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It wasn't surprising AJ Jackson, lead singer and guitarist for Saint Motel, returned our call while on the road somewhere—if touring is what's keeping bands going these days, the LA rock quartet, perhaps following the lead of acts such as the latter-day Flaming Lips, prefer to take it even further with theme shows, multiple videos and more. Whatever happens Friday at the Observatory, Jackson will enjoy it to the fullest. "We just want our concerts to be a hot, sweaty, cathartic experience," he says. "And taking things out of the expected has been a good way for us to do that."
Taking their show on the road means they may take some ideas and perform them more than once, but there's always room for change. Jackson explains, "We did our video piano idea for a while; when we started, we decorated the stage as a living room for a bit."
The biggest challenge, Jackson says, is overcoming mundanity. "We are four guys who have a pretty standard instrumentation," he explains. "Sometimes, I tend to write off a band unless they have a weird element such as a midget singing soul music or a fire-breathing bassist. We are banking on the quality of our songs and hoping they have a lasting quality that transcends the hip trend of the moment."
Unsurprisingly, Jackson and company aim to do more than make a visual splash. The breezy "Honest Feedback" is their newest song as they work toward a full debut album; Jackson describes it as "retro sock-hop pop," noting that the lyrics were the hardest part to nail down. "I wanted to put the concept of 'Honest Feedback' in an absurd setting," he says. "It took a while to get that right. I like where it ended up, though."
The relative delay in that full-length effort, with two years and counting between their debut EP, ForPlay, and the present, might seem like the result of the band concentrating on live presentations. But Jackson prefers to think of it as an outgrowth of a creative process that twisted and turned as a result of their particular path. "I guess, for us, it's trying to find the perfect process. It's been a constant journey to create our music," he says.
Saint Motel have recorded in studios and bedrooms. "One misconception might be that the bigger, more expensive the studio, the better the sound. Sometimes, you'll get your best sounds from a hotel bathroom with a chintzy little microphone," Jackson says. And then, again, there's that need for change. "I think it'd be tough for us stick with one aesthetic for too long. It'd feel like a cover band if we weren't adding our own spin to a sound."
Whatever happens next, Saint Motel seem more than happy to keep on the road—in more ways than one—to reach that desired goal. And sometimes, Jackson notes, it's with amusingly unexpected results.
"A couple of days ago, in Pittsburgh, a church next door to the venue was picking up our performance signal over the PA. A church employee came over and let us know people were looking around inside the sanctuary, trying to find out where this rock & roll music was coming from. That was pretty fun—two shows at once!"
This article appeared in print as "Hot, Sweaty, Cathartic: An ever-changing live show reflects Saint Motel's need to be different."