Let's Get Fat 

Sing along with Portland's Joggers, StarTime's ugliest band.

The Joggers have just returned from their first full US tour, and they've learned a few things on the road. Practical lessons, like that van fuel costs beaucoup dollars, and playing fifth on a five-band bill stinks. But they did figure out how to travel light. "I learned to pack less clothes," says drummer Jake Morris. "The band gave me a shoe limit, 'cause I have Imelda Marcos amounts. So I brought two pairs of shoes, but I brought ... "

"He brought a month's worth of clothes in this huge steamer-trunk thing," interrupts bemused guitarist Ben Whitesides.

Morris corrects, "I call it a road case, thank you."

Basically, the Joggers learned what every touring band in America learns upon hitting the open road for the first time: You will not return with any money, edible food will be very sparse, and most of the shows will suck a big bunch of ass. They preempted a singer-songwriter open mic in New York ("These college dudes were there with their American flag straps, and they wanted to sing Pearl Jam songs," quips bassist Darryl Bourque), and closed out a bar mitzvah in Pittsburgh. (Whitesides: "We just played to my aunt and uncle and cousins.") There were humiliations, triumphs, tribulations, and a lot of maniacal dirty humor -- pretty standard unsigned-band tour fare.

But the Joggers returned to their home base of Portland with something most bands hope for, but don't actually get: a really, really good label deal. After playing a show in the tiny basement of Brooklyn's NorthSix club during CMJ '02, they were approached by Isaac Green from StarTime International, home of French Kicks, the Walkmen, and Brendan Benson, among others. "We got a CD to him, and, fortunately for us, he approved," says Whitesides. "We told him about our New York show, he attended, and voilá!"

The band, which also includes guitarist Murphy Kasiewicz, whips up a peppy but intricate blend of catchy party-rock and singalong choruses that call to mind reference points from Pavement to Dexys Midnight Runners. And, since the members all sing and harmonize, it can even venture into the unique territory of Americana or traditional hymnals; the quartet uses elements of round- and shape-note singing to produce chill-inspiring, gleeful harmonies. Their thoughtfully ringing guitar solos -- often bent-up with peculiar tunings -- both mimic each other and engage in some serious interplay, while impeccably solid drums get dancey on the high-hat as easily as they lay into muscled rock fills. They do a kickass cover of Talking Heads' "Night of Melody." They're a bit like a working-class Hot Hot Heat, but with less dance beats, an increased longevity factor, and more hooded sweatshirts.

What do they think about that?

"We don't know much about the Hot Hot Heat, and even less about class," Morris says. "Sweat apparel, though -- we wear it often and inappropriately. But we tend to enjoy playing music with a good beat and melodies we've never heard before. As for longevity? We'll be at it as long as it's fun." Live, the Joggers are bombastic, emanating so much energy and charm it feels like they're gonna go cannibal on your ass. "It's that marriage between audience response, confidence in songwriting, and feeling that all of us are playing well together," Whitesides explains. "When those things happen, that's the best part of playing live. That, and when people scream 'MORE COWBELL!'"

The Joggers' union with StarTime isn't so out-of-the-blue. The band has been together for four years, changing its name from Stateside after learning of another group with the same name. However, the name change proved to be a turning point; after a brief hiatus, the Joggers came back strong in the tight-knit Portland music scene. Self-released album The Joggers was stronger and tighter than the band's previous material, with scrappy pop melodies, intelligent lyrics, and an all-encompassing, red-faced exuberance. What no one expected, though, was the band's new bombardment of unfettered choral rounds -- not exactly the kinds of harmonies often heard in contemporary rock music.

The upcoming StarTime release will be recorded at Portland's Jackpot Studios and released early this summer. The Joggers are writing new material and, predictably, they're excited. "We're the only non-New York band on the label," Morris notes.

"We're also StarTime's ugliest band," Kasiewicz says.

"He's got that painfully true sense of humor," Bourque sighs.

But maybe looks and music don't have to be bedfellows, anyway. In a recent review of oddball indie-rocker Har Mar Superstar that ran in a New York weekly, the writer expressed amazement at Har Mar's ability to enchant a crowd, in spite of his being such a "porker."

"If that's the case," Bourque says, "they're gonna rip us to shreds."

Not one to be broken down by the potential for derisive reviews, Morris proposes a challenge: "I say we get fatter -- let's show their asses just how fat we can fuckin' get."

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