Washington City Paper Interview of Jake Laufer

Washington City Paper’s superficially revealing inquiry into the musical mind.

We met singer-songwriter JAKE LAUFER at Iota while we were being wowed by Chaise Lounge. He had an easy smile and a convenient business card. The CD arrived in the mail soon after. Sharp guy, we thought, knows how to work it. And now, after listening to A Viking Named ¡Caliente!, we realize—omigod, this kid’s really going places! The disc puts all the pieces together: clever, thoughtful lyrics; supremely confident playing; solid production; and compelling melodies. We could easily imagine ourselves dancing wildly in the aisles at a Jake Laufer show. But you don’t have to imagine it. Because Jake is at Metro Cafe this Wednesday, Dec. 20, with Karla Manzur. Next Saturday, Dec. 23, he’s at Rock Bottom in Arlington. He’s also forming a full band in January (E-mail him if you want to hop on the train for stardom). And also catch this Quiz. It’s muey caliente!

CityPaper: What equipment do you use and what’s your favorite smoke?

JAKE: I’m very partial to guitars from the umbrella of Fender companies. I play a US Standard Stratocaster, a Guild acoustic-electric, and a DeArmond semi-hollowbody, which is awful pretty. I started out on an HM (Heavy Metal) Strat, which was emblematic of my true musical goal: to be on the cover of Guitar for the Practicing Musician alongside such artistes as Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker. Fell out of that phase when I couldn’t master the middle solo from “Sweet Child o’ Mine”

CP: What kind of drums do you play and what pets do you own?

JAKE: When the time comes to percuss, I play a dumbek, an Arabic drum that I picked up in Israel. Do I know how to play it? No. Does is sound good when I play it? That’s for the neighbors to decide. Don’t have any registered pets, just some free-range flying and crawling varmints in my apartment who love me unconditionally.

CP: What’s your favorite D.C. hangout and your favorite automobile?

JAKE: My favorite place to see a show is the Birchmere, but sometimes when you gotta dance, 9:30 is A-OK. I really like places that let me drink for free, so if you’re reading this and you own a bar or restaurant and you know what the patronage of a local singer/songwriter can do for the prestige of a (strip) club….You’ll recognize me by my ride, a green 1997 Geo Prizm, which will be a vintage automobile in like 30 years. People will say, “Wow, remember Geo, before it got swallowed back up by Chevrolet? They really made a sensible midsize car. That car was SEXY.”

CP: What’s the worst place you’ve crashed and the worst haircut?

JAKE: I basically slept inside a kayak for my first month in the D.C. area. Can’t say I understand the appeal of the sport of sleeping inside a kayak; quite overrated, kept falling in, but it lived in that extra bedroom in Bethesda longer than I did, so who was I to complain? I’ve had essentially the same haircut since high school, but I’d just like to point out that Dominion Barber Shop in McLean is awesome! $13 gets a nice cut, a massage, hot towel—oooh baby, cannot be beat. Easily the best thing about Old Dominion Road—better than the Sutton Street Gourmet, by like, so much!

CP: Worst roommate and best audience?

JAKE: Just before I left Philadelphia, I had the following three roommates in my South Street digs: the Psychotic Slut; the Compulsive Liar; and the Drug-Sniffing, Credit Card-Stealing, Cash-Grabbing, Show-Tunes-Listening, Towel-Defiling Male Nurse from Pittsburgh. The Psychotic Slut slept with approximately 40 percent of my male high school classmates (slut), and would respond to requests for rent with expletives and/or physical attacks (psycho). The Compulsive Liar told me lots of crazy stories—e.g., “I dropped off a check yesterday”—and disappeared one day while I was at work. And the last fellow? Had to call the cops when he used my credit card at the Superfresh, one week after $500 disappeared from my drawer. Don’t ask me about the towel. Best crowd for one of my marathon three-set shows is probably Revolution Coffee Lounge in Herndon. People are really nice there and appreciate those who try to entertain them. I played a short outdoor gig at George Mason University on Halloween, which was pretty cool—except my hands froze and I was sick for a week. But my best all-time crowds were at this awful, nasty dive on South Street in Philly called Name That Bar, aka the Basement to the World. You never knew who was going to show up, and it was always fun playing to the college kids, degenerates, and hot German au pairs who made the place their own. Sadly, Name that Bar shut down due to nonpayment of rent, a heavy underage clientele, building code violations, an incident where a guy fell down the stairs and nearly bled to death thanks to some well-placed ducts and a broken railing… It was the kind of place that made Philly the great town that it is.

CP: Explain your band name and define your sound.

JAKE: If I had a band name, it would probably be the Raving Prawns!, inspired by an actual store in Australia. Think about the merchandising! Album titles could include: Once a-Prawn a Time, The Prawn Shoppe, Just a Prawn In Your Foolish Game, Dark Side of the Moon, the possibilities are limitless. Since this is not applicable right now, Laufer is German for runner, ironic since I don’t run. Nick from the Metro Café, described my sound as “all over the place.” That’s about as good a description as I’ve heard so far. I just try not to be boring, give a little incentive for paying attention. My CD has a country song about an ill-fated erotic journey through the Canadian provinces, a disco number, and a punk rock song about regicide, along with your more typical singer-songwriter fare. I think I am very much a part of the Canadian rock scene, even though I haven’t lived in Canada since I was three. If you know Moxy Fruvous, Great Big Sea, and to a lesser extent, Barenaked Ladies, you’ll know what I mean. Canadian flavored electro-folk-punk fusion, how’s that?

CP: What clothes do you like to wear on stage and what do you eat on the road?

JAKE: That reminds me, I must start wearing hip stage threads. I’m still in my “man of the people” phase—helps me blend in and escape easily if things get ugly. On the road, I eat tuna melts. Nothing but tuna melts.

CP: What are your influences and worst equipment experience?

JAKE: I’m a huge fan of the Clash and Elvis Costello, but the Who were probably my biggest early influence. Before I learned guitar, I used to strum a tennis racket to “Pinball Wizard” until my knuckles bled. And that scene from Almost Famous when the kid first heard “Tommy,” that was me. Oh yeah, and I LOVE Black Sabbath. I still listen to and sing along with “Iron Man” any time I need a boost: “Has he lost his mind, does he see or is he blind?” I don’t know, Ozzy, you tell me! Can’t recall too many bad equipment experiences. Did pop four strings in one song though.

CP: What’s your favorite tour memory and worst band squabble?

JAKE: Favorite tour memory is playing in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with my old band, the Suitable Boys. We split the night with an Andean folk group and played for beer. When our sets were over, there was always a line of Coronas and lovely, smiling senoritas. Worst band squabble was with an old drummer who got ready for our biggest gig to date by getting completely baked in the parking lot and pounding 6 to 7 beers. Would have been OK, had he not sucked. Stupid drummer…

CP: What’s your transpo and what’s the worst place you’ve ever dropped trou?

JAKE: Transportation is the aforementioned Geo Prizm. Comfortably fits two guitars, a PA, the Suitcase of Love (another story for another day), and one other passenger. Anything more than that involves some serious contortion, anything less and stuff starts to shift.

CP: What’s the stupidest move your singer ever pulled?

JAKE: My singer is perfect, pure and true, utterly without flaw. A beacon to the unenlightened, a man among men, the embodiment of all virtue, the conscience of a generation, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, and your next president of these United States. What was the question again?