Jason Ajemian hails from the Blue Ridge Mountains, a fact that is audible on his recent recordings with Josephine Foster as Born Heller. Their self-titled debut record on Locust Music is one of the best releases of the year. Inspired by a numerous backwoods influences, the record harkened back to a time when life, and music, was simpler. Their beautiful compositions reminded me why folk music is still my favorite. Ajemian is also involved in a number of other groups on the Locust imprint. He is now based out of the musical mecca of Chicago, and it's influence can be heard on a number of his other recordings. Ajemian will become a household name to most over the next few years; this is only the beginning. This interview was conducted by Brad Rose via email in July and August, after Born Heller's North American tour.
JA: I got an electric bass when I was 15 or so Ďcause me and my brother wanted to play and he was getting a guitar. Plus, one time I was hanging with an older brotherís friend who had a bass and taught me some Zeppelin riffs and I picked Ďem up pretty quick, so I thought I could get into it.
JA: We met about 4 years ago when I first moved to Chicago. She lived with a saxophone player, Matt Bauder, that I played with a lot and who is still a dear friend. We met when I was over there. Then, her and I started making music together. We would throw little hootenanny parties where everyone would play songs and tell stories. It was a really great time. I guess we never really formed Born Heller; we just liked playing music together and have kept doing it.
JA: I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and I'm not really a city kid. But to me, I wanted to be surrounded by music and art. I feel that a city is where you can do that the best, so my only reason to be in a city is to play music with people. This city has introduced me to so many wonderful friends and musicians; itís beautiful.
JA: I'm in a lot of groups. The Lay All Over Its (with drummer Nori Tanaka). Who Cares How Long You Sink (whoís record is coming out in August on Lucky Kitchen). A Cushicle (trio with Jeff Parker and Nori Tanaka). Rob Mazurek's Black Goat Ensemble. Dragons 1976. Triage.
I donít really split my time. Things come up and I do what I can. I need time away from things to keep them fresh. I think I look at my musical relationships as a life growing process. Like you work or stuff, develop where you are together at that moment, then take a break, go absorb and learn separately. You come back together to see how itís changed and how itís growing.
JA: Locust wanted to release Object 3, the duo piece that me and Josephineís old roommate Matt Bauder made. Then I established a relationship with the guy who runs Locust and let him hear us. He was into it, and yes, that is the only record.
JA: I guess thereís this thing or feeling that happens every once in awhile or sometimes a lot. I donít really know what it is but itís miraculous. The only thing I can relate it to is being on the side of a mountain and if you slip, youíre falling for a really long time and youíre really dead. At that moment, nothing else in the world exists. I guess itís freedom; you accept that it could all be over and you focus completely in the moment. But musically, itís sort of different. Itís not like youíre going to die but itís the same type of focus and energy that takes over your world. I guess itís like being a part of something bigger or greater than yourself.
JA: Man. It could take me years to explain. I couldnít play for almost a year because I had really bad physical problems and now I've still got pretty bad physical problems. All those problems are caused by tension, holding areas and playing with bad posture. So I have that going on but thatís all music is, tension and release. I guess you could say thatís all the world is, fucked up shit and how to get beyond it. For me, itís exposing the tension and working through it.
JA: The Espers hooked me up with the guy [Clay Ruby] and he had us play and it was super fun. Hanging out in fields and barns and saying hello to smiling people and smiling yourself and hearing tons of music. Really wonderful experience.
JA: I guess the worst I can think of recently is when me and Nori (The Lay All Over Its) played in Atlanta last month. Our show got double booked so we got moved to this dive bar with pop punk bands that were mostly into how they looked.
JA: The most memorable or wonderful moments playing are when that thing or feeling happens or when something really great and unexpected happens. I try to get there everyday, either by myself or with others. Itís almost like the most memorable is when you forget.
JA: All last week I was recording solo stuff, singing and playing. I play regularly with Nori, always working on that. Scott Tuma and I play a few times a week and are hoping to start releasing some records soon. I play every Thursday with Jeff Parker and Nori; weíre working on music and thinking about recording as well. Triage is touring in the beginning of September. Dragons is touring the beginning of October, then going to Europe with Triage, and The Lay All Over Its at the end of October. My large group, Who Cares How Long You Sink's record, should be coming out this month or next on Spanish label Lucky Kitchen. Which, actually, that record is coming totally out of that time when I was really having to deal with physical tension and changing a lot of things in my playing.
JA: My family and friends are probably the biggest influences on me. I guess just people that I love. All the people that I play with are influences on me, especially the older guys. They have a lot of wisdom.
JA: Man, I'm just trying to get involved more and more let them unfold without control. I'm really not trying to force or have specific goals of what something should do or where it should go. I guess I just like to instigate movement, then ride it.
JA: We just want to make music together. I mean, we never really started Born Heller. We just started playing together. When Josephine was moving out of Chicago, we thought if we could get a record out, it would solidify our relationship and help to keep us playing in the future. We didnít have a band name until we needed something on the record. I think itís worked so far. We went through a lot together with this record, tour, and everything. Now weíre back to where we were Ė which is two people that love each otherís musical selves having fun and making some [music].
JA: I wish I played piano. Actually, I do play piano, but I wish I could play like Bud Powell.
JA: I donít really know how to make generalizations like that but I do feel in what I've experienced from the world that people in general are more blazze about that shit. Or maybe peopleíve just turned off and ducked into their own fantasy worlds because itís such a challenge and if you really want to live a beautiful, honest life, youíre going to suffer tons and maybe still never get there. But I know everyone around me right now is working on the shit. Everybody feels it. And you have to feel it to play creative music Ďcause you canít survive. Everybody gives musicians shit about not working or having a job, but in reality we work harder than any fucking 9-to-5-ers Ďcause our work is our life. We donít go home, we donít get [days] off. Shit, I donít even have a home. Josephine and I both have basically been homeless for over a year, staying with friends and moving around, rockiní food stamps. When thatís your lifestyle, youíve got to be political in some way. I mean, what type of world makes it so hard to try to experience something miraculous or experience anything out of what someone else has set up for you? Some friends put on a big festival to register people to vote and get the shit rolling. Ted Sirotaís new record is "Breeding Resistance" and he wears a t-shirt with Bush that says ďinternational terroristĒ when he plays. Rob and Chadís new Chicago Underground record was devoted to all those whoíve lost their lives to U.S. imperialism. Itís all I can sing about and the reason why I play music. I know itís true for a lot of other musicians in that the music is the only place we can find freedom, true freedom, and thatís still only sometimes. But when you get to pop music or popular music, I feel itís motives are really different. It can be arty and about whatís cool and shit like that or you know, a lot of people make music out of ambitions. Itís like the hippies. You know, the ideas and the whole shit behind that movement were burning and beautiful but eventually it just became about aesthetics, partying and getting fucked up. The real shit got lost somewhere. It seems weíre often too focused on the surface. But also, big business has taken over too much of the music. I mean actually, itís taken over everything, our government, our schools and churches. Itís what tells us, ďEverything is cool; donít experience the world. We did that for you. You just need to do this and you wonít have to worry about it. Keep everybody chill, so theyíll be super chilliní.Ē Shit, itís hard to find spirituality cause God needs a dollar or fuck. You canít do anything unless youíve got that illusion of wealth.
JA: Be honest.
-- Brad Rose (17 June, 2005)