The Devil Made Me Do It: A Jookabox Interview

Stevie Keen talks to David 'Moose' Adamson from Jookabox about losing Grampall and Indianapolis

It’s peculiar how we sometimes love the abused and neglected most of all. It makes for better people; for better and more fantastically odd bands. And Jookabox is definitely an odd band. Headed by David ‘Moose’ Adamson, the band grabs at styles from America’s vast musical spectrum and skilfully crafts them into songs that flail between tribal séances, lurching phantasmagoria and hip-hop stained psychedelica, creating an album that isn’t just infectious but infected.

But, then, they are from Indianapolis. A city founded on marshland, it was at one point believed to have suffered a cultural bypass and deigned a ‘fly-over-state’, a place most Americans only saw from the sky as they flew between more interesting places. The state of Indiana’s history is scarred with racial tension with the Klu Klux Klan once prominent in the area, it has suffered a myriad of economic problems and has a range of idiosyncratic claims to fame – burial place of infamous bank robber John Dillinger, once home of the former world’s tallest woman and host of the last ever Elvis concert. It’s this unique history that has been devoured by the local music scene and Jookabox’s music is strewn with this influence.

Formerly under the moniker of ‘Grampall Jookabox’, the band was reincarnated to produce third album, Dead Zone Boys. The reformation left the ‘Grampall’ discarded and a few band members were picked up along the way. We caught up with David Adamson to find out why he loves the bypassed and ignored Indianapolis.

What changes have happened to the band between Grampall Jookabox and Jookabox?

David Adamson: Well, Grampall Jookabox started when my girlfriend Tender Evans and I recorded Scientific Cricket. Then I was playing live as a one man band with a loop pedal. Then Ostry Okerson and I were playing as a two-headed drummer. And now, just Jookabox is the full band: Moose, Ostry, Benny, and Lisa.

Your press release says that you lost the Grampall after a "haunting vision", what was that vision?

DA: Oh, pick one, man. I’ll pick some. I woke up and this shadow was just shuffling across the floor of my room sending this harm into me and I tried so damned hard to get the strength to fight back, but I could only shake and mumble curse words. Or there was a yellow-green floating head. Phantom rats. I mean I leapt up violently. Ostry says he didn’t wake up.

Are the visions a common occurrence for you and why did they make you lose the Grampall?

DA: Yeah, they happen regularly, but they usually occur in that half asleep/half awake state. Last night on the way home from Detroit I had one where I was resting my head on Michael Jackson’s hand. Everyone has these. Less common are visions when I’m fully awake, but that happens too. I think it might just be the result of stress and paranoia. You know how you can feel things in colours? I just remember the letters for Jookabox seeming red, bright and strong and powerful, and they lock in nicely, look good together in caps especially. And the Grampall just looked old and grey, tired and dusty and deflated.

This album feels darker than the Grampall Jookabox albums, where has that element come from?

DA: The devil.

Did you set out to make a darker album?

DA: I think this is debatable. To me Ropechain is darker and more paranoid, but I’m thinking about how I was when I was writing it. Dead Zone Boys starts to talk about carving out hope despite slim chances for the light, which will be a theme for the band in the future as well. But anyway, no, I did not set out to make a darker album. But I was generally ready to make something "slightly more weird".

What’s the starting point for you when creating a song?

DA: I like to start with a circle of instruments and something to record with. I’ll just start messing with something and if nothing righteous happens I’ll move on to the next one. So I’ve written songs starting with melody fragments, drum beats, guitar riffs, and synth parts. I keep a notepad and handheld recorder handy. Melody fragments tend to come in dreams.

For those of us who live in the UK, and don’t have first hand experience of it, what was it about Indianapolis that inspired your music?

DA: Indianapolis is a place generally in the middle of the country. It likes to call it self "The Crossroads of America". It’s sort of right about that. A lot of seemingly unassociated elements collide here and I think that’s a good way to describe my music as well.

Do you like Indianapolis?

DA: Yes I do. Some of the negative things people think of when they talk about "the fly-over-states" are true here, but interesting weirdness always oozes up in unexpected places and it’s more fun to discover things in places you don’t expect to see them. The city is really cooking right now.

What is it about the music scene in Indianapolis that makes it so good and what’s happening at the moment to make it so exciting?

DA: Well, I mean, it’s good for us, we like it. And it has grown a lot in just the past couple years. There are a lot of creative type characters knocking around and stealing drinks from everyone. Benny, who plays bass with Jookabox, is actually a huge part of it. He throws house shows weekly and has parties with themes like "wet sweater contest" and "food frying". There’s also cool things going on with radio rap (Munki Boi.Ent), thrash metal (Demiricous), underground hip hop (Mudkids, Oreo Jones) and more.

Was the economic situation in Indianapolis an influence on this album and if so do you think it’s more poignant for listeners now there has been international recession?

DA: I only vaguely notice economic differences here locally, but I tend to live a pretty flexible lifestyle. There are a lot of creative ways to make things work. I hang around with people who don’t feel angry about sharing space to live or food to eat. But I do worry about a situation of extreme desperation. I do not know where the poignancy level ranks for this album at this time.

To me your album sounds very American, not in terms of the white picket fence and American dream, but the cultural eclecticism in your mix of hip-hop, blues, folk etc, where did your interest in such a range of genres come from?

DA: I love music and before I left college I took a bunch of "history of music" type courses and one called "writing and recording of pop songs". I think they gave me a good jump-off point to really get to know and intimately experience American music in particular.

I understand that your uncle helped spark your interest in music, how much influence has he had overall?

DA: I feel bad for including him as a part of me getting into music. Doing music is difficult, and my family knows it and can tell. It’s not really the future some of them had in mind for me, I think. One time my uncle apologised to my father, "for getting me into this". I always meant it as a compliment, because I really do love it and I’m sure I wouldn’t be happy without it. But he should know that I would’ve found my way to it one way or another, and that my bizarre life is not his fault. On the other hand, he still likes keeping up with what I’m doing, and recently was trying to get a group of family members to come over to London to see our show. I don’t think it’s going to work out though.

I understand you’re touring at the moment, what’s the weirdest gig you’ve had so far?

DA: Oh, they’re all very weird and enjoyable. Most recently I thrashed around so violently in Beloit, Wisconsin that I developed a gash over my eye. I was dripping blood tears all night. Meanwhile, these two ranger dudes asked Benny if he wanted "Yak". He didn’t know what that was, but said "ok" and then they just left. The floor was bending in, but someone pulled the fire alarm so we all filed out. A shaven headed man literally screamed at us every time he saw us after a show in Champaign, Illinois. The show we just did at the Empty Bottle in Chicago was very enjoyable. It was just a great PA, full room and we were cooking.

Seeing as there’s no money in music for most artists, what keeps you doing it?

DA: I just don’t know what else to do with myself and I really do enjoy the process of writing, recording and performing music. Travelling and seeing so much of the world has been amazing.

If you could achieve just one thing with you music, what would you like it to be?

DA: A lifetime supply of shrimps.

And finally, where did the ‘Moose’ nickname come from?

DA: Moose: wise, loyal, and like 2,000 pounds.

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