Interview: Von Bondies

When you meet Jason Stollsteimer you get the feeling he could talk music for weeks and never run out of things to say. Love, Hate and Then There’s You, which came out in February, is the Von Bondies‘ third album, and first since the highly acclaimed Pawn Shoppe Heart hit the shelves in 2004. Their musical passions run deep, ranging from budding Canadian Indie to Japanese rock, from musical pigeonholing to discovering new bands to take on tour’¦

The new record is very slick compared to your previous albums’¦
People from some areas think it’s slick. Others just think it’s a good pop record. If you listen to Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is the most expensively made Indie record you’ll ever hear. I grew up listening to Nirvana and the Pixies, and they always produced slick recordings. We got pinned as -garage’, because we’re from Detroit and we came out around 2000. We were sloppy, but that was because we couldn’t play our instruments, not because we wanted to be. If the new pop record is slicker, it’s because we are a much tighter band in the studio.

There’s a real fast, flowing feel to it…
Yeah, everything’s fast. There’s no slow track on this one. There’s no way I don’t have ADHD, because everything has to be at high speed.

Is the title a stab at the music press?
Well we didn’t put any credits in it. We just put everyone in the title. ‘Shut Your Mouth’ is about the local Detroit press.

What is it about them the press that bothers you?
Well, for example, just wrote a review of the new record that called it the best guitar album of 2009 so far. Which is awesome. But then they have to pigeonhole it as garage rock. The album’s full of love songs; it’s pop, not garage rock! Anything you can sing along to is pop. Queens of the Stone Age is pop. Kanye West is pop. A lot of journalism is really lazy. They can’t think of a better way to describe something, so they stick it in a category. Wikipedia has made it even lazier. People who’ve met us for a day post total lies on Wikipedia. They’re not always bad things, they’re just not true. It’s too easy to go online and write a review of a record without even listening to it now.

The Von Bondies, as a band, seem to be a very fluid concept’¦.
Yeah, nobody’s ever been involved in writing or recording any of the records except me. The band is more for the live shows. Whoever plays with energy and wants to go on tour is in the band. I never started a band saying -these people are going to be the band’, you know? We just did a radio session, and I had two of my friends from Ireland play. Nobody at home knows the difference, as long as I’m there to sing. If it’s live, I need to find people who are energetic. There are too many bands out there that don’t even like touring.

Would you like to play every instrument at the shows as well?
No. I couldn’t pull off standing on stage without a guitar. But I have an addictive personality, and this – playing music – is the best drug I’ve ever taken. I used to drink and party a lot before I was in the band. I didn’t start playing until I was 19; I never wanted to be in a band even once I was in one. I stopped really partying because I got so addicted to playing music and writing songs. I never played any covers; I don’t even know any Nirvana songs. I just do what I do.

What’s your approach to putting together a show?
Too many bands just stand there, play their songs and go home. We screw up our songs constantly live, but we’ll always put on a show. I love to find new bands. The Kills, Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand’¦ we took all of them on some of their first tours, opening for us. We took Fight Like Apes on their first tour ever. There was this band called Platypus, from the UK, a bunch of British high school kids. They sent me their CD, and said they run a Von Bondies fan site. It was really nice. A year later they changed their name to the Subways. The Subways were a band who covered one of our songs, we finally met them when they won a contest to open Glastonbury. As for us, we have no intention of ever being a stadium band. We play 800-1000 seaters. For the last song we like to get some kids up on stage to play our songs. We’ve found kids in Europe can’t sing -Come On, Come On’. Like I can’t sing something like -Hounds of Love’, the accent doesn’t work. But it’s funny.

How many songs have you written?
The latest album had 68 songs. I narrowed it down to the 12 I think people will like the most. The other 56′¦ I like all of them. People ask me if I’m sick of playing some of our songs. No! Why would I be sick of it, it’s my song! I don’t go home and listen to it, but I like playing it.

It’s been nine years now, and a gap of four after you released the last record. Did you ever get sick of the touring?
The only time I was sick of it was when I was married, and I’d been on the road for about three years. I just wanted to get back. Then when I did, I didn’t want to be married anymore. It’s an ADD generation.

Is that what ‘Pure Bride’ is about?
No, actually I wrote that two years before I got a divorce, when I was married. Maybe I foretold my own future. It wasn’t about that, but it’s become word for word about going through a divorce.

Have you ever been tempted to add a gimmick?
No. Some people think the girls in the bands are a gimmick. We just have female backing vocals, so we need girls. I could sing them myself [Jason starts singing -Come On, Come On’ at a very high pitch]. I wouldn’t do that live, it’s kind of embarrassing.

Tell us a tour story.
Ok. This was before I had a girlfriend. I don’t want her to read this and go -you did what?’. In Canada, I went back to this girl’s house. We were really drunk, and her roommate left to go and get more drinks. She went to the bathroom and when she came back she was naked. I hadn’t flirted with her, nothing. When she was walking towards me part of my mind was like -this is awesome’, the other part was like -what kind of girl does this? This isn’t going to be good. I don’t want band AIDS!’ Just then the guy, the one who was getting the drinks, he walked back in. She got all embarrassed. I was grateful for him in a way. I don’t know who she thought we were. We’re not that famous. We sell our own t-shirts!

What would you be doing it you weren’t in a band?
Probably tour managing. I’m good at discovering new bands. Right now there’s a band called Bad Veins, who I’ve been watching for a couple of years. I think they’re from St Louis. They’re like Radiohead when they wrote ‘Creep’ mixed with Arcade Fire, but aggressive. The other band is Lightning Love! from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re great. They’re probably the best new-ish band right now. We’re going to take them on our next tour.

Bad Veins – Falling Tide

You’ve been through a lot of record labels now’¦
Yeah, but we’ve never been dropped. A lot of the UK music press said we were dropped. When we were on a major label, they wanted us to be more emo. I said no, we’re not an emo band. It took two and a half years and I had to pay a lot of money to get released from the contract. I’ll never go back on a major. I’m not writing songs for the top 40. We had a big single, but I had more fun before that happened. Even the interviews are more fun now. I don’t even care if we talk about the album.

So what’s next?
Well, this year we’ll tour for nine months, and then we’ll decide whether to put out another record. I’ll know when it’s time to stop.

As published on, April 2009.

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