Chances are, if you went out to see live original music in Cincinnati in the late ’80s/early ’90s, you’ve likely seen Jim Antonio on stage. Antonio was one of the best frontmen in town when he led Lizard 99, an Art Punk band in the vein of early Jane’s Addiction. He also performed in the duo Oyster and as bassist for local faves, Roundhead.
In 2000, Antonio and his wife, cellist Barb Hunter (another onetime Roundhead member who has recorded with The Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers and Pigface), relocated to Seattle. Having amassed a nice collection of demos (and having been in a band since his early teens), Antonio started cruising the want ads in Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger, hoping to get a new musical project going.
Responding to the ads from musicians with shared Psych Pop/Rock influences (Luna, Brian Jonestown Massacre, etc.), Antonio formed The Purrs not long after arriving in the Pacific Northwest.
I end up tracking down Antonio (who uses the stage name JimA in The Purrs), not in Seattle but in Paris, where he is on vacation, celebrating his wedding anniversary.
“You know when someone in the U.S. says that the French are rude and smell bad?” Antonio says, when asked if he was getting the evil eye for being a “stupid American,” “well, that is all BS perpetrated by ethnocentric losers who prefer to live in ignorance. Paris is a big city and consequently smells like one. Parisians are no more polite or rude than any other city.” Once The Purrs had formed, they went the D.I.Y. route, releasing their own CDs and playing around Seattle and Portland.
The band hit a turning point when popular Seattle-based online radio station KEXP began spinning songs from their first two releases. Antonio says the heavy airplay from the station (as well as eventual play on Cincinnati-based online station, 97X/WOXY) immediately boosted their profile and CD sales.
“We started selling pretty well for an unsigned indie band with no support to speak of,” he says. “I directly attribute that to KEXP and WOXY. Sales started going up in local stores and online. I know because I mailed every CD out personally. I was raiding the office supply store for padded envelopes and the people at the post office knew me. We never made any money because we put it all right back into studio time and Connie, our Econoline van at the time.” The increased sales and airplay brought the band some attention from independent labels and the group eventually signed with the small Sarathan imprint, which had good national distribution. (On the decision to go with the label, Antonio says, “Their checks cleared.”) Sarathan released a self-titled fulllength, culled from tracks off of the band’s two self-releases. The deal enabled the band to tour the country and earned them wider recognition. But, ultimately, the band’s relationship with the label soured.
“I’m going to be diplomatic here and say that it wasn’t a good fit,” Antonio says. “It started to become apparent that they didn’t actually know what we were about. It was like they had never seen or heard us or something. I do like being independent, but there is a limit to what you can achieve without some sort of outside support. I guess I can live with that … but I’d rather not.” Out of necessity, the band released The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together on their own. The long-player — their finest and most cohesive effort yet — is a fantastic slice of dreamy Pop music, smeared in trippy atmospherics and buoyed by phenomenally memorable melodies. The album floats in the same hemisphere as artists like The Verve and Galaxie 500, with some vintage influences like the Velvet Underground and Television also evident.
Though the music has a psychedelic element, Antonio insists he’s no druggie. At least not while making music. “I can either get wasted or write music,” he says. “Fortunately there is time enough in my day for both. These days bourbon is my drug of choice. Do they even make acid anymore?” The band has endured several lineup changes since their start. Antonio insists he’s not an ogre to work with, putting the lineup changes down to the personal lifestyle decisions of the departing members.
“I wish I could say I am difficult to work with because that would sound cool, like I am some sort of an artist or something,” Antonio jokes. “I am pretty sure that isn’t the case. The reasons a person might join a band are varied and over time, those reasons may not remain relevant. Playing in a band that plays out as much as we do and works as hard as we do is a lifestyle choice.
Lifestyles change over time. People have kids or decide they want to move to the mountains and become a lumberjack or whatever.”
THE PURRS (myspace.com/thepurrs) play the MidPoint Music Festival Friday at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater at 9 p.m.