Geek Chic

Reverb rockers Jonas embrace the joys of wonkery

Scott Haughawout strikes most people as a reasonably charming man. This might seem strange, considering that the Jonas drummer spent his adolescence hunched over a drum set instead of hanging out with friends. "I didn't learn a lot of the social graces most people learn," Haughawout admits during a St. Paul house party in mid-January. Which makes watching him attempt to field compliments about his band Jonas's album Vodka Fondu House

(My Spleen! Records) interesting.

John Ancell finally delivers the drinks: Scott Haughawout, Sarah Khan, Mark Ilaug, and Ancell
Daniel Corrigan
John Ancell finally delivers the drinks: Scott Haughawout, Sarah Khan, Mark Ilaug, and Ancell

"It's just like My Bloody Valentine, man, only better, more melodic!" one enthusiastic well-wisher shouts about the album. Haughawout is obviously pleased about the comment--any feedback is better than none. Yet you have to wonder, along with the drummer himself, if this guy--or the three guys before him comparing Jonas with MBV--listened to any of the local band's songs past Vodka Fondu House's first two tracks. The album's opener "Jugamuga," with vocalist Sarah Khan's sibilant incantations simmering underneath guitarist Mark Ilaug's reverb, seems particularly prone to such comparisons. The same goes for the vertigo-inducing mosaic that is "Skin." But the band develops its own identity in the following songs, using seductive fugues ("A Thousand Times No") and bass-guitar orchestrations that meld fist-raising Who riffs to tingly Portishead basslines ("I Hear You Crying"). Let's face it: Shoe-gazers would find it impossible to trance out if their eardrums were assaulted by the raunchy romp "Always." Or to "God Shagged the Queen," a sneering sonic tidal wave that owes just as much to L7 as it does to white-noise pioneers.

The impeccable (read: expensive) studio production required to pull off the myriad styles on the album meant that the band needed to sacrifice their savings. And so Jonas's funds for retirement portfolios have instead been earmarked for making better records. Khan notes that she is attending law school because she'd like "to put out albums more frequently" with the income practicing law will give her. One suspects that Haughawout's veterinary education, once completed, will serve the same purpose. (Never mind that both members' schooling will inevitably be more costly than the albums' production.)

From the band's devotion to their music comes an intimate camaraderie between members, which makes for an engaging case study. Unfortunately, it also makes quoting individual members as frustrating a task as splitting apart a strand of yarn. During a February interview, every question posed to the band meets at least three witty asides (most of them inside jokes), after which each band member begins an answer that is always finished by another member. Even bassist-come-lately John Ancell, who joined the group last fall, already seems attuned to their eerie groupthink. They've accepted him as one of the original pack, even though Ancell's future with Jonas was once jokingly put into question: When he met with the other members at Haughawout and Khan's apartment to discuss his addition to the band, he arrived without beer. Odd, given that Ancell works as a delivery driver for a Minneapolis liquor store.

"We only had two beers: one for Scott and one for me," Ilaug says about the night.

"They just kept staring at me, without telling me why they had invited me over," Ancell recalls, laughing. "It was like an intervention."

With the addition of Ancell, Khan is free from the yoke of metronomic bass duties that she previously filled. (Khan had taught herself the bass simply because she couldn't find anyone else who could play the way she heard the songs in her head.) She is now able to focus completely on her vocals, which range in style from Deborah Harry to Siouxsie Sioux to Joan Jett.

Even before Ancell's entrance, Vodka Fondu House attracted a small but intensely loyal cadre of followers to Jonas's live shows. And that audience seems to suit the band just fine for now, thank you. "Because we're not hipsters, we don't seem to attract hipsters. The crowd isn't there because it's the place to be--let's put it that way. And that's actually quite flattering," admits Ilaug. The band does express eagerness at the chance to gain new fans, but you almost get the feeling they might like keeping the secret of Jonas to themselves. Attributing their introversion to their musical dedication, Jonas still exhibit trace elements of music-geek neuroses. As Khan confesses, "People always make you nervous. You're always afraid that they're privately making fun of you."

Responds Ilaug with a laugh, "So what do you do? You work your ass off and get up onstage so you can be sure they're making fun of you."

 
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