January 7, 2019 / 9:55 pm

Time With Jameson: Underneath the Red Light

Feature Photo by Matt Jaskulski

One orange balloon skips across the floor. Jazzy music stems from the front of the unfinished basement while holiday lights snake around the entire room. Empty beer bottles sit on top of the water heater.

“Hey thanks for sticking around,” said the lead singer Nick Newman opening up with his band after a standard set from local act Flower Mouth — whose winding jams led the crowd to bang their heads as if they were watching Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 kicking out the jams in a basement full of teenagers.

At 12:22 a.m., the crowd in the room is smaller than the last set, but the band has to make do with what have. The room is lit with a red light in the center of a dingy downstairs lined with graffiti on the walls. There are strobe lights spanning the stage — decorated in an amber series of bright bulbs matching the blood-red moon in the center of the basement.

The set was certainly a tough act to follow, but Newman dressed in a suit and jeans is confident but nervous along with his Smashing Pumpkins-inspired band, Time With Jameson. “We’re about to blast off like a rocket ship,” said Newman.

Photo by Chava Tova Arymowicz

Upstairs, at Franklin Hall in a quaint room above the main lobby, there were three large chairs as three college students entered the room. It was a professional setting for a college-rock band to share their insights on the local music scene in Bloomington — where the prestigious Jacobs School of Music resides, where dozens of independent record labels are headquartered and wherein, there exists a thriving underground movement of DIY musicians who play gigs in basements throughout the city every weekend.

Here’s a band sustaining within that circuit trying to make their way through the messy reeds of the music business. For now, it’s just house shows and even a performance at the Bluebird for Battle of the Bands, but in the studio, the band is progressing. They churned out a single, “Omni” which was released on Apple Music and Spotify among other streaming services. Their record is due to come out soon.

“Just being a part of that house show scene and the music scene in Bloomington, just really inspires you to get a project together. Just a group of friends and seeing what sticks out and what you can make of it. You know, music’s a beautiful thing,” said drummer Blake McKean.

After the grunge subculture surged its way to the mainstream, the music industry turned to college towns like Bloomington, Indiana, where the art-rock scene was thriving and blossoming.

The rise of the grunge revolution was partly due to the artificiality of popular culture at the time. A group of musicians demanded a punk-rock artistic integrity from the perceived plastic society of the late 80s. This paved the way for independent labels to form, which played a key role in the circulation of 90s alternative music. Labels like Secretly Canadian were formed in Bloomington by IU alum and quickly grew into international companies.

Here, is the culture Time With Jameson finds themselves in. Twenty-five years later, the grunge movement came and went. The underground music scene remained.

Photo by Chava Tova Arymowicz

If possible, Time With Jameson hope to get signed to a label.  Where will that dream take them?

Sometimes bands with a good live sound garner a distinct reputation, in a separate light than the highbrow production of records perfected in the studio. The Doors led by frontman Jim Morrison, for instance, captured a vastly different experience in live settings — particularly a nightclub in Los Angeles called the Whisky A Go Go. Similarly, the Velvet Underground sounded far different than their studio albums playing together in underground clubs scattered throughout New York City.

Where is Time With Jameson’s Whiskey A Go-Go? Bloomington certainly isn’t Los Angeles, and the small movement occurring now in the backwoods of Indiana, nestled in the heart of Bloomington, isn’t the same scene as the Swinging Sixties. However, there is a presence of these underground house shows today in Bloomington, Indiana — and Time With Jameson are performing at most of them. In addition to their house show performances, they play gigs at local clubs. They even played a benefit concert for Dreamers of the immigration policy DACA.

That’s the kind of movement we’re seeing in Bloomington. It’s a movement that reflects the heart of this town: free, innocent, rebellious. The band may have ambitions to make a record and subsequently get signed to a label and pursue the full potential of their dreams. But they never lose sight of what’s at the foundation of the band — playing live in someone’s basement using relatively cheap equipment and gritty, raw-sounding amplifiers. When you spend time with Time With Jameson, their ambitions are on the back-burner. In the heat of the moment, they want to please the crowds at these house show venues dotted along the outskirts of the college town. It’s not a conquer-the-world mentality by any stretch of the imagination, but the band, as well as their fans, prefer it that way. In the end, their project is about the music. As of October, they lost their bass player who couldn’t find the time to play with the band anymore. Although they added a new bassist, Julian Povinelli, it simply shows these bandmates are caught between chasing a dream and conforming to society’s standards.

Povinelli is 22 and is a digital artist happy to work any 9-5 so long as he can make enough money to be financially independent and invest in his passion projects.

“I’m open to whatever opportunities and paths the universe has in store for me,” said Povinelli.

Newman has another idea of the future. For him, he says there is no backup plan.

“Sure, I’ll do whatever jobs to pay bills and eat, but I’m playing in bands and making music until the end,” said Newman.

The other members of the band seem to share the same sentiment. They will do what they need to get by, but as of right now, the band full of juniors and seniors, have their eyes set on being creative.

“Additionally, when it comes to alternative careers and us as individuals musicians, we tend to follow what inspires us in our hearts, so if someday we feel compelled by something else or something additionally, we will definitely chase it as well,” he said.

Everyone on this band has an immense passion for making music that spreads over a wide spectrum of genres, so they always look forward to where that passion will pull them.

In a sense for many of the house show goers, the scene is just a phase. The audience is chasing different futures after they receive their degrees — which vary widely at the house shows. When you talk to these partygoers, some of them are business majors, some are music majors, some are biology majors. Really, it’s all over the map. They come from all different backgrounds, yet they are alike in that interests fluctuate across the board.

Rather than conventional logic, these partygoers choose to revel in this shared experience of dissimilarity.

For these students, the present and the future are each distinct in their own right. In their mind, the present can be putting your foot in a campfire outside a house show (the bassist of Flower Mouth actually did this). The future can be getting a job wearing a suit-and-tie as an A & R agent at a record label.

To them, the past and the future are two discrete hemispheres but can still fly through the sky like two separate and distinct paper airplanes.

***

“With new guitars comes new meaning,” says Newman. “If you were on shrooms, you would know exactly what I was saying.”

The self-described introduction titled, “Is This Progress?” was almost three minutes long. Then after the preparatory jam, they decided to play their single. The single titled “Omni”, the band recorded in the Musical Arts Center. It was produced in the studio by Sam Ramirez and is now available on streaming services like Spotify and Bandcamp.

“These are all new songs — brand new music for you,” said Newman, “Let me give a shoutout to our bassist Julian.” Julian Povinelli, the new bassist, was wearing a scarf which the lead singer admitted he couldn’t pull it off himself.

Then, some power chords were strutted on the lead guitar that sent haunting screams through the amplifier. The drums came pounding in from Blake McKean shortly thereafter. The band was prepared to play its first performance. Will the masses be satisfied?

***

McKean and Newman went to see The Smashing Pumpkins reunion show in Indianapolis last summer.

Musically, they put on a good show, the band concluded. They loved the fact that The Smashing Pumpkins stayed true to themselves and subsequently to a niche audience—which came out of the 90s when songs like “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins, alluded to a theme of togetherness when Billy Corgan writes, “Freak out, and give in, doesn’t matter what you believe in. Hipsters unite, come align for the big fight.”

Is there some form of this in the Bloomington house show scene today? Is the so-called revolution of ’94 dead? Nick Newman acknowledges there might be some sort of revolutionary spirit in house show circles, but he doesn’t consider this the main reason he’s a part of the culture. “It’s just really fun to be a part of this scene, I don’t care if it’s a revolution or whatever,” said Nick. He speculates there might be another tipping point in culture, where people demand authenticity from what he perceives as a plastic society. He cited Nirvana as a response to the cheesiness of mainstream hairband rock of the late 1980s. Bloomington has a history of do-it-yourself musicians who have made it.

The band Hoops eventually signed to Fat Possum Records—a rather successful independent record label based out of Oxford, Mississippi. Hoops is a testament to the house show culture and where bands like Time With Jameson could end up. Although, the band has broken up since due to different directions in their solo careers. However, Hoops are still heroes to house show bands, and in some ways Hoops were the level they aspire to be as a musical act.

***

A wooden picture frame. A black canvas. Stenciled on top of the canvas is a drawing of a woman in a white dress. Six batches of roses circle this woman. In her left hand, she holds a lengthy brown book. She holds her other hand behind her back. Her face has been punched out leaving a hole in the canvas. You can still see the back of the picture frame which matches the color of the frame’s borders. There are scratches all over the black canvas. The photographer’s hand is seen holding the picture in their left hand.

This is the cover of the single Time With Jameson just released this past October. It’s titled “Omni” — an alternative, dream-pop number except unlike many songs of its nature, the band uses layered guitars and more haunting lyrics.

Singer Nick Newman channels his inner storyteller as he sings about longing for the place where he grew up. For Newman, nothing will change all the way down to Hell. His bandmates support him in the journey Newman creates with his words, but the overall sound isn’t exactly what you’d expect from the Edgar Allen Poe lyrics. In fact, the bass sounds funky and the drumbeat feels like a pop song which drives party goers to actually dance to a rock song in 2018.

Somehow, partygoers choose the raw, live and free environment of the house shows as opposed to local clubs or frat parties where contemporary pop music is played on loud stereos and mass agglomerations of people are dancing at once. Although the ladder may seem like it has more to offer, somehow each week the house shows manage to stay full, or at least two-thirds full by the end of the night.

In the same vein of the grunge movement of the Early Nineties and similar punk-rock movements in the past, the house show scene in Bloomington is a demand for authenticity in terms of both lyrical content and overall sound. Partygoers prefer inward-reflecting, emotional, romanticist verses dealing with deeper concepts that seek to better reflect the state of the human condition, which for better or worse, modern pop tends to avoid.

In some circles in Bloomington, students like to hear the stripped-down sound as in the WIUX Live Sessions or Tiny Dorm concerts which are taken place on campus in a relatively quiet and acoustic setting. The Tiny Dorm series is modeled after the popular NPR Tiny Desk concerts, where musicians show another side of themselves while performing live in a small book room. However, not all IU students are interested in this unplugged sound.

In some circles, people seem to care about watching shoeless bandmates in their early Twenties cover Nirvana’s “Serve the Servants” with six pedal boards scattered across the floor hooked up to medium-sized amplifiers, rather than what is usual — Jacobs concerts, frat parties, unaffiliated non-Greek house parties, Tiny Dorm Concerts and the bar-rock scene occurring in Bloomington.

Time With Jameson is a testament to this music culture in Bloomington. How far will they break the mold and into the mainstream? In the grand scale of pursuing your dreams and those dreams panning out, time can be unforgiving. But Time With Jameson chooses to do what they were created to do. In the words of Kurt Cobain in his song ‘Serve the Servants,’ “Teenage angst has paid off well. Now I’m bored and old. Self-appointed judges judge. More than they have sold.”

***

Upstairs at Franklin Hall, the band admitted the difference between their studio version of the song and their live version. The studio version is clean and moderately slow in tempo. In their live set, they simply want to make people dance. “It’s a lot heavier, and we play faster. Nick has some really cool feedback parts in it,” said the bassist Julian. The drummer—Blake McKean—agrees. He mentions the metamorphosis of the song, especially in a live setting versus the comfortability of the studio. “It’s definitely an evolved version of the single,” said he said, “that’s kind of how songs are supposed to work. They’re supposed to grow.”

***

After a show, at 1 a.m. Julian approached his future bandmate Blake who was playing drums for Flower Mouth.

“Hey man you killed it on the set,” said Julian Povinelli to Blake McKean.

Blake thanked him.

“Are you a musician? Do you play?” Blake asked.

“Yeah, I play bass,” said Julian.

“Go get it,” responded Blake.

Retelling the story, the band laughs out loud in unison.

“He picked up guitar, I picked up sticks, he picked up a bass, and we just played,” said percussionist Blake McKean.

It’s really exciting to see what a group of dudes can come together and make, concluded McKean.

A few months down the line, they all sat down one day, and they had a musical experience of a jam together. Jam after jam, they just kept cranking out these sounds that made them say, “whoa.”

They find the jam aspect to be the most endearing part of Time With Jameson. Coming from a more singer-songwriter background, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Nick Newman, said the best rock songs in the band have come more natural from the melodies they develop in the heart of the jam.

He takes to take that harder sound in the jam into the studio, and then the vocal melodies are perfected afterward in the singer-songwriter factory using overdubs.

“It’s much better if you start with the jam, and then refine,” said Newman. “Take a raw, emotional product and sculpt that.”

The bassist Julian Povinelli said his favorite part of the group is the collaborative effort they all put into Time With Jameson.

He will run a few bass lines, or the guitarists will run a few guitar riffs but they always rely on each other to put together a record.

“It just opens up a whole new world,” said Julian.

***

Time With Jameson—at the house show decorated in holiday lights, where the orange balloon skips, and the red light burns a glow into a hazy basement—faces a room full of their peers. Those peers want to hear a good show and see a decent performance which may or may not make them free their bodies enough to dance on the cement floors of an unfinished basement.

The crowd was still. Newman’s microphone screeched through the amplifiers. The stillness in the air—a ferocious white static—had to be broken.

All the sudden, to pierce the silence, the band nervously plunged into its single, “Omni.” The music took on a spoken-word quality, and it seemed expressive but reserved.

“When everyone you know is technically a ghost, living or dead, still inside my head,” starts Newman.

He pauses.

“When I fall asleep, they haunt my dreams.”

***

It was October 2017. The band was living in their old house. As Nick Newman explains, it was a “pretty shitty” house, but they have fond memories of it because of all the hours spent playing music together. Newman has a strong visual connection to the house and how it helped shape the template of their band name.

The house was nicknamed the Rat House, and lots of musicians across town would come over and play music at the house. There weren’t any rats in the house, as far as anyone knew about. Nonetheless, it really was a crummy place, said Newman. Still, it seemed to embody the essence of house show culture in Bloomington.

All the while, between elaborate jam sessions with coming-and-going musicians across town, the three musicians—Nick and Blake along with their original bassist—mentioned the idea of officially forming a group and subsequently coming up with a band name.

Nick Newman had just come back from Ireland, and one day he was home jamming with the future members of the band at the Rat House. The lack of a band name was looming over their heads, as they flipped through various poems Newman had written while in Ireland. The drummer—Blake McKean—noticed a line in a poem where the words “time with jameson” stood out to the percussionist.

“It was a line about riding a bike in the rain,” said Newman, after pointing out there were many people in Ireland with the last name Jameson.

He wrote it at work, where he definitely wasn’t supposed to be writing poems.

***

Two T-Shirts hang on a coat rack—one purple and one pink. There’s a drawing on the front by Nick Newman featuring a clock and the words ‘Time With Jameson’ in a wavy handwritten font.

The coat rack hangs on the left side of the room where kaleidoscopic lights dance along the wall. Out from the coat rack, all the partygoers stand huddled together waiting for the band to play.

Time With Jameson faces them—garnering more confidence in themselves. They pause at the end of the verse awaiting the chorus.

Then, the chorus explodes as the crowd sways its feet, “Nothing will change, nothing will change for me. All the way down, all the way down to hell,” sings Newman.

All the sudden, the band breaks into a bridge in the vein of Nineties grunge bands like Soundgarden or Stone Temple Pilots.

The young people bang their heads. They dance, they laugh, and they take photos and video footage of the group as Newman yells out a “whoo” and the drums kick in again, and the room suddenly becomes a mosh pit.

The song comes to a close and the trifling crowd roars with applause and screams.

***

Upstairs, the three gentlemen sit in large, red chairs in a white conference room inside the Media School. Newspaper headlines in the IDS rest inside shiny glass picture frames dotted all along the wall. The door is closed as the three bandmates share their insights on the songwriting craft of the tune that garnered lighter waves at the house show titled, “Made to Remember.”

“That’s the first tune I ever really started writing,” said bassist Julian. “All I had at first was a verse and a really shitty chorus that no one seemed to like.”

The three members of the band laughed.

“That song stands out to me, too,” said singer Nick Newman. It’s the first song they wrote together as a formal collaborative effort—the bassist and vocalist sharing songwriting credits.

“Julian retains his funky attitude that is the essence of Julian, while at the same time I’m keeping my own essence of like the alternative rock, more gain, and edgier sound,” he said.

“It keeps it more groovy while retaining that 90s rock feel, which is really exciting,” said Newman.

Bassist Julian says he likes making music people can move to. The drummer, Blake McKean, agrees, and claims music is made for dancing. The singer Nick Newman takes a kind of singer-songwriting approach as he wants to relate to the crowd in a more emotionally evocative and personal way.

For a group of alternative rockers, their ethos is surprisingly not punk rock in its traditional sense: People have to feel it, instead of you shouting at them, says the bassist Julian Povinelli.

***

A funky bass line and the band joins the bassist into a deconstructed power pop jam session. The jam quickly draws to a close. The crowd shuffles its feet.

The members of the group exchange looks with one another. Newman then faces the sea of faces whose wild dancing has just been interrupted.

Newman opens the group up with their next song “Bleeding Rock.” In it, a certain innocence about the music which errs on emotionalism within the confines of indie-rock. They garner a garage band appeal as they play in a dark and dusty basement filled with blameless adults on a quest for a good time.

The band began their last, melancholy song titled, “Made To Remember,” which made you feel like you were drifting in the cold and rainy autumn night outside on the streets of downtown Bloomington, Indiana. Indeed, the group ushered an alternative love ballad for the small crowd of weekly house show goers. Partygoers held up lighters and waved them across the air.

“That’s it guys, we’re done thanks for coming out to the house shows getting lit,” said Newman.

***

Wavy spurs of light shine all around an image of Nick and Julian. Nick holds a cream guitar with a red pickguard. His shaggy head’s drenched with sweat. Both guitarists are right-handed. Julian’s holding a brown bass and looking off into the distance.

The band is playing a show at the Brickhouse, which they determined on their Instagram page to be a wonderful night of music. This is a week after their set at Battle of the Bands at the Bluebird. Since its inception, the band has grown into even more of a cohesive group.

“It was a privilege to play Bluebird, and to see everyone in the house show scene come out and sing our songs and were super pumped to play again in the next round in January,” said Julian.

The bond between the band seems stronger than ever as they pose dazed-and-confused, arm in arm on a bench at the Bluebird – each staring off into different directions.

Blake stares directly at the camera. To his left, Nick wears a leather jacket and holds a drink in his left hand. To Blake’s right, the new lead guitarist Noah Kankala stares at the guitar in his lap. To Noah’s left is Julian—who fumbles with the knobs on Noah’s semi-hollow body guitar.

Noah Kankala — who has already released an album on his own titled Slip Away — is the latest addition to the band and solidifies their sound adding intricate solos and skilled guitar-playing to the band’s repertoire. It creates a more complete, rock sound that seemed to guide the hands to rotate properly around the clock to complete the hour that is Time With Jameson.

***

“One more song, one more song!” chanted members of the crowd.

“So you guys wanna jam? We’ll try to pull something out of our asses,” said the lead singer.

They finished with a winding instrumental piece which layered time signatures but poppy enough to make the crowd dance since it was the last band to perform. It was 12:43 am — and for a lot of party goers, the night was still young.

Underneath the red light, people could feel the music stemming from the huge amplifiers and shiny black drum set — the energy flowed from the crowd to the music, and the relatively small group of partygoers roared in applause as the set wrapped up. Outside, it was cold, harsh, and unforgiving. Inside, the room felt free.

Photo by Matt Jaskulski