Interview:10 Questions with Jason Stollsteimer & Marci Bolen of The Von Bondies
by Don Dawson
Album: Pawn Shoppe Heart
Detriot, Michigan, The Motor City, Motown - call it what you want but it has become an important piece in the fabric of American Music. It's quite possible that one of you, maybe even two of you, may not be familiar with the many influential bands that broke out of Detroit. The Motor City has long been a hotbed of talent dating back to the '40s. Names that have long since become icons within the world of music, cut their teeth on the streets of Detroit. Let us share just a few of them:
Jackie Wilson, Alice Cooper (better known as Vince Furnier), Marshall Crenshaw, Glen Frey, Berry Gordy, Bill Haley (of "Rock Around the Clock" fame), Tommy James (prior to hooking up with the Shondells), Kid Rock (or Robert Ritchie as he's known), Earl Klugh, Madonna (Ciccone), Ted Nugent, Ray Parker Jr. (Mr. Ghostbuster), Iggy Pop, Suzi Quatro (one of The Runaways), Martha Reeves, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Bob Segar, Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, Del Shannon, and the list goes on and on.
So it's no surprise, given its legacy, that bands have once again begun to percolate out of the Midwestern musical diamond in the rough. The Von Bondies have been hard at work incubating a sound that is distinctly all their own. With Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) sitting in the production chair, Jason, Marcie, Carrie, and Don have recently released Pawn Shoppe Heart on Epic Records, twelve songs that have that raw, just fallen off-my-bike and my knees are shredded to the bone, type of rock.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Jason and Marcie on a stop in Boston, just before the release of their new CD. As it turns out, Jason is a vintage gear nut, Marcie's can't seem to find a vintage '70s Ampeg amp when she goes to the UK, and nowhere within in the context of this interview did we use the name Jack White.
Guitar.com: Welcome to Boston.
Jason Stollsteimer: Thanks. Nice and chilly.
Guitar.com: Lovely, ain't it? Typical for this time of year. So let's talk guitars. What was your first Guitar?
Jason Stollsteimer: An Eko 400-
Guitar.com: A real Eko, the Italian company, an Eko?
Jason Stollsteimer: I have them. I still play them.
Guitar.com: Do you really? Do you still have that first one? I always admire those that keep their first guitar.
Jason Stollsteimer: No, no, it got stolen. It was stolen in England.
Guitar.com: That's still very cool though.
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, I have five of them now. They were pretty cheap up until about a year ago. I just went on ebay and typed in "Von Bondies" and you'll find "Eko Guitars, like Von Bondie Singer plays." And I'm like, "geez, I'm paying for my own name now." (laughs) I've basically made the guitar I like more expensive for myself. It's killing me.
Guitar.com: I was just at a Vintage Guitar Show recently and there were all these Danes or Swedes running around buying every Eko, Goya, Mosrite - everything that you've seen at yard sales and have basically been ignoring in pawn shops for the last ten years. I was talking to one of the guys and they were saying that these are the hottest guitars on the market over there. The more buttons and knobs, the faster they sell.
Jason Stollsteimer: Japan is even worse. My brother owns a vintage guitar show in Detroit. He'd have these guitar shows and have all this odd stuff like teardrop sitars and it'd be like a thousand dollars. The Japanese would come in and just buy everything to take back to Japan. They just come to buy. They'd have a table at the show but they don't sell anything. The table is just stacked with stuff they bought.
Guitar.com: You know those guitars will never see the light of day again.
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, they're just collecting or they'll take it back and sell it to another collector. I know someone that does that with Pinball machines. And I'm like "WHY?" I love pinball. It's in Detroit. This guy has ten-thousand pinball machines and they've never been played since the day he bought them.
Guitar.com: Where does he store them? He must have a warehouse or something.
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, yeah, it's a warehouse. He has that and cars.
Marci Bolen: Well my first guitar was a Teisco. Just a crappy Teisco. It was a sunburst one with the flowery vines around the pickguard.
Guitar.com: Still have it?
Marci Bolen: No, no I don't.
Guitar.com: Very rare when someone does.
Marci Bolen: Hmmm, I can't recall what happened to it. I think I traded it in and got this Airline hollowbody. It was a '60s thing, black.
Guitar.com: You still have that one?
Marci Bolen: Yeah, that one I've still got. It's black and it has a big white diamond in the middle of it and then the pick guard has a little white diamond on it.
Jason Stollsteimer: You mean an acoustic guitar?
Marci Bolen: Yeah.
Jason Stollsteimer: Oh, when you said hollowbody, I thought you meant an electric hollowbody.
Marci Bolen: No, it's an acoustic.
Guitar.com: It's still a good sign that you held onto that one, at least. Rather than discussing your influences as a list, I think there's a distinction between music/artists that you listened to and then a second list of people that make music that you only hope you can make music as good as. But they influence you in another way, entirely. I've read a range of influences as diverse as Motown, music from the '60s - but no one is ever going to confuse you with the Funk Brothers.
Jason Stollsteimer: No, that's true.
Guitar.com: However, you've mentioned artists like Eric Burdon and the Animals, I can hear some of him in your vocals or Screaming Jay Hawkins - I hear bits of that. Do you find that more the case?
Jason Stollsteimer: I know what you're saying. The big thing for me, I mean, the music for me, they sang with emotion. They sang from the heart, which growing up there wasn't a lot of that. I mean, nu-metal music and stuff lost a lot of that for kids our age. We couldn't really relate to it. So for someone to idolize, I mean, I didn't idolize anyone for the music so much as the way they presented the music. It wasn't so much that it had to be soul. I didn't like soul or all soul music. It has to be certain singers that I believe in what they're presenting. It wasn't so much the music as much as it was emotion that they conveyed in it. I'm a fan of emotion and putting your heart on your sleeve. That's the one thing I picked up from those people.
Marci Bolen: And I'm more of robot. (laughs)
Jason Stollsteimer: Marci loves the Beatles. I'm not a big Beatles fan. I mean, I think they're geniuses but it wasn't a direct influence for me.
Marci Bolen: I love all different kinds of music. I'm very eclectic. Almost anything that's pleasing to my ear. I like everything and that can range from soul to new wave, country to sixties psychedelic music.
Jason Stollsteimer: Me and Marci have this different thing. We'll go in the car and she'll need to put in a CD. Where I can go in the car and never listen the whole entire week. I don't even think about it. I don't think about music that way.
Marci Bolen: We listened to some weird stuff today. We listened to some Police.
Jason Stollsteimer: I was sleeping.
Marci Bolen: And then we listened to No Thanks, that Punk box set.
Jason Stollsteimer: What goes on in the van is very random. I mean you have eight people in a van?
Guitar.com: Yeah, you'd have to expect that.
Jason Stollsteimer: We listened to a lot of Hardcore because our guitar tech, who happens to be from here, is way into it.
Guitar.com: Good to have a good hardy New Englander in the crew. They can put up with just about anything. What about live? What are you using live? Let's talk effects for starters.
Jason Stollsteimer: We're both using Big Muff pedals. We normally use the green ones, which are the sovtek ones. Marci has a silver one cause the green one has been cutting out.
Marci Bolen: Yeah, someone spilled beer on it (laughs).
Jason Stollsteimer: The problem is that I'm using a lot of vintage equipment and it breaks a lot. Mine more than anyone. I have a Silvertone 610, where the head fits in the cab but has six ten inch speakers.
Guitar.com: Now does your affinity for vintage gear come from your brother?
Jason Stollsteimer: No, my brother, well, because he's my brother, he won't sell me equipment.
Guitar.com: He won't?
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, because if something goes wrong I'll expect my money back immediately. We had a bad falling out years ago but we're really good friends now, like brothers. He's really cool and he's one of the fairest guitar salesman you'd ever want to meet. But with the Silvertone I bought, I mean, the Eko I bought and if you've ever played an Eko, they sound horrible. They sound like a Teisco. They're very thin. If you don't have the right amp, like we tried it through a Fender Twin and it hurt everyone.
Marci Bolen: Yeah, it was really thin and jangly.
Jason Stollsteimer: So I tried amp after amp and one of the reasons I tried the Eko was because no one else has one. No one else still has one. So finding an amp has taken forever. So I figured out Selmer Thunderbird 30's, they work really well but the 50's sound bad. Silvertone 1484, the twin 12's or the 1485, which has the 6 - 10's - ah, I'm all tech talk.
Guitar.com: No that's good. Keep going.
Jason Stollsteimer: Well, the Silvertone has four 6L6's and they have built in reverb and tremolo is amazing. Fender tremolo doesn't have anything on the Silvertone tremolo. But they are a bit more temperamental. They do tend to break a lot.
Guitar.com: You should check out our other site. We run Gbase.com, which is basically a gear search engine. It was one of the first gear dedicated websites ever. You can find tons of vintage gear, used gear. I'm sure you could find a few Eko's and Silvertone's on there.
Jason Stollsteimer: I'll have to check that out. I bought four of them (Silvertone Amps) for like $500 and now I've seen them for like $1000. The 610 has original Jensen speakers. The speakers alone are worth $600.
Guitar.com: I'm headed for the Spartanburg Guitar show this week, I'll have to look around.
Jason Stollsteimer: If you see an Eko, four pickups. I'll show you the ones I have on stage. Call me that day. I'll give you my credit card number.
Guitar.com: Okay, so let's get back on track here. You've had a good deal of success over in the UK and although your buzz stateside is growing, the UK clearly appreciates you on another level. There have been a number of acts that have gone to the UK to find fame and fortune; Hendrix, The Stray Cats. Any particular thought as to why the Von Bondies got to join this group?
Jason Stollsteimer: It's a small country (laughs).
Marci Bolin: Well, it is small but the people over there really seem to be looking out for something new. They want to know what the new thing is all the time. Whereas here whatever is on the radio here seems like, record labels are scared to take chances with new music.
Jason Stollsteimer: It's word of mouth. Word of mouth takes tens times as long because it's a bigger country. In the UK, if something does well in London, the rest of the country has to like it, it seems. Nine out of ten times it works. But every single week they say, "this is the greatest band since Nirvana." They feed these young kids this line but the thing is, it works, to a certain extent. But the bands then have to be able to play live and back it up, which a lot of times, it doesn't happen.
Guitar.com: How many times have you been to the UK?
Marci Bolen: Four.
Guitar.com: Have you been there to support Pawn Shoppe Heart, as of yet?
Jason Stollsteimer: We just went there. We just did an NME tour for the magazine. They really like us and have always done right by us. And they've never given us the cover, which is a good thing. Getting the cover is not a good thing.
Marci Bolen: They really like us there. Bands that get hyped up too fast can get dropped just like that. So we've been really fortunate to be able to go to the UK four times.
Jason Stollsteimer: Coming from the Midwest we got the chance to build, instead of being on the east or west coast, where there are spotlights all the time. I mean, there's labels here (Boston). We don't have a label in Detroit. Nobody cares about us.
Guitar.com: You don't have a label in Detroit? Not even a strong indie label?
Jason Stollsteimer: Now we do but not a real one. Not in the last five years. Ten or maybe fifteen years ago but not now. There's no (music) industry there. Like I've never met a record rep in Detroit, where here in Boston there's a Warner rep coming to the show tonight. There's no push for us at home to go big so we learned how to play our instruments and become a good band, as all bands from Detroit do. They have this chance to grow into whatever they're going to sound like. If we would have blown up a year or two ago, I don't know. We're still growing, we're certainly not huge but two years ago, if that would have happened, we would have been sunk because we weren't really ready for it and we hadn't found our footing. And now we a lot more comfortable, I mean of course we don't think we're the biggest band in the world or anything but we're definitely growing. I think a lot of bands in Detroit have that chance. Bands like The Dirt Bombs, who started eight years ago; The White Stripes who started seven years ago. They've all grown and what they've earned, they've earned on their own, without some magazine telling them that they're the greatest thing.
Guitar.com: So how many dates did you do while you were in the UK?
Jason Stollsteimer: 12 shows in 14 days. We've done as many as thirty days. We've done bigger tours.
Guitar.com: And how many dates are you doing in the US?
Jason Stollsteimer: We're going to be there for 40 days, not sure on how many shows. And then we go to Australia and Japan and then back to England and Europe. And then back to England. We've got ten months of touring, with four days off in May.
Guitar.com: I'm sure you're looking forward to that break already. So let's get back to amps. Marci, what is your amp of choice?
Marci Bolen: Ampeg VT40. When we go to the UK, I've been switching around trying to figure out what to do because I can't easily find a 70's Ampeg to play through. Guitar-wise, right now, I'm playing an SG. I was playing vintage ones for a while. I wanted to find something reliable so I went to test out some guitars. And I wasn't really into SG's but after trying out a number of different guitars, I loved them out of all of them.
Guitar.com: Even with the wider neck?
Marci Bolen: No, I don't have one of the ones with the wider neck. It's a pretty thin neck.
Jason Stollsteimer: She's playing an '80s one. I think it's an '87.
Guitar.com: I've never been a big SG fan either but I will admit to wanting one of those Angus Young models (laughs).
Marci Bolen: Yeah, the Pete Townshend model has a huge neck on it. I tried to play it and there was no way.
Guitar.com: So playing vintage gear on the road must present itself with some interesting problems. What do you do when stuff breaks on the road?
Jason Stollsteimer: For some unknown reason, on the same song every night, my amp starts cutting out. I run in stereo. I use a Fender Hot Rod Deville and the Silvertone 610, so ten speakers total. I don't turn them up very loud but both of them on at the same time is insanely loud. I mean we're a loud rock and roll band. There's nothing indie about us.
Guitar.com: Well, that's what it's all about. I don't think your sound is particularly polite, which I think is part of the coolness of it, if I may use such a word.
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, there's nothing polite about what we do onstage. Outside of that, we're pretty normal people. It's funny. I wanted to be a guitar tech. I didn't want to be in a band. I kind of got tricked into this by her (points at Marci).
Guitar.com: For real?
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, for real. I didn't start singing until way later because I saw all my friends, none of them were in Detroits bands. All my friends were in these "emo" bands and they were miserable. So I never wanted to be in a band. They were miserable because no one took them seriously. So I wanted a different thing because somehow, people are taking this seriously. I mean we play rock and roll. Rock and roll is always a little tongue in cheek.
Guitar.com: I think it's also how seriously you take yourself.
Jason Stollsteimer: Guitar solos I have a little problem with. I mean I don't know how to do "THE" guitar solo. So when I do it, I start laughing through it. That's why on our new record, there's like four guitar solos out of twelve songs.
Guitar.com: Musically, guitar solos have been taking a bit of a back seat but there have been plenty of bands that have done incredibly well without the need or cause of a solo. Plus you remind me of a more Replacements or MC5-minded band, where solos are almost incidental.
Jason Stollsteimer: Yeah, that's kinda true.
Guitar.com: I see your tour manager giving me the high sign. Time for sound check. Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with us. All the best on the road this summer.
Jason Stollsteimer: Come on down stairs and take a few pictures of our beat up guitars and stuff.
Guitar.com: I can do that!
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