Keep On Moving: Hotrods & Horns: The making of Life, Love, & Loss

JayBTo lead off, I have to give my support to the workers of Stop & Shop who are forced to forgo their wages while the company tries to replace them with Johnny 5s from Short Circuit. Please do not cross their picket line. Moving on…

The first time I wrote about one of Jay Berndt’s bands, Kilgore Smudge, was literally 25 years ago in a paper called The Cowl at one of the local colleges. I mention this because it was a pivotal experience in my life. I didn’t know anyone in a band, but seeing Kilgore in its various incarnations got me out to see local bands and introduced me to a whole new world. On their debut album, Life, Love, & Loss, Jay Berndt & The Orphans take the R&B/soul of Van Morrison and cascade it with the dramatic highs and lows of Springsteen. To take a deeper dive into Life, Love, & Loss, I posed a few questions to my main man, Mr. Berndt himself.  

Marc Clarkin (Motif): Much like the title suggests, Life, Love, & Loss packs in a little of everything. How long did it take to put it together?

Jay Berndt: The bulk of the songs were written between 2012 and 2013, when the Orphans first started. We actually recorded 50% of the album back then, but I was not happy with the sound of the home recordings or the performance of the band. So I scrapped the whole thing and started all over with a new version of the Orphans in 2014. All of those recording sessions happened at Power Station New England in late summer 2014. Mike DiBiase (Dibbs; producer & keyboards) and I overdubbed and mixed the record in 2015. We were actually ready to release the album in 2016, but I got tied up with the Kilgore reunion and then I brought in Dibbs to record Someday This War Is Going To End. So, we ended up delaying the release of Life, Love & Loss until 2018.

MC: I dig the early Springsteen feel of numbers like “My Baby Caught the D Train” and “Sweet Marie.” Didn’t you have some of the E Street horn section play on the record?

JB: The horn section on LLL was Curt Ramm on trumpet and Bill Holloman on tenor/baritone sax. Both have done live and studio work with the E-Street Band. Curt had worked at Power Station New England and done some live work with Dibbs. We just simply asked, and they said yes. I was really looking for a Van Morrison kind of sound, and they came back with something bigger than I could have imagined. Curt actually cut his trumpet parts the week before he went on the road for a year and a half with the E-Street Band. We were lucky enough that he got us some really fantastic centerfield seats at Fenway for a show on the “Wrecking Ball” tour and got to see him play with Bruce.

MC: You have a nice tribute to your dad on “Gasoline (When I Was Growing Up),” but arguably the most impressive thing was that you managed to work Yastrzemski into a rhyme. In the song, you talk about going to drag races as a kid. What about the atmosphere did you love?

JB: Thanks, man. That one is my absolute favorite. It’s probably the most autobiographical song I’ve written. When I was a kid, my dad had been rebuilding his ’55 Chevy Sedan Delivery for years, and I was always with him in the garage. He took me to my first drag race at New England Dragway in Epping, NH, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. So that would have been in 1978 or 1979. The races were pretty awesome, especially because of the unbelievable force and power of the top fuel dragsters. We also got pit passes so we could check out the drivers working on their cars. That’s what really hit me. To be right next to these blue-collar guys, greased-back hair, dirty white t-shirts with a pack of Camels rolled up in their sleeves, wrench in hand, working on these cars, just like my dad. And when they lit up those motors, the decibel level was just incredible. It moved your whole body. Made a huge impact on me. He then took me to a number of big races like the Summer Nationals in Englishtown, NJ, and the Winter Nationals in Pomona, Calif. This is where I got to see the biggest racers in the NHRA, like Shirley Muldowney and Big Daddy Don Garlits, take these fantastic machines down the quarter-mile track at over 200mph. In the racing community, they were like the Babe Ruth or Ted Williams of drag racing.

MC: Love the tune “The Other Ones.” What inspired that one?

JB: My parents decided to move our family out to Orange County, Calif, in 1980. I would have been in 5th grade. I felt like I was in a foreign land. I was a Rhode Island kid with flannel shirts, corduroy pants and a funny accent surrounded by people in madras plaid shorts, surf shirts and Flock Of Seagulls haircuts. I was bullied and ridiculed on a daily basis. I felt like Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. I had zero friends and the only solace I had was books, movies and music. I completely related to the social outcasts of The Outsiders by SE Hinton or East Of Eden by Steinbeck. And just as I was coming into my identity, we moved back to RI in 1987. The young men at Cranston High West with the standard mullet haircut, Cavaricci pants and Iroc Z Camaros did not respond well to my appearance.  I was seen as an alien in my Exploited t-shirt, Doc Martens, trench coat and Tony Hawk hair. And the bullying and torment started all over again. “The Other Ones” is really a battle cry for my young self, simply wishing not to be chastised for being different than all the other clones — something I think everyone can relate to at some point in their life.

Jay Berndt & The Orphans will be joining Consuelo’s Revenge, The Callouts, and Earthward at the News Cafe on Apr 19. All proceeds from the show will benefit J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center.

Bonus Tracks:

Indie folk rockers Aquaria celebrate the release of their album Interbeings with a show at The Parlour in Providence on April 25 with PALS and Jesse The Tree. The record will be available on all your favorite streaming sites. That said, get off your ass and go to the show to support local artists.

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