In the mid-’90s, unaware that nappy-headed doom spawned by Shawn Fanning lay just on the horizon, major labels went on a grunge-addled buying spree, snapping up bands and losing interest in them like a hormonal teenage girl. Artists like Nada Surf (“Popular”), Superdrag (“Sucked Out”) and Marcy’s Playground (“Sex And Candy”) had a brief moment in the spotlight before being unceremoniously dropped after their second outing.
It’s a familiar story for Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, an Annapolis, Md., quartet led by Jimmy HaHa. The band built a regional following a handful of self-released albums on its own label, Fowl Records, which also released other area artists. Subsequently, JCS’ 1997 major-label debut, Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope, scored them a hit the funk-metal anthem, “High.” After scoring another hit with the party-time power pop of “Do Right,” off Bring Your Own Stereo, the band secured another major-label release with 2004’s more forgettable Re.present. Its failure probably shouldn’t be blamed entirely on the presence of Staind’s Aaron Lewis on the premier cut, but his self-serious attitude does seem to infect the entire project.
Since that failure, JCS has resurrected its old label to release a seventh album, Fail on Cue, which explores a mid-tempo indie rock vibe and excises most evidence of the band’s old metal predilections. The fare is still beefy but altogether more hook-based. There’s even a touch of reggae bounce. Between tour stops in upstate New York, Jimmy HaHa offered his thoughts on five fitting words.
FUGAZI: Great band. I was never really a D.C. hardcore kid. I never really fit into any scene, and I think that kind of is why our music is the way it is. But Fugazi is the reason I started my record label, and why we did the Fugazi cover [“Waiting Room”]. When we first started, we wanted to put out records on Dischord because we knew of it, and it was local. Then I read an article where Ian said, “If you’re not from D.C. and you’re not a friend of mine, I don’t want to hear your record. Start your own record label.” So I was like, “Fine.”
I started Fowl Records. I talked to him a couple months about us doing the cover, and he asked me to send him a record so he could have it for his archives. I told him this is the only cover we’ve ever done in the history of the band, and the reason is because that song is a bit taboo. I told him it’s like a song of a generation, like trying to cover “Stairway to Heaven,” one of those pinnacle songs. He just laughed at me and said I was silly.
ONE HIT WONDER: The fault of a failing industry and a distracted public. People call Marcy Playground a one-hit wonder for “Sex and Candy,” but that’s only because the record label didn’t know … how to promote them and because people heard the song, and that’s all they did. They didn’t get the record and hear “Sherry Fraser.” Then the next record they put out, Shapeshifter, was amazing.
So I think about it, and I don’t know if there are one-hit wonders. Usually, if they’ve written that one good song that has that power behind it that comes through big, I’m going to like something else on there. … Just look at Butch Walker. He’s a brilliant writer. He worked with me on my last album, and he’s just brilliant. You can’t call him a one-hit wonder [for Marvelous 3’s “Freak of the Week”] for the moment the record label gave him the attention that he deserved. … Sometimes people say that was us, a one-hit wonder, but it’s always a different song: “Do Right” or “High. It’s funny because we had another top 10 hit on our second record, but it was just in a different format. We just never wrote the same song over and over again once we had a hit.
MAJOR LABELS: Obsolete and glad I made it through. I think we got onto a major label at the cresting of the wave. There’s some benefits. There’s the monopoly money of marketing you get out of it. I think we were lucky enough to do fairly well. We didn’t do great, but we did well enough and survived through it and got out of it, so that was a good thing as well. But, at this point, there doesn’t seem much of a use for them. … There’s a lot more freedom now, and I think it’s made the music “not industry” a lot cooler. It’s evened the playing field.
CANNABIS: Should be legal. It probably stopped me from being a criminal. It should be legal. The War on Drugs is a farce. It just feeds the prison-economic state. … [My first time] I was 12. We were smoking cigarettes to catch head rushes, and once that stops someone says, “Have you ever heard of this stuff called pot?”
DRUMMERS: I wish I could do it. I’m a guitar player, I wish I could make all that noise. They’re cavemen. Always late. Always disinterested. … They’d pretty much have to be [stoners] because they’re absolutely out of their minds. If you can make all four limbs do different things you are completely ADD, and you need to focus. It probably makes them chill out. Muppets can’t smoke weed, and look at Animal.
Jimmie’s Chicken Shack plays with City Riots Friday, June 20, at The Pour House. Tickets are $8-$10, and the show begins at 10 p.m.