Jaguar Love, the latest electroclash/art-rock/whatever project from former Blood Brothers Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato, is one of the stranger beasts in contemporary music. The Portland duo's next-level beats and stratospheric vocals drive home songs that are prone to veer off in unexpected directions. (Think MGMT with ADHD self-medicating with PCP. Or don't.)
The band has just unleashed its second studio album, Hologram Jam, on both vinyl and CD through Fat Possum, a label once reserved for blues guys who are now long dead. Its best songs are innovative and infectious, a cathartic cure for lethargic minds and bodies. At other times, the album is, well, not for everyone.
The Indy tracked down the hyperactive Whitney last Friday, and this is what we talked about:
Indy: "I Started a Fire" is my favorite song on the new album, and not just because it's the first. But I want to ask about the line, "A blazing boy formed into flesh out of the fire with cobras for teeth." Did that really happen?
JW: No. Yes. No ... Yeah, it happened.
Indy: So what was that like for you?
JW: It was illuminating. And frightening.
Indy: Some of your lyrics are pretty surreal, like William Burroughs surreal. And then others, like "A Prostitute, an Angel," are kind of linear and almost heartfelt. Is that a function of the two of you as songwriters bringing different personalities to the table?
JW: Actually, that was kind of a function of — this is very unusual for me — but I gave birth ... Well, I didn't give birth, my wife gave birth, to a baby girl this year. And with the songs "A Prostitute, an Angel" and "Sad Parade," they just felt like they needed something that was less sort of fun and visual, and more something that was meaningful and sort of linear, like you say. On that song specifically, I was just trying to think about — with this new heart that I had for my baby girl — how sad the life of a woman who is a prostitute is, and just having it be this narrative about a loveless person.
Indy: The other song that surprised me was [the cover of Big Brother & the Holding Company's] "Piece of My Heart." What brought that on?
JW: I did it just to see if a kind of electro version of that song would sound interesting. Janis [Joplin] has always been somebody I've really modeled my vocals after.
Indy: There aren't a whole lot of people who sing like you. You've been compared to Robert Plant and Perry Farrell and maybe Freddie Mercury — and don't forget those guys from Sparks and Split Enz. So where does that voice come from?
JW: I've been doing this since I was 14 — you know, I'm 28 now — and I developed more of the high register of my voice sometime around 2003 when our other band, Blood Brothers, was doing our record Crimes. A lot of people find it to be very unusual, but it's just how I sing.
Indy: So if you took nitrous oxide, would your voice go down?
JW: Yeah, totally. And I would say goodbye instead of hello.