Bands bring divergent sounds but analogous outlooks to Underbelly


According to music industry scorekeepers 
 Nielsen SoundScan, album sales have 
 declined precipitously over the last few years — 4.4 percent from 2011 to 2012, and 8.4 percent from 2012 to 2013. Yet many in the indie rock world still religiously adhere to an old-school cycle: Record an album, lay low until it's finished, build up to its release with a frenzy of single and video promotion, then tour like crazy once it finally comes out. Which makes the Aug. 19 Underbelly show featuring San Diego's Crocodiles and Milwaukee's Jaill a rare treat: Not only have the two bands played together only once before this summer, but both have new, as-yet-unannounced albums in the bag for release in early 2015.

Sure, the two bands' creative MOs couldn't be more different — Crocodiles' druggy, jangly psych-pop earns constant (if not always welcome) comparisons to Stone Roses and Jesus and Mary Chain, while Jaill's taut, gracefully harmonic rock careens with ease from edgy New Wave to punchy power-pop to syrupy freak-folk à la fellow Milwaukeeans Violent Femmes. And Crocodiles are definitely the more popular band, with countless international tours and major festival headlining spots to their name, not to mention frontman Brandon Welchez's marriage to indie rock darling Dee Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls.

Yet for all of their differences, Welchez and Jaill frontman Vincent Kircher spoke to Folio Weekly of their respective projects in similarly steadfast terms. "We've gotten better at songwriting, and I'd say the music has probably gotten poppier," Welchez says of Crocodiles' artistic trajectory since 2008. Asked about the comparisons that have relentlessly dogged the band throughout its four-album discography, he adds, "We've always just made the music we wanted to hear. We're not really interested in anything else. If somebody listens to our albums, [2013's] Crimes of Passion specifically, and hears Jesus and Mary Chain, they don't know anything about music. To me that just shows a lack of imagination or depth on the part of the person saying it."

Given the peaks and valleys that Jaill has experienced — a surge of interest that resulted in a deal with Sub Pop Records, but lackluster sales and numerous lineup changes since 2012's Traps — Kircher was even more pensive. "Jaill's been around for 11 years, but it's been a long learning experience," he says. "The label and the booking agent were things that made it exciting and possible to make the next step. But in terms of loving to create and play music, the attitude hasn't changed. I just want to get better, grow personally, and continue to connect emotionally with people through song."

Neither would share much about his band's respective upcoming albums, though Welchez says recording in Mexico was conducive to he and core bandmate Charlie Rowell's creative spirit. "We've played in Mexico a bunch of times and have several friends there," he says. "So we've been wanting to record there for a long time. Renting an apartment was super-cheap, and we were right down the street from the studio, so we could work all day, then hang out with our friends." Pressed for details, Welchez says, "I don't want to give too much away. The songwriting approach changed somewhat, and there are definitely some new flavors in there. But it's still very Crocodilian."

The biggest change for Jaill came from basic personnel issues. "After Traps, our drummer had a second kid and our bass player settled into a new job, so the lineup has completely changed," Kircher says. "The three new members and I have toured together for two years, but our new record will have a new feel to it." Like Welchez, Kircher wouldn't divulge much more than that: "It's completely finished, but we haven't released any of the who, what, when or where about it. We expect it to come out early next year, and once that happens, we'll get back into full touring mode again. Until then, we'll jump on whatever opening spots pop up with bands that we like, like Crocodiles."

In an age of blink-and-you'll-miss-them indie rockers racing to grab on to vanilla trends, a chance to see two established, underappreciated bands is reason to celebrate. "I feel good about our longevity, even in the face of ups and downs and rough patches," Welchez says.

After a recent conversation with Rowell, Kircher says he sees Crocodiles and Jaill existing on an unlikely continuum. "Charlie and I talked about those ups and downs, too," he says. "There are vested emotions; the music industry is surprisingly personal, but how things pan out can be all luck of the draw. But if you put your all into what you make, you'll find a way to reach people. It doesn't matter what people are writing about you — or whether they're writing about you at all. Success or no success, for me, Jaill has just been a matter of putting my head down in a brutish way and going with what feels good."

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