Ask 50 Detroit rock musicians to name their favorite local band and Javelins will most likely come up time and again. Exactly why isn't always clear.
"We do get a lot of people who are in other bands that become fans of our band," vocalist-drummer Matt Rickle says. "I almost prefer that [to mainstream success] because it's flattery. It's cool, too, because you get to meet all these people who play various instruments — so when the time comes that we need something different in our music, those people are on hand."
Javelins formed when Rickle, guitarist Matt Howard and bassist Julian Wettlin graduated high school and decided to stop fooling around with half-assed endeavors. A couple of years of knuckling down paid off when they began to play live in 2004. The plaudits soon rained down. Their debut album, 2005's No Plants, Just Animals, saw that praise reach manic proportions locally, and since then, their popularity began to spread across the country.
In describing his own band's style, Rickle struggles for the right words. "We listen to a lot of the ‘fake jazz' indie bands," he begins. "They were kind of a big influence in the beginning, like Aloha and those kinds of things. It's rock, but it's a little easier on the distortion. We also really liked what the Flaming Lips were doing when we first started. More recently, we're all really into bands like Talking Heads and the Beatles. The Beatles have always been a big influence, of course, although I don't know how well it translates. We listen to a lot of early pop. In the last few years, Matt [guitarist Matt Howard] has basically remained in his '60s mode. Drummer Julian is very much into newer music. And I just listen to David Bowie." He laughs.
From a critical perspective, Javelins are a remarkable little band — merging the lush beauty of Radiohead with the artful madness of Talking Heads and, yes, the joyful awkwardness of Bowie into something challenging that may not hit instantly but seeps into you. And it might not leave. Like many of the current crop of new local bands, "eclectic" is the key word here.
Rickle enjoys the challenge of doing something entirely new with music, of finding new ways to puzzle his listeners without ever veering into the dangerous seas of pretentiousness. With that in mind, Rickle thinks that Javelins fit alongside other Detroit bands.
"I definitely feel comfortable and at home here," he says. "We've been here all of our lives. And I'm always interested to see what people think about us. There was excitement when our first album came out. Then we changed a little bit when our second album [Heavy Meadows] came out last year. But I think people were still into it."
Rickle firmly believes that, despite the sour economy, now is as healthy a time as any for music in Detroit. "It's kind of cool that venues like the Pike Room opened up," he says, referring to the new space in Pontiac's Crofoot complex. "And now, there's the Majestic Café in the Majestic complex, a comfortable contrast to the complex's Magic Stick where a band can draw 150 listeners" and the room still looks empty.
"So I feel like there's more legitimate venues opening up that are accessible to local bands. That's a big step for the city. And there are a million bars you can play, especially in Hamtramck. When it comes to promotion in the newspapers, it's difficult because a lot of those bars won't even bother [advertising or promoting]. But there's always good music here. I don't feel like there's more now than at any other time."
When talking with Rickle, a likable and humble man, you get the feeling that he's appreciative anyone at all turns out to see his band. He admits that, at the beginning, he didn't exactly shoot high in terms of his goals for the group.
"I wanted to play the Magic Stick," he starts his list. "Wanted to play with members of the [influential Illinois post-emo/hardcore] band Braid. And I wanted to be on the Suburban Sprawl label. We achieved all of those things fairly quickly.
"The best thing is that Suburban Sprawl was defunct for a few years, and then the guy who ran it [Erik Koppin] saw us and decided to get it going again because he wanted to put our record out. To me, that was so huge. The label started around 2000 and they had one band called the Red Shirt Brigade signed to the label. That band consisted of Scott and Ryan [Allen] from Thunderbirds Are Now!, and Trevor [Naud] and Dan [Clark] from Zoos of Berlin. They did well for themselves back then. They recorded with Death Cab For Cutie in Seattle, did some tours and it was the first local band that I gave a shit about. I was always attracted to the small label that they had going so it was really awesome to become a part of that.
"Suburban Sprawl has gotten more legit since then. That's led to a lot of good moments and a lot of cool tours. We even have a European tour coming up. I never expected that!
"I mean, I set my goals so low, and we've played with huge bands throughout the years, like Vampire Weekend. That's been amazing, getting to know those people. But for me, personally, becoming a part of [Suburban Sprawl] and them helping to get it to where it's at has been the highlight."
In early October, Javelins play a show at the Berkley Front with the Friendly Foes, who will be celebrating their 7-inch record release. But there are bigger things looming on the horizon. "After that, we have the European tour. We were planning on some U.S. touring this fall, but I think it's best to save energy and get prepared for that. We've also been writing for what will eventually be our new album. And we have a weird remix thing that we're putting out — Deastro's going to do a remix of one of our songs, and Prussia's going to do a cover of our songs. I feel like those sorts of things can be pretentious and weird sometimes — but this seemed like a fun idea that somebody else came up with. It's going to be a free thing online, so it's all cool."
Before we check out, I just had to ask Rickle, why name the band after a spear? "It really didn't matter much," he chuckles. "So we just went back and forth with names. At one point, it was the Cuddle Bunch — obviously when we weren't taking ourselves seriously. There's nothing too meaningful behind it. It just sounds cool."
Yes, you read that right. One of Detroit's hippest young bands was once called the Cuddle Bunch.
That's killed your Fonzie, hasn't it, boys?
Brett Callwood is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Javelins play Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Berkley Front, 3087 12 Mile Rd, Berkley; 248-547-3331. With the Friendly Foes and Alan James & the Cold Wave.