There are few bands I can claim to have discovered at the moment of their inception — or, at least, upon their first release. Jordan C. Weinstock’s american poetry club (apc) is one of them, however, and glad to be here, etcetera is a project that enamoured me on first listen. I’ve user Conmaniac to thank for that, as well as for this chance to interview Jordan. The fact that We Are Broken, Even When We Are Beautiful is apc’s second full-length within the span of a year is no detriment to my interest either. With We Are Broken…, apc have crafted a seamless opus, and an immaculate piece of emo music. I sat down with Jordan to speak with him about it. —BlushfulHippocrene
Blush: So, to start: care to explain for our readers, who – or what – is american poetry club?
Jordan: [a]merican poetry club (apc) started out as just me, with a little help here-and-there from a few pals. It was mostly a side project to my old band The Chair Enthusiasts. I was having a tough time as my mom went through chemotherapy, and writing songs was an active coping method of mine, so those first songs were just stabs at helping myself feel better. I felt they didn’t quite fit the Chair Enthusiasts vibe, and I really like coming up with band names [laughs] so I decided to make them into something different. Next thing ya know, my mom was better and my old band had broken up, but I was still writing music, so apc became something a little more. My friend Sang-Jin, who drummed in the first band I played in (who became [Kilometers Davis]), was super supportive of what I was doing at the time so I asked him to play drums with me, and next thing ya know, four to six more friends joined the band and apc went from being an Internet-only project to a very real excuse to scream songs in basements with my pals!
Where do you see the project going?
I never did this with a goal in mind. I have to write songs; it’s just something I need to do in order to survive. Writing and playing them with pals is a million times more enjoyable than doing the same activity alone, so I’ll keep doing that, and if a couple people happen to connect with the tunes along the way, that’s awesome, but if they don’t, I’m still having fun — that’s fine too!
I’m a little surprised this started out as an internet band, though perhaps I shouldn’t be. Your earlier music had a clear ‘DIY, bandcamp’ aesthetic. But at the same time, the spirit of collaboration was always so obvious. Even at its barest, the music’s never sounded isolated – or insulated – regardless of how personal. And that’s clearly reflected in your lineup now. What kind of impact, if any, has being part of a “scene” had on your sound? I know you mentioned being a major part of KWUR [a St Louis college radio station], and being involved with local bands, like Kilometers Davis (KMD). What are the advantages of making music in a more social, collaborative context?
[chuckles] Yeah I never intended to play these songs live until my old band broke up! I’m glad you get that feeling, just ’cause this wasn’t meant to be played live doesn’t mean the original songs were meant to exist on their own! I 100% prefer creating music with other people. If you wanna write music on your own and do it all yourself, all the power to you, but I don’t see what the fun in that is. I only ever write my own parts to my songs; I think they become so much more interesting and enjoyable to play when I have my friends come up with all the rest. I will never tell someone how to play a part for these songs — that’s all up to them. That way, everyone brings in their own perspective and experience and works to create something truly unique and alive; plus, it’s just more fun that way. I don’t wanna stand alone on a stage; I want all of my friends up there with me yelling by my side! I wanna be inspired by the work of the people I love.
Alright, I’m going to name drop some bands/artists. You tell me what kind of influence they’ve had on your music: Alex G.
He blew my mind when I first heard him in high school. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself the first time I heard Trick.
Brave Little Abacus.
My roommate freshman year of college (who makes sick harsh noise experiments under the moniker Surrogat) showed them to me. Everything they ever did is so visceral and vibrant and uniquely them. Listened to [just got back from the discomfort – it’s alright] every day for a full semester [laughs]. Also love Adam’s voice, as someone who isn’t so confident in their own vocals, listening to Adam reminds me that it’s not traditional ideas of ‘talent’ that matter but the passion and feeling one puts into their work. I was actually very influenced by them on if we try and become flowers [apc’s previous full-length]; that’s why the album starts and ends with the same song! [laughs] They’ve got that whole same riff throughout the album thing going which I love.
[Note from Blush: read Trebor’s retrospective on Brave Little Abacus (“The Most Underrated Band on the Planet”) here.]
How about Joie De Vivre or Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely State)?
I actually had never heard E!E! or Joie before this past January — was never into emo as a younger kid. I was always — and still am — a twee kid first and foremost, but I heard them this winter and was just blown away. They made me rethink my own guitar playing pretty heavily and wrote a lot of the songs on this new album after that winding cathartic feeling!
“Winding” is a good descriptor for that sound; and – for what it’s worth – I think it’s something We Are Beautiful, Even When We’re Broken captures as well. There’s something so immensely nostalgic about it. I’m sure to some degree that has to do with the lyrics: there’s this constant reminiscence, a focus on seemingly trivial landmarks that wind up conjuring some unexpectedly powerful images. Was that approach inspired by bands like Joie and E!E!?
Aw, thank you, much appreciated! Yeah, in a lot of ways, we really went in with this as our ’emo’ record and 100% wanted it to be a cliché in the best way. We tried channeling all those memories of screaming songs in my car on aimless drives in high school [laughs]. I love what Keith [Latinen, of E!E!] refers to as the ‘hyperrealism’ of his lyrics — not sure if they’ve had any particular influence on my own writing, though, it’s just the only way I know how to write! When I write songs, they’re often in response to a particular event I’m experiencing, whether that comes off clearly or not, and throwing in things like names and specific times and stuff like that is just how I find I best envision those events in my mind. I really like the idea of combining really relatable feelings with very specific and individual contexts.
It’s kind of interesting, too, because where I’ve heard a lot of bands imitate the E!E! formula – and have dismissed them as a result (perhaps unfairly) – there’s something so unique and perhaps fully-fleshed at the centre of your music that’s hard to ignore, that avoids falling into “dumb clichés”. Is it a balancing act, taking on influences while remaining true to yourself and the kind of art that comes most organically to and from you? Or is it something less conscious than that?
I think in terms of a balancing act, not really. I wrote a song a while back called “Bedroom Pop”, which is in a way a joke but not totally, in which I discuss the fact that I just wanna be a hero but I also just wanna be me. I’m at a point in my writing where, to be honest, I don’t care if I rip someone or something else off. Why should I care? I’m not doing this to be unique or “make it”. I just wanna write songs I’m proud of, so if a song sounds a little like something I’m listening to at the time, so what? I embrace my influences! At the same time, though, I think that newfound confidence of not really caring whether people call me a rip-off or not has allowed me to really make my music without regard to critics. Forming my own sound — whether or not I realize it or not– I like to say that all of my songs are attempts at combining the songs of Songs: Ohia and Trust Fund gone horribly wrong [laughs].
That’s fascinating considering the closer on We Are Beautiful (“Shoot, I Wish I Could Write Songs Like Joie De Vivre”), which is essentially poking fun at emo as a genre, and the emotional intense sensitivity — intensensitivity? — of it. Where did that song come from? Was it spontaneous or did you intend on it acting as a closer?
Ha, that was entirely spontaneous, me and Andy — who also sings on that track and plays lead guitar with us — were joking about how every JDV song is about hanging out in the Midwest and hating your band, so I just pulled out the most JDV chord progression I had and we improvised lyrics for fun. We didn’t even know the recording was on!
Do you think the genre could take itself less seriously?
100%. There’s a lot of benefit to finding a balance between seriousness and having fun. Both have their time and place, ya know? I think anyone who thinks a genre ‘needs’ to be a certain way is just being a dick [laughs]. If you wanna make emo music that makes people cry, go for it! If you wanna make people laugh and dance, that’s just as sick.
Alright, I don’t want to press on the matter too much, but I’m still a bit curious: would you argue all your music leans into that emo descriptor? It’s interesting, because I’d describe your older music as a strange blend between (like we mentioned) an artist like Alex G and an emo band like Brave Little Abacus. I don’t want to lump you in with/as-a-product-of your influences, but I don’t mean anything negative by it. Do you think maybe there’s some common ground that you manage to capture between the two? I suppose what I’m asking is whether you see american poetry club as a project with the potential to jump from one influence to the next? And whether that’s something that you envision, either broadly or with a specific plan in mind?
I don’t think that’s lumping us in at all! Those are great bands and saying we sound like them is hella a compliment! Yeah, I think there is some ground we try to bridge between them. I’ve never been very stable with my influences or what my intentions are in terms of sound, which is why I think each of my bands have been so different. But I think that’s a good thing –it keeps things interesting, means I’m always on my toes — so, yeah, I’m trying to find that common ground. I’m constantly listening to new things and constantly falling head over heels for new sounds, and each time, I wanna work my butt off to figure out how to include that in our sound. Which is why We Are Beautiful… is 100% an emo album. It was because I found emo that I wrote this album, and it’s why our next album won’t be emo. Because I’m listening to different things now, we’re writing country tunes now, and it probably won’t be full on country ’cause I’m also always still listening to that other stuff, so whether I like it or not, I’m gonna be thinking about all these styles when I write.
I want to touch on a point you mentioned before about emotion and passion mattering more than ‘talent’ in a more traditional sense. There is, without a doubt, a sorta strain in your voice that makes your music what it is: have you had to come to terms with your own limitations when creating, or is it something you’ve learnt to embrace?
I think a mix of the two. Bands like Beat Happening and Half Japanese were huge influences on me when I first started playing. I’m pretty much entirely self-taught, in terms of singing, playing, recording, and all that jazz, so a lot of me is fine with that. I really embrace the idea that everyone is talented, and everyone not only can, but does create beautiful art. The fact that you created something in the first place is already incredible — who cares how good it is? A person can decide whether or not they like a piece of art, but no one can decide whether a piece of art is good or not. If you’re proud of your art, then it is brilliant: don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. With that being said, of course I’d like to improve, but at my own pace and on my own terms, and not because I’m dissatisfied with what I’ve got, you know? More because… if I can realize my vision more fully, why wouldn’t I? And improving doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not embracing my limitations, I can act to just use those limitations differently.
Finally, I love the artwork on all your releases, particularly this and Glad to Be Here. I noticed, though, the title seems to have been crossed out once and rewritten; was there anything to that, or am I being pedantic? I like the idea of being able to invert the title, like ‘we are broken, even when we are beautiful’. Regardless, any kind ofexplication on how the title and artwork fit into the album’s themes? Or where it came from?
The artwork for this album was made by Sang-Jin. He’s a super talented artist, made our shirts as well, and has a great brand of his own called Gen K. I’d have to ask him why he did that — I’m not totally sure, to be honest! I like to think it’s about the human nature of this album, which is what the title is about as well. I really wanted a title that evokes the fact that, first off, this album isn’t perfect: it has its share of mistakes and goofs, but that’s what makes it ours. I think it’s partly what makes it relatable: it’s music made by people who don’t know how to do this any better than anyone else does. I also try pretty hard to have an overarching theme of positivity throughout my work. The title, in a way, served to remind me during the process of making this album that it’s okay if it’s not perfect or if it’s not brilliant. Our faults may inform us, but they don’t define us. So, yeah, you are beautiful, no matter what’s going on in your life right now, and it’s important to remember that. And these songs might have elements of sadness in them, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be or don’t want to be or don’t feel like I’m happy overall. I’m allowed to be sad, I’m allowed to be broken. I just have to remember that this is just one part of me and that, at the end of each day, I have friends who love me — and I love them — and I get to participate in this activity that I feel passionately for with my entire heart, and damn, am I lucky for that.
We Are Beautiful, Even When We Are Broken drops on 8/27. You can stream it on the usual platforms or listen and download here. –Blush