Thursday, December 15, 2011

THE JANKS: Defined

by on December 15, 2011

The Janks. From left, Garth Herberg, Dylan Zmed and Zachary Zmed. Photo by Megan J Carroll
Win a pair of passes to the show, leave a comment below!
1) Definition of Jank:
a) Adjective
i) Generally displeasing. “This party is jank.”
b) Noun
i) Someone or something that is “janky” (displeasing). “I’m not dealing with that jank.”
ii) A replacement word for an unnamed object or thing. “You bringing that jank to the party tonight?”
c) Verb – transitive
i) To hit. “I just got janked in the head.”
ii) To steal. “I am going to jank that french fry.”
2)   The slang term “jank” can be a noun, verb or adjective all at the same time.  It is everything described here and more.  Truly, this is the most versatile word in our language. (According to the Online Slang Dictionary.)

For LA-based trio, The Janks, the name could not be more fitting or more ironic.  Their debut album “Hands of Time” is an eclectic, Indie-pop dream that defies convention and definition, but can hardly be considered displeasing considering the attention it is garnering. The band is collaboration between brothers Zachary and Dylan Zmed, and best friend Garth Herberg, and their musical styles are uniquely versatile with comparisons ranging from Neil Young and Queen, to Fleet Foxes and The Beatles.
Watch:  ”Don’t Hide Your Eyes” by The Janks
“It’s tough to find the name of a band that you like the meaning of that doesn’t sound ridiculous,” shared twenty-nine year-old songwriter and lead singer, Zack Zmed.  “When I think of a band called The Janks, I imagine a group of teenagers running around and up to no good.  One thing I ended up liking about The Janks is it continues that tradition of names of bands that I wish I could be a part of – The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies.  When you find out what the word means, that it can mean anything, the whole poor quality thing, it’s silly and we like that.  Once we tried it on, it fit phonetically and was easy to remember. In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much, it is the music that matters.”
It’s not often that a band will make an attempt to work elements of musical theatre into an album – orchestrating the progression of songs to correspond with a theme or storyline.  The Decemberists did successfully it with The Crane Wife, Green Day with American Idiot and Sufjan Stevens with Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise, to name just a few; and that is just what The Janks set out to do.
The band went into the studio with thirty songs and came out with thirteen tracks tied loosely to a universal coming of age theme.  Zmed talked through the decision to make this a type of concept/musical theatre album: “It is our first attempt at creating a story out of our music and it was a bit of an after thought.  We were thinking that we have all these songs and a lot of them deal with coming of age, some of it is lighter some darker, how can we make all this flow?  It became a loose narrative about a kid who is growing up and his parents get divorced and there is this loss of love in the home.  As he is growing up and coming of age, a large part of him is trying to find that love again – either within himself or outside himself.”
“The first half develops the plot of a young boy who comes from a broken home, while the second reflects the visceral intensity of growing up from separated roots.  At the end, we see there’s possibility for change.”

Adrian Zmed and William Shatner in TJ Hooker
The Zmed brothers are no strangers to musical theatre.  If the name sounds familiar, you likely came of age in the 80’s and either you or your sister had a poster of Zack and Dylan’s dad on your bedroom wall.  Adrian Zmed is best known for his roles in Grease 2, Bachelor Party and TJ Hooker, but as Zack will tell you, most of us only saw a fraction of his father’s talent in those roles.  “What people don’t know about him is that he started on Broadway and is a triple threat – he can sing, dance and act,” declared Zmed.
Being part of an artistic household certainly had an influence on the type of artist Zmed chose to become, but it is clear that he and younger brother Dylan are looking to forge their own path in the world of music and performance. It was while fooling around and singing vocal warm-ups with their father as youngsters that they became aware that they too possessed vocal talent.  “Dylan and I would play our dad’s warm-up tapes and joke around singing them with him, going up octaves on ridiculous syllables.  We were making fun of him, but we were singing on key and realized as kids that we could actually sing.  I think just being around musical theatre, even though I’m not extremely into musicals, had a huge effect on me.  I love the themes and the stories.  I tend to prefer opera and drama over musicals, musicals get a little too campy to me, but the spirit is there.  I enjoy writing from different characters’ perspective rather than, ‘I’m a singer songwriter just writing songs about myself.’”

The Janks
As if The Janks weren’t busy enough promoting “Hands of Time,” (co-produced and engineered by Paul Inderson of Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead) and setting up a 2012 U.S. Tour with Sophie Barker of Zero 7; the boys are preparing for a Spring European Tour with X-ray in the UK (managing tours for Coldplay, Modest Mouse, Black Eyed Peas and Gorillaz), planning their next album, AND are in the midst of a joint initiative with the Silverlake Ballet Company.  “We are working on an opera of our music right now where we are actually writing the story first and then the songs to conform to the story, it’s very fun.  We are really close with the dancers in the Silverlake Ballet Company and the head of the company who loves our music.  We decided to go into business together with this opera we are writing and the ballet will be involved.  It’s exciting but kind of daunting.  We really like the story; it is a basic love story with a few twists and turns.  It will still be The Janks music – alternative and Indie rock – but the instrumentation is going to include an orchestra and a chorus as well.  Garth will be conducting the orchestra, he studied composition at CSUN (California State University, Northridge) and has composed his own music with strings and brass before, so this is a nice outlet for him.  We hope to play the first shows in late summer, 2012.  We are just trying to finish the music right now and are making an EP of the major character themes, then we are going to try to get a grant so we can pay everyone.”
Watch:  The Janks sing “Echo Whispers” Live at Ashland’s Tidings Cafe
With such a broad range of theatre-based, musical interests, it is somewhat surprising that Zmed chose the rock and roll path as his main outlet. “I never did the theatre thing in high school, but a lot of my friends were thespians. Dylan is much more the outward performer type, I’m more introspective. I can definitely get silly and ridiculous among close friends, but I don’t want to be the center of attention.” An odd thing to hear from a lead singer, right? “Actually, a lot of lead singers bother me.  For me, I’m a musician. It’s about writing songs.  It’s about the song and not me. I’ve gotten better at being outward, but it’s definitely a challenge.”  Instead, Zmed focuses on cultivating the band’s sound.  “When Dylan joined the band two years ago, I thought, we are two brothers in a band together and we have the same voice, let’s try and cultivate the Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel vibe into whatever we are doing, whether it is heavy or soft.”

The Janks at Multnomah Falls
When it comes to vibes, The Janks dig Oregon’s and have said they want to move here.  They have ventured to Ashland on multiple occasions to shoot three music videos with director Gary Lundgren (Calvin Marshall).
In terms of what Zmed hopes the future holds for him and The Janks, he says, “Dylan and I have been talking a lot more about how much we want to incorporate our European heritage into our songwriting.  Whether that’s studying old folk tunes and incorporating those sounds or just going there someday, visiting the countries and writing songs based on our experiences out there, there definitely is this element of tradition that I love in music in general, and something that I absolutely want to keep bringing into what I am doing.  It is really important for me to grasp the past, grasp the future and the present and bring all of it into what I am doing.  I wouldn’t just recreate or play old folk tunes, and I would not want to make music that is completely devoid of history, I want to bring it all together – have a song that lives in today’s world that may have a melody with a connection to the past.”
“A lot of music that is being made nowadays by youthful bands in their teens, twenties and even thirties, doesn’t have a sense of history.  Hopefully we can achieve that in what we do, not just with my heritage, but incorporating music from all over the world into our alternative pop songs. Ultimately, my hope is that for each project I do, the door opens to another project.  As long as I can keep doing this, I will be happy.  I would love to make a solid living and support a family, and if I can make something comparable to what my mother makes teaching second grade, I’ll be happy.”

See The Janks perform tonight at Kelly’s Olympian.  For a chance to win a pair of passes to the show, leave a comment below!

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