Between relentless promotion and the expectation of ubiquitous social media presence, listeners have more access to artists’ lives than ever before. In this culture of hyper-saturation, you can piece together a fairly solid albeit often heavily sanitized version of any given performers’ day to day life without much effort.
There are, of course, some artists who buck this trend to different degrees. PJ Harvey famously almost never grants interviews, and even skipped her own meet and greet after her show at the National earlier this year. Kate Bush has only toured once over her over 40 year career, while Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett famously dodged the press for decades before his death in 2006.
But among reclusive performers, there is no one quite like Jandek.
In a real sense, we don’t even know who Jandek is, or even what it is.
Albums and performances are credited to Jandek, but the photos of the same man at different ages on album covers and the bandleader of live shows are credited to “a representative from Corwood Industries,” the label out of Houston, Texas, which has exclusively released their music for almost 40 years.
Since 1978’s Ready for the House, Jandek has released a whopping 85 recordings ranging from more conventional folk and blues records with cast of reoccurring collaborators to otherwordly solo compositions and a series of three vocal-only recordings beginning with 2000’s Put My Dream on This Planet.
Katy Vine’s 1999 article “Jandek and Me” is the one of the only instances where a journalist actually speaks face-to-face with the elusive performer. After dodging questions and avoiding conversation about his own music, at the end of the interview he famously said that he “had had a nice time, [though] he didn’t want to be contacted in person by a fan or a journalist or anybody about Jandek ever again.”
Then in October of 2004, he surprised the world. His veil of secrecy was partially lifted after more than 30 years of anonymity when he performed an unannounced set live at the Instal 04 Music Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. He looked like the man pictured on the albums, but no one was sure until the festival confirmed that it was indeed Jandek.
Over the past 13 years, he has performed a handful of shows annually in different iterations of live bands, settling on his current format of writing unique lyrics for each show and building a band of local musicians for one-off performances. The band practices once the afternoon of the performance, and each show is recorded for a DVD release via Corwood.
A Jandek show can range from one to three hours in length. He often doesn’t address the audience, and never performs an encore. There is no merch for sale, though his catalogue is available by mail order on cds. Older vinyl copies of his records are long out of print.
But because he features musicians that he has never played with before, each show is completely singular. It is hard to imagine a more unpredictable or experimental way of playing live, somehow one-upping his already wildly adventurous studio output.
He performed in Richmond for the first time at The Firehouse Theater in March of 2007, which became a noted recording due to the unexpected addition of saxophone to his usual guitar/bass/drums format from JC Kuhl of Fight the Big Bull and the Spacebomb Records house band.
While concrete information is legendarily difficult to come by, audiences in Richmond need not wait for anyone to crack the case as the mysterious Jandek performs at Capital Ale House on Friday night alongside local performers PJ Sykes, Chrissie Lozano and Gary Stevens.
An interview to preview the show would be the scoop of the century in some circles.
Sadly, that did not work out for us.
So instead, here is a list of questions we would love to ask the enigmatic and prolific musician if we did have a chance to speak with him.
- Who/what is Jandek?
- What is the significance of Corwood, the namesake of your label?
- What are your earliest memories of music? Were any other members of your family musicians? Which performers did you listen to as a child?
- When did you first start playing music, and what instruments were you drawn to? What instruments interest you most now?
- Do you have a day job? What do you do with your spare time?
- There is no telling whether the albums you have released were made in the order in which they are recorded or anywhere near the same time period. Is there a higher narrative arc to this process?
- Who is Nancy? Who is John? How did you go about assembling the various collaborators for your projects through the years? And how does this process influence your current format of building bands from the cities where you perform?
- Your music has gone through distinct stylistic waves which vary across a vast spectrum of genres and arrangements. Is continually reinventing your sound a fundamental part of your creative voice, or a reflection of some other part of your character?
- One topic that often comes up in your lyrics is depression. To what degree would you say your lyrical content is autobiographical? And how does recording and performing music relate to your mental health?
- After Twelfth Apostle, why did you switch your release format from vinyl to cds? How do you relate to merchandise and physical copies of your albums, considering that you have a very specific, minimal aesthetic and do not sell anything at your shows?
- Why did you decide to start performing live after almost 30 years as a studio musician? How did the Glasgow show come about? What do you have to say to fans who feel jilted by your change in approach to public life after so many years off the grid?
- You have performed and traveled extensively through America and Europe, as reflected through both your live shows and your earlier lyrical content. How does traveling and exposure to other people influence your music?
- What brings you back to Richmond for a second performance? What was the experience like the first time you performed here in 2007?
- How do you go about finding musicians in each town to perform with you? What are your criteria for building each band?
- Are you the Zodiac killer? Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac killer? What do identity and individuality even mean anymore in the panopticon of digital life and CCTV?
Jandek performs at Capital Ale House on Friday, May 12th at 7:00pm. Tickets are $25 pre-sale // $30 at the door and available here.