El Paso Music Scene

Interview with Greg Lake of J4

The founders of J4 (LA, LOL Records) come from St. Catharine, Canada, about 60 miles south of Toronto. They moved to Nashville, stayed there a few years, then moved to LA, from where they are now based.

EPMS: How did you come up with the name, J4, and was J3 the second choice?

Greg Lake: LOL. It was actually a band room in Canada, our room was J4. We wanted something basic that people could remember. That's the story. Not everyone's keen on the name, but you don't want to switch, and lose the fan base you have.

EPMS: I think you sound kind of like Hootie and the Blowfish. Who do you think you sound like?

Greg Lake: I don't know. We're melodic, but we're a little heavier than Hootie and the Blowfish. It's tough to put a finger on it. I'd say, Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls.

EPMS: How long has the band been together?

Greg Lake: Tom and myself, about twelve years. With the other guys, about five years.

EPMS: How's the music scene in St. Catharine's, where you started out?

Greg Lake: It's been so long, but the music scene was all right. There's about 125,000 people there. They have six or seven venues. There's some good music in Canada, especially indie-underground-type music. Canada has a lot of different sounds than mainstream radio everywhere. It has a big scene, but not that many people. If you sign a Canadian record deal, you don't get the States. So, we decided to go to the States, where the marketplace is bigger.

EPMS: When did you begin touring?

Greg Lake: I've been touring eight or nine years. Since we came to the States, we've played like two hundred forty shows a year, which is quite a bit for an unsigned band.

EPMS: Have you played El Paso before? Or at least been through it?

Greg Lake: Know what, I've never been there. We did a lot of Texas shows last year, but we didn't make it that far west.

EPMS: How many months a year do you tour?

Greg Lake: At least, probably six months; it depends. We're recording, we're out for a month, we do small tours around here (LA). We all enjoy the road.

EPMS: What's your wildest tour story?

Greg Lake: That you can print? This one is PG. We were coming back to Canada from Chicago, going over the Windsor-Detroit bridge. This is going back a few years. It was about midnight. Our horn had broken in our van. Any time we turned left or right, our horn would go off. At about midnight, they (Canadian Customs) pull us over, we have to go into a big parking garage structure, the horn's blaring, they all run out, and tear apart our vehicle. It was an amusing story, not for them, but for us.

We'd pull into truck stops, with the horn blaring at night when all the truckers were sleeping. Not so cool.

EPMS: Who is the most interesting person you've met?

Greg Lake: Actually, we did a charity show last summer for Tom Hanks' kid's school. He's really a nice guy. Sugar Ray Leonard was there, too.

EPMS: From where are the non-Canadians in the band?

Greg Lake: Jimmy is from Boston. Andy, actually, had an army dad. He's from California, but he's lived all over. Tom and myself are from St. Catharine.

EPMS: How did you end up in Nashville?

Greg Lake: By mistake. Well, not a mistake, but we weren't planning to go to Nashville. We were traveling through the States toward Atlanta to a meeting, to see where that took us. We stopped in Nashville to meet a publisher. We played a few gigs there. In Nashville, they have blues, rock, not just country music. You get a different crowd every time.

We had started to build our mailing list, to build a fan base. Because of the financial potential, we moved to LA, but we loved it there (in Nashville).

EPMS: My hero, Ritchie Blackmore, once said that America has lots of great guitar players, but they're all in Nashville.

Greg Lake: He's probably right. There are a lot of session musicians in Nashville. There's tons of money to be made doing three-hour sessions for country, rock artists, whatever. They need musicians to come in and play. Garth Brooks records with some musicians, and tours with others. When you've been on the road a long time, it's nice to settle down. Basically, you have to be at top of your game to be a studio musician.

In Nashville, there's talent all over. It's such a business, it's tough to make it.

EPMS: Have you ever heard of these LA bands that have passed through El Paso recently?

Fighter Pilot?

Greg Lake: Yep.

EPMS: Bullet Train to Vegas?

Greg Lake: No.

EPMS: Planes Mistaken for Stars?

Greg Lake: Nope.

EPMS: Crisis?

Greg Lake: I think so.

EPMS: 151?

Greg Lake: No.

LA is very saturated with bands. There are forty bands playing every night, seven nights a week. Bands switch names all the time, who knows?

EPMS: Is there a lot of pay-to-play in LA?

Greg Lake: There is, but it depends on your level. Lots of clubs have ticket pre-sales. You have to sell, say, fifty tickets at $10. They give you a hundred, you have to give them the $500 up front. If you can sell more than fifty, you make money. They don't call it pay-to-play, but it is. Some bands at Whisky-a-Go-Go aren't even good. Not all clubs do that. If you have fairly good fan base, you don't have to do it. As long as bands do it, it's going to keep happening. If the bands stopped doing it, they'd have to change. There are always bands lined up to do it.

When you can see Coldplay at the Troubador, playing a hidden show, for ten bucks, it's tough to compete. We like to get out of town and play, just to get around. We limit our LA shows.

EPMS: Why have you changed guitar players since the last album?

Greg Lake: What happened is, Jimmy Mitchell is our guitar player, Andy Curtin is our bass player. Jimmy had been a friend of the band a long time, and some guys left because of creative differences. Jimmy joined to play bass, to fill in. Well, then Andy decided to switch to bass. Bands are flighty. They just switched instruments.

EPMS: Do you have an iPod?

Greg Lake: I have an iPod. Our bass player has XM radio. I do iPod, definitely.

EPMS: Who would field a better Olympic dodgeball team, the U.S. or Canada?

Greg Lake: I'd have to say the U. S. You have more people. Canadians are dodgy, though. There's only thirty-one million people in Canada. California could probably field a better one.

EPMS: Well, Canada seems to do pretty well in hockey.

Greg Lake: Yeah, that's true. I played hockey nine years; Jimmy plays in a pickup league in LA.

EPMS: Do your members have day jobs?

Greg Lake: No.

EPMS: Who is the member most likely to be discovered to be serial killer?

Greg Lake: LOL. That would have to be Tommy, the drummer. Drummers are always the weird ones.

EPMS: Who was the El Paso booking agent you dealt with?

Greg Lake: Our label booked the show directly with Murphy's.

EPMS: Who's the smartest in the band?

Greg Lake: Me. LOL. That would have to be me.

EPMS: How common are e-mail interviews?

Greg Lake: They're fairly common. Some could be from internet radio sites. They're fairly common for the most part.

EPMS: Have you done other albums before A Dozen Dead Flowers? I only see these last two on the different web sites I've seen.

Greg Lake: Yeah, we have. You can find them through iTunes, everything. This our fourth full album; we had EPs before that. Musically, we've changed a bit. At LOLrecords.com, you can buy our new album, as well as T-shirts, plus our previous albums.

EPMS: I've been listening to both your previous album, A Dozen Dead Flowers, and a pre-release copy that I have of your current one, Feeling Normal. I have to say, I liked your previous album, A Dozen Dead Flowers, better.

Greg Lake: That's cool.

David Letterman, MTV, and some other shows used a few songs from it. On Letterman, they use it as a queue when they're going to commercial.

EPMS: You mean Letterman's band plays your song?

Greg Lake: Yeah, their band played it.

EPMS: On MTV, we've had songs on MTV Made, which is an MTV reality show, where they do personal makeovers. They've played some of our songs.

EPMS: You sound like a pretty successful band.

Greg Lake: We hope to be. We've done a lot of work from the ground up. We appreciate guys like you, any press is great press.

We also talk to a lot of people on Myspace.com.

EPMS: Thanks for the interview.

Greg Lake: Thank you so much.

J4 will be at Murphy's Cantina on Wednesday, June 22.

- Charles Hurley

031505GreenDay 030105JudasPriest 030105GratefulDead 030105JackJohnson 012505Mudvayne
Deal of the Day