Jack Long had an interesting 2020. Like many, he was stuck inside as a lethal respiratory virus made its way around the world. But he had also developed an unhealthy taste for methamphetamine, a drug that can turn even the most career-minded among us into unemployed amateur PlayStation repairmen in six months or less.
No one jumps right into methamphetamine, of course. Long started down that road like any normal person — weed, booze, Xanax, cocaine and then meth. It’s cheaper than cocaine, and the length of the high has to be measured in scientific notation. It's not for everyone and shouldn't be for anyone.
Long’s dalliance with the drug ended on an emergency-room gurney last August after an overdose. Fortunately, he didn’t end up on a coroner’s slab, and he hit a creative streak upon going home. He’s also received a lot of help from family, his girlfriend and a therapist to recover from the incident.
“After I got out of the hospital, I started working on the album,” Long says. “It’s been kind of about that — recovery, re-becoming who I am instead of this drug person.”
Long, who also uses the name Johnny Bevel on social media, says he’s recovering from the incident, and shortly after his release from the hospital, he started recording the songs that would become Bazooka. It’s not his first attempt at releasing a solo project, but he says the sound on the record marks a significant departure from what he was working on prior to his brush with death.
“The whole album has been kind of a slow evolution of the style,” he says. “It goes up and down in terms of energy levels, and in terms of the electric/acoustic kind of thing. Going forward, I see myself just trying to explore different variations of that.”
Bazooka offers up sixteen tracks of intentionally lo-fi rock that recalls early Beck albums One Foot in the Grave and Stereopathic Soulmanure. The album also has touches of Joey Santiago’s mournful Pixies guitar lines and a little bit of 1992-era Flaming Lips. Long recorded most of the instruments and vocals himself using real guitars and drums.
“Part of it is probably my lack of in-depth knowledge [of recording],” he says of the lo-fi sound. “Over the course of recording, I got better at production. But part of it is purposeful and part of it is just the learning curve.”
He adds that the sonic character of the songs reminds him of Bob Dylan recordings made with one microphone in a studio and tracks like David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch.”
“I like genuine energy,” he says. “It feels really honest.”
Long counts a wide swath of pop-music icons as influences, including Prince, Madonna, Harry Nilsson, the Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan and “all of the Beatles,” in particular John Lennon. He’s also been listening to a lot of earlier Neil Young records as of late.
He says the songs on Bazooka are thematically inspired by his life and his growth, through childhood to the present, and he draws from other personal experiences and pop culture. Seemingly random elements can be collected into lyrics, and that kind of cut-up style of writing complements the early-’90s vibe of some of the songs. His relationship with his girlfriend figures heavily in the single “Whine,” but as he was writing the lyrics, his father brought up Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That in turn reminded him of the Japanese animated art film Belladonna of Sadness. All of this made it into the lyrics.
“Those movies were all just on my radar,” he says. “[The song] was more about my relationship with my girlfriend, but she was the one who showed me that movie.”
His previous forays into solo material, particularly when he was using more drugs, were more synthesizer-centered, he says. He's moved on from that style.
“I had a bunch of stuff up on Bandcamp and SoundCloud that I was making during that period of just being in this weird drug world,” he says. “It’s not bad, but it’s kind of weird, avant-garde, really out-there kind of shit. After that, I’ve been more clear-headed and had more direction.”
Long has played in numerous Denver bands since middle school, but the 21-year-old started focusing more on solo material, in part because of the pandemic.
“I’ve been working on my shit just kind of as a hobby,” he says. “At the beginning of the quarantine is when I really started to focus on my own music as my primary thing, just because I wasn’t able to go to band practice and play shows.”
While the last year almost ended in a tragedy for the young artist, overall, he feels the experiences of overdosing and recovery have helped him hone his craft.
“My philosophy on music and any other kind of art form as well as academia, any kind of journalism, any kind of whatever it is is — I feel like what you are trying to do is figure out who you are, figure out your lens, the lens you see the world with and give it to everyone,” he says.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.