Even though Jared Mees & The Grown Children don't write strictly confessional music, even a cursory listen to the band's songs reveal that Mees and company are certainly heart on sleeve types. To describe the music as merely Americana would be overlooking the group's penchant for unconventional hooks, which recall American Music Club.
Based in Portland, Oregon, the band is fronted by Jared Mees, who recently started up the record label and retail space Tender Loving Empire in what some might call a Quixotic attempt to encourage himself and his wife to challenge themselves as people and as artists, while inspiring the community around them.
In advance of the group's show tonight at the Larimer, we spoke with Mees about his label, it's connections to bands outside its immediate circle of friends and the act's upcoming album, Only Good Thoughts Can Stay.
Westword: Why call your space and your label Tender Loving Empire?
Jared Mees: We got into the oxymoron it created -- the juxtaposition. It's kind of silly in a lot of ways: The whole idea of how an empire is this thing that's controlling and huge and brutal. But it also works. The whole reason empires move forward is because they work. A tender, loving empire seems like the perfect type of empire, I guess, if you could have something where all that stability was able to be sustained by something that wasn't based around money, or power or greed. That's really idealistic because we still function as a for-profit business, and we have to make decisions based on the American, capitalistic business model in a lot of ways. It's not like we're above and beyond but it's more like the ideals behind it.
What was your label's first release, and how did you come to be involved with bands like Finn Riggins, Y La Bamba, Typhoon and Church?
The first release was my first solo record. It was only silk-screened, and the CDs and the cases were glow-in-the-dark and numbered. It went from there to my friends' bands and my friend Brenda Thompson's short stories. We met Finn Riggins about a year after we put my album out, and they were excited about everything we were doing. It was like a match made in heaven because they seemed to be doing all the same stuff we wanted to do.
They were already touring, and they didn't really have a proper release or anything. We thought these were people that were actually taking it to the next level that we can become involved with. They kind of helped spearhead a real, functioning, moving-forward business. They had their lives on the line. They had to make money, and they were touring to stay alive, in a lot of ways. It made us kick into the next year.
None of our bands make their living solely off the music, but they do make money and they make a living. Our involvement with Finn Riggins led to our involvement with Hosannas. Moving our store to a different location in Portland helped us to become involved with a lot of bands. We went to hundreds of shows, and started meeting everyone we could meet, and talking to everyone we could talk to about music. We got deeply involved in the community, and people gravitate toward that -- like, who's going to look out for them and help them along, help them to do a proper release.
Tyler Ferrin of Typhoon, who ran a now defunct record label Boy Gorilla, was an intern with us for six or eight months. He was in Typhoon at the time. They took a hiatus. We continued to do our own thing and gained some momentum as a label. They came out of hiatus and asked if we would put out their record. They just caught fire locally, and now, they have a bit more national success. It's still on a small underground scale but it's huge to us compared to what we were doing. Y La Bamba was the same thing. You can consign stuff at our store, and we only listen to local music in our store.
For every band we put out, there are twenty bands we're thrilled with, but it just doesn't really work out as well, as far as actually putting a ton of money, time and effort into them. Right now, we can't have bands that don't really tour on the label. If you don't tour, we can be quietly in love with your music as a fan. We put a lot of those bands on the compilations. There are too many bands to put out all their releases. I love compilations because I grew up listening to punk rock compilations. I think it's a cool idea; you can listen to twenty or thirty or forty bands in one sitting, and if you like them you can move on and buy the rest of their music or go to a show or whatever.
The title of your new album, Only Good Thoughts Can Stay, seems entirely appropriate for the music within, and your approach to engaging the world. Why did you call the album that?
It's called that basically because it's kind of the lyric that I could stand to be the title for that album, from the last song, "Shake." "Only good thoughts can stay" really came out of a mantra I was repeating to myself three and a half years ago when I was depressed having a difficult time moving forward in my life. It seems like a universal thing everybody can relate to.
In "WWJBD" you mention Grand Junction. What can you tell me about the show or incident you're referencing if it is something that actually happened?
That whole song about a tour we undertook this exact time last year. It stands for "What Would James Brown Do" and "James Brown" was our old tour bus. I grew up with a pretty intense Christian background, and it was a play on words. The song references actual physical places and things that happened on that tour. It was the most difficult tour of my life. I was sick for half of it.
When I got home, I was a broken human and didn't really know what the hell was going on. I had just opened a new store downtown. I guess the whole idea is you're having this horrible time re-acclimating to your life or figuring what your life is all about. I don't know if you've ever heard the whole idea that the reason you're having difficulty re-acclimating after travel is because your soul only moves at one speed, like there's a maximum speed at which your soul can move.
So when you get home, you feel like "I don't know what's going on" for a while, and then your soul catches up to you and you re-acclimate. Whether or not that's true is neither here nor there, but it's kind of a nice, whimsical of explaining that you're not dying; it's just that your soul can't keep up with the van. The van is constantly moving forward, and the soul is constantly trying to catch up to it.
In Grand Junction, we played there with an old friend. It was the real high point of the tour because everything seemed to be going right, and everyone seemed ecstatic about our music and their own lives and music. All the kids there were really amped up. It was a real breath of fresh air on a real downer of a tour. We had played at my friend Sy's house -- we had grown up in Pagosa Springs together.
It's an exciting little town. It was awesome. I have really good memories about it. My parents owned a hot springs there. So I was always working on the hot springs since I can remember. I ran around with a group of kids that were active and intense. We were always one-upping each other. I was in one of two bands in my high school. The other one was called Spiritual Masturbation. Ours was called Nickel Trick. It was just straight up, snotty pop punk band with my brother playing drums.
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