Here in LA, the first thing people ask you when you go to review a new band like The Janks is, “so who are they like?” And each time I meet with this rather timeworn question I want to say, well, they sound like them – I mean, they’re unique, and fabulous, and they make my heart burst, and that’s why I’m reviewing them for KROQ.
But then I remember that it is my self-sworn duty to introduce great new music to the people at large, and that I, too, am not impervious to the value of greatness-by-association. So, in the interest of, let’s call it tradition, hereto with I shall make my comparison. You ready? Okay. Imagine Jack White had a baby with Jimmy Page. And that baby had a brother. And those brothers were adopted and raised by a commune of KROQ Local’s Only favorites like Father John Misty and Family of the Year. That’s a smattering of the sensibilities and stylings you get in The Janks.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Zachary Adrian Zmed (Vocals/Guitar), brother Dylan Zmed, (Vocals/Mandolin), native Brit-rocker Paul Inder (Bass), and local gem Leon LeDoux (Drums), the latter two of whom joined the brothers in early 2012, make up the powerful four horsemen of the rock-apocalypse who intend to conquer the world. So you might want to get ready and familiarize yourself with your new leaders.
The first tune out of the gate at this past Friday night’s completely packed show at O’Brien’s Pub in Santa Monica “You’re Gonna Die” might as well have been rolling over the opening credits to a Quentin Tarantino film; it pulls you right in with its jauntily foreboding melody that is really a harbinger of the cheery destruction within. (Are you listening, Quentin?) It was enthralling exactly in that spaghetti western/ 1950s SoCal surf-rock kind-of-way, sparkling with meaty tremolo and gorgeous harmonies which instantly lure you to falling completely in love with their sound.
The following tunes were equally as engaging; the up-tempo, hard-hitting “Millionaire” showcases The Zmed’s classic-rock roots, mid-tempo ballads like “Dead Man” reveal well-crafted harmonies that will melt you, and there’s just a wild unpredictability to certain other of their songs that start out like a lamb then devour you like a lion – i.e. the raw, emotive, growling passion that erupts out of final solos and vocals of “Blind Man”, “Demon Dance” and “Rat Racers” – a real stand-out single that even sports a little reggae-beat-breakdown in the middle of what is an otherwise straight-up rock song that totally rules, annnnd features lyrical mantras like “This is how we get through.. money and sex.” So true, gentlemen, so true. Impossible to forget a phrase like that. Preach it to your people! And they do. With songs like these it’s no surprise they have gathered quite a loyal local following.
Overall, The Janks songs capitalize on a very winning formula: breaking your heart. Most of the lyrics and music are penned, and vocals led, by Zachary Zmed, who sings verses of love gone wrong like a beautiful broken bird, only to then wail out a chorus or unexpected bridge like the divine fury of all hellfire has escaped his perishing soul. But he explains, “Pretty much all of it has to come from a personal place…. But it doesn’t have to be about me…. Sometimes I’m talking to myself, sometimes I’m not.”
If you ask Zachary to describe his band he’ll tell you “our sound is based around our love for the close harmony tradition of The Everly Brothers, the wide range of musical style from bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Queen, Prince… to name a few.” But when asked who his rock-god guitar hero is, he doesn’t skip a beat: Jimmy Page. And it is evident in both his skillful playing on his rock-driven guitar solos and in his memorable hooks.
Zmed has an unexpected range (and quite an impressive rock scream) that is an ode both to classic rock virtuosos like Brad Delp of Boston or Freddie Mercury of Queen, but also our more modern prodigies like Jack White of The White Stripes and Thom Yorke of Radiohead.
Those aforementioned brother harmonies (that get me every time), are brought to us expertly with an easy sweetness and a dash of enlightened melancholy by Dylan Zmed – a good contrast to the rock-driven howls of his brother; though let it be known, Dylan also gives many a good howl himself and has written a handful of bewitching melodies, while Zachary is not all unleashed demon – he capably brings quite dulcet, gentle tones to lyrics that seem to belie both ancient longings and tender resign to a good portion of the Janks’ catalogue. And I don’t know that I have ever – EVER – seen anyone rock an electric mandolin the way that Dylan does. It certainly is a notable rarity, exclusive to The Janks.
Not without mention, the rhythm section, made up of the steady bass of Paul Inder and the smashy crashy drums of Leon LeDoux which echo the very noise you in the audience want to get up and make, really highlight and blend with the brothers’ music: the band is a true unit up on stage, attentive to each other on the journey through mood and intensity.
The Janks, says Zachary, got their name from a cross between a friend’s favorite word-du-jour “jank” and subsequently looking up its definitions on urban dictionary; the word’s multiple possible references seemed to fit the band.
Not always a singer, but deeply affected by music from a young age, and growing up in a house with a father in musical theater, Zachary says singing and music was always in the air for the Zmed Brothers, but that he, the older of the two, didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 13. The self-professed late-bloomer admitted that a tween hormone-induced crush on Natalie Portman in The Professional might have actually instigated the whole thing. (Thank you, Natalie.)
The Janks have put out a surprising amount of music, but there are really only two albums that Zachary considers proper records: the latest among them, their 2011 release “Hands of Time“. Two sure-to-be hit singles – “Wildfire” and “Living in Denial” – which I was floored by (and ceiling-ed by for that matter) – are brand new.. not formally recorded yet, he says, but set for inclusion on the forthcoming 3rd album. The 2013 release featuring the new Janks line-up (with Inder and Leon) is due out soon.
The Janks have performed around town the last two-and-a-half years with local favorites such as The Mowglis, The Wind, yoYa, Terraplane Sun, and so on. They have been guests on numerous local radio shows, have enjoyed a string of residencies at LA hot spots like Casey’s Irish Pub, and have played on legendary stages such as the Viper Room and The Troubadour.
Check them out. You’ll thank me later. Here’s a pretty little ditty for you… it’s called “Can’t Give Up“
- Sooo, Find out all there is to know about The Janks:
Official Website, iTunes, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube, etc., etc. and you’re no one unless you have Instagram, right? Hallelujah ( ←that means that’s the instagram link…)
- Where you can see them next:
Fri. Jan 25th @Casey’s Irish Pub, Tues. Jan. 29th @Silverlake Lounge, Sat. Feb 9th at The Bootleg Theater with Plus and Huh. More dates here: thejanksmusic.com
oh and I KNOW you were wondering more about the show… and yes, it was outstanding. And fabulously sweaty. so here it is.
The Set List: 1/19/13 – O’Brien’s Pub, Santa Monica
- You’re Gonna Die
- Dead Man
- Living In Denial
- Rat Racers
- Blind Man
- Child Prodigy
- Demon Dance
Tatiana Z. – KROQ FM, Los Angeles