It’s 1:00 a.m. on a Monday morning in the backroom of The Redwood Bar, and Chris Rosales—drummer for Swiss garage-punk group The Jackets—glares at me with a look that portrays exhaustion, irritation, and readiness.
Placing myself in his shoes, I can’t blame the guy for feeling like that. After all, The Jackets flew across two time zones to undertake a tour of the U.S. West Coast alongside The Darts, and with this Los Angeles gig done, the light at the end of the tunnel is near. For Rosales, he’s almost “home,” while actually being home. Rosales—a Swiss transplant originally from Southern California—returned to the Southland with The Jackets after an extended absence, allowing old friends and family to see, for the first time, the project its members have poured their hearts into for the last decade.
“Want to know what this tour has been like so far?” he asks. I glare back, shrug, and shake my head. Rosales answers, “Do you understand the idea of something simultaneously going slow and fast? ‘Cause that’s what this tour feels like, and we’re not done yet!” He digresses from there, “Touring here is different than Europe. I notice, here, it’s all about how quickly you can get things done—like, load in, set up, line check, play, load out—they push you. Touring the U.S. is stressful. It’s no wonder the bands here are so good, and The Darts is a great example of this.”
The Jackets are well recognized in the garage punk scene in their native Switzerland and throughout Europe. They are fronted by the animated Jackie Brutsche—aka Jack Torera—on lead vocals and guitar, with a rhythm section consisting of backing vocalists, bassist Sam Schmidiger and drummer Rosales. Their musical aesthetics parallel The Monks and The Sonics, and their live shows deliver the high-octane spirit The MC5 brought whenever they plugged in. This combination has built their great reputation and taken them throughout Europe’s festival circuit, with a string of labels releasing their material.
Their latest LP, 2015’s Shadows of Sound, is a part of the Voodoo Rhythm Records catalog, and The Jackets continued that working relationship with the “Queen of the Pill / Be Myself” 7”, which Voodoo Rhythm released in June of 2017. Burger Records also issued a twofer of Shadows of Sound and 2012’s Way Out on cassette in October for the hordes here in the United States.
Although “big” in Europe, The Jackets are still nobodies here. The scene in the U.S. is burgeoning, but still small and scattered. However, they’re not intimidated; they’re excited about playing places where no one knows who they are. When asked about how the new crowds have reacted to their live set, Rosales states, “It takes people a little while to realize what’s going on onstage when we start playing. There are looks of confusion and wonder. They see Jackie onstage and the look on their face is like, ‘What the fuck is going on? Who is this girl?!’ Once the third song gets underway, the crowds seem to settle in and have a blast. The reception we’ve gotten has been great. Seems like they dig us.”
Brutsche walks into the backroom and takes a seat next to Rosales. When asked the same question about the crowds, her face lights up, and she enthusiastically says, “Maybe it’s something new to them and they’re not sure to how to react at first, but they’re also not walking away! Every city has had a different reaction so far, but for the most part, they seem into us, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
“Unless you’re Jello Biafra,” Rosales interjects humorously, “he thought we needed another guitar player when we saw him in San Francisco.”
Even the sparse crowd watching their set this evening didn’t stop these three from putting on an electrifying performance. Their show is one of the standouts I’ve seen in 2017: they’re an incredible live band who bring high energy, audience engagement, and great music with everything they have. They’re one of those groups whose live sound is identical to their records, and Brutsche puts on a calisthenics course while the band rip through tracks like “Don’t Turn Yourself In,” “At The Go-Go,” and “Freak Out.”
Rosales follows up with how this opportunity was presented to them, explaining, “Nicole [Laurent] and Christina [Martinez] from The Darts and us go way back from their Love Me Nots days. Nicole’s been hounding us for years to come over and tour, we just knew it wasn’t the right time during the times she offered. If you know Nicole, you know that when she wants something, she gets it done. When she offered to set some dates up, that’s when we mulled it [over] and decided to greenlight this. Eventually, the word about us coming here got out to Canada, and a promoter from Quebec hit us with an offer. My friends from Ugly Things Magazine set up shows down here in Southern California, and they’re from what I call the ‘Beatle Boot scene,’ so people here in that world already were familiar with us. From there, everything fell into place, and all we had to do was show up.”
When discussing the obstacles of touring abroad, the band aren’t fazed by its circumstances and challenges. Sure, they were told what to expect from their friends who’ve made the trek before, and Brutsche acknowledges, “All the stories we’ve heard about touring the United States are true; it’s not easy as touring around Europe. You’re forced to work with fewer resources and a tighter schedule. I can’t recall us experiencing that at home.”
When asked for more details, Rosales gives the obvious answer: “The crowds are smaller, that’s a big difference. Yet, the bands here are making it work for them. There’s a good network between the bands and the venues here.”
Shadows of Sound is a good starting point for anyone who needs an introduction to The Jackets. Its creation was an undertaking the three carefully planned and took their time with until they were confident in the final presentation. Rosales talks retrospectively about the group reaching this point from their first record to now, noting, “Our first album, [2009’s Stuck Inside], no one really knows [it], and it’s not the best representation of ourselves. I mean, we cut that album after six months of being a band, so that’s the reason. It’s a demo, really. It wasn’t until we recorded Way Out, which is our second album, that we began to realize and progress into who we wanted to be. We also took it to another level for us and were playing live more and doing all these tours, which, in turn, helped us write better songs, and Way Out reflects this.”
Brutsche adds, “We recorded [Way Out] with the idea to take our time and be confident that what’s on the album is what we actually want on the album. By that, I mean listen to the playbacks and analyze if we, ourselves, could make a specific track better by adding something or taking anything out. The key was not to rush it. All three of us have to be confident that all aspects are on point, like the tempos and production.”
Way Out’s production was mostly the work of the three members, with Rosales doing the mixing. With Shadows of Sound, they wanted a producer present to help guide them and be an extra set of ears in the room to provide feedback. They didn’t look far before they found one in the eccentric Jorge Explosion who engineered the record in January 2015 at his studio in Gijon, Spain, Estudios Circo Perrotti. Brutsche explains, “[Explosion] was a great fit, because we really like his bands. He was always asking when we could work together; it was a matter of time. We trusted him, because he’s also a musician, and that was important. He helped with our arrangements and was a great set of ears throughout the process.”
Rosales interjects with a slightly different take. “This isn’t a knock, because it’s only coming from me and is my issue, but I believe Shadows [of Sound] was an overthought record!” he admits. “Jorge did a great job with it, but even with all his work, I feel like something still isn’t present in this one. Yet, this is how I also feel about all the other albums we’ve done together, and I never felt this way before about any records I did with my old bands. I care about this group a lot: this is my band, and I have a one-third equal say in what we do. That’s something I never felt like I had with any of my old groups, so how we present ourselves as The Jackets is very important.”
Now, Schmidiger walks into the room and takes a seat next to Rosales. It’s an opportunity to follow up on Rosales’s last statement, to get the bassist’s and Brutsche’s thoughts on what being in this band means to them. Schmidiger responds with ease, as if he’s answered this question many times. “For me, everyone is 100 percent into their role, and no one here needs convincing,” he says. “That’s something important to me, that we’re on the same page. For us, this is not a hobby, and we didn’t intend to make this a hobby—it’s what we do.”
Brutsche is quick to add her input, leaning over to state, “I think I speak for everyone here by saying The Jackets are a very, very important part of our lives.”
For Brutsche, the arts have always been a central priority in her life. Aside from fronting The Jackets, she’s also an accomplished, multifaceted artist who works in live theater, film, sculpture, and more. She incorporated a personal anecdote in Shadows of Sound on the track “Astronaut,” an homage to her late mentor who passed away during the making of a recent theatrical production they were working on together.
“I participate in theater by doing one-woman shows, and Chris and I worked together with this famous director to make this new show called ‘The Rebel Sperm,’” she recounts. “‘Astronaut’ is one song out of this play that we put on the record, and there is a lyric that the director wrote: ‘The postman always rings twice / But the astronaut rings for eternity.’ This woman who we worked with is a genius in German and Swiss theater, and she passed away before this play was completed.”
Of course, though the main topic is Brutsche’s attachment to this mentor, I have to ask about “The Rebel Sperm.” Rosales is happy to get into the details, sharing, “‘The Rebel Sperm’ is about sperm in the sack who rebel after they realize their chances of actually reaching the egg are something like 1 to .000000000000000000001 percent. So, a revolution happens down there!”
Brutsche follows up with the connection between the song and the play: “However, the main sperm character wants to become an astronaut, and that dream makes him find his way to the egg. There you go, that’s the reason!”
It’s very clear that That Jackets are one of the biggest, if not the biggest priority for their members. Rosales explains with a sense of humor, “It gives our lives meaning! I’m always waiting for the next tour, and I’m the kind of guy who gets mad if we’re not playing all the time—more than these guys do. It saves me!”
It’s almost 2:00 a.m., and the band have a 6:00 a.m. flight to Arizona to play the final shows of their tour with The Darts. They conclude by offering their advice to people who want to pursue a similar path to theirs. Brutsche leads off, “You have to go with what you feel. It’s the truest way to live. Also, do try different things in whatever it is you want to do. Get out there!”
Rosales goes next, asserting, “Don’t worry about being an amazing genius musician, but when you’re playing, you need to believe in what you’re playing and in yourself for pulling it off. That’s the secret—now it’s not a secret anymore. When you’re playing something—or doing whatever it is that you’re doing—and you don’t believe in it, it’s time to stop. It has to be from you or it’s not going to work. If you don’t have faith in yourself, no one will have faith in you.”
Finally, Schmidiger adds a more personal and practical bit of advice. “For me, what was very important was to stay myself and be who I am no matter what I’m doing,” he says. “I like outdoors activities, and I’m not a part of the classic idea of rock ‘n’ roll where you stay or move into the city and live there. You need to have a balance […] to do what you love and be who you really are. Also, try new roles in whatever it is you do; don’t lock yourself into one thing only. You’ll get bored.”
The Jackets also highly advise that you get your groove on to the following bands: The Monsters, The Darts, The Shit, and Shady & The Vamp.
Visit The Jackets at their official website!