Call Jimmie’s Chicken Shack schizophrenic and they won’t be insulted. One spin of their new Rocket Records album Bring Your Own Stereo is all you need to realize that the Maryland-based quartet thrive in their own mildly twisted universe. And the first to admit it is Jimi HaHa, the frontman of the eclectic group, who’s known for his own brand of manic energy. “It mixes up a lot of different sounds,” he says of their sophomore disc. “There’s a little hick-hop, a little slop pop. We had strings on it. It’s schizophrenic because our tastes are.” From bluesy rap-infused grooves to hard rock, Bring Your Own Stereo is just another lesson in diversity from the band with the wacky name.
The follow up to 1997’s Pushing The Salmanilla Envelope, which spawned the MTV and radio hit “High,” Bring Your Own Stereo is fueled by an entirely different set of emotions. “A lot of the music on the first record was based in discontent and anger and that came through,” he explains. “With this one, all of us were just feeling so good and we had so much fun.”
On their second outing, produced by Jim Wirt (Sprung Monkey, Incubus, Dial 7), the group came out of the studio surprising even themselves. In particular are the insistent pop gem “Trash” (which HaHa wrote in ten minutes) and “Waiting,” an emotional acoustic guitar-driven number. “They were both written the week before went to the studio,” HaHa explains. “I was writing them at the same time and they’re two completely different sounding songs. That’s kind of how we do stuff. And that’s what our shows have always been about, too.”
Known for their electric live gigs and no-holds barred approach to making music, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack take things to another level on Bring Your Own Stereo starting with “Do Right,” the album’s catchy first single. “It’s just basically frustration with the fact that I had a girlfriend who had no problem telling me about my shortcomings and never really told me anything good,” HaHa reveals. “It was just a three in the morning, five minute rant.” Admittedly, HaHa’s ex-girlfriend figures heavily into the album’s lyrical landscape. “The whole record basically is about my last girlfriend,” he says with a laugh. “It’s kind of funny.”
HaHa concedes that songwriting is as essential to him as any other bodily function. “I’m like a faucet and I like to keep it on so my plumbing stays clean,” he explains. “I just spit out a lot of stuff.” While some subject matter on the album deals with personal fare like “String Of Pearls” (about giving a heartfelt present to someone who throws it in your face), HaHa’s most memorable songs are often based in humor. The funked up, get-up-and-groove “Let’s Get Flat” came from the singer’s attempt at becoming a self-help guru. Well, sort of. “That’s one of my favorite lyrics in the world,” he says of the song. “That’s from me and my friend Joe Karr–he’s in the band JoKing–we were writing this book called How To Live Without A Job and it was gonna be this self-help-looking book but it was full of really ridiculous stuff.”
On the unforgettable “Lazy Boy Dash,” Jimmie’s Chicken Shack create a groove that would make swing maestro Louis Prima, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin proud with its reggae riddims, searing electric guitar riff and swingin’ sensibility. “It just came out of nowhere,” HaHa explains. “We were just messing around. Double D started out this riff and it was a ska song, actually, real fast. It just came out. Then we wanted to change it ’cause we didn’t want to have a straight ska song and Jim [Wirt] was saying ska was illegal on the West Coast. So, we ended up swinging it out a little and slowin’ it down. Then this whole other hook came out of the guitar line.”
One of the major tenets of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack’s philosophy is to always expect the unexpected–and embrace your mistakes. “I think that’s the coolest part of art. Whether it’s music or painting, mistakes are crucial. So why the hell you gonna work them out?” HaHa asks. Though the band has been through several lineup changes since its inception (HaHa and Lemon are the only original members), that ideology has sustained. And it’s a formula that’s made the band formidable musicians, both on the road and off.
HaHa got his musical start singing an a cappella version of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin'” as a second grader in an elementary school talent show. He started playing music when he was 12 and singing when he was 15, “because I got expelled from school.” With musical influences running the gamut from the Beatles, to Jimi Hendrix, to Ministry, to the Grateful Dead, he formed his first band Ten Times Big, which he nurtured for five years before changing gears and starting up Jimmie’s Chicken Shack with Lemon. The band was named by a friend after the Harlem restaurant where “Malcolm X used to hang out before he became Malcolm X.” Coupled with the fact that three of the members of the group just happened to be named Jim, it was the perfect tag. “We were like, ‘Cool, sounds good, it’ll confuse people.’ And confusing people is kind of one of our goals.”
Bring Your Own Stereo is an apt title for a band who pulls together so many different sounds. “We have these farm parties in Maryland, my friend has a farm down on a river. And it’s always like we just bring out our own rig and different bands or people will just get up and jam together and it’s just always bring your own stereo,” HaHa says. “And every song [on the album] is so different, it kind of says what it is.”
Jimmie’s Chicken Shack have no multi-platinum dreams dancing around their heads. In fact, the group who often invite their fans onstage to sing a lyric (and who’ve created an EP of outtakes from Bring Your Own Stereo called Slow Change, which fans who buy Bring Your Own can get by sending in a card) have much more modest hopes for their sophomore release. “Hopefully our record will make people laugh and think and maybe even cry and maybe jump around and go nuts,” explains HaHa. “If we can get all those emotions out of people then I think we win.”