Jump Starts: An Under Cover Weekend Preview

Jump Starts might be considered a side project for its two members, Sarah Ross (Paper Dolls) and Justin Johnson (Pretty Little Empire), but on Saturday night at the Firebird, their joyfully jangly sound will be front and center as they take on the Violent Femmes for this year’s Under Cover Weekend. Having enlisted Union Electric’s Melinda Cooper to manage the Femmes’ bass lines and contribute vocals, Jump Starts has spent some quality time adapting into a trio for this special show. Ross, Johnson, and Cooper answered our mix of normal and awkward questions about Femmes memories, movie soundtracks, and um, church camp.

Sarah, Justin, and Melinda. Photo by Jason Stoff.

Has the process of preparing for the set brought back any memories of first hearing the Violent Femmes? Does it signify a certain time in your musical or personal lives?

JJ: During my sophomore year of high school, a girl I thought was cool mentioned the Violent Femmes. I asked her who they were, thus making me seem very NOT cool. She immediately brought me up to speed, and I might’ve even gotten a mix tape out of the deal. A few months later, I saw them play Pointfest and they tore that set up.

SR: Listening to them nonstop for the past few months has definitely brought me back to my freshman year of college at UMass Amherst. They played over spring break, so those of us who couldn’t afford an actual vacation were rewarded with an amazing show and a great time dancing in the mud.

MC: I was riding the bus en route to a church youth convention in Peoria, IL the first time I heard the Violent Femmes.  We were not allowed to bring “secular” music on these trips. So what we usually did was tape up the holes on the top of our Contemporary Christian music tapes to replace Michael W. Smith with Mötley Crüe in order to be, at least visibly, kosher with the chaperones. This kid, Donnie, had the Femmes’ 1st album on a real “Violent Femmes” tape. It was a pretty big deal. We listened to that for 2 days straight. True love ever since.

Sarah, what’s been the biggest challenge in preparing to cover the Violent Femmes?

SR: My biggest challenge with this project has been getting used to playing with brushes. They’re shorter than sticks and I keep nailing my index finger knuckles on the rim of my snare drum. My next biggest challenge is trying not to look like I have to pee when I play standing up :)

Justin, what’s it been like attempting to marry [Gordon] Gano’s unique vocal dynamics with your own sound?

JJ: Well, he sings much higher than I do. When we started , I felt goofy trying to match his voice. While practicing “Please Do Not Go” I tried to get really into the singing/talking part. I glanced over to see Melinda and Sarah cracking up.  They told me I starting to sound like Gordon for a minute there. After that, every time I noticed them laughing, I knew I was getting close. Gano sings with such despair, frustration, humor, and confidence. I hope I’ve taken parts of all those feelings and can put them in Saturday night’s performance.

Melinda, how did you get added to the Jump Starts line-up for AUCW? Will you be playing out with Justin and Sarah at all after this weekend?

MC: Sarah is a former band mate. We’re all friends, so this all came together very easily. I’ll always be down if they want me to play sometime, but I have a real soft spot for a good two-piece. Jump Starts don’t need me hanging around all the time. They’re pretty great as-is.

In the early and mid-90s, the Femmes had songs featured in a diverse range of films, from The Crow to Southpark. For which movie(s), from any time period, would you love provide the soundtrack, and why?

SR: I think the Jump Starts would’ve been a great addition to the Say Anything soundtrack. Justin and I are both products of the 80s, love 80s movies, and definitely have an 80s influence in our music. I would love to hear “Come Home, Come Home” blaring from John Cusack’s boom box.

JJ: 70s and 80s horror films were a huge part of my childhood. The music really drove many of those films. Also, if any song I ever had any part in ended up in a Scorsese picture, I would probably lose my mind. He’s pretty much my hero.

MC: The Burbs has the potential for a little metal, a little bit of slapstick score, and a lot of creepy. Come on, that’s awesome. I could totally do that.


Author’s Note About Bias #1: I love these three people and all of their other musical projects in addition to Jump Starts.
Author’s Note About Bias #2: I was fortunate enough to see the band practice their AUCW set. Author’s Note About Bias #1 aside, it’s absolutely fantastic and I highly encourage you to be early on Saturday night. Jump Starts leads off.

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