Blair Shehan says that his time away from The Jealous Sound wasn’t a matter of losing his way. It was a matter of finding it.
“I got zeroed out, and I had to figure out how to do things in a healthy way,” the singer-guitarist says, recounting the long, strange trip it’s been to 2012, when the Los Angeles quartet will release its first album in nine years, A Gentle Reminder. “I’ve been humbled, and now I’m a very different person than I was in 2003. I’ve learned a lot about just being in the world.”
Many of those life lessons are revealed in the grandeur of the new album, a poignant and emotional triumph that not only proves a worthy successor to Kill Them With Kindness — named one of Spin’s best albums of ’03 — but reveals the foursome at the top of its craft. Open-hearted, yes, but not really gentle at all, A Gentle Reminder represents a 44-minute epiphany set to cascading guitars, thundering rhythms and Shehan’s evocative vocals.
Made in the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 with John Lousteau producing, A Gentle Reminder features founding members Shehan and guitarist Pedro Benito working alongside the Foos’ Nate Mendel (filling in on bass for the departed John McGinnis) and new drummer Bob Penn.
How the quartet coalesced to recapture the magic is a labyrinthine tale that covers three states and includes a lot of emotional baggage, but the first turning point came in late 2004 after rigorous touring behind Kill Them With Kindness. A major label was poised to come on board and help with a follow-up. “But we were simply out of gas,” Shehan says. “I was spent. I remember John telling me, ‘You know, you don’t have to feel bad if you don’t want to do this.”
A half-hearted attempt at carrying on yielded only 2005’s Got Friends EP, and it was painfully evident The Jealous Sound had stalled completely. So Shehan set aside the band life, moved to Las Vegas and got a day job.
“There’s a sense that I flipped out and left; people thought I went crazy,” Shehan says. “But what’s crazy? Staying in a band at my age with no stability? Ignoring the normal parts of becoming an adult? People don’t necessarily understand what we do, and the commitment it takes to do what we do.”
After two-plus years in Las Vegas, “things there fell apart in very dramatic fashion,” Shehan says, so he moved to Florida and at one point was even poised to take the LSAT. He bought a guitar instead, and reconnected with Benito, whose friendship with Mendel helped The Jealous Sound land a spot opening a 2009 tour for the bassist’s previous band, emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate. The old juices started flowing.
When that tour ended, The Jealous Sound began meticulously piecing together the ideas that would become A Gentle Reminder, an experience that at once thrilled and horrified Shehan. “Sometimes I’d be writing a song and think, ‘Oh, man, I don’t really want to say this, do I?'” Shehan says. “But the process of writing removes any filters you have — you’re not as in control of things as you’d like to be. It ended up being very liberating.”
That sense of freedom rings throughout “A Gentle Reminder,” which finds Shehan taking inventory of the past, for better or worse, and looking stoically toward the future. He acknowledges the weight of his regrets in “Here Comes the Ride” but sounds up to the task of bearing it. The effervescent “Your Eyes Were Shining” seems on the surface directed to a sweetheart, but when Shehan sings “The heavens opened wide / and let you in,” he could just as easily be talking about reconnecting, happily, with his songwriting muse. That theme of renewal re-emerges in the “beating drum” and “beating heart” of “This Is Where It Starts.” There, as he likens his visions and dreams to “a rush of blood,” fans of The Jealous Sound’s open-hearted buoyancy will be happy that the quartet has once again opened a vein.
Indeed, after almost a decade, Shehan is still spilling blood. It’s just more mature blood.
The Jealous Sound on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thejealoussound
A GENTLE REMINDER
MUSIC IS SUBJECTIVE / FONTANA DISTRIBUTION
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 31, 2012 – OUT NOW
1. BEAUTIFUL MORNING
2. CHANGE YOU
3. PROMISE OF THE WEST
4. YOUR EYES WERE SHINING
5. THIS IS WHERE IT STARTS
6. HERE COMES THE RIDE
8. PERFECT TIMING
9. A GENTLE REMINDER
10. WAITING FOR YOUR ARRIVAL
The Jealous Sound Tour Dates:
Feb 03 Soda Bar San Diego, CA
Feb 04 Rogue Scottsdale, AZ
Feb 06 The Mohawk Austin, TX
Feb 07 Lola’s Sixth Fort Worth, TX
Feb 08 Stickyz Rock’n’Roll Chicken Little Rock, AR
Feb 09 The EARL Atlanta, GA
Feb 10 Local 506 Chapel Hill, NC
Feb 11 Strange Matter Richmond, VA
Feb 12 Rock and Roll Hotel Washington, DC
Feb 14 Great Scott Allston, MA Tickets
Feb 15 Knitting Factory Brooklyn Brooklyn, NY
Feb 16 MilkBoy Philly Philadelphia, PA
Feb 17 Grog Shop Cleveland, OH
Feb 18 Subterranean Chicago, IL
Feb 19 Triple Rock Social Club Minneapolis, MN
Feb 20 The Riot Room Kansas City, MO
Feb 21 Marquis Theater Denver, CO
Feb 22 Kilby Court Salt Lake City, UT
Feb 24 Hawthorne Theatre Portland, OR
Feb 25 El Corazon Seattle, WA
Feb 27 Bottom of the Hill San Francisco, CA
Feb 28 The Satellite Los Angeles, CA