The Von Bondies
Jason Stollsteimer is going through a divorce. The 30-year-old lead guitarist and vocalist of The Von Bondies meets me at the Plymouth Coffee Bean on a spring evening, wearing thick, black-rimmed glasses, an “I Love Detroit” T-shirt and sporting a scraggly beard (which he'll shave once the divorce is finalized). Stollsteimer is back living in his hometown where he attended Plymouth-Canton High School.
“Plymouth is awesome, it’s like the safest city in the world,” Stollsteimer says while seated comfortably on a gigantic brown leather couch. “If I had a family I’d raise them here in a second — I moved back here because my house got broken into twice when I lived in Detroit.”
Plymouth's white picket fences and evergreen lawns are a far cry from the rugged and raw sound found on the band’s ’01 debut, Lack of Communication, or the fuzzy pop shuffles of their ’04 follow-up, Pawn Shoppe Heart, that spawned the band’s signature crossover smash, “C’mon, C’mon,” which has found a new life years later as the theme song on the Denis Leary drama Rescue Me (it was chosen because Leary’s son is a Von Bondies fan). Four years since Pawn Shoppe, a lot has changed for the band and Stollsteimer, who admits to having grown up quite a bit. There’s the upcoming third album, Love, Hate and Then There’s You, and a blistering three-song EP, We Are Kamikazes Aiming Straight For Your Heart, released during the past chilly winter months. With songs like the Brit-pop infused “Pale Bride,” it seems that Stollsteimer’s subject matter has been foreshadowing his own life since the very beginning.
“I wrote ["Pale Bride"] three years ago, before I realized I was unhappy,” Stollsteimer says. “It’s been a funny road — I got married four years ago and I’m getting divorced next week. She was my first legitimate kiss, I fell in love with the girl that I met when I was 16, and when we got married at 25, she was not that person, and neither was I, to be fair. She was more into a normal life and I had been in band for a living. I was in a coma, mentally, because why would you wanna be away from the person you love to tour if you’re happy at home?”
Stollsteimer says that he sings about heartache, adding aggression to make things fun. For example, “Pawn Shoppe Heart” was about selling off wedding rings to a pawnshop. “I’m ultra-literal, eventually,” Stollsteimer says, almost laughing at himself. “I write make-believe stories that come true for me, eventually.”
Right now, Stollsteimer seems to be in high spirits. He’s got an Irish rock ‘n’ roll girlfriend he met on Myspace. He’s assembled the “most entertaining, energetic tight version of the band we’ve ever had,” and they’re heavily touring all throughout the year in the U.S. and overseas in Europe. They’ve severed ties with Sire, the label that viewed selling 200,000 copies of Pawn Shoppe Heart as unsuccessful, which Stollsteimer finds to be strange. When he turned in the new album to Sire in ’06 and was told it wasn’t “modern enough” (“modern” meaning emo), The Von Bondies immediately asked to be let go.
In their four years away from the spotlight, they’ve recorded the new record “all over the place.” The appetizer of new songs on the Kamikazes EP highlights this sound, armed with rusty, roaring riffs, marching melodies and mega hooks. Later in the night, we drove around in Stollsteimer’s car and he played me a bunch of tracks from Love, Hate. Although the songs aren’t 100 percent complete, the sound is soaring, as Stollsteimer has matured into a true songwriter with the ability to mesh pop with his rugged “garage-rock” beginnings.
“Well, if you were a fan of Lack of Communication, I can’t guarantee you’ll like any of it,” Stollsteimer says. “But also I wrote [Lack] ten years ago. This album was recorded with just as much money as it cost to put out Lack of Communication. I played A, B or E (chords) on every song on [Lack] constantly — I learned 30-something chords since then and I can’t help but play them. I used to swagger the lyrics, and now I sing them. I can’t go backwards. I’d fucking shoot myself in the head, but people do that, they do the same "Louie Louie" riff for 15 years, and they’re happy, I think, but I’m not. People just want you to stay the same, locally. No other city has said anything questionable, like ‘What’s it gonna sound like?’ They’re like, ‘We love the new sound, we’re so glad you changed,’ and I'm like, ‘Well, I didn’t change for you, I’m just not the same kid I was when I was 19 — I’m 30.’ But it’s wrong to stay the same and as we get older, the fans stay the same age and they want you to stay as garage rockers.”
There’s an assumption some have about Stollsteimer — that he’s an asshole and doesn’t like Detroit — but it seems to be unfounded. From spending over three hours with him, he was happy to talk in-depth about his personal life and band drama: “Being in a band is like marrying three people and not having any of the sex, but only the drama.” And then there's lineup changes. He regales former Von Bondies’ guitarist Marcie Bolan as a very talented star and is happy to see her writing songs she loves in Silverghost and F’ke Blood, something she wasn’t able to do with Stollsteimer, which eventually made her unhappy enough to quit.
Stollsteimer’s also reading the local blogs. To those who complained about them playing the Ann Arbor gig on a weekday instead of Detroit earlier this year he says, “What the fuck’s wrong with you? Don’t you think it cost us so much money to tour in a van that gets ten miles a gallon, you fucking idiot?” He talked at length about some of the hottest Detroit acts, like Deastro and Terrible Twos, and wishes (and even advises) for them to find the most success. The Von Bondies’ headlining set at Rock City will be the first time the band has played in Detroit in four years, and also at the sight where Stollsteimer was infamously punched by The White Stripes’ Jack White five years ago: The Majestic Theatre. He was unenthusiastic to talk about it, but he did give his side of the story — perhaps to clear things up, once and for all.
“I got punched from behind, knocked basically unconscious, and I didn’t remember anything else,” Stollsteimer recalls. “There was no fight between two people face to face arguing, but it got blown out of proportion. When it’s two of the bigger bands at the time locally, it’s a big deal. It was my first time on CNN — that’s not something to be proud of. And I never took a picture of me with a black eye, there’s police pictures of them. I didn’t get to have my stylist get me all pretty; that’s a great mug shot of him, he looks awesome.
I dug a little further to uncover the catalyst of the assault. “What happened was I stood up for Jim Diamond [of Ghetto Recorders], he produced Lack of Communication,” Stollsteimer explains. “I didn’t own a computer that had Photoshop. When the artwork got done for the album, Marcy was dating Jack, and did it on his computer. He took it upon himself, from what I heard, to put himself as producer. I’m not an egomaniac looking at the back of my record all night jerking off, I never noticed it until I did an interview in 2001 and they said, 'What was it like having Jack White producing the record?' And I was like, 'What?' Jack introduced us to Jim Diamond, he was there, but he didn’t help write or change anything on the production. The next day, I got a death threat on my door from him and I gave that to the cops. The next time he saw me, he beat the crap out of me. I heard directly from his two ex-best friends’ mouths that were with him that night that he always said he wanted to beat me up because I’m the one black mark on his record, I’m the only one that said he lied. He was never brother and sister with Meg, he lies about a lot of things, his real name’s not Jack White, it’s Jack Gillis … he’s very about mystery. That’s why I didn’t wanna tour anymore; I thought it would go away, hopefully The White Stripes would break up, people would stop caring. They kinda self- imploded. I understand Meg having a nervous breakdown, I was on tour with them for two weeks and I had acute anxiety from the stress they had. Honestly, fucking amazing guitar player, amazing songwriter. I never said one mean thing about him, all I said was he didn’t produce our record. Raconteurs are a fucking great band, White Stripes are better. I have no problem giving people credit, but that doesn’t mean he’s a nice person.”
Stollsteimer said he wanted the next time The Von Bondies played Detroit to be special. This year’s Rock City features over 50 acts, the majority from the Motor City. It comes in the aftermath of the brutal SWAT team raid of the CAID and at a time when the local scene is flourishing with tons of fresh talent and legends still kickin' out the jams. After a long hiatus, The Von Bondies are back. “I owe the fans that like our band a lot," Stollsteimer laments. "So that’s why I want it to be special in our hometown, but I don’t owe the haters or complainers anything.” | RDW
The Von Bondies • 6/13 • Rock City, Majestic Theatre
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