Interview With: Jason Korenkiewicz of Boy Genius

The other night I got the chance to chat with Boy Genius front man Jason Korenkiewicz. Check out how Boy Genius got its start, some insight on the making of their new record Anchorage, the Spice Girls contingent and a special treat for Philadelphia.

Jessica, PopWreckoing: Jason? Hi! This is Jessica.
Jason Korenkiewicz: Hey, how are ya?
PW: I’m doing well. How are you?
JK: I’m doing well. I’m just outside drinking a beer.
PW: Where are you at in the city [New York City]?
JK: 4th Street and 2nd Avenue. East Village area.
PW: Nice. I went to school up there, so I’m always excited to talk to New Yorkers.
JK: Oh! Where’d you go to school?
PW: Fordham University.
JK: Oh, whoa! Is that the one in the Bronx or the one on the West Side?
PW: The one in the Bronx.
JK: The law school’s on the West Side, right?
PW: Yes.
JK: I had a friend who went there for his Ph.D in English. And I dated a girl at Manhattan College, which isn’t too far, I think?
PW: Yep. I think they’re our “rival?” Being in the Bronx, too.
JK: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. It’s great of you to do that!
PW: Oh, yeah! No problem! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It goes both ways, ya know?
JK: [laughs] I saw the review you posted today. Paul [Boy Genius’ manager and all around awesome guy!] sent it to me. Thank you for that.
PW: Oh, you’re welcome! When did you begin playing music?
JK: About three years ago.
PW: What influenced you to get into it?
JK: I used to be a music writer, actually. I was a music features editor for PopMatters and I taught music business at NYU for a bunch of years. I got to a point in my life where I wasn’t happy with how things were going and I picked up a guitar and taught myself how to play. Then, somehow, a year and a half later, I was playing live with a friend of mine. We were playing acoustic shows as a duo. A few months later we had a band. It just happened.
PW: It’s nice that it was so organic.  So how did Boy Genius get its start?
JK: Well I had a friend…our original guitarist Chris [Amann] and I went to high school together. He’d been in bands for years and wasn’t doing anything at the time so we just started playing together.
We had a rule: I had to write a song every week and I would show up at his apartment and we’d record the song. If I didn’t the song, he’d make me play some horrible cover song that I hated.
We played a couple shows together, acoustic as a duo, through friends of ours. We ended up meeting Lisa [Klimkiewicz] and I spent months convincing her to play drums for us.
Then our friend Jeff [Mensch] was in a New York band called Breakup Breakdown that was signed to a Warner subsidiary…
PW: Yeah, I know those guys. Saw them at a CMJ show a while back.
JK: Yeah! They were kind of ending and Jeff was like, ‘If Lisa’s in the band, I wanna be in the band!’ He was the guitarist in Breakup Breakdown but he came and played bass with us.
It all just sort of happened.
PW: Cool. Are you all Brooklyn/New York natives or did you all just happen to end up there?
JK: Just ended up here. Chris and I are both from southeastern Connecticut, closer to Rhode Island. Near Mystic. Jeff’s from Danbury, Ct. and Lisa’s from Maryland originally. Then Chris left the band a few months ago and we have a new guitarist, Marisa [Cerio], who’s from Staten Island, born and bred. The accent, the whole thing.
PW: [laughs] Excellent!
JK: I need a glossary, sometimes, to understand her.
PW: [laughs] Yeah… Staten Island is its own…special, little place. So the new album, Anchorage, recently came out. What was the difference between writing and recording that compared to the Eureka EP?
JK: I think when we recorded Eureka, I think at that point it was the songs we knew how to play well enough to record.
It was called the Eureka EP because “Eureka” was supposed to be on it, but we couldn’t actually play it. We liked the name, so we stuck with it and “Eureka” made it onto the Anchorage album.
I think when we went back in and started thinking about making a full-length record, we really sat down and started thinking about the types of songs that need to be on a record. Started thinking about flow and number of songs and the tempos of songs and the instrumentation of each song so it wouldn’t seem the same. So you could have some diversity amongst the album. It was really conceived as an album.
There’s probably four or five or six other songs that were slated to be on the album but were taken off or moved at the last second because it didn’t work in terms of what we wanted it to be.
PW: Do you think you guys achieved everything you set out to with Anchorage? Are you happy with the final product?
JK: Yeah, I think for what it was and where we were at the time, it was very representative and in some ways better than where we were at the time. There’s just so many bands that get together and make EPs and put out numerous EPs and singles, but never put out a record.
I feel like making a record is the monkey on your back if you’re an artist. If you get that out of the way early, you can go do something else the second time and make a better record or a different record.
I just didn’t want to be one of those bands who’s together for six years and then is like, ‘Okay, I guess we have to make a record.’
I think it’s representative of what we wanted to do at that time. There was a lot of thought about the horns and the keyboard and the melodica…all the extra stuff that’s on it. We’re pretty much a four-piece live, occasionally we have a fifth to play keyboards and trumpets on things for certain shows. The goal, really, was to let the songs on the record be a different experience than the songs in a live setting.
PW: Speaking of the live setting, you’re headed out on tour this summer around the East Coast.
JK: We start in Staten Island on a Friday night. Marisa’s from Staten Island so she booked the show there. It’s kind of the warm-up show. Then we play with a friend of ours, Abby Mott, who’s amazing, Sunday in Baltimore.
Saturday we’re playing in DC with Secret Pop Band and then Monday we’re playing in Charlottesville. You know Monday nights are really hard to get a show anywhere between Virginia and Georgia. Except for The Triangle, it’s really hard to get a show. So I was kind of expecting to be playing a brew pub somewhere taking over an open mic, but luckily we were able to find a show. Then we play Athens [Popfest] on Wednesday and we’re playing with a band on Friday in Chapel Hill who’s been really amazing to us. Then Philly on Saturday to close it out.
PW: Yeah, that’s awesome! I’m gonna be there!
JK: It’s gonna be fantastic. We’re excited to play Philly and to have you there!
PW: I’m really looking forward to it!
JK: We’re trying to get local acts in town to play with it, which is good, ‘cause it controls who you play with but it also makes it harder. You not only have to research what clubs to play but then you have to research to find bands you think you’d be good with. It’s a plus minus I guess.
PW: I gave Paul a list of maybe 7 bands that were all pretty different, but that I think would fit with you guys.
JK: He sent the list to me, actually, and there a bunch of where I’m like, ‘these guys are great!’
It’s funny and that’s the thing that’s kind of daunting about music right now. There are so many bands out there that have at least a couple good songs that it’s kind of depressing almost. How is anyone really gonna cut through and get across to people?
PW: Again with the plus minus thing. A lot of it is the internet where it’s immediate now and you can connect more with the fans. I think a lot of the personal connection is how people are gonna breakthrough as opposed to just the music as was relied on previously through the radio and releasing records.
JK: Definitely. I remember having friends in bands, even in the mid-90s, where you had to send CDs to every promoter and you had to send out CDs to a couple of fanzines and hope that something happened. It would take months to do that. Now you can send somebody a download link to your album and have it reviewed the next day on a website.
It’s so much more immediate, which I think is great, but as somebody who’s written about music, what’s really tough to discern is what’s good and what’s not. You see a lot of things blow up on the internet and two weeks later they’re gone.
PW: So what do you think the future of the music industry looks like?
JK: It’s funny, I was out with a friend this weekend and there was some kid who was a freshman in college somewhere. He was going to school for music business and they were like, ‘can you talk to him? Tell him what he should do?’
I said, ‘You don’t really want me to talk to him. If I do, I’d tell him not to go into the music industry.’ Essentially, in five to ten years there will be no music industry. I think we’re headed towards that model where there will be a lot more smaller labels or groups independently releasing music online. We’re already seeing this mass distribution and I think we’re gonna see more of it.
The interesting thing in all of it is that money’s gonna be made through touring. People are gonna continue to download music and give away music in an effort to catch people’s attention. Then what happens is your money is made through playing live.
PW: Absolutely. I know a lot of bands who record for a few weeks then tour for a few months. When they make more money they take a break to record and it’s just crazy how it works.
JK: I was talking to a PR company recently, I wanted to work with them, and the guy asked, ‘do you want a record deal?’
I said, ‘Well [hesitates] I guess?’ Basically, what I would want is somebody to pay to make the record and to pay the PR person to get us on the radio or press. In a model where you can do it on your own, you don’t really need a record company anymore with the internet and the direction the music industry is moving.
I just finished reading the Dean Wareham autobiography and he talks a lot about being on an indie then being on a major and being on an indie again at the end of Luna. He was talking about how at the end of Luna, when they left Elektra, they were $1.4 million in the hole to the label. The label actually made money because they weren’t sharing any of the burden of promoting the band. Why get involved with a major label if that’s the outcome?
PW: Yeah. A lot of people don’t realize that whatever your album advance is, you’ve got to repay all of that to the label before you see any royalties, so that screws a lot of small artists. I know a lot of artists who’ve been signed to majors and then dropped because the label wasn’t promoting them so they weren’t selling enough records, so it’s the label’s fault.
I did want to get into the music industry for a long time and then I realized what really goes on and I didn’t want to be a part of that. So I’m trying this out.
JK: What you’re doing is much more noble, I’ll tell you that.
PW: Thank you. I hope so, but back to touring…one question that’s sort of become a PopWreckoning signature question is if you could put together a dream tour that you’d play on, whether you headline or open, who would you want to be on a bill with?
JK: Wow. That’s a really good question. You know, there’s one show that I missed in the early 90s that always haunts me. I was standing outside a club in New York out with my friends and we had badges for some festival. It was My Bloody Valentine, Pavement and Superchunk. They had actually toured together. That is the show that kills me that I never got in to see.
PW: That would have been an amazing show.
JK: It was right when Slanted and Enchanted came out and No Pocky [for Kitty] for Superchunk. It was kind of at the end of My Bloody Valentine.
In terms of shows that have happened that I wish I had played on, that would’ve probably been the one. Just ‘cause it always haunts me that I was standing outside the club and didn’t make it in.
PW: Why didn’t you make it in?
JK: The people I was with didn’t wanna wait in line to get in. It was a music festival and we had badges to get in so we could go somewhere else.
PW: Who did you end up seeing instead?
JK: Yeah, we went and saw [pauses and laughs] uh, I’m not telling you!
PW: Oh, come on! I’ll tell you the most embarrassing concert I went to recently if you do.
JK: We saw Live at the Academy. It was when the first Live EP had just come out and they were atrocious. I know they’re from Pennsylvania so that won’t fly too well…
PW: No, it’s all good. They’re from York and I’m a Philly girl. I have no loyalty to Live.
JK: You know, Ed Kowalczyk is Polish like me so I can give him hell if I need to. It was not a fair trade off in my mind.
PW: It could be worse though…back in February, the middle schooler in me really loved this, I went to go see the Spice Girls. [Ed. Note: Who am I kidding? The 23 year me loved it just as much.]
JK: The last guy who interviewed me went and saw the Spice Girls!
PW: Shut up! Really?!
JK: Swear to god. He’s obsessed with the Spice Girls.
PW: [laughing] That’s awesome!
JK: I’m now noticing a very weird trend in Boy Genius interviews.
PW: How did the Spice Girls come up with him?
JK: I think he mentioned that he doesn’t normally listen to this sort of stuff so I asked, ‘what do you listen to?’ And then he kind of paused and didn’t really say, and then he was like, ‘Spice Girls.’
PW: [laughing] I hope whomever interviews you next continues this Spice Girls trend.
JK: I think we’re only going to interview with people who’ve seen the Spice Girls recently. That’s gonna be a prerequisite.
PW: I think that’s a good prerequisite. That’s how you know you’re talking with a quality music lover. [laughs]
JK: Exactly!
PW: So back to good, legit music…
JK: [laughs]
PW: …who are you listening to currently?
JK: For new stuff, I’ve been listening to a band called Throw Me the Statue. I find myself going back to that record a lot. There’s some really good pop songs on it. I’m a big chorus guy and some of the choruses aren’t so obvious on some of the songs and they’re great. There’s a band from Cincinnati called Bears, indie pop thing. They’re good.
I listen to a lot of Go Betweens. I like Go Betweens a lot. I listen to a lot of their older stuff. Robert Forester is fantastic.
I’ve been listening to the new Aimee Mann quite a bit. She’s a good songwriter; always something interesting.
PW: Have you been to any concerts recently?
JK: I went and saw a show on Monday, actually. I saw Versus reunited playing New York for one night on Monday. They opened for a Swedish band, Love Is All. Then I’ve got The Feelies and The Vaselines in early July.
PW: I’m gonna see The Vaselines in Seattle for Subpop’s 20th anniversary.
JK: They got back together for that. I think they’re playing a couple shows around here in New York and maybe a couple other places to get ready for that. There’s some great bands. That’s gonna be an awesome festival to see!
PW: Definitely. Thanks so much for talking with me! I don’t want to take up any more of your time…
JK: Is Sugar Mom’s still in Philly?
PW: Yes, absolutely!
JK: We will be drinking cheap pitchers there on August 16th. That is my final word.

There you have it. Philadelphia, head over to The M Room on August 16th to catch Boy Genius play with some of our favorite local acts and don’t miss the after party at Sugar Mom’s!

Head over to Boy Genius’ myspace page to check out tour dates and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Anchorage today!

Boy Genius: myspace | Anchorage review, iTunes, CD Baby

*Photo: L. Wyatt Tuzo

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