With the recent release of his new band’s record, ex-Ponys frontman and current proud dad Jered Gummere, 36, has a lot of good reasons to be giggling, even if The Affliction is more about the down-and-outs. We caught up with zombie Jered as he recovered from an exhaustion caused partly by his job at Chicago’s infamous Empty Bottle (source material for album track,“Crying With Bob”) and partly by his darling daughter (whose mama is also an ex-Ponys member, Melissa Elias). As Jered made it through the interview on a cascade of good humor, nicotine gum, and caffeine, we chatted about the origins of Bare Mutants, his home life in Chicago, and the year he spent without music.
How’s Chicago treating you? When I lived there, I knew people that dug the scene and people just waiting to thrive on the coasts. Are you feeling the pull?
I’m starting to get a huge disdain for this city actually. The friends and the music and the art are great, but the violence and the crazy maniacs running around…that’s why it’s getting on my nerves. I’ve had enough guns and politicians in jail for a lifetime. [Laughs] Since the birth of my four-month old daughter, it’s like, ‘Oh, I care now!” [Laughs]
Aw, woah! Congrats on the baby. Have you written any songs for her?
When I’m really tired, everything I say to her is in Southern hip-hop style. I just rap at her about pooping her pants. I get delirious and go dirty South on her. [Laughs]
I hope you release a kids’ album of dirty South songs next.
[Laughs] That will not be released.
Are you really thinking seriously about moving?
That’s a hard one. I’m not sure. I grew up in a college town, and when I was living there I was like, “I can’t wait to get the fuck out of here. Fuck this place!” But now I want to be a townie again! I don’t want to go the suburbs, you know, I need to go to a town where I can know everybody. But Chicago, like I said, I’ve lived here forever and all my friends live here, and I work at one of the greatest rock clubs in the country. Art and music is really easy for me here, so that’s a bonus.
It’s not a small city by any means. It’s still, like, the third largest city in the country. But for the size, the scene is pretty tight. There’s a shit ton of bands here, but a lot of people know each other or play in, like, five different bands. It gets cold here in the winter, so people got to do something.
So it’s been awhile since The Ponys broke up…
Nothing, like, bad happened at the end. It was just that we’d be in this band for ten years, and we’d been all over the place and stuck in the van forever, and we were just burned out. And then Brian Case went on and started doing Disappears, and I just kind of dropped out of music for a while. I got a job in a woodshop and started listening to sports radio all the time. [Laughs] Just to kind of cleanse the palate.
I really just needed to clear my head at the time. I needed a job because we weren’t touring anymore, and my buddy owned this woodshop. I didn’t even know how to use a tape measure! But he showed me everything, and in three months I was sawing huge boards and building cool shit. It was really fun, but it was also pretty hard work.
Did it help to give yourself a mental break to have something new to say with this band?
Totally. I mean, I really was like, “Fuck, music sucks.” I didn’t listen to records for over a year. I was just really done. And then I started working eleven-hour days again and hating it and I was like, “Oh wow, I like music again.” I just kind of hate it a little bit.
Do you still woodwork, or whatever that should be called?
Mmm, no. [Laughs] It’s more turned into a fix-shit-around-the-house thing. It was a good skill to learn and a cool couple of years, but I’m glad I don’t work that hard anymore. I’d rather work hard on my music than sweat it out, covered in sawdust all day.
Well, I’ll just consider this your break from woodworking. Maybe you’ll be back again! So with this new record, what’re you trying to do that’s different than what you’ve done in the past?
I first started this as a solo thing, and I got lonely. [Laughs] I knew I needed to get some people together. I had quite a few songs written. I just asked a bunch of people I knew, and they ended up being amazing, That was kind of a bonus. I just picked people…I didn’t care if they could play, I just wanted people that I wanted to hang out with, and it worked out. Practices consist of us hanging out for a few hours and then saying, “Okay, we should probably go practice.”
Now that you’ve worked on the record, are you still feeling the love? Have you started the whole touring thing?
We’re getting some dates together now, but no, we haven’t done the big tour yet, so we’re still friends. [Laughs] My favorite thing, you know, is when you talk to all these young bands and they’re so excited about going to Europe and you’re like, “How long are you going for?” And they’re like, “Six weeks!” And I’m like, “Wooooah.” And they come back and are like, “Yeah, we broke up.” [Laughs] That’s a really long time to be together, plus it’s a really long time to not use an American toilet.
I bet the two don’t help each other. So one of the comparisons I’ve heard over and over about The Affliction is how much it sounds like the Velvet Underground. Were you listening to them a lot or going for that kind of sound?
They’re one of my favorite bands, so it’s hard not to be influenced by that. The one thing I was really going for was to make a record that I actually wanted to listen to. I’ve made some records where I’ve finished them and then I can never listen to them again. I’m a little older now, and I don’t really rock out so much, so I just want to listen to some interesting, depressing, mellow shit. I was pretty pumped. I like this record a lot, and I’ve never really felt that way about a record, so I’m happy.
Who else are you listening to that’s mellow and depressing?
I’m a pretty big fan of Angel Olsen. I bought her new record right before the baby was born. I had all this house stuff to do, and I would listen to that record over and over again and build shit. It’s pretty dark; it’s pretty mellow. But I don’t know…I’m still kind of not back into music yet. We’ve also been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson around here. Which is not depressing, but the little girl digs Willie, so…
Do you see more of a future for Bare Mutants as a band, or is it more of a one-off solo thing gone a little haywire?
I mean for now, with the record just coming out and being received pretty well, and with us still hanging out…we’re already writing new songs…hopefully this continues for awhile. At this point, after being in Ponys for so long, I just don’t take it seriously. It’s my way of getting shit out of my head, and we don’t have to practice every week. I feel so much more relaxed. I think that could change if we get a huge tour schedule or something, but the baby’s definitely a game-changer as far as touring and all that goes. Now, not only do I have to plan around normal life stuff, I have to plan around huge milestones. Like, her birthday’s in April, so I can’t go anywhere in April next year because she might walk.
Sounds like you’ve got so much good stuff going on! Tell me, do you think you’ve achieved success by your own standards, in your music or your life, and what are those standards?
I actually think about that a lot. You know, when Ponys put out our first 7” that was it for me. I didn’t need anything else, and of course it escalated a lot. It’s funny because I never want to be fully comfortable. I think about people in their 80s going back to school, how important it is to keep your mind sharp and keep on top of things. You can’t settle in too much. You have to keep challenging yourself or else you’re never going to grow. And you know, I don’t care anymore. I’m probably going to be that bad, embarrassing dad, but I’ll push it all the way — the more uncomfortable, the better. [Laughs]
Bare Mutants' The Affliction LP is out now on In The Red.