“It was scratchy and my control singing wasn’t really good. I didn’t have great range. I tired quickly,” he says. A friend who suffered similar symptoms suggested he might have a vocal polyp. Turns out she was right, though it took three doctors (two of whom told him to relax: “It’s just acid reflux”) to diagnose it and schedule outpatient surgery. Unrelated health problems delayed the operation and, for the next year, Jones largely sidelined his main gig with Palomino (now The Devil Whale. They recently changed their name to avoid a potential lawsuit) and played only the occasional solo show, using amplifiers to aide his overworked larynx. Nothing, however, relieved the stress of stealing the spotlight.
“I like the process of recording with a band. I get really bored with singer/songwriter records. That whole genre is so saturated,” he says. “It seems you can do more interesting things sonically when you have lots of different instruments going and it’s not just someone strumming an acoustic guitar.” That’s how he started out, though, a teenage boy plus guitar struggling to find his voice. “When you’re that age, you show your songs to your friends, and I was always really afraid to write about anything that was about me at all,” he says.
Strange, considering the seemingly bare-all nature of The Devil Whale’s new LP. Like Paraders is a brooding, romantic work of slightly twangy, slightly poppy rock & roll replete with lines like “I’m a crash and a burn from being in love/ I’m a midnight kiss away from being someone” and “You creature of indifference/ Why do I still need you?” If you didn’t know better, you’d assume Jones is either hopelessly whooped or nursing wounds from an ex-flame—or a lingering polyp.
“It’s almost too weird to talk about the songwriting process because some of the songs are four or five years old,” he says, adding that the album was recorded before he matured as a writer. “I feel like I was always limited, I had to have a linear path for the song to follow—what it was going to be about, and it had to have true references. I feel like I broke away from that in the last year. It’s been pretty liberating.”
As a listener, Jones says he’s much more curious about convoluted lyrics than those that are explicitly sweet. He’d rather know the meaning of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” than the inspiration behind one of his heart pounders. Besides, much of Like Paraders’ palpable emotion can be attributed to lush instrumentation and densely layered production courtesy of Shawn Simmons, a Seattle-based sound board guru whose past clients include Sunn O))), Andrew Norsworthy and Jello Biafra & The Melvins. The Devil Whale hooked up with Simmons through friend/musician Matt Hopper and that connection also lead to Jen Wood’s backing vocals on the gorgeous “Butter for Burns.”
Wood (The Postal Service, Black Heart Procession, Joan of Arc) turned an otherwise great song into something truly magical. “We were really lucky to have her,” Jones says.
The Devil Whale prefer that type of piece by piece approach to song craft. Jones typically writes loose, skeletal compositions and brings them to his band mates who then nudge and prod until the song takes shape. Then they retool it again. Most of the material is shaped by Jones and longtime collaborator bassist Jake Chambers. Until recently, the rest of the crew was ever-rotating. Even current guitarist Marcus Bently has one foot out the door. Bently, who has his own project, joined to temporarily help the band out on tour. “It’s been hard to want to replace him,” Jones says.
Jones underwent surgery on the polyp last December. He’s since made a full recovery and while the elusive four-piece still seems out of reach, The Devil Whale have finally found their voice.
The Devil Whale CD Release @ Velour, 135 N. University Ave., Provo, Saturday April 12, 8 p.m. VelourLive.com