Sometimes, life’s lightning hits home. Maybe the whole world turns shades. Perhaps the sky fades in reverse, from blue to purplish black.
In 2005, I battled a severe illness. But sometimes, magically, the right music strikes, and, coincidentally, while I was fighting to get well, July for Kings’ album Nostalgia landed in my shaky hand.
My illness affected my brain. Mildly put, reading was difficult. To teach myself again, one line at a time, I slowly read music articles and blogs. I learned about JFK’s infectious drive and their live shows inspired me to keep fighting. In time, I smiled and talked more fluidly. Sea-legged and rusty, I listened, feeling a strange connection with their curiously introspective Rock that held a slick, positive spin.
Since 1997, JFK has surged forward amidst several lineup changes, receiving media attention from Billboard, Rolling Stone and InStyle. Signed with MCA Records in 2002, Swim was their national debut. They toured with Muse, Counting Crows, The Calling and more.
After MCA folded, Nostalgia was released on singer/songwriter Joe Hedges’ Indie label, Machines and Dreams. In its first week, Nostalgia was the top-purchased album on CDBaby.com.
Middletown natives Hedges and drummer Dan McQuinn are the two left from the earlier days.
“Joe’s always lost and late,” McQuinn jokes.
Indeed, Hedges shows up last, with bedhead and looming eyes. He wears faded black: T-shirt, jeans, scuffed boots.
Hedges is startlingly tall and thin. His mood varies from serious to light to inquisitive. He switches topics from major labels to Star Trek, from recording to roller coasters. In 2007, JFK’s future seemed gray.
Hedges dropped the band name, heading to Michigan with friend/producer Blumpy (Nine Inch Nails, Eminem, et. al.), creating Curvature, his experimental, stunningly soulful solo album. But later Hedges reconsidered.
“I had all these songs that didn’t make it on that record. They were too straightforward, too Pop,” he says. “I think I just needed to go through that and sort of regain our footing as a band. Then it became exciting again.”
After auditioning 20 bassists, Brian Ives appeared.
Now acting as the band’s manager, the India-born Ives’ dark eyes shoot an intense, focused gaze, but his appearance holds a trickier edge — two large silver hoops grace his ears. Coming from Pittsburgh to audition, he says, “I said I’d drive out there right away, but Joe said to wait. I was nervous. I thought they might find someone else.”
McQuinn’s dark brown hair has a “wildly sharp” look. He grins over a plateful of curry chicken, wearing a hip army green shirt. Styling, but not intimidating, he seems utterly at-home-relaxed and down to earth. Naturally playful, he enjoys picking on guitarist John McGuire. And vice versa.
From Cincinnati, newbee McGuire joined JFK in 2008 at former guitarist T.J. Miller’s farewell show. With a spark in his mischievous eyes, McGuire’s funky sideburns suit his face. A College-Conservatory of Music graduate with a degree in sound engineering, McGuire wears pitch black.
Hedges says, “(Miller) and John both played on some of the record, so this is a transitional period for us. John’s a phenomenal guitarist. He’s an engineer as well, so he was very helpful on this album.”
On recording their new release, Monochrome, Hedges says, “We started it in my basement. A friend came in from L.A … an old friend, an assistant on the MCA album.”
Recording one song in a Dayton studio, the rest were done at McGuire’s house.
“John and I have not slept much in the last month, finishing the mixing. John and I are extreme perfectionists in different ways,” Hedges says with a smile.
Seriously, McGuire nods: “Once the record’s out, I will not listen to it.”
“This is the first album we’ve done truly on our own. We own everything. We own the master. We own the publishing,” Hedges states, glancing around slowly. “I feel lucky that I was able to find guys who are multi-talented and work in a lot of different areas to make it happen.”
Monochrome holds JFK’s signature sound, as in the catchy, guitar-driven track “Roses,” but this album is more daring than JFK’s previous work. Even within songs, moods swing and flow. Overall, there’s an added taste of Curvature thrown in — electronic sounds and dynamic changes — but Hedges’ vocals anchor it. His voice is steady, sensitive and versatile, resulting in an honest upswing. “Sam” breathes out like a narrative poem, a scenic, colorful roadtrip. Although lyrically longing, in “Say It Now” the playful rhythm turns the tone upside down. “Blue” is the heart-hooker.
Hedges comments, “It’s a culmination of everything we listen to. I’m hesitant even to name influences.”
When JFK pre-released 100 Monochrome CDs, in less than two hours all were gone. This summer they’ll tour Pennsylvania, New York and D.C. in Big Red, their relentless van.
On shooting for a label, Hedges says, “It’s definitely something that could still happen, but we’ll have to do it on our own, basically. I guess at the end of the day, the important thing is that you really love the work. It’s so much a part of who I am. So as long as it still fulfills me, I’m gonna have to keep going. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new period in July for Kings. We’ll see.”
So this story swims deep, giving a shout to any band’s fight through the noisy, high seas of independence. But this is also for all the Kings men, past and present, who, without even knowing it, helped me Rock-sail through a silver storm.
Truly, time heals, like a pink burn turning to tan. Now the laughter and the words come easy. Now the world’s not so black and white. Watch the sunset move across this sky, shifting from orange to yellow.
Later, with luck, maybe violet. Something bright.
JULY FOR KINGS’ (julyforkings.com) Monochrome CD release show is Saturday at the Madison Theater with Smalltown Sleeper and Cavashawn. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.