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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

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In Music

Juniper Tar, with Jason Mohr front and center. (PHOTO: CJ Foeckler)

Juniper Tar: Mohr talks "Since Before"


If you follow local music you can't possibly have missed that Juniper Tar released a new record in recent weeks.

A much-publicized Turner Hall release party was preceded by a month-long weekly residency gig at The Hotel Foster that featured a slew of local guest musicians. The band also blogged about those gigs for OnMilwaukee.com.

At a time when fellow travelers like Field Report are making national waves, Milwaukee music fans have also been eagerly awaiting the latest from Jason Mohr, Ryan Schleicher, Aaron Schleicher, Tuc Krueger and Chris DeMay.

"Since Before" is now available and it was worth the wait. The vinyl version is an elaborate package befitting the powerful music inside.

Though it doesn't sound anything like "Exile on Main Street," "Since Before" has a similar spirit. Written a bit on the fly, recorded in large part live and drawing influences from American roots music and rock and roll. But Juniper Tar's sound is also of its age and possesses an almost ethereal quality likely picked up from indie scene in which the group's members have come up.

We got a chance to ask singer and guitarist Jason Mohr about making the record and about where things are headed for one of the best bands in the city...

OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell me a bit about making the record? How did it come together?

Jason Mohr: We recorded the songs for "Since Before" over the course of a year and a half, which is very different from how we've worked in the past. The process was really dependent on the time that the songs were composed. In many cases, the music was recorded before the lyrics and melody were even sketched out. We've never written that way before, but it really allowed for the theme to reveal itself and become a cohesive story one song at a time.

OMC: Do you guys tend to record quickly or is it typically slow going for Juniper Tar in the studio?

JM: We are still very much a live band in the studio. We really believe in the power of performing the songs and recording them live. We're not very interested in the process of tracking instruments separately. There are some songs on the record that were performed completely live, vocals and all, and we just added a few textures.

With that being said, we typically work pretty quickly, but in the case of "Since Before," I was still composing many of the lyrics on the spot and I relied on a Burroughs' cut-up method for many of the words, where sections of words were cut up and put into a hat and built in that way. It was a scary way to write with the pressure of finishing the songs, but I feel that it really added to the abstract nature of the storyline that can easily be interpreted multiple ways.

OMC: What did you learn anything from making this one?

JM: I would say that we mainly learned to take our time and allow the songs to fully develop before finalizing anything. We were all really giving ourselves and the songs time to see if they belonged on the record or not. We also learned to trust in our ability to improvise.

There are three instrumental pieces that we composed on the spot that consist mainly of piano, and guitar sound textures. After we played them completely live and sat on them for a while, we realized that they were going to work very well as dividers into specific moods on the double record. They are sort of our version of Eno's "Music for Airports" where the sounds you hear are just as important as the sounds around you. I'm really proud of our ability to improv.

OMC: How are you looking to get the word out nationally? Are you touring behind it?

JM: Ideally, we would love to get out there and tour right now. We're ready for it and understand that it's the best vehicle to share your music. We love playing live and we can't get enough of it, but we're really working towards making the release official within the coming days and then try to solidify a booking arrangement to do some more expansive regional touring.

OMC: Tell me a bit about the vinyl release. It's pretty extravagant, isn't it?

JM: Since this album runs nearly an hour, we had no other option but to make it a double LP. And as the album formed, it really made more and more sense to consider each side of the record as its own movement. As far as the album itself, the LP set comes with a book and a download code for the record.

Even the album cover art was a case of improvisation, I built a collage that included many of the elements that appear in the album's theme. I'm thrilled with how it looks and sounds as an LP.

OMC: Is it an expensive or risky investment to create a package like that for a band at this level?

JM: Well, the LP is certainly a pricier option for media, but if you believe in the final product as something that deserves to be on a more permanent source of media, it's worth every penny. We are very fortunate to have had two very good friends become the album's executive producers, so that helped make this thing possible.

OMC: We loved the Hotel Foster residency blogs. How did the idea for those shows come about?

JM: We wanted the release for this record to be something more than just another show where you bring your stuff, you load in, you play and you sell you record and you say goodnight, so we decided to move forward with something we've talked about for a while, the residency. In our opinion, by including other musicians to be a part of the release of this record, we were not only celebrating the birth of a record, we were also celebrating the incredibly friendly Milwaukee music scene.

OMC: Did they turn out how you expected them to?

JM: The residency shows were beyond our dreams of what we hoped they would be. Each week was such an emotional and special experience where we got to know a lot of new people and talk about life and music. It was something that we're very proud to have done and the Hotel Foster was the absolute perfect venue. Those guys are just incredible.

OMC: What's the next big idea from Juniper Tar?

JM: Hmmm. We just want to spend a lot more time in our van playing to new people. If everything works out, we really hope to have a more substantial tour planned for this fall, but the planets kind of have to align for that to happen, so we're just going to keep on going and continue to write more songs for the next record. Who knows, maybe that one will be a 10-record box set about dinosaurs and birds.

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