Tuesday, October 13, 2009

JAMES JACKSON TOTH: The Halcyon Days of Chipmunk Punk

photo of James and Jessica by David Garland, WNYC

James Jackson Toth AKA Wooden Wand AKA WAND lives in Tennessee with his wife Jessica. He's released dozens of albums under a variety of guises and combinations. At one point, he made a really ornate record with tons of complicated and well-known personnel, and then later, after what is widely acknowledged as the worst year of his life, he made a stripped-clean bare-knuckles singer-singing-songs record. The latter, Born Bad, showcases a raw voice, creepily straightforward lyrics and a confessional, curse-peppered jukebox-and-peanut-shells atmosphere. Born Bad also begat the dawn of WAND, working-class everyman layered in filth and heartbreak, traveling aimlessly.

James Jackson Toth's favorite book is Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridien, his favorite movies are Apocalypse Now, Tender Mercies, and/ or Paper Moon, his favorite color is "fresh spinach green" and his favorite dog is a Boston Terrier, for which he "would gladly lay down (his) life...if it looked at (him) just right."

What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?

My pleasure is skee ball but I come here for a hot dog. Also, I'm a songwriter, which is not the same as someone who writes songs. Lately I've been writing songs and making chili. No songs about chili yet, but I assume one is imminent.

How long have you done these things?

I started writing songs pretty late - freshman year of college I think. I wanted to be ready. But I've been obsessed with music as an art form since the halcyon days of Chipmunk Punk.

Why do you do them? How does it make you feel?

I don't really decide. I guess it makes me feel good, like I am doing God's work. Otherwise I wouldn't do it. I've been pretty good
at avoiding things I don't want to do for most of my life. I'm superstitious and believe there is a reason I've been blessed / cursed with a communicable muse, so I put it through the paces, so to speak.

When was That Moment in your life that told you you would become what you are? What happened?

In my 5th grade yearbook there was a section where you had to write a poem about what you were going to be. I wrote a really lousy poem that went something like "I'll be the bassist in a heavy metal band / we'll play on the street and on the sand." Well, all of that has come to pass, among other things and, lousy rhyme or not, I have performed on both sand and gravel.

How has your life changed or not changed to accommodate that moment's effect on you?
Resigning myself very early to a life of no health insurance, nothing resembling a long term plan, the role of a wastoid in the eyes of most of the western world, tedium, fear, etc. But also ecstasy, joy, love, friendship...

How has your work affected your life in return?
My work is life and vice versa, so I have no idea. I might have been a good veterinarian. Or maybe a dog trainer. Something with dogs. Who knows.

Does David Lee Roth affect who you are? If so, how?
Funny you should ask. Diamond Dave figured prominently in what could be called my formative years. We didn't have MTV when I was growing up, but when we'd visit my grandparents for the holidays, I'd bring blank VHS tapes and tape a years worth of music videos at their house to watch back home. I used to watch the videos for "Yankee Rose" and "Goin' Crazy" over and over again, those were my favorites. I memorized every frame of those videos. I still really love Eat 'Em and Smile - that album rules, and holds up surprisingly well.

Do you have anything you'd like to ask me?
Do you watch reality TV?
Sometimes. Especially on the machines at the gym because it feels like I'm earning it.

Learn more about the world of James Jackson Toth


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