This interview is week 3 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.Ransom Jack
Carrying the Party-Punk Torch Along the I-35 Corridor
By Sean Claes
I attended college in San Marcos at Southwest Texas State University in the late 1990s. It was not, as many are prone to say, a “party school” any more than any other college I’ve visited. But, being in such close proximity to Austin and the Hill Country, San Marcos had its share of great bands come through… and I was a budding music journalist, so I had the chance to interview a few.
I’ve always championed the locals, though. Bands that were ACTUALLY San Marcos based. I’ve always kept up with the scene down the road as well. I’ve never been disappointed as there’s always a great band around the corner at Triple Crown, Cheatham Street Warehouse, and now Texas Music Theater.
I tell you that to introduce the subjects of my interview today. The San Marcos-based Ransom Jack. They are currently carrying on the legacy of the “great local San Marcos Party Band.” And that’s kind of a big deal.
Ransom Jack has that reggae-infused rock band sound akin to that of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They formed in late 2007 and have been slowly working the stages along the I-35 corridor and making fans along the way. In 2011 they released their debut self-titled album with a huge show at San Marcos’ Texas Music Theater.
Zach Taylor (guitar/vox), J.C. Alvarez (Drums/vox) and Jarrod “JRod” Nall (bass/vox) are the members of Ransom Jack and we talked about the origin of the name, their debut CD, Wild Turkey, and some of the charities they feel strongly about.
FYI Their next Austin show is February 25 at Maggie Mae’s, which is the bands favorite local venue.
Sean Claes: Where’d Ransom Jack, the name come from?
JC Alvarez: Funny story. We were throwing around some band names and since we all had grown our beards out at the time, Lumber Jack was joked about.
Jarrod “JRod” Nall: We liked “Jack”, being a combination of our three names, and then someone recommended Handsome Jack. Then the rhyming started. I don’t know how but “Ransom” came up and the concept of “to redeem from captivity” was perfect.
Zach Taylor: I always thought of Ransom Jack being the savior for us, from which our society holds us captive. Institutions teach us from an early age that we should become corporate sheep, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc… When really, we should find our true passion in life, pursue it with all our might, and never give up no matter how many trials come our way.
Music is Ransom Jack’s means of deliverance from this captivity.
Claes: Zach and JRod, you’ve known each other for a really long time. How long have you played together?
Taylor: Actually, Jrod and I met in middle school… We helped each other on an essay during a test, got caught, and were friends ever since.
Nall: We were 11 or 12. Zach had a new guitar (which is still the same one he uses today) and I had just started playing bass. We’ve been jamming on and off for some 15 years now.
Claes: How did you hone your sound?
Taylor: We locked ourselves in the jam room for over 2 months straight… we would literally practice all day and all night.
Nall: We lived off sandwiches and coffee for those two months and it’s a miracle we weren’t sick of each other by the end. It just happened. There’s just good chemistry between us and we all have different styles to bring to the table.
You can practice for a year straight, but if there’s no chemistry there then it’s just not going to work.
Claes: Having formed in 2007, why did it take until 2011 to cut a debut CD?
Taylor: We needed more stage experience to solidify our originals and create a well-balanced show diet. We did a few recordings in the early years but they were not the quality that we knew we were capable of and consequently had falling-outs with the engineers.
Then in 2010 we hooked up with JC’s old friend Maestro, a hip-hop producer that had formed the production company Atiatsus Entertainment LLC, and the album process just came together. It took a good amount of time to get everything perfect, but in the end we finally had a product we were happy with.
Claes: Who did you record with?
Nall: We recorded at The Looney Bin Studio with engineer Bobby Mercer, had it mastered at Terra Nova by Jerry Tubb and it was Executive Produced by Matthew “Maestro” Sustaita. They did a great job.
Claes: I’m digging the bass line of “Wild Turkey.” The song reminds me of the 1991 song “Apple Pie” by White Trash for some reason.
Nall: Thanks man. Wild Turkey’s one of my personal favorites as you may guess.
Taylor: Ha, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry… Those guys were some funky hipsters. I can’t get enough of those 90s bands because that’s the era we are strongly influenced by. Actually, “Wild Turkey” kind of started as a joke song, but everyone loved it and it ended up becoming one of our more popular ones.
Do you have a favorite track off the album?
Nall: Tough one. I guess I would have to go with the Bonus Track “Jam Song”. We cut that track in one take and you can feel the energy.
Alvarez: We honestly love all the songs, and they all mean something different to each of us. It would be too hard to pick one… But, “Building Blocks.”
Taylor: Three way tie for me, “For Goodness Sakes”, “Interlude” through “Building Blocks” and “Good For Nothing.” Those songs just speak to me.
Claes: Your CD release party was at San Marcos’ Texas Music Theatre on October 5, 2011. Was that an epic night?
Alvarez: TMT was like a dream come true, it was organized so well, the turn out reminded me of our barn parties back in the days. We had G Clef, DANGER!CROSSFIRE!, and Victory March.
Taylor: That crowd and stage was sick! It was surreal thinking back to the beginning playing at Cancun Rob’s for free beer and tacos to playing in such a professional venue.
Nall: Epic would be a good word for it. It was great to see everyone who has jammed our songs over the past 4 years in one place together supporting local music.
Claes: Who are some of the bands you count as influences?
Taylor: A small list includes The Beatles, 311, Victor Wooten, Incubus, Sublime, NOFX, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. We grew up going to Warped Tour every year starting in middle school so pretty much the entire punk world.
Claes: Although you’ve got a pretty extensive catalog of originals, you’ve got some great covers as well. What are some of your favorite covers to play?
Taylor: Probably Sublime’s “Caress Me Down”, The Beatles’ “Revolution; Come Together”, and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”.
We really enjoy turning cover songs into our own style rather than just repeating what has been done. We have a live rendition of MGMT’s “Kids” which always seems to get a lot of attention as well.
Claes: After 5 years of playing out, what was your favorite Ransom Jack show?
Alvarez: A lot of favorite gigs…
Taylor: …but nothing rocked as hard as the barn parties!
Nall: Those were definitely the most fun. That was really what got us momentum in the early days. It was a series of five parties spread out over a little less than a year and we rattled the earth. It’s great to not only play the show, but organize the entire event.
Just say the words “barn party” to anyone who was there and you can tell by the look on their face how much fun those shows were. And we want to thank our friend Mike Wilkinson for making those possible.
Claes: Over the last few years, you’ve played a few charity gigs. In 2010 and 2011 you played for TX State’s Bobcat Build. Why did you choose that organization?
Taylor: It’s a great cause. They actually chose us and there was no way we could turn that down.
Nall: We like helping out, Bobcat Build is a great cause. Whenever we can do something to help the community that has done so much for us we take advantage of the opportunity.
Alvarez: Giving back and helping others is one of the big things that we stand for.
Claes: You also wrote a song for the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) entitled “Together We Care” that became a video by the folks at UTSA. How’d that whole thing come about?
Taylor: Charles Davis, who had been working with UTSA, contacted our publisher and they decided we had the perfect sound. So we got the concept and recorded “Together We Care”.
We had been playing with that riff for a while and when we were asked to do the video we wrote the lyrics pretty much in the studio. It’s a little corny, but it’s for a good cause and we love it.
Claes: Three members live in three cities down the I-35 corridor. Any plans to consolidate Ransom Jack?
Alvarez: We all kind of like where we’re living now. Thanks to our team we are still organized even though we live in different cities.
Nall: It works out well because we have bases all down the I-35 corridor with Zach in San Antonio, J.C. in San Marcos and I in Austin. We’re not going to focus on one particular city. We get a good response everywhere.
However, San Marcos will always be Ransom Jack’s home.
Claes: What’s 2012 going to hold In store for Ransom Jack?
We will be out at every venue pushing our music and rocking shows, festivals, and ear canals! We’ve been adding some new aspects to our live shows and will be incorporating an amazing light spectacle. We’ll be releasing new tracks as well with some other great local musicians. We’ll hopefully be organizing more events as well, and be on the look out for our first professional video to be released, Summer 2012!
Ransom Jack will play in Corpus Christi at Doctor Rockets on 2/19/12 and at Austin’s Maggie Mae’s on 2/25/12. For more information or to download their debut CD, look them up at http://www.ransomjack.com, or via Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ransomjack or twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ransomjack.
Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.