Make fun of old horror movies all you want, but if you saw one as a child, it stuck with you didn’t it? There is a lot of emotional power in those images — just as there is in a well-written pop song. Combine the two and you really get something special. Nothing demonstrates that better than the music of Doleful Lions. I’ve been fascinated by the group for years. The title track to The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is a perennial secret weapon in my Halloween playlists.
Doleful Lions frontman Jonathan Scott lives in Plano, Ill., about 50 miles west of Chicago. The band started in Chicago in the mid-’90s and relocated to Chapel Hill, N.C. for several years. It includes Jonathan on guitar and vocals and his brother Robert on bass. The brothers will give their first Doleful Lions show in two years on April 22 at the Abbey in Chicago. They just completed a new album, Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison, which should be released soon — hopefully by summer. They are working on yet another album for the Jesus Warhol label and have numerous albums available on Parasol Records.
I spent several hours over the last couple of weeks visiting with Jonathan about his music, his influences and his outlook on life.
“We are all zombies waiting to have an apocalypse,” said Jonathan, when asked about the significance of B horror references in his songs. Jonathan believes Americans are being distracted by trivialities from a creeping fascism — much like the future described in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — and disaster is bound to be the result.
“I feel like everything is a horror show. I think that B-Movie horror is a good barometer for what is going on in the world. I think we are pretty much all programmed and I think that eventually that programming will destroy everyone. I mean people are actually entertained by Dancing With The Stars, which to me is a sign of being a zombie. Most people could care less about the government taking away your rights. They have a big screen TV so who cares? It is totally Brave New World.
“It’s by design. They want us to be all preoccupied with our jobs and our rent and paying for food they know that if we are worrying about that we won’t question them taking our freedoms. People’s lives are hard, ’cause that is what they want, so we don’t question anything. We watch Dancing with the Stars when we get off work cause we can’t be bothered with what is really going on.”
His lyrics are a way of expressing his horror at the world’s problems and dealing with his struggle with bipolar disorder. They also spring from a heartfelt love of old cinema and science fiction — and growing up with access to a damn good video store.
MusicMissionary: “Would you mind telling me how you got into music?”
Jonathan Scott: “When I was 4 is when it started. My parents had an old Realistic stereo they never used and they had a few records and I discovered it and learned how to work it and started listening. I remember they had Abbey Road, Beatles 65, Beatles VI, some Barbra Streisand record and Creedence, but once I discovered the stereo I stopped going outside to play. At that time we were living in Memphis and Elvis was huge so I went to K-Mart and bought Elvis 45s and The Eagles, John Travolta, Shaun Cassidy – you know, the popular stuff in the mid-’70s.”
JS: “I didn’t have any Osmonds, but when I was in kindergarten Kiss was huge and I heard Kiss Alive II and the music scared me and Gene Simmons scared me, but I really loved it.”
MM: “I actually had a Donnie & Marie album. Don’t tell anyone.”
JS: “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t think you should have to be responsible for any record you owned until maybe when you reach high school. I had a lot of pretty lame shit, I had the John Travolta record and really loved it. This song called ‘Easy Evil’ – I loved that song. I read a few years ago that Jim Gordon played drums on that song.”
MM: “Only Travolta song I remember is ‘Gonna Let Her In.’”
JS: “Yeah, that was the big song from the record but I liked the B-Side. That was the A side. I don’t know I was 4. I thought it was good haha.”
MM: “So what about playing music. When did that start?”
JS: “I got into hardcore when I was in high school and really wanted to play in a band ’cause my friends had started playing music. I didn’t play an instrument, but I could sing okay, so my first year of junior college at College Of DuPage I put an ad up looking for a band that plays in the style of Husker Du/Bad Religion or the Descendents and this guy Jason called me and we eventually started a band. We were really bad.”
MM: “What year would that have been, about?”
JS: “This was in 1990. There were a bunch of bands in suburban Chicago doing similar stuff and we eventually got in contact with a lot of people in bands.”
MM: “Did y’all make songs or do covers?”
JS: “We did all originals but we did do a Mudhoney song and a Minor Threat song. It was fun though.”
Cinco de Gatos
MM: “So anyway… You left off doing hardcore and singing but not playing. When did you start doing that? You play guitar, right? Anything else?”
JS: “Yeah well, when that first band broke up, I moved to Chicago and my roommate [Dan Panic] played drums for Screeching Weasel and Jason – the guy that was in my first band — lived like a block away, so we decided to start playing, even though I had only been playing guitar for like a month. We were called Cinco de Gatos and I had to learn to play pretty fast, but we spent most of that summer rehearsing and played our first show in January of 1995. At the time, we had this dude named Ryan who had played drums in this band called Gauge playing second guitar. We did our first show and we were so bad Ryan and Dan quit that night.”
MM: “You say you moved to Chicago. Where were you before that with your first band?”
JS: “In the suburbs. We were based in the Downers Grove area.”
JS: “There was a suburban hardcore scene out there. Tony Victory lived down the street in Downers and had shows at his house all the time and now he is Victory Records haha.”
MM: “What kind of music were you guys making?”
JS: “It was really influenced by Fugazi and the stuff on Dischord Records. Also the bands on Lookout and stuff like Jawbreaker. There were a lot of bands like that at the time.”
From post-hardcore to indie pop
MM: “When did you start to develop your current sound? I’m hearing Beatles, Beach Boys, some shoegaze maybe… Very different from the kind of music you’re describing.”
JS: “Well, at the time when I was playing in Cinco I was getting into stuff like Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, obviously the Beatles, the Byrds and then the UK stuff like My Bloody Valentine, Ride. I was way into Elvis Costello too, but by the end of that band I had completely lost interest in playing post-hardcore or emo or whatever you want to call it and I wanted to play stuff like what I was listening to. Plus Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices came out in ’94 and I got that and I said ‘Screw this band I am in.’ So I bought a 4-Track in 1995 and wrote a bunch of pop songs.”
MM: “Normal pop songs? As in, not about Satan or werewolves or sci fi?”
JS: “Oh no, these songs were love songs. You know, guitar pop stuff, and with Casio keyboards — real twee stuff. I played it for Jason in Cinco de Gatos and he hated it. So I knew I was onto something.
“I have to tell you this story: When my first album Motel Swim came out, DL’s played Chicago. I was living in Chapel Hill at this time, and I played the album for my childhood friend Kevin Smith. Kevin had come up with me and been into hardcore and stuff, and I played him Motel Swim and he said ‘Dude this is the most uncool record I have ever heard.’ I felt like I had accomplished something ’cause that is what I was going for. Haha.”
MM: “So, what was it about pop songs and being uncool that was cool to you?”
JS: “Well, I had been playing in punk rock bands or hardcore, emo whatever you want to call it. Power pop is uncool at least in my circles and I really wanted Doleful Lions to be completely different from the Chicago emo shit that was going on at the time. I felt no connection to that stuff at all.”
MM: “What was it about emo that you hated? Too whiny?”
JS: “No, I just didn’t really feel an emotional connection to it — which is weird considering it is called emo — it always seemed contrived to me. I didn’t feel that music at all, but I felt stuff like Beach Boys and Flamin’ Groovies. I mean I remember where I was the first time I heard ‘Shake Some Action’ but I can’t say the same about the first time I heard Fugazi.”
MM: “The main thing that has fascinated me about your stuff has been the pairing of lush pop and B horror imagery. Can you explain why you like that combination and why you like B horror movies?”
JS: “I grew up loving B movies so much. My brother and I used to watch all that stuff all the time. There is a song on the new album called ‘Julie’s Video’ which is kinda a tribute to this video store my brother and I used to go to, it is what I know so I figured I would write about stuff I know, which is Lucio Fulci movies.”
MM: “Why B horror and not ‘art’ horror?”
JS: “Because I relate to stuff like Gates Of Hell and Dawn of The Dead more than some art house movie. I think it is probably because I am a suburban kid who had access to a really good video store.”
MM: “It seems like you have a thing about zigging when others are zagging if you know what i mean. Finding uncool things and making them cool…”
JS: “Yes, there is a song on the Rats Are Coming The Werewolves Are Here called ‘The Contrarian,’ which is about myself haha.”
MM: “The B horror movie thing is a perfect example.”
JS: “Yeah, taking horrible movies and putting them in a literary context… I mean The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is a horrible movie! Almost unwatchable. But Andy Milligan’s movies are charming and I would much rather watch that than Inception or something.”
MM: “How did you get into that stuff and what made you want to make songs about it?”
JS: “Well, I have been into horror movies since I was a kid and never really grew out of it, and bands like the Misfits and the Cramps have done that sort of thing before, but not really a guitar pop band at least not at that time really.”
MM: “That’s what I found so striking about your music. Pretty sounding music, but the titles and lyrics are like Night of the Living Dead. I love juxtapositions like that.”
JS: “Yeah, I do too. The new record is even more pronounced with that type of thing. The lyrics on the new record are pretty hateful and violent.”
Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out Of Prison
The forthcoming Doleful Lions album has a rather controversial title, though not everyone will get the reference. (I had to look him up myself.) Indie musicians have a hard enough time getting attention that a bit of controversy probably won’t hurt, and it might help.
Beausoleil is doing hard time for the 1969 murder of music teacher and associate Gary Hinman. Beausoleil said he was trying to collect money from Hinman, who was said to owe money to Charles Manson (yes, THAT Charles Manson) for selling a bad batch of mescaline that had in turn been sold to some rather pissed off bikers.
Beausoleil was also a musician and aspiring actor who appeared in some B horror movies and wrote the soundtrack for a movie called Lucifer Rising that he would’ve starred in if he hadn’t gone to prison. Beausoleil wasn’t involved in the Manson Family’s “Helter Skelter” murders, but his affiliation with the Family has most likely kept him from getting paroled.
Jonathan doesn’t condone what Beausoleil did and thinks he deserves to pay for his crime. But he also thinks it unfair that the man’s cultural contributions are forgotten and that he seems to be paying for murders he didn’t commit.
“I think Bobby Beausoleil should pay for his crime, which was murder, but he should not be lumped in with the Manson family ’cause he was never a part of it. Vincent Bugliosi said that Bobby was a part of the Manson family but he wasn’t. He is what I would consider a genius musician and he deserves a fair parole hearing.”
The album title has already garnered a bit of attention.
“Actually I got a message from Bobby Beausoleil the other day about the record from his wife,” Jonathan said. “She was really appreciative. I wanted to let her know we are not planning on breaking him out of prison. We just wanted to acknowledge the musical influence he has had on us. And she told him about it. I guess he got a kick out of it.”
Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil is going to be a very dark album, as you might gather from the video of the title track, which contains scenes from the Kenneth Anger film, Lucifer Rising.
MM: “Tell me about your new album. You said it’s very dark.”
JS: “Yeah it is. I kinda gave up on everything last year. My girlfriend who I lived with I caught cheating on me. She was having an affair and I basically stopped caring about stuff. So the album is really dark and hateful.”
The song “Funeral Skies For Burst Patriot” is a good example of that darkness. Jonathan explained that the lyrics are about a fictitious assassination of right wing pundit Glen Beck. It is also inspired by Peter Gabriel’s “A Family Snapshot,” a song that tells a story from an assassin’s viewpoint.
“Like I said this is a pretty dark record,” he said. “I actually was a little hesitant to put the song on the album after the AZ congresswoman got shot.”
It’s a beautiful song, despite the subject matter:
Mental health issues
Jonathan said he has bipolar disorder. He describes himself as “crazy,” but he is functioning — earning money, paying the rent, making music. He isn’t taking medication right now and says smoking weed “does the trick” without the side effects prescribed drugs gave him.
MM: “Maybe the album [Let's Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison] is a kind of exorcism.”
JS: “Well I am bipolar and it is a lot about me not dealing with being bipolar. I stopped taking my medicine last year. I got tired of being so asleep so with this record this is me totally nuts.”
MM: “Do you want me to edit that part?”
JS: “No, I want people to know how I am. Don’t edit it at all.”
MM: “OK. Totally your call. I know some people are private about that.”
JS: “I am not. I want people to know I am bipolar and I am doing okay.”
Jonathan has uploaded numerous Doleful Lions videos on YouTube. You should also check out the Doleful Lions’ Facebook and MySpace pages. And you’ll want to hear the Doleful Lions back catalog. Jonathan will start releasing those albums soon on Bandcamp. Check the Doleful Lions Facebook page for updates.
UPDATE: The deal with Parasol is off. The new album will come out in digital format on the Jesus Warhol label and Jonathan is shopping the album around to other labels for a CD release. Find out more about the planned release and the blowup that nixed the Parasol deal.