Interview:  Dennis Jagard (Ten Foot Pole) talks touring, taking over vocal duties and working with Prince

Interview: Dennis Jagard (Ten Foot Pole) talks touring, taking over vocal duties and working with Prince

If you were a punk of the 90s and remember a time when snap bracelets were cool then you’ll also remember when Ten Foot Pole were in their element.  It’s been eight years since the band put out an album but their making their way to Australia for the first time in 15 years and we spoke to Dennis (Denny) Jagard ahead of their impending tour.
We covered a lot of ground including what’s bringing halfway across the world, new material, Denny’s day job as a live audio engineer, Scott’s departure and Denny’s eventual takeover of vocal duties.  We also discussed what their live shows entail now their not the spring chickens they used to be.  Read the full interview here.

For the first time in 15 years Ten Foot Pole are coming to Australia. How did this tour come about and why?

It’s pretty tricky.  I’m a sound engineer for different touring artists and I have a job with Beck in November in Australia.  Usually I don’t book Ten Foot Pole tours because I don’t want it to block my main job but because I have this tour with Beck in November I didn’t think that I had much chance of being hired right after that so I felt if I stayed in Australia for an extra week or so I probably wouldn’t be wrecking my sound career so it just made sense.

You guys haven’t released an album since 2004 [Subliminal Messages].  Are you just playing shows when you play shows or do you plan to record another album?

It’s definitely not a high priority.  There was one point when we were going to be a band and we were going to do this all the time.  After a few years of “living the dream” we realized that it was going to be hard to live a less-than-starving lifestyle so we all got regular jobs.  To me the band is something to do every once and while, just for fun.  If we end up with a whole album worth of material and it makes sense to record it then great but it’s not something that is a high priority.

You’ve got the gig as a live sound engineer; if you were to record a new Ten Foot Pole album would you record it yourself?

No, I probably wouldn’t.  I’m pretty confident with my abilities as a live sound engineer.  I’ve worked with some pretty big guys and I’m pretty good if I do say so myself but as for a recorded album it’s just a whole different animal.  There’s a whole different level of skill, nuance and experience that I think could help us get something better than if we did it ourselves.  On the last album, I was actually happy with how it turned out. I feel like bringing in guys who are really good at what they do is worthwhile.  It’s an album you have to live with forever.

You’ve worked with some huge names like AFI and Jimmy Eat World but then there are names in there like Prince who would have been amazing to work for.  Who has been the weirdest you’ve work for?

I’ve worked with some very eccentric artists and there are all different kinds of weird and there’s all different kinds of talented.  It certainly seems that people who are ok with doing what they want to do seem to be able to create art that is much different than people who feel the need to conform to the societal norms.

Let’s bring it back to the band.  When Scott left the band to follow his baseball career then went on to start Pulley, were there any bad feelings there?

It wasn’t something where we had a happy agreement in the moment.  We basically wanted to just do it and he basically was busy.  We talked to Epitaph and it relieved some of the guilt, wanting to let him go, knowing that Epitaph were going to release an album if he did it later.  They even offered that we could have a second band and be in another band with him and Epitaph agreed to release that but as it turned out he wasn’t interested in working with us anymore.

Ouch.  How did that feel?

I didn’t blame him.  He was one of the main guys who started the band; he drove a lot of things.  We used to practice in his room and I felt bad about it.  I also felt that it wasn’t fair for us to not be able to do what we wanted to do because of his great luck/skill to be able to be a professional baseball player.  When it came down to it, if we wanted to be in a band with him singing we had to sit around for 10 months of the year while he played baseball in hopes that we could tour but there wasn’t any promise that we could tour in the one or two months he’d be off from baseball.

In hindsight he did a lot for the band, maybe it would have been better for us to keep him on.  Maybe people would have liked us more, maybe the band who have got bigger.  Who knows?  You can always go back and think about what if?  But at that time we just wanted to go out and make music and tour and all of us were there except Scott so we decided to go for.  We did what we did and that’s how it worked out.

When you stepped in as singer after Scott left were they big shoes to fill?  How was that for you?

It was definitely interesting because it wasn’t the original plan.  The original plan was that we were going to audition people but as we started to talk about different people and trying people out I realized, right away, that it’s a lot of responsibility.  The whole band hinged on whether that person wants to do what we want to do. They could decide that they don’t want to do it anymore and then you’re several years down the road and you have to start that whole process again.

Basically then I told the guys that I wanted to audition, I didn’t want to be treated any different but I had written a bunch of the songs and I had written most of the lyrics before that…and quite a bit of the music as well.  There was some bias towards me but at the same time the other guys were pretty skeptical too.  I practiced a lot.  Sang and sang and sang and finally I got to a point where I was better than the other auditions that came in so we decided to go forward.

All this happened in a land long before the internet, how were your fans at the time when you went through that change.  Punk rock can be resistant to change, how were your fans when you went through that?

It’s not just punk rock.  There’s always going to be a certain amount of your audience that thinks it was better with the other guy.  We expected that but we also figured that with us touring and being busy we would make up for it in new fans.  That was true also.  There always was, and will probably always will be, a group of people that will be there to say it was better with Scott but there is also another group of people who didn’t even know us at that time who really support what we did.

I’m not the greatest singer but as far as punk rock singers go I’ve been told I sing in relatively decent pitch.  I’ve been told because I sing like the record that our live show is as good as the records or better with the energy that’s there.  At least that’s what I’ve been told, that people like the live show and the experience

We touched on your live show and you aren’t as young as you were in the 90s.  What do you want people to take away from your live show?

I feel like one great thing about punk music in general is that we write songs about things that are important to us; that is not the typical commercial fluff that is more standard for music from other genres. I feel like it’s more intimate than your average rock show.

It’s been eight years between albums, are those songs still relevant?

I don’t know.  I suppose any song is relevant.  What song is set in a certain date?  There aren’t too many songs that are particularly dated.

NOFX – “The War On Errorism,” that whole album is pretty much about George Bush.  That’s dated.

Oh yeah.  On our last album we had some sound bites that had George Bush but it wasn’t any specific message that had to do with the politics of the day.  We did dabble in a little bit of political satire, if you will.  It wasn’t specific messages that were not applicable to today’s politics.  Most of the songs are just personal stories and if the audience feels a connection then I don’t think it will matter what year that happened in.

Actually I remember that last time we were in Australia I hurt my back.  It was like the first or second show where I did a giant jump and when I hit the ground I could feel something not quite right in my spine.  Since then I’ve actually had back surgery and so that particular trip I don’t remember jumping around a lot because I remember being in quite a lot of pain.  Actually I might jump around a  bit more on this trip.

Just little jumps then.

The acrobatics and the testosterone definitely drove that part of it.  I’ve definitely mellowed out a bit but the intensity of the music is still there but there’s not a feeling where I need to jump off the drum riser or do any flips or anything.

When Prince found out I was in a punk band and something didn’t sound quite right to him he would turn to me and say “Remember Denny, this is FUNK, not PUNK.”

At least you can say Prince has given you shit; that’s pretty impressive.

One time we were rehearsing in this room that was all wood, mirrors and glass.  This was back in the day they used monitor wedges and it was feeding back because the volume kept going up in the monitor wedges and Prince turns to me and says “Denny, if I here feedback one more time I’m going to call you Denny Feedback and no one is going to hire you.”  I thought that for a guy who plays guitar in a punk rock band then that’s a great name [laughs]

Ten Foot Pole are touring Australia in November, check out all the dates here.

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