Talk Talk: Jake Pappas of Janu and the Whalesharks
This week's Locals Only features Orange County band Janu and the Whalesharks, opening up for Tim Kasher of Cursive and Azure Ray at tomorrow's swell show at the Glass House in Pomona. A lot of juicy tidbits from our conversation with Janu singer/guitarist Jake Pappas got left on the proverbial cutting room floor, so enjoy this Q&A with Pappas and read more pertinent details about how the band came together, their influences and highlights of their young career.
Q: Obligatory question: how did the band come together?
A: All of us have known each other basically our whole lives. We grew up together. Then me, the drummer who we call Bumper (Jesse Dorman), and Jared (Slaybaugh) our bassist, we played in a band called Greystone back in the day. That was back when they were probably in sixth grade and I was in eighth grade. Then my sister (Sarah Pappas) and I we moved to San Diego to go to school. That was two years ago, to go to college. We had nothing better to do than play music. We were kind of over school, we were just going because that's what everybody said to do. Her decision to go to San Diego State was based on me playing music with her. We did it just as a hobby kind of thing, then I started writing a bunch. I played guitar forever; never actually wrote lyrics or tried singing. I tried singing for the first time last year--basically we kind of just started playing together in our apartment. We never meant it to be something like a band, really, we just started playing. (Sarah) had a friend that had a recording studio up in Burbank, he asked us to come up and just record something. He didn't know that we were writing music. He just figured, Sara had a great voice, he liked Sara's voice and knew her and just wanted to record anything of her. Sara proposed playing a song that we wrote, we showed Bumper and Jared, they kind of wanted a piece of it and added drum and bass to it. So we just started playing locally in San Diego. It was something we did just as a means to pass time. Ssmething that we love; not something we expected to do as a living, but it was something we all dropped school for. We were booking more shows, started playing in Orange County, started playing at the Glass House about once a month now. It's just been good. It's kept us busy. It's kept us where it would be hard to go to school and play music.
Q: Any possibility of going back to school in the future?
A: We all agreed that we'd give it about five years before we go back to school if it doesn't work out. We're not people that are against school. I went to college for three years. If I don't pursue music now, I don't want to be one of those people that graduate school and get stuck in a career they don't want to do. That's kind of all of our mindsets. We're OK with going back to school. We don't want to. But we'll see.
Q: What about that wacky band name? I'm sure you get asked about it all the time.
A: Oh yeah, a ton. Sarah, my sister. she went through a phase of calling everyone she knew well "Janu." It's just weird. Its not that she's a weird perosn at all, but it's just easier for her to say "Janu." Everybody would respond to it. Everybody was Janu if you were "in." As far as the Whalesharks go, in high school, we called our group of friends the Whalesharks. When the guy called Sarah, the guy said, "Hey Sarah, I want you to come up and record." Literally my only goal was to show close friends that were away at college. I asked my sister what she wanted the band to be called. I've always wanted some incorporation of "the Whalesharks," if I had another band. We just connected the two, and really thought nothing of it. It was just for the five friends I wanted to show. I came back to about 50 to 100 friend requests because those friends had passed our name along. The band was created and we started playing.
Q: Whereabouts in Orange County are you guys located?
A: My sister and I live in Lake Forest. Bumper lives in Dana Point. Jared lives in Mission Viejo. We all practice in Dana Point at Bumper's house.
Q: Your band played the Warped Tour last year--kind of random, right?
A: It was very interesting. It was just simply this: the booking agent at the Glass House has been very, very helpful for us. What he said was, "no more shit shows." I was telling him, we've played here, we've played there, mostly we've had to play pay-to-plays, which is pretty miserable. At the stage we're at now, especially when you're a do-it-yourself musician, all you're really caring about is exposure. When you're having to sell tickets, you can't really reach out to new people. Last show we played with was with Ben Lee, last show before that was with Autolux. before that was Appleseed Cast. Playing at the Glass House has definitely been a highlight. For us, the first five songs that we wrote are all on our EP. That in itself was huge, to be able to release an EP in the first year that we were together. Since then, we've written about 15 other songs, and we're just kind of waiting to find 12 that will mesh really well as a collective whole for a CD. Putting out that EP was definitely a highlight. It just felt like we accomplished something huge. We've gotten really strong feedback from our EP. That was big.
Q: What are some other highlights for the band at this early point?
A: I think just the whole journey so far has been a highlight in and of itself. We're really big in believing that everything that we do is just one day at a time. We have goals, obviously. At he same time every practice we kind of stop and assess it, and if we have to write something down on a whiteboard we will--what's our goal, what's our main focus. If we have a few shows coming up, our main focus will be "OK, let's just rehearse for the next few shows." Since we don't have a new CD, we're trying to give people something brand new every single time they come see us. If we're going to have similar people come out, we want them to know they're not going to get the same show every single time we play. Every single show, we try to have at least one brand new song. We're writing about one to two songs a month, where we're giving people something new to listen to. It's fun. It's just a really cool journey of writing and constantly creating something new. Because we've only been together about a year, we're still adapting to a sound we're comfortable with. "Let's maybe combine that last song to this song."
Q: Your music spans quite a few genres. Do people struggle with nailing down how to describe your sound?
A: It's not necessarily a negative criticism, it's just honest. "I really can't pinpoint what your guys' sound is." It's a negative thing, but also a very strong positive. To this day I can't find a band where it's like, we sound exactly like this band, or we sound like this band and this band together. We're unique enough. We have our influences, and they're very prevalent and strong, but what comes out is what comes out. We write, and that's what comes out. It's kind of natural, I guess. I'll write something on the guitar and Bumper will know just the drum beat to play, and in two minutes Jared will have a bassline.
Q: Alright, but if you had to name some of your influences, who would they be?
A: I would say...M. Ward. M. Ward is huge. Lyrically, M. Ward is a very strong influence. A lot of what we write about is fictional narrative, but at hte same time it represents a life influence in some way. Made-up stories, but there's a hint of reality. As far as our music goes, early Bright Eyes is a very strong influence, as well as some Belle and Sebastian, as far as the poppiness and the catchiness, too. As far as the harmonies and the melodies, I would say, recently, Fleet Foxes has been an influence. If we ever get a little bit more rock and roll or more experiemental, Radiohead always creeps out of us.