By Rhia Perkins
The Gauntlet recently spoke with Jim Infantino of Jim’s Big Ego, a folk-pop band based in Boston. The band has just released their fifth album, as well as recently releasing some animated Shockwave singles on Macromedia’s web site.
electic Gauntlet: To start with the really obvious question, is your ego really that big?
Jim Infantino: My Ego is average sized. That’s what I always say.
eG: So why the name?
JI: Well, I felt that when I was starting the band, I was very self conscious about the idea of bringing in other musicians to play my music and help me sing the songs that I wrote while I was being a front man, and I thought that was a very egotistical thing to do. So the band name just seems honest.
eG: Definitely a very catchy name…
JI: It seems to work! People who have heard the band name don’t seem to forget it, so we have a lot of name recognition in the states and somewhat in Canada now, and I guess in the UK! Although not many people have heard our music, people have heard the name.
eG: Describe your music and your style for me…
JI: We call it two different things. We call it unpop, because we think of ourselves as being unpopular and also because we play pop music, but we play it in a way that’s not typical.
We sing about atypical subjects, it’s not all about this boy-girl-fall-in-love stuff. Also, we call our music smart pop, because we like to think that we appeal to the highest uncommon denominator. We’re not trying to please everyone; we’re trying to play to people who really get it.
eG: What sort of subject matter is your favourite thing to do?
JI: I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the stresses of modern life, alienation. But comical alienation I guess… and atypical metaphors for love. Like, the song called "She’s Dead" in which I talk about a woman who’s died and sort of say, well… she lived kind of a long life. It wasn’t that long, but it would have been long in the middle ages.
In another song called "Concrete", the metaphor for love is having your feet sunk in cement and then being dropped into a river to drown. These are a little bit unusual.
eG: What is the most interesting or the strangest place you’ve played?
JI: We played in an X-rated theatre once, in Maine, and that was pretty strange. It was being converted into a club while we played but they were still selling all these X-rated movies in the front and they were spray-painting the doors while we played. So we were breathing in fumes and everyone was kind of dizzy and we were in this completely black theatre with this stage that you really felt like you should be naked and gyrating on. That was pretty interesting… there might be some stranger, but that’s the first one that pops into my head.
eG: Do you have plans to sign with a label or look for increased radio play?
JI: We are looking for increased radio play, and what we’re doing is hiring people to promote our music who would ordinarily work for labels, who are actually working for us. We’re not so interested in major labels or independent labels because we just don’t think there’s very much they can do for us now. You know, we’re unpop. We’re not the Backstreet Boys, we’re not N-Sync, and we’re not going to be and we really don’t want to be.
We’re happy not being those things and I don’t think that major labels are really looking for anything too creative right now, so we’re pretty happy being obscure, building a fan base of people who really care, people who find us on the internet and reaching whatever level we would reach by word of mouth.
eG: You seem pretty Internet savvy. Do you think the Internet is an important media for bands these days?
JI: I think it’s crucial for anybody exchanging information with someone else. I think music is clearly that kind of information. But what’s wonderful about it is that it has emotional content, unlike a lot of information you might find on the web, it reaches in and touches your heart and it does it better than a painting you might see on the web because a painting you might see on the web doesn’t have the same kind of music as something that you can actually play and include in your emotional makeup.
Music pushes the limits of the Internet and the Internet is going to in turn, and it has already, pushed the limits of music. But I don’t think it’s nearly done so I think they’re definitely melded together for a while.
eG: You offer your songs on mp3.com and also on your web site. Why are Napster and the whole mp3 revolution important?
JI: I think it’s a fact. It’s not going to change simply because people would like to get paid more money, that doesn’t make it not so. So, I think that anybody who’s playing music right now should incorporate these things, rather than fight against them. I think that songwriters should be paid for the songs they write, there are laws that were passed to make sure that that was the case.
I think that ASCAP and DMI may take a more aggressive role on these things but as far as record companies making money… they don’t necessarily have to manufacture records anymore, which is what a record company is, they make discs, and as these discs become less valuable the record company becomes less and less valuable. There’s not much that can be done about that.
Songs are still valuable and so I feel that some day, well mp3.com is already paying a certain amount to the bands and the songwriters who are writing the songs and Napster, if it survives, will probably hook up with ASCAP and DMI and the songwriters will receive a small amount per download.
What’s great about downloading music for an artist, for a songwriter, is that the cost is almost zero and they get to the world for nothing which is really, unique in the history of music and the history of publishing and I think that in that case, it’s wonderful and should really be embraced by people who are producing and creating music.
They should see this as being, you know… the Gutenburg Press!
eG: What do you see as the future of Internet music?
JI: I think there will be a lot of images and sound. I think the quality of sound on the Internet will get a lot better. I think a lot of people will look back at using modems and laugh, I think the modem’s going to go away. When modems go away, much better sound will come out of your speakers. And I think either your computer is going to be part of your stereo system or your stereo system is going to be part of your computer and your television set. But that’s nothing new, that’s what people have always said about the Internet
eG: How did you get involved with the Shockwave singles on Macromedia?
JI: There was a guy who created a Shockwave single for us, a friend of ours named Matt Cohen at (??.com) and he just submitted it to them. And he submitted it to them at the exact right time, when there wasn’t anything up there, except I think Beck, had something up there. We were content to them. I think they’re going to pick up another one of ours, for "Concrete". So, it’s just a case of us being there at the right moment, and having something.
eG: So it’s been a pretty good process, then?
JI: It has, we’ve got lots and lots of hits.
eG: How about your new album?
JI: We released our new album, Noplace like Nowhere to radio stations in the United States, and I think Canada, to college stations and non-profit stations this Monday (August 28th). I think we’re number four in the Triple A charts, or the Triple A ads… or something. I think what it means is that we’re doing really well.
eG: How does the album compare to the others? What’s it like?
JI: This one is much more band-oriented and much more consistent. I think it’s also slightly less cynical than the album preceding it. It’s unabashedly poppy in places. We really are unapologetically poppy on this record; we don’t care if people think that’s cheesy. It’s a really fun record, I like it a lot.
eG: Any plans to tour Canada in the near future?
JI: That’s a really good question. I’d really like to. What I’m hoping is that we can start by touring colleges, I have no idea how it’s done. We’re currently on tour now, we’re doing a lot of the western United States. We have to yet to get to California to play and we have yet to go to Canada to play. But I guess US artists who want to go and play in Canada have to get permission, so kind of paperwork done with the Canadian government, so what makes sense is to go and do a bunch of gigs and not just one. I forget exactly how it works… you pay a lot of money up front… So, I hope to put together a little string and get up there because I’ve always enjoyed visiting, but it’d be nice to get paid! (Laughs)
eG: Your web site is all in Flash now, what prompted your decision to do that?
JI: I think that Flash may be a big part of the Internet in the future, or something like Flash. Flash is a lot more flexible and also a lot less square than HTML, but not everybody has it. It also takes just a little bit longer to load if you have sound or anything complicated. As Internet connections get faster, I think more and more people will use Flash, or Shockwave, or Real, whatever it is that’s the dominant media at the time. I think that Flash will win, because it’s there now and people can start setting it up as the standard. Over the summer, I had some downtime, and my manager said… "Well, you know, maybe design a whole web site in Flash…" and so I started work on it. I had already been doing flash videos and animated Shockwave mp3s. I’ve done everything except the "Stress" video. Yeah… I keep myself a little too busy sometimes… drink a lot of coffee.
eG: So you’re a bit of a geek?
JI: I’m a total geek, yeah! Unashamed.
eG: What’s your advice to surfers and musicians about music on the Internet?
JI: Download! I would say contribute to the free exchange of music. What you’re doing, is you’re bringing down the entertainment industrial complex and it’s gotta come down, it’s gotta die. It’s not doing anybody any good except for people who already have a lot of money and you know, even the musicians who work for them, it’s not really doing them a whole lot of good. These musicians, they make like 60 cents on a record, and that’s crazy, I mean it’s criminal. They’re an antiquated form of indentured servitude. It’s gotta die, it’s gotta come down. So I would say be brutal! Go out there, trade music, talk about it, get into those chat rooms, talk about bands you like that nobody knows about and upload and download stuff as much as you can.
eG: What are some words you live by?
JI: I believe that you never get away with anything (laughs) and that it’s really important to be as compassionate in your life as you can, and give about as much as you can. Hopefully music is good enough and I’m giving something good to people by playing it. I think that’s a worthwhile way to spend your time.
eG: And now for some quickies! Pen or Pencil?
eG: Headphones or Speakers?
eG: PC or Macintosh?
eG: Netscape or Explorer?
JI: Used to be Netscape, but now it’s Explorer.
eG: Dog or a Cat?