Jordan Mayland is one of the most active musicians and recording artists in Ames. In the past decade, he has played in a number of popular Ames bands, including Keepers of the Carpet, Nuclear Rodeo, Electronidoll, The Thermal Detonators, and Organ Donor, and this year Mayland has launched a new project called Volcano Boys. Both Nuclear Rodeo and The Thermal Detonators will release full-length albums this fall. Electronidoll is recording a new album to be released in 2010.
In August, Mayland spoke to the Ames Progressive about recording, songwriting, his current activities, and the Ames music scene.
On how he began playing music in bands
By 8th grade I was really into Nirvana and I wanted to start a band that sounded a lot like Nirvana and in 8th grade I got a few guys together. Actually Jason Holland, the drummer for Keepers of the Carpet – he and I have been playing music together since the 8th grade – we’d get together. Everyone else would go out during the 20-minute recess break before lunch and we’d go to the music room and have band practice. Me, Nate Robinson, Jason Holland: a three-piece, as Nirvana-like as you can get in north Iowa, I guess, doing covers of Green Day and Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, everything we just loved at that point.
On the BiFi days in the Ames music scene
Our bass player for Keepers of the Carpet – our first bass player, that is – Zach Smith, he was going to Iowa State, I was going to school at Central, and he ran into Patrick Fleming at a Pookey Bleum concert. Of course, everyone knows Patrick’s antics, he was jumping around and Zach just loved it, just ate it up and then started talking to him and talked about how he had a band and wanted to do some recording and Patrick said, “Well, I just started this new studio with my friend Aaron Hefley and a few other people called BiFi Records and we’ll do your demo for real cheap.” And so we did our demo, called “Carpet Burn,” and kind of just threw it out there at some clubs and stuff and people seemed to like it. We were a pretty decent cover band at that point, but were still doing original music. And then I think the guys from BiFi kind of saw how we grew as a group and were doing more than cover songs and random originals and we were taken a little more seriously. I think they saw us at the Battle of the Bands at VEISHEA in, like, 2001 probably and offered us a little deal. We all became really good friends, put together that record that summer, went on the CMJ charts and that went really well, we did some touring, broke up 3000 times. So, basically just playing shows and getting to be friends with the guys from BiFi really helped a lot. I owe a lot of credit to BiFi and those guys, as far as the Ames music scene and me being a part of it, too.
We did the “Carpet Burn” demo early 2000-ish, and then recorded our first full-length album. So, we did those two separate recording sessions. And then they were amazing as far as putting the CD out there in the right hands, radio stations across the nation, all the CMJ stuff, booking a tour for us.
It seemed like a lot of, at that point, young kids liked it, 15-20 age range, they really liked it. We were kind of more punky and crazy on stage than we ever are now. Later, Keepers kind of broke up, got back together. I kept writing music of course and kept wanting to record it and BiFi wanted me to be a part of their group and be a part of their label. So I started recording what became “The Pride of Zebulous” by myself, my first little solo thing. Then Keepers got back together a couple of years later and released it as “The Keepers of the Carpet Project.”
On the songwriting process
Lately when I’ve been writing it’s more about a chord progression and a good melody and good feel, a good vibe for it and then vowel sounds come second and then lyrics come in after that. I’ve been fortunate to have a little microphone set up when I’m in the moment and just catching ideas at the time, like on my phone or my recording set up at home, just throwing it out, just catching those little moments of emotion I’m able to somehow put it down into music, express myself musically.
I like to write almost every part to the song. I’m just a songwriter, I just love doing music. I do have a lot of parts ready for members and ideas. But I’m totally willing for them to put their own edge on it, put their own feel on that part and at the same time still be appreciative of that part, tipping that hat to what I had before. But yeah I have specific drum parts and harmonies and all these different things I’ve been thinking about. That usually happens during the demo. I’ll be writing and I’ll be like, “Hey, I’m already here I might as well press ‘record’ and write this next part, it sounds good, and maybe this guy can do that.” I just get really into it, I get really involved in my songs.
On playing in Nuclear Rodeo
I’m writing the bass parts for the group. Campbell [DeSousa] is writing great songs, so they’re easy bass lines to write. He just writes great melodies and I just follow what he’s doing, as far as the chords, and I just get around and as far as doing extra harmonies, I just kind of throw those in. It’s really awesome, a fantastic environment for me, because it takes the pressure off doing lead vocals; I can still be creative but I don’t have to be stressed about the way the song’s turning out, I just do my little part in that band.
As far as the recording process for the group, they all give me a lot of room in the studio to try new things as far as keyboards, extra guitar parts, harmonies, and stuff. That’s kind of where I thrive, in the studio. I love getting in there and just being creative. It’s so fun for me to work with someone like Campbell and David [Olson]. They’re great musicians and Campbell’s writing such great songs. I think when people hear the record they’ll think we’re working really well as a group, with all these little parts, little tweaks we put in the record, it’s a really fun record.
On the recording process
I’m pretty balls to the wall in the studio. I like to just go, go, go, go, go. Erik Knudtson recorded the Nuclear Rodeo album for us at his place, in his studio. So it’s good to have someone like him be able to say, “Jordan, stop. It wasn’t good enough, let’s try that again.” But I’m pretty eccentric sometimes in the studio. Sometimes I’ll just want to go next part, next part, next part, other times it’ll be, “That solo just wasn’t good enough,” and I’ll probably annoy everyone by playing the same part a thousand times. But like I said before, usually I have everything planned out that I want to do on a record. I’m always up for experimenting in the studio as well. But usually I have a pretty good idea of what I want, so I’m pretty insane sometimes once I get going. But I like to, of course, have a few beers and party in the process, the rock and roll way.
Recording can be a blast, and sometimes it can be just incredibly stressful, in terms of people just listening to each other. Because everyone wants the best for the song, every one wants the music to turn out as best as it can and a lot of people think that their idea is the best and I’m definitely to blame for that a lot.
On the future of Keepers of the Carpet
Keepers of the Carpet haven’t played a show for probably a good six months now. My first love, Keepers of the Carpet. We’re not done. We are doing different things right now. Eric Moffitt’s doing Wolves in the Attic, he’s doing that really seriously, he’s playing with me in Volcano Boys, we have fun in Electronidoll as well. We’re not dead, we’ll rise at some point. I’ve been talking to the guys, even some older members, about getting together and doing some big shows, rather than a bunch of small shows, like we’ve kind of been doing for the last few years. Rather do a big show, almost like – I’m not gonna say we’re dead – but I’d like to do a reunion show with all the guys. Hell man, play for a few hours. Just get all of the old fans there.
We’re not dead and I’d like to see us do something fun here in the near future. I was talking to Jason the other day about getting together and recording some older songs, rather than anything fresh and new. Like, we had all this material we were playing together on tour, a lot of crowd-favorites actually that we never just put down on tape, songs like “Supercool,” “In a Year,” “Falling,” these fun songs that I remember still that we just never did and we kind of owe it to ourselves to get those done some time.
We just had a recording session with Electronidoll on Tuesday [August 11]. Hopefully, we’re doing a local compilation CD, we’re being a part of that. Edward Bignar, who was also known as Eddie DeSade back in the BiFi days, he’s put together a few lo-fi compilation discs and we’re gonna be a part of that. We’re recording a new song called “College 2”. It’s actually the pop version of a classical song that I wrote back in college that Aaron and I always liked. So we recorded that song. We’ve got another really cool song called “No Doubt About It” that Erik Knudtson did the engineering on. That’s a little more hi-fi quality and we’ll be finishing that one up, hopefully within a month. The plan is to put all these new songs on a new EP called “Des Moines.” He’s from Des Moines and we always have a good time recording in Des Moines and partying and just kind of hanging out in Des Moines.
Trent Derby and Eric Moffitt also help do live shows with us. It’s really fun because I don’t have to play guitar, I play synthesizers and Trent’s playing electronic drums and we still have a rock and roll atmosphere but still electronic. I don’t see any bands doing live electronic music any more. I just like having a live atmosphere on stage and having an amazing drummer like Trent on electronic drums is just very electric, very fun, very spastic sometimes on stage with all of our synthesizers.
On the current status of the Ames music scene
Positive. Wish we could get a spark going as far as people being a little more interested in it. That’s always the struggle in Ames because it’s a college town, people get really involved during the semester but they’re not here to get involved in the music scene, they’re here to study and go to school and then everyone goes home for the summer and all these different things happen during the summer and then everyone comes back and there’s a new thing happening. So it’s a roller coaster usually with Ames. I think there’s such amazing talent in Ames that it’d be really cool to get some good representation as far as the Midwest in the near future. And that’s up to us as musicians to go on tour and say, “We’re from Ames, Iowa, and there’s things happening here and we’re not just Iowa State.” Even though Iowa State’s a fine school, it’s more than just corn-fed Iowa Staters. We’re more than just the semesters. We have good talent here.