Saint Motel Front Man A/J Jackson on Beethoven, Mariachis, Virtual Reality and Reggie Watts (Q&A)

Saint Motel Front Man A/J Jackson on Beethoven, Mariachis, Virtual Reality and Reggie Watts (Q&A)

Los Angeles-based alt-pop band Saint Motel made their full-length indie debut with 2012’s memorable Voyeur, but came to international prominence two years later after putting out the My Type EP via Elektra Records. The jaunty title track went top 20 in Italy, Scotland and Canada and did even better in America. It was followed by another minor hit in the United States, “Cold Cold Man.”

After a stand out main stage appearance at Coachella 2015 (complete with Vegas-style showgirls) that had everybody talking, the foursome unveiled their thoroughly entertaining sophomore album, saintmotelevision, last year. It was co-produced by Tim Pagnotta, singer/songwriter of the band Sugarcult and best known for his work with Neon Trees and Walk the Moon. Party-minded lead single “Move” channeled KC and the Sunshine Band – in a good way – and became Saint Motel’s biggest track to date at Adult Alternative radio.

A/J Jackson handles vocals, keyboards and guitar. He attended film school with lead guitarist Aaron Sharp in Orange, Calif., where they formed Saint Motel in 2009. Since then, Jackson has put his schooling to good use by directing several of the band’s music videos.

Recently the band released another 360° interactive Virtualizer video for “Sweet Talk,” with future plans for additional clips, eventually culminating in the first virtual reality album for saintmotelevision.

I checked in with Jackson while on tour with Panic! at the Disco.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Has this run of large scale shows been an eye-opener?

A/J Jackson: Yeah. These are some of the biggest rooms we’ve ever played and definitely some new experiences for us. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re very happy to be on this bill.

I bet you could envision the band headlining those places in the future.

A/J Jackson: Absolutely. There’s so much stuff I want to do!

Can you provide some background on the innovative videos you’ve done lately?

A/J Jackson: We call them Virtualizers. We made it up. It’s a combination of a lyric video, a visualizer, a live performance video and unique graphics to the song – that’s our criteria. We’re excited about them. They’re not trying to replace the music video, which is generally its own separate narrative, a high-budget thing and a beautiful art form in itself. I love music videos. This is something more intense, unique and our first experience with virtual reality.

We didn’t go too crazy. It’s just one location. You’re sitting in the middle of it. Not like a roller coaster, where you have to watch it in the right way. It’s entry level, which I think is good. We haven’t lost that many people who might not like the technology. It’s a light way to experience it. You can watch it on your phone, your computer or a virtual reality headset.

The idea is like when you first put on albums as a kid – you lay back on your bed and use your imagination. This is kind of the same thing. You just walk into the song, sit down and experience it. They’re fun.

Have other acts done anything similar using just VR?

A/J Jackson: Muse did an epic one. Childish Gambino used live VR at his concerts. A lot of bands are doing their sets with a virtual reality camera onstage so you can watch it. I don’t think anyone else has done Virtualizers. We came up with the term for something we hadn’t seen before. I think this is unique to us. It’s the result of a much longer process.

We had a big, overly ambitious idea for the whole album. About two years ago, some friends from film school really got me into the art. We were going back and forth for months figuring out how we could do something. The original idea was to do a complete virtual reality music video experience for the entire album with a narrative thread – like a comedy type thing, where there’s a storyline for every song. It was a really cool idea, but way out of our budget as a baby band.

Like Beyonce-level ambition. So these Virtualizers were something we could do with the smaller resources we had as an indie kind of band. That’s how it all came together. We didn’t say anything about the full album until we were a little closer to the goal line.

The regular music video for “Move” is set in a TV news studio. Was that meant to tie-in with the whole saintmotelevision title and concept?

A/J Jackson: Yeah. We were trying to figure out a way to keep it cohesive. We had the album title, the artwork and video…We wanted to try and keep it in the world of television and the TV studio ended up being a good fit.

How did you get musician/comedian Reggie Watts to do a quick cameo at the end of it?

A/J Jackson: We did that with him when we were on [The Late Late Show] with James Corden. We went backstage, put up a green screen and he just knocked it out there. He’s been really cool to the band; so has James. We were one of the first guests they had on the show and I don’t know if they were serious, but they wanted to have “My Type” for their theme song for a bit. Reggie has come to some of our rehearsals and is a super cool guy. James and the whole staff on that show are all supporters of the band.

Among the standouts on the latest album is the snappy “For Elise,” where you sing about writer’s block and name check famous female music muses from the 1960s and ‘70s like Carole King, Patti Boyd, Linda Eastman and Holly Woodlawn. How did that one come about?

A/J Jackson: It started with using [Beethoven] kind of chords, then the concept was Beethoven’s immortal beloved on [famous classical composition] “Fur Elise” – how she’s the ultimate muse and a mystery. I had an idea: ‘this is a song for the muses.’ Starting with the greatest muse and taking it through rock ‘n’ roll history. That song was really fun to write.

The dreamy, atmospheric “Slow Motion,” with cascading synth lines, is a departure for the band. How was that one created?

A/J Jackson: It started with the crazy sound of a [synthesizer] arpeggiator [function]. It felt like a natural thing to also make the lyrics slow motion. Having everything slow down was a fun play on the idea.

Horns often play a big part in Saint Motel’s sound even though you don’t officially have any players in the group. Where does that emphasis stem from?

A/J Jackson: Initially, when we relied [completely] on other producers, we had limited time in the studio. We would bang out nine songs in a day and that was our recording experience. When we started self-producing, we were in control, doing what we want and there were no limits. That’s when we were more free and flexible to experiment. So we started utilizing horns, strings, thicker harmonies and percussion that we didn’t traditionally do as a four-piece rock band.

The “My Type” riff was written on piano and became a horn riff. That’s how we started getting into using more synths or strings or horns.

James King from Fitz + the Tantrums does some fine sax work on three of the saintmotelevision songs.

A/J Jackson: He’s awesome. He laid down some sax on the album and the My Type EP. We really like working with James. His solos are incredible and he’s a great all-around player. He let it rip. It’s fun to watch him work.

Have you shared a stage with King and Fitz + the Tantrums before?

A/J Jackson: We just did in Portland. He came up during “My Type.” We didn’t know he was going to do that.

I saw that a mariachi band has covered “Move.” Ever play it live with a mariachi band?

A/J Jackson: We have. When we did our headlining show in LA last fall, we had a mariachi band onstage with us. It was Mexican Independence Day, so it was a perfect combination. LA has such amazing mariachi bands. We found a great group of guys, who we’d love to have play with us more. Hopefully we will when we come back to LA. They did the entire My Type EP and it came out so well, we’re seeing if they want to do some more. They’re called Mariachi Los Toros.

Are there plans to play headline dates in the U.S. later this year?

A/J Jackson: We’re talking about it. Nothing’s official yet. We have some cool ideas. I really hope we do. I want to take the television concept to the next level.

Saint Motel – American Tour Dates

March 28 The Forum – Inglewood, California

March 29 Talking Stick Resort Arena – Phoenix, Arizona

March 31 Allen Event Center – Allen, Texas

April 1 Toyota Center – Houston, Texas

April 2 Frank Erwin Center – Austin, Texas

April 4 BOK Center – Tulsa, Oklahoma

April 5 Scottrade Center – St. Louis, Missouri

April 7 BJCC Arena – Birmingham, Alabama

April 8 FedEx Forum – Memphis, Tennessee

April 9 KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, Kentucky

April 11 Greensboro Coliseum Complex – Greensboro, North Carolina

April 12 Infinite Energy Center – Duluth, Georgia

April 14 Amway Center – Orlando, Florida

April 15 BB&T Center – Sunrise, Florida

May 12-14 Shaky Knees Music Festival – Atlanta, Georgia

May 26 Bottlerock Festival – Napa, California

June 2-4 Governors Ball Music Festival – New York, New York

June 16 Boulevardia Festival – Kansas City, Missouri

June 24 Shake the Lake Festival – Madison, Wisconsin

July 27 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, Maryland (opening for alt-J)

August 12 Velorama Festival – Denver, Colorado



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