In a city filled with unique and emerging artists in the 1990’s (Hootie & The Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Danielle Howle, Uncle Mingo), the sound of Charleston quintet Jump, Little Children was inescapable back then. They got played on alternative radio station 96 WAVE, performed at Wavefest on the same bill with the likes of David Byrne and Wilco, and eventually scored themselves a major label record deal. Although the band never quite became international superstars, JLC did earn a large and loyal following up and down the East Coast and into the Mid-West. Not bad for a group of kids who started out busking for spare change in the City Market in downtown Charleston. The band’s annual Dock Street Theatre shows became a holiday staple among music fans in Charleston, and when they finally decided to call it quits a decade ago, more than a few fans were crushed.
Then, earlier this year a website appeared showing just a picture of the Dock Street Theatre and a countdown clock. Rumors started flying. Finally, lo and behold, tickets went on sale for a slew of reunion shows by JLC in Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Columbia, and yes, even Charleston. What, you didn’t hear about the ticket sale? That’s not surprising, given that every show in every city sold out less than a minute after going on sale. A couple of more Charleston shows were added at the Music Farm, and they also sold out in seconds. If there had been any question as to whether folks were still hungry for the music produced by JLC, that answered it nicely. I recently got the chance to talk to three members of JLC; drummer Evan Bivins, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Bivins, and bassist Jonathan Gray. We met in downtown Charleston at High Cotton, where the Bivins Brothers are enjoying cocktails. One week from the night we talked, they, along with guitarist and cellist Ward Williams and singer and guitarist Jay Clifford, would be heading out for the reunion tour with openers Slow Runner and INDIANOLA (Owen Beverly).
Who’s Idea was it to get a reunion going?
Matthew Bivins: “I think it was Evan’s.”
Evan Bivins: “I wrote an email to everybody a year or two ago. The way I remember it, in our last Dock Street shows ten years ago, we were sitting backstage, kind of casually saying that if we got back together, it probably wouldn’t be for ten years. I think at the time we just assumed it would be at the Dock Street, never assuming at the time that maybe the Dock Street wouldn’t be available.”
MB: “Or wouldn’t be interested.”
EB: “That almost happened. We almost weren’t able to do a show at the Dock Street this year. We had to kind of finagle it. I mean, it’s been ten years. There are different people there, and they’re like ‘Jump, Little who?’ Also, it took us about a year, once we had decided to start winding things down. We decided about a year ahead of time to call it quits, so we figured we’d need about the same amount of time to wind it back up.”
What was the band’s reaction when the shows all sold out so quickly?
EB: “Our minds were blown! I mean honestly, it was at first confusion. (Manager) Vance McNabb, Matt, and I first put the tickets up for sale, and we were sitting there and we honestly knew we were going to sell some tickets immediately. We figured over the course of a couple of weeks we’d maybe sell half the tickets to all of the shows, and then we’d start promoting and hopefully get the rest of the tickets sold. Immediately people started texting me and contacting me on Facebook, saying ‘There’s no tickets left!‘ So we thought that something was broken.”
MB: “We had to call Etix and say, ‘Look, is something wrong? Did someone hack the system?‘“
EB: “We just couldn’t believe it.”
MB: “We’re not trying to be cool here. We were truly confused. We were also very honored, very surprised, and super touched.”
EB: “I mean, we didn’t have Facebook back (when the band was together). We had MySpace, and we weren’t really good at that. So I thought about that, and I realized that (when we were together) it’s probably about the music, and it’s probably about the venues, but it’s really about the fans and the community and what they started.”
MB: “People have met each other, have gotten married, have become best friends through our music. I got married because of this band. The band became more than just five guys playing songs.”
EB: “It was (the fan’s) community, and it was exciting to watch them all reconnect when the reunion shows were announced.”
MB:”It’s a major high school reunion type of thing. I’ve never been to a high school reunion, so I’m psyched to go to this one.”
How long have the rehearsals been going on at this point?
EB: “A few days. Matt and I got into town the first week of December. We’ve been skyping with Ward, who is still in New York, but he’ll be joining us this week for the start of the tour.”
MB:”I’ve been writing a blog about the reunion and the history of Jump, and I realized that it’s like we’re now both best friends and strangers. We haven’t lived together, we haven’t known each other for ten years. That’s not a bad thing, that’s just life. People move and they grow, they get married, have kids. What has been so awesome though is being in the same room with these guys, laughing about the same things we used to. We are activating certain parts of ourselves that haven’t been activated in ten years. I mean, Jay left his house! He apparently never leaves his house (laughs).”
Jonathan Gray takes a break from playing bluegrass music in a corner of the bar with local musicians Joe Marlow and Mackie Boles. After a discussion about the origins of Jonathan’s and Evan’s similar-looking hats, the interview continues with Gray contributing.
How did you choose the cities for the tour?
MB:”This is something that was really hard for us, because some of our favorite shows ever were in places like Athens, Georgia or The Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. But we haven’t been playing these songs for ten years. Jay hasn’t been singing for ten years. We decided to stick to the major cities, and this was before we knew that the shows were going to sell out so fast. Also, people are ten years older now, and they’ve left college, so they’re not going to be in Athens or Chapel Hill. We’re also trying to look out for Jay and his voice. This is not easy music to sing. This is not easy music to play. Even Johnny messes up sometimes.
Jonathan Gray: “No I don’t.”
EB: (stage whispers) “Don’t tell anyone!”
MB:”If we were all in tip-top shape, we’d love to play the Northeast. There are so many places we did well; Boston, New York, and in Chicago.”
EB:”Originally we were only going to do the Dock Street shows, but then Vance McNabb said, ‘Hey, I really think y’all could do this!’ So we opened it up. The Music Farm shows came as a result of how fast the tickets sold out. I know there are some people who are disappointed that we aren’t going to these other cities and towns, but if this goes well…”
Could the quick sellout this time mean you might make this an annual event?
EB:”Devin, we have to keep it mysterious!” (laughs)
MB:”I mean, is this going to be our new life? No. I think that’s one of the reasons that this is so much fun though. We all have lives now.”
So just to catch everyone up on what the various band members have been up to the last decade or so; Matthew, you’re married.
MB: “Yes, married, no kids.”
EB: “Engaged, eight kids! (laughs) No, just engaged.”
JG: “Married, with three kids. A daughter and twin sons.”
EB: “Jay is married and has a son and a stepdaughter. Ward is also married and has a son.”
MB: “Evan and I have a web development and design company, and we’re focusing on humanitarian pursuits, not even necessarily non-profits, but just ‘good for you’ endeavors.
EB:”We were working for evil at one point, for a company that did options trading, and it was not much fun getting up in the morning. Thankfully, a friend poached Matt and I from that place to do some work for a non-profit that was teaching little kids how to read. It’s literacy software for kids who are in high risk schools, who could be connected through their computer to another person in their community for 30 minutes a week. It spoke to us, because we’re not super psyched about putting a kid in front of a screen, but connecting them to another person was pretty exciting. It’s called TutorMate, and we had a great time working on that. That’s where we really got a taste for using our development powers for good.”
MB:”Our next project is building an app that will allow live theater to be captioned. My wife is deaf, so the goal is for someone like her to be able to sit in the audience with their smartphone and understand what’s happening. I’d like (my wife) to be able to walk into any play, not just ones where I have a friend who can give her a script beforehand, but to be able to go into any show and enjoy it like I do. The technology is there, so we’re working on that.”
JG:”I’m not doing anything to better the world.” (laughs) “I teach music. No, not just music, but science as well. I teach a program called Science Songs Rock. We go into schools, it’s me and Hazel Ketchum and Ian Sanchez, and we’ve written songs that match the curriculum of second through sixth grade science standards, and then each class writes a song about science with us. We do residencies for a week and then there’s a concert at the end. I did a program about the election process with some second graders this year at Ashley River Creative Arts, and we talked a lot about the mayoral election that was going on (in Charleston). In one of the classes I had (Charleston mayoral candidate and state representative) Leon Stavrinakis’ daughter, and in another class I had (current Charleston Mayor-Elect) John Tecklenburg’s niece, so it was really cool.”
EB:”There were fistfights!” (laughs)
I know Jay has his studio, Hello Telescope, and he has written songs for a number of popular artists.
MB: “Yeah, and he told us that what he’s been doing the most is arranging. He’s writing full orchestrations for orchestras all over the country, especially out in Colorado. So say Amos Lee or Ingrid Michaelson plays Red Rocks and they need orchestration. Jay does that.”
And then Ward…
EB:”Ward’s a hobo.” (laughs) “No, Ward’s been rocking it up in New York. He’s a full time musician, a full time teacher and a touring artist.”
Any new JLC material starting to emerge from the rehearsals?
JG: “Plenty of new comedy material!”
EB:”Yes, plenty of new comedy material!”
MB:”I think at this point in the rehearsal process we’re struggling just to get the parts right to the songs we know, but there has been some talk.”
What sort of song requests have you been getting from fans online?
EB: “People have been extremely cool, because they could go a lot more deep track that they have been.”
MB: “What are you talking about? They’ve totally been going deep track!”
EB: “No, they are, but what I’m saying is people are saying ‘Oh, I can’t wait for them to play this song and that song,’ and I’ll see the title and I’ll say, ‘You just made that up. That’s not actually a song.’ But then they’ll send me a link to where I can hear the song, and I still don’t believe it.” (laughs)
MB:”Hopefully there’s just the excitement of just the fact that we’re getting on stage ten years later…”
EB: “We’ll just say that people will be happy with what we’re going to play, and we’ll accommodate as many requests as we possibly can. Even though we were a band for for about twelve years, we had a catalog that was much bigger than just our records.”
Devin Grant’s love for live music began back in 1982 when he won tickets off a local radio station to see Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Had that show been anything other than epic, he would probably be an accountant, or perhaps a podiatrist. Since that fateful day Devin has attended hundreds of live shows. Once he figured out that he could get free tickets in return for writing about the shows, music journalism seemed a logical choice. Devin’s work has appeared in Charleston’s Free Times, The Charleston City Paper, The Post & Courier, Charleston Magazine, and No Depression. He has interviewed the likes of Mike Watt, The Rev. Al Green, Tori Amos, Mike Doughty, Warren Haynes, and Loretta Lynn. He has photographed hundreds of bands, including The Police, My Morning Jacket, The Eagles, Willie Nelson, White Stripes, and Taylor Swift.