As promised, I sat down Monday night for an interview with Jeremy Yocum, co-founder (along with Joel Leibow) of Wooden Blue Records, a short-lived but well-respected punk label based out of Tempe in the early 1990s that put out the very first recordings of Jimmy Eat World (among others).
A sold-out benefit show featuring JEW, Aquanaut Drinks Coffee, Haskel and Halema’uma’u takes place Friday at Crescent Ballroom, with all proceeds benefiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
I’ve known Jeremy and Joel since around the late ’90s but never had the occasion to sit and chat about their time with the label. It was an insightful 40 minutes that helped fill a glaring hole in my local music knowledge, though I’m sure we only scratched the surface. Nevertheless, he talks about the early days of JEW, operating a record label as a college freshman and why paying taxes is important.
So tell me how the show came together and how it came to be a benefit for Phoenix Children’s Hospital?
I became friends with Eddie Hennessy, who is Edie Haskel from Haskel, on Facebook just recently. And we started talking … He was talking about wanting to get together to do a show just for a one-off. So we hem-hawed back and forth about well, “Let’s do a Wooden Blue reunion type of deal.”
And then we started talking to Jim (Adkins, of Jimmy Eat World). And I didn’t know the logistics of Jimmy Eat World, you know — how does this work now? We had talked about a benefit of some sort. We didn’t really know who, but kids are good. But there’s no direct connection.
I’ve known you for years and have never talked to you about any of this. How did the label come to be? You and Joel were already friends?
Oh, yeah. Joel and I were friends since junior high school. It must have been right after we graduated high school (Mesa Mountain View). So, like, summer of ’93. Joel was interested in putting out a Jimmy Eat World record. I had met Aquanaut Drinks Coffee and was interested in putting out that. So we sort of joined forces blindly, neither one of us having a clue what we were doing … still. And those were our first two releases — the Jimmy Eat World 7-inch and Aquanaut 7-inch.
So you’re a freshman in college?
Yep. Like 18, just out of high school. Not knowing a god damn thing.
And you had known Jim?
Jim and I were in a second/third combination class together. And our moms were our den leaders for cub scouts. We grew up together. We lived one street over from one another. So Jim and I had been friends forever.
So they’re like a band about town … playing in someone’s garage or playing parties?
They played some parties. They played at some Name Brand Exchange or something. Just total high school stuff … nothing huge by any means. And back then, too, I’m thinking about it — is it for the better or worse that we did it when we did? If we were to do it now, it’s so much easier now, to an extent, with the Internet and Myspace a few years ago and that kind of stuff. Back then it was all snail mail and Maximum RocknRoll and cheesy zines where we mail a 7-inch in and hope to god for a review and hope to god that it would be positive (laughs).
The differences then and now … there’s blogs now and it’s instantaneous
Yeah, back then it was hurry up and wait. We had the P.O. box. I lived down here, but then I went to Flag. Joel still lived in Mesa, but we wanted a Tempe address so we got a P.O. box on Mill Avenue.
You wanted a Tempe address because it looked better than a Mesa address?
Yeah, yeah. But I think we were also just jaded because we wanted to get out of Mesa.
OK, so you’re doing this, you put out the Jimmy Eat World 7-inch … how much money are you into this at that point. Are you beyond your means as an 18-year-old?
No. Only because when I was in junior in high school I got burned, so I had insurance money. Joel was sort of the initial brains, I was the funds. And Joel had some connections musically, too. He was booking shows. He was really into the punk scene and I was just a fan. He was way more involved on that level.
What kind of shows was he booking?
Punk shows — at warehouses. There were no all-ages venues. So it’s like, “Oh, here’s Eagle Transportation warehouse.“ That’s around for six months and now Argo, that’s around for another four. It was a cool little scene. It brought the Valley together for sure. There were a lot of West side people. All of Haskel went to Central High. A friend, Matt Martinez that did booking with Joel, lived at 40th Avenue and Thomas. There were people all over the place.
Do you feel like you were in on ground floor of something cool? Did you have any idea that it could …
No. We were just doing it for fun. Sure, did we hope for success? I guess. But we wouldn’t know how to handle it. The Arizona Department of Revenue is what took us down. That’s why we stopped.
We weren’t paying taxes. … We told them we were selling everything wholesale because we were selling stuff to Stinkweeds and to Eastside. Come to find out, well, even if you’re selling wholesale you have to send in sales tax forms that say “zero” every month and we hadn’t been doing any of that stuff because we were just doing it DIY, whatever. We were just kids … we weren’t making any money, so what difference does it make? I would guess, in retrospect, had we been filing taxes we probably would have made money from the government.
So when did that happen, when you guys shuttered?
It was either ’95 or ’96. It was a very short-lived deal — two or three years.
So tell me about the Jimmy Eat world 7-inch, which is four songs. You press how many?
I think we pressed 1,000. It could have been 500 and then 500. That would probably make more sense because we had no idea if it was gonna sell or what.
And did it initially?
Yeah, it took off pretty well. We’re thinking, “Well, if this is all you have to do this is easy.” I remember getting the Maximum RocknRoll review and being like, “Yes, this is it.”
Did you keep a lot of that stuff — the reviews, flyers, etc.?
I didn’t. But I reaccumulated a lot of that when I did that Wooden Blue Myspace page. Funny thing is Jim must not have held on to a lot of that stuff, too, because I have very little Jimmy Eat World stuff. I have a lot of Temper Tantrum stuff.
Do you have a lot of the music?
I have it all. I don’t know if I have all of the hard copies, but I have it all digitally.
Have you ever thought about re-releasing anything?
I thought about re-releasing some of the Jimmy Eat World stuff only because I think that’s the only stuff that — not that it doesn’t matter to me — but would matter to mainstream. But that’s kind of a touchy subject.
Plus, then again, I don’t know legality of it. Rick (Burch, bassist) is not in that Jimmy Eat World. Mitch Porter is. Not that Mitch would have a problem with it. But then say we make money on it, how do we cut him into it and then it becomes about contracts where it was never anything like that.
In some cases, does it seem better to let these things exist where they did?
Yeah, I think so. And I think, too, now with the Internet and the piracy of music, anyone that truly wants it … it’s not the audiophile that wants the actual item. They just want the songs. It’s not diluted by being digital by any means because the recording kind of blew to begin with.
I had heard you might be selling some of the music at the show?
We’re gonna sell the compilation because the compilation came out under what we called Oak Family Shuttle Records because Wooden Blue got shut down. So we had Oak Family Shuttle presents Wooden Blue presents Back From the Dead Motherfucker. That was released after everything was dead. So by time it was finally released, everything was dead and we didn’t really release it properly. So we still sat on a bunch of them.
How many do you have?
I have no idea. Five-hundred were pressed. I bet only 300 were sold. Whether or not we still have the 200 — Jim might have some, Joel has some, I had some. Some of them have probably been stored poorly and are warped.
So the comp is mostly what you’ll sell?
The comp and T-shirts for the show (with the logo made for the show). And that’s what’s really funny, too. We’re having a backdrop of that made, too. Having shirts … it looks pretty flashy and slick, which totally what Wooden Blue records was not.
And here’s a funny story. For a long time I was just sitting on those comps, so I put some on eBay. I sold one to this girl. And then she immediately sends me a complaint when she gets it. She says, “Obviously, this is not the real thing because the cover is just a white sleeve with a sticker on it of the cover and the credits on the back.” So I wrote her back, “Actually, you’re wrong because I pressed it and that’s exactly what it was because we didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t have access to a screenprint.”
Does doing all this … do you get nostalgic about it? Does it make you wanna do it again?
No. I mean, I’m nostalgic about it. It was fun, it was neat. There was definitely a place for it. It was awesome. It was a fun bunch of kids. Nobody cared about … you know, if they were gonna go on tour, well, they’re gonna tour in a van and sleep on a floor and they were stoked about it. It was just a fun time. Because nobody knew better.
Now we know where Jimmy Eat World is, but could you have ever have thought they would be where they are now?
No. No. I remember … it was my sophomore year in college, so Jim’s freshman year. We lived together in this apartment. And I got a phone call from this guy, and he’s like, “Hey, is Jim around?” I said, “No, he’s in class” or whatever. “Can I take a message?” “Yeah, this is Craig Aaronson from Capitol Records.” I was like, holy shit. “No, he’s not around but they’re playing a show at the Nile a week from Friday or whatever.” I left it at that. I must have given Jim … well, I don’t know if I gave Jim the message or not. I don’t remember (laughs).
Anyway, I remember sitting at the merch booth at that show selling Wooden Blue shit. And this guy walks up and says, “Hey, are you Jeremy? I’m Craig Aaronson.” Holy crap. I think that was kind of the start of it. And he had heard of them because Capitol had interest in Christie Front Drive. And then Christie Front Drive had no interest in Capitol but said, “Hey, we did a split with this band Jimmy Eat World. You might wanna check them out.”
That’s like the golden days of record labels. It’s crazy to think a guy would come from L.A. to the Nile.
Yeah, to some bullshit show. I have no idea what show. It probably was not a Jimmy Eat World show. They were probably opening for somebody.
Obviously, everyone is pretty aware of Jimmy Eat World. Is there a band you worked with that you wish more people would have heard?
Aquanaut Drinks Coffee. Hands down. When we initially started, Joel wanted to do the Jimmy Eat World thing and I was like, “Aquanaut. I gotta do the Aquanaut.” Because I was a huge Dead Milkmen fan. Still am. Not that they’re like Dead Milkmen, but they’re quirky and off the beaten path like they were. Obscure but fun sort of band. They were great.
Do you know if Jimmy Eat World will play anything off that first CD at the show?
From what I can gather they’re playing in that time frame-ish. There’s talk of maybe a song from that disc. But I didn’t push it too much because I wanna be surprised like everyone else. But I’m definitely hoping. And I know that Charlie (Levy, of Stateside Presents/Crescent Ballroom) kind of said to them and I had said to Zach (Lind, Jimmy Eat World drummer), “Don’t play the hits.” If you want to, fine. But this is your chance to play whatever the fuck you want. Because this is not a Jimmy Eat World show in the sense that everyone is there to hear “The Middle.” These are old-school fans, so play what you wanna play.
You’ve really seen the local music scene evolve … for the better, do you think?
For the better in the sense that there’s a lot more of it, a lot more venues. A lot more true venues. At the same time, I’m so out of touch. I have no idea — I hate to sound old — what the kids are playing now. The last new band locally that was young that I heard was Asleep in the Sea and Peachcake.
And Asleep in the Sea is no more.
They were awesome. They were like a reincarnation of Aquanaut Drinks Coffee.
So that was a band you could see being on Wooden Blue?
Well, on my Wooden Blue. On Joel’s maybe not (laughs).
Did you guys have different ideas of what the label should be?
I think our different ideas … we just had different musical tastes where we both appreciated the other bands. The prime example was the Jimmy Eat World/Aquanaut thing. He liked Aquanaut and I thought Jimmy Eat World was great, but it was jut our own deals. Back then, I feel like there weren’t that many bands. It was kind of like all the bands we knew and became friends with, we put out their records. Whether or not we thought it would sell or not … forget a business plan, we were just putting our friends’ records.
The bottom line was it was friends putting out friends’ records and not having a clue and just because it was fun and cool and it gave everybody something. I feel like very few people pressed stuff on their own. So what they have pressed is what we did.
Does it seem like forever ago?
It does and it doesn’t. Yeah, it seems like long time ago. But a lot of it is fresh in my mind, too. It was just awesome … it was definitely fun and cool. And I think it did have a definite place at its time. I don’t wanna sound pompous or anything like that, but I feel like people wanted to be on Wooden Blue — the local punk rock bands.
Do you feel like you helped shape some sort of scene?
Yeah, I’d like to think so. I think the scene would have happened with or without Wooden Blue. I think Wooden Blue just helped bring everybody together — a united front. And that was what was really cool. We had East Valley kids, West Valley kids, Central kids. We had people from all over Valley.