bands.
It was horrible. When we played in Madrid it was the most
beautiful night. The city is amazing. There's all these
churches. It's good.
AL: Which of the following most closely describes your
temperament in social situations: complacent, read to kick
some ass, perky, paranoid, or self-deprecating?
Jason: I would say both paranoid and self-deprecating.
I don't fight. I have been in fights. I have been punched
in the face, but I didn't hit back. I stared at them. I
think it fucks with someone to hit them. If someone hits
me, I just stand back and stare at them. I say "What's
the fuck is wrong with you?" I don't think that fighting
gets anything done. It makes them look stupid.
AL: You would buy a recording by which artist: Insane Clown
Posse, Korn, Wilco, Kool Keith, or The Strokes?
Jason: Wilco. We played with them on a TV show. It was
nice. I had never heard of them. They were really good.
AL: Your favorite clothing store is Walgreen's, Salvation
Army, Diesel, Hecht's, The Gap?
Jason: I go to Salvation Army, but I went to Diesel today.
I got these pants. I buy two pairs of pants a year. Usually
I spend about ten dollars. Why did I go to Diesel? Because
nothing goes good with boots. My old jeans rip at the knees
from jumping around onstage. I will probably rip these tonight.
AL: Do you use computers?
Jason: I used the internet. Our website is shite! As the
British say: it's shite! I get emails, "Your website
is crap." We don't own it. We finally got hold of it
and I don't know how to fix it. There are constant download
popups. I did update the tours and I put two new photos.
I don't know how to do it. None of my friends know how to
AL: Do you like films?
Jason: Yeah, I am a big John Cusack fan.
AL: You like date movies that star which of the following:
Parker Posey, Tom Hanks, Franka Potente, Julia Roberts,
or Freddie Prinze jr?
Jason: Oh my god! None of the above. I watched Scooby Doo
with my girlfriend and her little sisters.
AL: You sign on the internet using AOL?
AL: You have margarine in your refrigerator?
Jason: I don't know what the fuck that is. I have butter.
I think I have some Crisco.
AL: Did the last two movies you saw have explosions in
Jason: I saw Old School. It's awesome. Me and Don have
seen it twice in the past week. We are dorks. I saw Shanghai
Nights. Both of them had explosions, but Shanghai Nights
AL: Old School is more proof that all directors really
want to make a film as good as Animal House.
Jason: I love Animal House. I don't care what people say.
John Belushi is a genius. Everyone I love is dead. It sucks.
AL: According to this book the hipster zone in Detroit
is Hamtramck. What's that like?
Jason: Marcie just move out of there. It's the Polish neighborhood
in Detroit. She lived above an Indian Restaurant and they
made her move. They raised the rent. There's nothing there.
It's cold. There's two bars. There's no dance clubs. You
can't find a 1960s dance club and dress up and listen to
The Strokes and The Stripes. There's no places like that.
Most bars are a little room filled with one hundred Detroit
scenesters who resent all the rest of the bands. In Hamtramck,
there's a movie store where you can buy movies for a dollar.
It was cheap rents and in Detroit but it wasn't in the danger
zone. I live in downtown Detroit. It's in the middle of
Detroit. I am the only one in the band who lives in Detroit.
Oh, Marcie just moved there as well.
AL: Has Starbucks invaded Detroit yet?
Jason: No. There's a Burger King and a McDonalds, and a
KFC. This is something that you have to understand: they
do not have shakes at fast food places in Detroit. You can
go up to the drive thru and order a chocolate shake, which
they have at all those places, and they'll say: "We
don't have no shakes, where you from?" They know you
are white. They will laugh at you. They know me in my neighborhood.
I am the only kid who looks like this. Everyone else is
seventy year old black couples. They are the nicest people
in the world. These are the people who went to the Motown
shows. After all the riots in the 1970s, anybody who had
money left town. What was left was poor families. The Mexican
part of Detroit is probably the nicest part of town. It's
still racially diverse. There's no malls and no money there.
AL: After you finish this new record when should we all
expect a real tour of the new material?
Jason: The album should be out sometime after August. We
are touring first with The Cramps. We are starting in DC
and all of the East Coast, all of the West Coast, and all
the way to San Diego. It will be three weeks. We chose to
support them. We will be playing two thousand people venues.
They have a cult following that has been going to their
shows for twenty years. Sometimes cult fans don't like opening
bands. You have to win them over. That's how I saw Guitar
Wolf, because they opened for The Cramps. We are touring
America all next fall when the record comes out. All the
songs are written. There's sixteen songs. Eleven will probably
be on the record. I don't have a passport right now, so
I have to get a new one before we return to Europe.
They will be playing Coachella on April 27th, 2003.
The website: http://www.vonbondies.com