Jump, Little Children
For Jump, Little Children, it felt like fame from the very beginning...
It all came together at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where founding members Jay Clifford, Ward Williams, and brothers Matt and Evan Bivins were pursuing classical music studies - upholding a great rock 'n' roll tradition of fortuitous art school formations.
However, under the inspiration of a Dublin-born classmate, they began to move away from their classically-trained roots towards a sound influenced by Delta Blues and Celtic folk.
"The band really started out of our increasing dissatisfaction with playing classical music," says Matt. "Between classes we'd go into our local snack bar and just sit around and play. We'd have all these actors and dancers from school dancing on tables. It was a scene straight out of the TV show Fame... seriously. So we said, 'Wow, this is so much more exciting than what we're here at school for.'"
The group took a name from a 1963 song by blues legends Sonny Terry Brownie McGhee and played their debut gig on New Year's Eve 1991.
"The song isn't really about children," explains Matt of the unusual band moniker. "The way we interpreted it is, like, as soon as 'The Man' leaves - whether that's your parents or some authority figure, maybe even the police - it's time to close the door and get crazy. It's a very celebratory song and it has a lot of energy. And that fit what we were into at the time."
Since going on to become one of the Southeast's most-admired and popular bands, the South Carolina-based Jump, Little Children now make their Breaking Records/Atlantic debut with Magazine. Recorded primarily at Memphis's Ardent Studios with producer Brad Jones (Jill Sobule, Yo La Tengo, Imperial Drag), Magazine shines with the quintet's bold, resourceful magnetism, courtesy of stirring strings, rich arrangements, inventive instrumentation and the powerful presence of the group's vocalists.
Jump, Little Children spent the opening six months of their first year building their chops, playing local coffee houses and folk clubs. Following the end of NCSA's spring semester, Jay, Matt and Evan resolved to quit school in order to truly focus on what had at first been an extracurricular activity. They packed their bags and flew off to Galway, Ireland on a journey into the heart of their beloved Irish music. They got a regular session gig at a local pub and spent the better part of two months playing to ever-increasing audiences, attracted by the notion of North Carolina boys tackling the local traditional songs. The crowds were pleasantly surprised to find that the American lads' performance was filled with passion and love for the music.
"We were Americans playing their music which made them very happy... I think," Matt grins. "They forgave us for not being that great."
After two months in Ireland, it came time to return home to America. Rather than journeying back to North Carolina, Jump, Little Children opted to relocate in Boston. In their minds it was the best place in America to continue their studies of Irish music. It was while living in the Hub that the band began changing course once again - moving away from traditionals, and instead, concentrating on original songwriting.
Motivated in part by the worst winter in twenty years, in the spring of '94, Jump, Little Children left Boston and raced for south of the Mason-Dixon line. A stopover in Charleston, South Carolina - where they'd previously earned a few bucks restoring an old church with Evan and Matt's father - reuinited them with their old friend and fan, bassist Jonathan Gray. The team fell in love with the lovely coastal city and decided to make it their new home. From there, things started happening quickly. Once Jay and the Bivins brothers made the relocation official, Jonathan left the band he'd been playing with to join up. Their old bandmate Ward, who had finally graduated college, packed up his cello and headed south to become the fifth member of Jump, Little Children. With all the pieces in place, the band's fortunes took an upturn as their songwriting and performance skills gelled. They further honed their talents -and paid the rent - via street corner busking sets along the city's popular Market Street strip.
There was one particular corner that we would go to every day for a long time, Jay recalls. On the corner of Church and Market, there's a fresh batch of tourists every day. We would entertain them any way we could and then kindly remind that the open guitar cases were for donations.
Jump, Little Children spent the next few years writing and touring relentlessly. They cemented their grass-roots following with the release of their first independant record, The Licorice Tea Demos. Although the band's original goal for the record was to make enough money to buy a van, the self-released CD went on to sell a whopping 22,000 copies. Surprised by this unanticipated success, Jump, Little Children soon followed up with a live EP, dubbed Buzz. The six-track collection - recorded live in Charleston, Winston-Salem, and Athens, Georgia - also sold better than the band's wildest dreams, having now sold approximately seven thousand copies.
Buzz gave listeners a taste of what Jump, Little Children were like in live performance. A striking and impassioned live act, the band has trekked to the remote reaches of Maine, the groves and swamps of Southern Florida, and as far west as the plains of Texas and Kansas, not to mention trips supporting such bands as Rusted Root, Edwin McCain and Seven Mary Three. In early '98, Jump, Little Children finally decided to stop being one of America's best unsigned live bands and put their signatures on a contract with the Carolina-based Breaking Records. The business done, the band set off to record what would become Magazine.
The remarkably diverse Magazine incorporates the many different sounds which teem through Jump, Little Children's genre-bending music. Tracks like the lushly emotive "Cathedrals", the rockin' album-opener "Not Today" and the beat-poet musings of "Habit" feature the unique instrumentation and melodic diversity that brought Jump, Little Children together in the first place.
"On every song we strive to be different," Matt says. "Whether consciously or unconsciously, it's kind of hard for us to write the same song over and over again."
Among the many unexpected treats to be found on Magazine is the unlikely guest appearance from the one-and-only Dee Dee Ramone, who contributes his trademark One-two-three-four! to the Moog-laden "Come Out Clean".
"It's not really a punk song," Matt explains, "but it's some of the hardest stuff that we've done. Somebody said 'All we need is Dee Dee Ramone to count it off!' Luckily he was only a phone call away."
Perhaps the truest secret to Jump, Little Children's success - artistic and otherwise - is that these five friends not only believe in the power of their music, they believe in each other. That rare unity comes through their record's spirited grooves, their impassioned live sets, and the way they see the world around them.
"We all are really huge fans of each other," says Matt, "both personality-wise and artistically. On top of that, there's the drive that each of us have, this shared vision to have an album that reaches people and can be fun to play live and can introduce us to new and exciting things. That shared vision gives us so much in common. I'm not saying that we aren't all different - we certainly are - but we all feel like no matter what happens, we have us to fall back on."