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Locals Only: : Hard to Explain

Lyrical ambiguity in a Jazz framework ... or something like that. Meet Alias Jones

By Alex Hall · June 18th, 2003 · Locals Only
  Alias Jones
Alias Jones

Many of Cincinnati's local bands are in the frame of mind that in order to get recognition they must play as often as possible in the area, as well as abroad. This is not the case with Northern Kentucky locals Alias Jones, who, in the past two years, have barely managed to play 10 shows.

Their credentials though, include some of the better venues in the area such as Clifton's Mad Frog and Covington's Madison Theater. In a live setting, Alias Jones comes across as another of what have become known as "Jam bands," but their recordings speak differently than their live feel. On the recordings, the talents of this band shine as not just another Jam band, but something original, something unique, something Jam bands claim to be, with their bios saying things about "eclectic amalgams" and the like.

One distinct style that the band blends into their sound is Jazz which, according to guitarist Bob Dixon, "is definitely a result of mixed inspiration." Dixon uses a fat-bodied, hollow, Jazz-style guitar, and responds to a question of Alias Jones' music using Jazz as a mockery with, "We don't see our music as a mockery of Jazz. It's more like we're using a good framework to build our sound around.

There are three of us in the band who study Jazz, so we are naturally influenced by it."

Lyricist and guitarist Neal Sharp does much of the band's songwriting, and until recently had done so with merely an acoustic guitar. The songs that followed this method are some of Alias Jones' best. But, according to Sharp, the method is evolving to be more inclusive.

"Actually songwriting lately has been much more collaborative," says Sharp. "The past five or six songs have just started with a few ideas that someone brings to the table, and we all elaborate off of that. We've found this type of songwriting to produce more unpredictable results. When I come up with ideas, they usually originate on my acoustic because it is the most convenient option."

Of his lyrics, Sharp says he doesn't limit himself. "Whether it's a pro or con for the band, there is no central theme or message in my lyrics. Some of our songs have very serious lyrics while others are downright ridiculous. It all depends on what feels right for that part in the music."

Upon first listening to a recording from this five piece, you are likely to assume that it has college radio appeal and roots in Indie Rock. But the influences of the band's members are the make-up of the original sound, which makes any description difficult.

"I always have trouble answering the question 'What do you guys sound like?' " explains drummer Mitchell Collings. "I reply, 'Rock, Indie Rock, Latin, Funk, maybe a little Jazz.' Music genres are too specific and we like to keep our options open. Most of our songs develop from ideas that never stop developing. Our open style allows for experimentation with many possibilities."

Pianist Andy Lenihan adds, "Music is expression through sounds and rhythm. In Alias Jones, I express my creative ideas through the flow of the chords and the melodies in the solos. Whatever sounds best goes."

At live shows, there is one song, which regulars to Alias Jones' shows await with anticipation, titled "Starbelly Sneeches." Bassist Keith "Sickboy" Roark explains, " 'Starbelly Sneeches' is our oldest song. It is actually two songs in the same key that had a similar feel so we put them together. The song was written because I have a seven-inch black star tattooed on my belly. I was inspired to get this tattoo by the Dr. Seuss book, Starbelly Sneeches. The moral of the book is not to judge based on appearances. I wanted to remind myself of this valuable lesson. The lyrics of the song are basically nonsense, but it is a fun song and people love to hear it."

Given the band's sparse live appearances, and with the formation of the new lineup after the addition of Dixon when a founding member left the band, this is still a very young band. Their potential soars though, and the release of their debut album is planned for sometime before the end of 2003, with a subsequent regional tour to promote the album and build a fan base. Several of the band's members are in college, but they hope to continue playing their music together beyond graduation.

ALIAS JONES has a Web site at aliasjones.com. They play Covington's Madison Theater on June 28.


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