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Wexler Interviews Daniel J: Founder Of The Official* JETPACK
The interview was conducted in the summer of 2005

JETPACK: INTERVIEW

...by Wexler (Summer 2005)

The tribute album, Surfin' To No Doubt, purposely doesn't identify itself as a work by Jetpack on its cover. Although Vitamin Records hires many musicians to do their myriad tribute CDs almost anonymously, they did put Jetpack's name on the back cover in addition to the credits sleeve, but the distributor still sent it to retail outlets labeled "various artists". This is a shame as it has Jetpack's signature on every note of every song. Daniel J not only performed, but did all the arrangements and production and with the exception of the album artwork (Vitamin's contribution to the project) this is a full-blown Jetpack CD not to be missed. Daniel J gave me some insight to what happens when a pair of large corporations dabble in selling surf music, staying original while covering famous material, and his associations with Dick Dale.

Why did Vitamin start a "Surfin' To..." category?
I can't say as I don't have any dealings with them outside of the project. They have covers by string quartets, jam bands, dub mixes, bluegrass...I guess they are mining every genre they can think up.

How did you become involved?
They called. They said they liked Planet Reverb (the first Jetpack CD) and told me what they would pay on the project and asked for two demos.

What were they?
I chose Just a Girl and Ex Girlfriend to show what would be the lightest and heaviest of my arrangements. I thought up the arrangement for Just A Girl right after the call, but waited for the No Doubt CDs they would send me to pick the second tune.

So you were not familiar with their material?
I knew it casually as anyone else does - from the radio, but no...I didn't have any CDs of theirs.

That's surprising to hear. The CD sounds like you are familiar with them.
Thanks. I tried to become an expert on each of the songs they chose.

You didn't choose the songs on the CD?
No. It was all in the contract. Here's the short version - the Reader's Digest version - of how it went down: At first there was another guy in charge of it at Vitamin when I said I'd do it. He left and another took over. We talked some and everything seemed back on track and then he said," Your demos sound great. I'm going to fax over the song list and send the contract." I was like, "WHAAA?" (Dan makes the Simpsons Moe Sizlack exclamation) as this was news to me. Also, I learned that I had to write a tune in the style of No Doubt. I did not get that at all. I was informed ALL Vitamin tributes have one. I got out of it, but had to do an eleventh tune and I insisted on adding Running to the list, which made the total twelve. Here's the thing: I am taking existing tunes of a band and recording arrangements in a different genre and the whole CD is now going to be in surf style. Then, I am supposed to write a song like No Doubt would write, which would not be a surf tune at all. If anything, it would be slightly ska with some electronica in there and a big hook in a No Doubt tune is generally the lyrics and I'd be making an instrumental. By its very nature it would be the one song that didn't fit in on the surf CD, even if I thought it was a good idea to do it. If I were to buy a cover CD I wouldn't want to be paying for a song that the covering band wrote.

Sounds like it was a struggle to make the CD.
No. It was fine. This was just a misunderstanding as they thought I knew this already from the guy who left the project and was okay with it when in fact, it was the first I had heard of it. When I got rolling I was in total control of the recording from beginning to end - well, until they took it away to be mastered. Then it was out of my hands as were the graphics. So, I had a great deal that was in my control countered by things out of my control. It seems like a "wash", but I like to view it as mostly positive. I got to try a lot of things I didn't do previously. Plus, these Vitamin records are sold world-wide. They are a division of CMH. Go into a Best Buy anywhere tonight and there they are. I hope it turns some kids onto surf music.

You ended up using only yourself and Michael Kramer, who drummed on your Pascal Records release of your own work, Planet Reverb.
Well, I actually did the drumming and had the sense to have Kramer play over my temp tracks (laughs). My drums were never going to make it on the final mix - I never considered it, but it was fun to drum on the temp tracks. Kramer's work is great on this CD. There is some really aggressive playing on there. Kramer has timing like a clock and his work is really tight. He takes suggestions without any ego problems and makes great suggestions as well.

He doesn't play with you live though. At least not when I saw you.
He has, but it's been rare. Not enough that I ever made him a goofy I.D. badge with a code-name like we all wear. There is no permanent roster in the band, so if he were ever available I would use him - drumming or other. At a Roxy show with Gary Hoey, he played keys.

Your X-Files FBI look and I.D. badges are hilarious. Yours says "Daniel J", not "Jetpack Dan", yet everyone calls you that. Why not just go with that name?
Well, I do ... in my email address (laughs). That's were "Jetpack Dan" comes from. I never thought people would call me that outside of an email. Initially I tried to just be Daniel J, but everyone continued to use Jetpack Dan regardless. Many don't know me if I don't mention myself that way. "Dan WHO's calling? OH! JETPACK Dan. Yeah, put him through." Also, I never referred to myself as just "Jetpack" as I've always felt since I don't work in a vacuum I shouldn't be labeled as a "one man band".

Maybe people think that because you arrange, write, and almost play everything.
Well, when you put it that way ... When I am introduced to someone and the introducer says, "Remember that CD I played you? Well, Dan here IS Jetpack," I correct them ... nicely. Planet Reverb has four other people on it even though they're not on every song. I may be the "core" member, but I am never the sole musician.

But you are a solo artist in most respects and your position is unique in that Jetpack will never break up.
That's true. If I want to put out Jetpack albums thirty years from now that will happen ... and I don't have to get the okay from any other band members.

There is no wondering if "you" will still be together. Is that why you don't make anyone a permanent member - to keep the ultimate say about the band?
I have gotten great musicians together, but none yet who's heart was in it as mine is. You might think it would be easy in SoCal, but it isn't. Maybe it is an age issue. I don't require a bunch of John Blairs. I am not a surf guitar historian like John, but often I do end up having to introduce people to songs that should be surf standards, helping them arrive at the proper tone ... That's not such a bother, but I never seem to have, uh ... "kindred spirits" in surf to work with. I don't want to always explain why digital reverb doesn't cut it or why a Paul Reed Smith shouldn't be on stage -

Oh my god! The Sharper Image CD!
Yes, The Sharper Image CD.

How did that collection, Sharper Image: Surf Guitar, which is a fine compilation of big-name surf acts, end up in that packaging with the model holding the PRS?!
The art department were obviously not into surf music. Now, that doesn't mean they are bad people and there is a lot of good that was done in packaging that as well. These images on the Sharper CD are probably from a stock house and they just took "a guy with a guitar" as the criteria. I read a review about PRS guitars once that said they were a great hybrid of Les Paul and Strat - that's what they were created as - but there are still some things you couldn't do with one:"playing surf comes to mind," is what the author said, I kid you not! But here's this surf cd that someone put a PRS on the back cover and inside fold-out. But look, this was aimed at the casual listener who might get into surf and that's only a positive, right? I don't think the pictures did any harm. I am very, very pleased with what they did. The cover is great.

And then there's the No Doubt CD cover. Did they -
I'd like to just leave that alone and move on to something else (laughs).

There's a history lesson inside Sharper Image's CD that yet again credits Dick Dale with creating surf music. What do you think of that?
I immediately thought I read it almost word-for-word somewhere before. They took it from something and it may have been from a Dick Dale "best of" jacket or his web site. He is the most famous one on the CD and they included those paragraphs. Dale really gave this music that was budding back then a solid identity. It's arguable if the great instrumental songs recognized as surf today before Dale's recordings were surf or not. They didn't come up with a category name first and then start the style second. Some say Paul Johnson is the father. I wasn't there so I can't come down on a side.

You're being smart if you ask me. You seem to be affiliated with Dale, from time to time. You went from promoting your very first release by sharing the stage with Dale to being on the same CD as one of his peers. What was it like to have songs right next to his on a major release - from your initial release?
I hadn't thought of it in just that way, as peers. I know I am fortunate to have my work on a label from the start and that leads to things like the Sharper CD. I did not take it for granted at all. When I meet people and I tell them I am into surf, often they say, "You ever go see Dick Dale play?" or "I had this Dick Dale record as a kid, you've heard of him, right?" The few times that I have actually said more than just,"yes" and told them about my playing they have usually just talked right over me and told me some big story as if I said, "No, never. Tell me all about him". It's always funny and people have such a strong opinion that they want to voice about him. He's such a character.

What guitars are on this CD?
I mainly played my Jazzmaster this time, the Rickenbacker 360/12 on the 12 string tunes, of course. There's my '65 Mustang here and there. My Rickenbacker 4001 bass on most tracks and my fretless Fender Jazz Bass on a couple. The Epiphone with Bigsby and the two Strats fill in the sound all over. My Ovation "deep-dish" Balladeer is on a few tracks and my classical and mandolin even made it onto one.

That's quite a list! Do you have guitars that didn't make it on the CD?
(Laughs) Yes. My Jaguar was misbehaving so it had to sit out. Bad Kitty.

Let's get a little technical. What gear are you using?
Mostly third ... would not be a funny answer at all. Well, what did I use this time? I use a GrooveTubes GT Soul o' 45 amp. I have my Danelectro "Tuna Melt" tremolo ... there's a wah-wah. Effects are not extensive for me. I'm never into music gear. I don't read up on it or hang out in the mega stores trying stuff out. I'm not very interesting to talk to about it, sorry.

Would you rather talk about how you arrived at the styles you did for each song?
(Laughs) For each song? Not really. Mostly, I approached each as if I had the sheet music but not a recording of the song. I let the structure suggest what style the song might be in for most cases. Hella Good is such a bare structure it needed to be an '80s surf/punk/Devo/B52s whatever it is thing. But then, going against what I just said, I knew I wanted a country song and looked at what they had on the list that would lend itself to that style. Actually, it (Spiderwebs) ended up wanting to be Mexican-polkaish. I did Running, which is a beautifully written tune in the first place, as if it were a Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak recording. It's not so much a strictly surf CD as it is a "vintage guitar instrumentals" CD. Also, I wanted the album to sound much like seeing a live band so I did not, for example, layer guitar over guitar over guitar ... except on the fade of Simple Kind of Life. That was an experiment in seeing how many 12 strings can play at once until you can't separate them in your head anymore.

How many is that anyway?
Four.

What is next for Jetpack?
I was working on something when this project came along. Now that the No Doubt CD is done I don't know how much of it I will revisit. I arrived at some sounds I liked in making that CD. I love using the fuzz bass. I used my 12 string live on a few songs in the past. Now that I have used it as lead surf guitar on some studio tracks I want to utilize it more. I learned it stands out from the mix of guitars and reverb better if you string it like a non-Rickenbacker, reversing the standard string and its octave. It loses part of the distinct Ric sound, but I am going to play around with it. I want to go through the recordings of Jetpack shows past and find little "ah ha!" moments I may have forgotten about. I don't know where every recording is or who has them. Some of it was recorded digitally and may be decent enough to make into something.

I think a perfect final question would be: what would you say is your favorite cover tune of all time?
The Vanilla Fudge cover of You Keep Me Hangin' On. It's just epic.