Interview with vocalist/guitarist Dennis Jagard | By Janelle Jones
Ten Foot Pole’s new LP, Setlist – released in late May via Cyber Tracks – may not totally sate the appetite of old diehard fans craving all-new material from the Southern California punk veterans. However, the rationale for including mostly reworked older songs on their first album in over 10 years makes a lot of sense.
“[Setlist] was supposed to be something we quickly did before we got to our next album full of new songs,” frontman Dennis Jagard explains. “The reason Setlist is old songs is because a lot of new people were coming up to us at shows and asking what record they should buy.”
“Instead of just saying a song from one old record and others from another, which sound different because they feature a different singer,” Jagard says he wanted to convince new fans to buy records featuring his own singing—rather than that of former vocalist Scott Radinsky, who went on to play professional baseball and form the band Pulley—as he’s the one whose delivery interested the person in the first place. “I wanted to give them one record that was like, ‘This is what Ten Foot Pole is now,’” he says. “On the next record, we don’t have to still argue [about it]. If people prefer Scott’s voice, then great, they should listen to the old records or listen to Scott’s band. It just offers us a way to put our best material forward to new people so they can get an idea of where we came from.”
For a band who started in the early ‘80s—originally as Scared Straight, before going under the Ten Foot Pole moniker—narrowing down exactly what songs would comprise Setlist was extremely hard. At first, the frontman says he had visions of running through a whole slew of songs in a quick, slapdash way. Jagard’s original idea was to “just lower our bar of quality,” he says. “We’ll just crank through them and call it ‘live.’” Their producer, Kyle Black, talked them out of that. “The whole point is if some new person listens to me singing a song that was on [1994’s] Rev, [on which Radinsky sang], and some person goes, ‘Scott was better!’ this new person can listen to Setlist and go, ‘Really?!’” Jagard clarifies, noting that before, he didn’t have official recordings of him singing these old songs to compare.
The record does include two new songs as well. “I was trying to write a lot of music, and then the idea of Setlist kinda interrupted the flow of what was gonna be the whole album,” Jagard explains. At that juncture, the band had about 25 new songs to choose from. They decided on “Scars” and “I Don’t Want To Go,” the latter being a little more melodic, while “Scars” showcases a heavier sound. They didn’t want people to think they’d gone all melodic, so they decided to include songs that exemplified both sides of the band.
Touring-wise, their future is up in the air. For a while now, Jagard’s main gig has been working as a live sound engineer, most recently touring with Jimmy Eat World. Previously, he’s worked with Prince, Alice In Chains, and Weird Al Yankovic. After he started doing sound for Prince, he pretty much stopped doing Ten Foot Pole “as my main gig,” but says if he does have definite breaks between sound jobs, he’ll plan some shows. For instance, Ten Foot Pole played a few West Coast and Japan dates in the spring.
But, Jagard cautions, “If Iron Maiden calls me up—‘We heard you’re a pretty good sound guy’—I’m gonna have to put Ten Foot Pole on hold.”
Even with his other job taking priority, Jagard is still promoting Ten Foot Pole and getting his music heard. During the last Jimmy Eat World tour, he performed by himself as “TFP Acoustic,” playing for the people waiting in line to see the show. “I call it my ‘rehearsal,’ and pretty much play old and new songs,” he says. “I feel like if I keep doing this, I’ll get better at dealing with people and get better at songwriting and singing and playing guitar.”