In the hurricane of hype swirling around Detroit’s trash-garage-stripped-down-post-gutter-punk-rock scene (or whatever they’re calling it today), the Von Bondies are the It Kids at the eye of the storm. And for Jason Stollsteimer and his band mates, trying to make sense of fame and the future is a little terrifying.
It all started innocently enough about a year and a half ago; just two boys, two girls and an honest, energetic love of rock ’n’ roll. Stollsteimer brings most the of the songs to the table, but he takes pains to point out the other members’ indispensable positions. Drummer Don Blum “is the pure musician of the group,” says Stollsteimer. Guitarist Marcie Bolen “is the sass and style; the offbeat swing, a minor chord randomly placed. And Carrie [Smith, bass] is the strong rhythm we need to hold it all together.”
Together they’ve created a spare, bare-roots sound. The moody, buzzy guitars call and respond, echoing against the dark, pounding rhythm, while Stollsteimer tumbles his raw, whooping vocals over the top of it all. It’s Sun Studios, surf punk, spaghetti western, rock-star sweat and sex.
But it took the white-hot Jack White to bring the band to international attention. He produced its debut record (Lack of Communication), placed the group on his important Detroit-rock compilation (The Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit), and invited the Von Bondies to open for the White Stripes on a three-month, international tour last summer. Some found it difficult to separate the Von Bondies from the headlining act.
“The question I constantly got asked was, ‘Jack White produced it. So how many songs did you actually write?’” Stollsteimer thinks its funny, but at the same time, he’s proud he and his band mates wrote every track on the record. “I consider myself to be a songwriter more than anything, so that offended me, because this is the first real band that I’ve gone anywhere with.” He needn’t have worried. By the time the tour ended, the Von Bondies had captured a large fan base and critical acclaim, and were basking in a newfound confidence as artists and performers.
The band has reluctantly decided against continuing the White Stripes connection — professionally, anyway. The group will headline its own tour next month, and are testing their production chops in the studio. “I’d really like to have Jack produce our next record,” Stollsteimer says. “But we have to go out on our own. We’re trying to be our own band.”
Just the opposite of what you might expect of a 23-year-old singer who’s been featured inside several glossy, hip magazines, Jason Stollsteimer is unassuming, friendly, genuinely excited about music and Detroit music in particular. He chatters about some of his favorites as he drives the Von Bondies’ tour van, littered with a mess of local music CDs that clatter and slide across the floor as he brakes for each stoplight along Michigan Avenue.
Stollsteimer’s conversation slides through memories and impressions of the Detroit scene much the same way.
He recalls playing with Bolen and their first band, the Baby Killers, at teenage house parties with the Sights and the Clone Defects (“Tim Lampinen is crazy! But totally legit!”). He raves about early Jack White performances (“He used to do this little-kid character. I loved it!”), marvels at the incredible tour experiences he’s had in Europe and elsewhere, and contemplates a dream record of duets he’s penned for some of Detroit’s best rock ’n’ roll singers.
The band’s second album, tentatively titled Pawn Shoppe Heart, is in the works. A few songs have already been recorded, and studio time is booked for the rest on the morning after the band plays the Blowout pre-party at Motor on March 6.
And that’s where the terror of the future comes in. Some label reps showed up at the band’s recent Lager House show, promising big bucks and enormous fame, but the band is worried about getting too much too fast. They’d rather settle for less money while retaining eventual ownership rights over the music; something they didn’t get with their debut on Sympathy for the Record Industry. Then there’s the added stress of bringing in lawyers to negotiate the best possible deal.
“I don’t want a million dollars,” laughs Stollsteimer. “What am I gonna do with a million dollars in Detroit?”
And though he and his band mates would like to make enough to quit their day jobs, the original Von Bondies plan didn’t include a big monetary payoff. “If there is, it’s more of a gift,” says Stollsteimer.
“I hear about bands moving here to ‘make it.’ They’re going about it the wrong way,” says Stollsteimer. “I think every band in Detroit has just as good a chance as us — every band that’s passionate about it. The music should always come first, no matter what.”
Check out the rest of our features on this year's talented Blowout artists:
• Go back to the future with The Bloody Holly’s
• The eclectic Brothers Groove are driven by white-hot funk
• Clone Defects front man Tim Vulgar lives the punk life
• esQuire’s frenetic but fabulous rise to fame
• Robert Jones is Detroit's quintessential bluesman
• The Kielbasa Kings' tale of accordions, beer and never-fail pickup lines
• Inside King Gordy's heart of darkness
• Miz Korona shines through the hype and distractions
• Stowing away on Sista Otis' path to enlightenment