JAIL WEDDINGS is a band that's not to be trusted. Actually, they're not so much a band, as frontman Gabriel Hart suggested to me during a recent phone interview. "I just thought, 'Fuck it, I'm going to do exactly what I thought was out of my league.' I kind of wanted to have this big gang, you know?" said Hart, who formed Jail Weddings at a desperate point in his life, following the dismantling of his previous band the Starvations. "I guess I got what I wished for. It sometimes does feel more like a gang than an actual band."
The Los Angeles group, as many as 10 members strong, has been described as a seedy throwback to the classic '60s sounds of Phil Spector, like Nick Cave fronting the Shangri-Las. "America's answer to the Pogues," is how The Stranger recently characterized them. I'm almost tempted to liken them to Belle and Sebastian, if they had all met in AA and decided to knock off banks instead of make melancholy twee pop.
But the band is not a throwback by any means—Hart insists on that point—and none of those descriptions can fully encapsulate the sensation of what it's like to actually listen to Jail Weddings, which vacillates from sexual gratification to having a knife held to your throat—often simultaneously. It's filthy, dirty, glorious, punch-drunk music. "Everything you see live, if you get a sense that something's happening, it's because it probably really is," Hart said to me. "One person's probably pissed off at the other person, one person probably had too much to drink. We really play with our guts splayed out."
Their debut, Love Is Lawless, is a grimy, sweaty, blood-soaked record imported direct from the cocktail lounge that sits just on the outskirts of Hell. Interlocking harmonies and punk energy adorn its habit-forming melodies, which bear names like "What Did You Do With My Gun?" and which could be mistaken for standards if they didn't sound so dangerous. Their brand-new 7-inch ("It Was Nice to Be Loved," backed with a cover of Spanish singer Raphael's 1968 song "Digan Lo Que Digan") was recorded completely live, and shows the group's ever-tightening interplay; their upcoming second album is bound to be even more personal than the first. "Now the band itself is creating fodder for the lyrics," Hart said. "Like, I brought up the whole Fleetwood Mac thing. It's kind of gotten to that point, to an embarrassing degree. All these new songs are kind of about the band and each of the members. If there was going to be a theme for the new record, it would be us collectively trying to reconcile being delinquent adults. It's funny how it's naturally turning into that kind of thing."
A few days after our interview, Hart emailed me a list of things he wanted to emphasize about Jail Weddings that he thought maybe didn't come across during our conversation. It speaks volumes more than I can say about the band myself.
"I guess I was a little self conscious about how I was describing the band's 'bad reputation.' The fact is, after years of wondering why we have such a stigma, I am just coming to terms that it may all be completely deserved. It dawned on me the other day that presently: 1) All the members of JW have slept with each other at one point, and some have been branded as homewreckers outside of the band. 2) I am preoccupied with making sure a couple members are taking their medication while making sure one member is not taking theirs any more. 3) One member just had to turn himself in this week and you will not be seeing him with us on this trip. 4) I am preoccupied with making sure the band goes on before midnight every time we play, otherwise we are too drunk to play—all while making sure everyone has had enough to drink.
"5) This band keeps me up all night most of the time, even whether they are in the same building or not. The mere thought all but removes my very eyelids. 6) People either love us or hate us—which to me is a sign of a good band, so I could care less at the end of the day. Our detractors have in fact called us thieves, sluts, ego-maniacs, juiceheads, faggots, Tiny Elvis, Fleetwood Mac, stuck-up bitches, and so on. We have all or individually fulfilled these heretic slurs at one point or another, so we might also be the most honest band in the world as well. 7) I think this all started sinking in when Matt, our keyboard player, was being set up on a blind date. The girl found out what band he was in and immediately canceled, saying to their mutual friend, 'Fuck no, those guys are bad news.' This surprised us, as we thought we had always done a really good job keeping all the drama insular, but people like to talk as we all know...."
Hart closed by adding, "We take this band very seriously! Very, very serious—to the point of complete absurdity, borderlining on comedy, which we all know is that flashpoint where the magic happens." No, this band is not to be trusted—but you can be damn sure they're a band to be believed.