There are choice personalities within metal who are in it to put on their spikes and indulge their delusions of grandeur. John Jarvis is not one of them. With a resume including Scour, Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Clenched Fist, and Fulgora, it doesn’t take much to get the bassist to crack the core of what’s important — the music. While it’s hard to find time to be a prima donna when you’re busy producing such an extensive of body of work, Jarvis did find some time recently to talk to me.
Even as a dozen shots rang out outside the bedroom window of his Baltimore home, it was hard to feel unsafe in walls covered floor-to-ceiling with festival posters, autographed symbols, and beloved guitars. Jarvis’ love for his art exudes to a level where no overblown getup or attitude is needed. He’ll emote to you all about it for 40 minutes but it’ll feel like 5, and you’ll always leave learning a thing or two (or 20).
My first fresh deat of the week was that he had just finished laying new tracks for Scour (which, without fail, is always pronounced in a spooky whisper) in his basement studio, including a cover of Bathory’s Massacre which–trust me–you should get really hyped about. But, never one to leave you with just a kernel, Jarvis also divulged all the stories and secrets behind the elephant in the room — his mammoth collection of vinyl. Organized A to Z thanks to the help of some little nieces in need of busy work, he walked me through it all, and man, did my millennial ass get schooled.
Just generally speaking, what were the first albums you can recall having?
My dad had a giant collection, but I think the very first one that was mine was Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” Single. That Christmas was when I got my first compact discs, which were Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Guns and Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. So those were my personal firsts. We had a CD player pretty early on. I was the only one I knew who had one, which kind of sucked because I couldn’t trade with my friends. But we’d trade each others’ cassettes and tape each others’ shit, but I was the only one who had CDs for the longest time. So it was a big change back then — going from cassettes to CDs. So those were the first I had, but I listened to my dad’s Beatles records and ELO and Moody Blues and shit from a very young age.
Do you still have those very first ones with you today?
Oh yeah, I have all of my dad’s’ all records. He went to CD and he said I could take them. He was going to throw them all away, I think. A lot of them were beat up thanks to me experimenting with playing them backwards and just overall not taking care of them like I should have. I was lucky enough to get my dad’s old records as well as my grandma’s, so I’ve got some old, old stuff.
What’s one you think is still influencing your music today?
I hate to sound cliché, but the Beatles influenced every band in every way in one way or another if you ask me. I’m going to have to go with anything by them. I’m not talking song writing-wise but guitar, bass, drums, vocals. They definitely had their heavier Helter Skelter moments. In terms of influencing what I play, sometimes it happens and you don’t even realize it. The first time I ever wrote a song with some friends, we got all excited and played it for their parents and they said that’s the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” And we were like nooo, we just wrote this, and they were like no sorry that riff is a Rolling Stones song. I’m sure somewhere in the back of our head we had maybe heard that song 100 times and didn’t even realize it. But it happens — you’ll write something and realize, hey, that’s someone else’s song.
If you had to sell but five, which would you spare?
Well shit, I’d say my Black Sabbath UK pressing of Masters of Reality. My HUM You’d Prefer an Astronaut original pressing that I got from Matt Talbott, the singer. I guess with The Beatles, their first album. Original pressing. Oh Jesus, two more. That’s tough. I guess I’d half to say Michael Jackson Thriller. Even though it’s easy to pick up anywhere, this is my copy. It means more than anything even though there are a billion versions out there. Let me look to see what else…
It’s like deciding which child to kill off.
Oh yeah, and the last one would probably change depending on what day you ask me. I’d probably have to go with The Doors, Waiting for the Sun. It’s an original and my favorite Doors record. Yeah, those would be the five I’d take to the deserted island.
What’s the heaviest or the darkest you’ve got?
I’d say Cattle Decapitation. I don’t really have too much extreme metal stuff, honestly. But I’ve got some Death and Carcass. When I first started my vinyl collection, the heaviest record I had back then was Heartwork. For darkest, I’d have to go with Scoouuuur.
Is there anything in here Father Phil would give you shit for?
Oh, yeah. I mean I’m not going to say a lot of them because I don’t want to burn any bridges [laughs]. But there are also a lot of them that we’d have a connection on. For instance, I’ve got Nilsson – The Point. Harry Nilsson was the Beatles’ favorite artist. When the Beatles were the biggest band in the world, they did an interview and were asked who their favorite American singer was, and it only took a second for them to agree he was the best. I remember Phil went through a period a while back where he was listening to all oldies, and as you can see, that’s mostly what I got. We’ve had a few long talks about bands like Chicago, so I think he’d be proud of a lot of the stuff in my collection, especially my Phil & the Illegals record. I would love to get an original pressing of NOLA — that’s a holy grail for me.
What’s the most embarrassing? What’s the Britney Spears/NSYNC of the collection?
Well, I’ve got a Tiffany record, but I’ve actually listened to that in the last six months. Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were like the Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera of my youth. They were the good-looking, young pop singers. Tiffany did a few covers and was just a huge pop star. At the same time, I’m not really embarrassed about owning that record. I’m not ashamed of my musical taste. But, I would say if someone was searching through my stuff, they’d notice a whole bunch of my grandma’s old gospel stuff and religious Christian records. A Waltons Christmas. They’re not something I’m going to listen to, but I couldn’t bear to throw them away.
Any other standouts? I’ll just give you an open forum.
Oh, man. Fucking Mr. Bungle — it has Mike Patton from Faith No More and a guy who produced and recorded all of the Neurosis records and did some stuff for Pig Destroyer. Adam Jarvis gave it to me for my birthday. N.E.R.D. original pressing. Worth about $250. I’ve got a Tool Enema, but a lot of those pressings are counterfeit or bootleg, so there’s really no telling if I have an original one or not. I’ve got a big stack of Moody Blues stuff from my dad, so I’ve got all of their records. All the Beatles records — every one. I’m proud of all those. A lot of the hair metal stuff — Ratt, Whitesnake, Winger. All originals. I’ve got some rare Deftones records that were limited to 1,000 pressings. One is numbered 667. I was really hoping it was going to be 666. Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Sepultura. Smashing Pumpkins remasters that sound amazing. That’s the thing — I don’t care if it’s an original pressing if it’s going to sound like shit.
What makes you keep wanting to buy newly-released albums on vinyl?
The sound quality is, of course, better. Everyone knows that whole spiel. You can hear a little bit more of the bass, a little bit more of this and that. The bigger, tangible artwork is always cool. I haven’t bought a CD in 10 plus years, and the last time I did, I got tricked into it by Metallica by buying a ticket to the Death Magnetic tour. No diss on Metallica, but I would have rather bought it on vinyl. It’s nice to have a choice. Plus it’s a sale for them either way, and you actually make more money on vinyl.
This may sound stupid, but it’s rad you actually actively listen to them and don’t just keep them on a shelf.
Some of them if I hadn’t taken them out of the package I could easily get over $200 for now. But, it’s kind of like when I had my old Corvette and everyone told me “oh, you should keep that in a garage,” but I said fuck that, drove it all across the country, and it was great. I got my money’s worth out of it, so I’m happy. I know some people who have bigger vinyl collections than I do and they don’t listen to any of them. They’ll sit there and gain monetary value and one day you’re going to die and it’s all going to be left behind.
Can you describe how your relationships with certain albums have changed growing up?
I remember wanting Michael Jackson’s E.T. record but not being able to get it. I guess I was grounded or in trouble or something. So this is one of the records I saw one day as an adult that I had to get just because I couldn’t have it as a kid. That also goes for Pink Floyd’s The Wall. When I was a youngster, my older cousin told me that there’s this record where at the end of the first side the guy says he’s going to kill himself. I was like wow, that’s pretty deep — I have to hear this. I remember seeing it at the local Walmart and it was like twice as much as all the other albums because it was a double album, so it was like a $20 CD, and my mom said no. Maybe it was because it was too expensive, but I also think that it was because I was infatuated with the idea of the guy killing himself and she was like no, that’s not cool. Eventually, when I was the driver and I got to control the radio stations–as the rule usually goes–she was in my passenger seat and I played The Wall. Sorry, mom. But, you, know, it’s really a harmless record. Turns out I didn’t kill myself after listening to it after all.
Did you ever have any moms threatening to burn your Kiss records?
Absolutely. There was one point in about ’87 when all my cassettes, except for like, two, were all gone when I came home from school. My grandma had come through and ransacked the place. I went out to the garbage the next day and got a lot of them, which I took back and hid. She ended up giving me this booklet–I wish I still had it–about Kiss’ knights in Satan’s service and it had a list of bands not to let your kid listen to, and King Diamond was on there. I was looking at the rest of the list and knew most of the other names on there except him, and as it turns out, that’s what made me start listening to him. Otherwise I wouldn’t have checked out King Diamond at that point. She got the thing from whatever church she was going to at the time. “Heavy metal is poisoning society” and all this stuff. They really freaked out about it.
Luckily, I had MTV, so everyday after school I got music that way. They actually played music back then. Headbangers Ball. All the gangster rap. When that shit was coming out all those dudes were rad. So there was a lot of good music coming through MTV, and my parents couldn’t stop that. Some kids didn’t have cable and I honestly felt sorry for them. These days, of course, MTV is a totally different world, but growing up, I was extremely lucky. A lot of my music knowledge came from there.
I feel like I caught the very tail end of decent MTV. I mean, shit, I remember that’s how I got into metal. I was 10 years old and I saw “BYOB” by System of a Down and I was like that’s going to be a yes for me, dog. Then when I was in middle school YouTube came out and you could get any music video you wanted and one just kind of led into the next.
And there’s good and bad to all of that. When I was a kid, it would have been a dream to have [the internet]. Not even just for music, but for things like playing Uno with your friends. Today, you can just turn on the Xbox and play Uno with your friend while you’re both lying next to each other in the same bed. Music-wise, it was all cassette tape trading, and, of course, that meant awful quality. By the time I would end up with a copy of Master of Puppets it sounded terrible. You would hear little glitch sounds and wonder if that’s the song or something else. Kids have it really good these days. Even on YouTube you can upload some pretty high quality audio files. There was a time when you used to have to pay $20 for a CD and not get to listen to it first, and you couldn’t take it back just because you didn’t like it. But at the end of the day, there will always be pros and cons. You’ve got the whole world at your fingertips. Still, there’s still a lot of stuff in this vinyl collection you won’t find on Spotify.