Music Interview

Interview: Jagged Baptist Club on The Stooges, the Swedish Music Scene, and Being a “Los Angeles” Band


Jagged Baptist Club put on one hell of a show. They’ve made a name for themselves in Los Angeles because of their raucous performances, which seemingly bring audiences out no matter how often they’re playing. Their latest album, TEMPTATION DEATH HOUSE, was released in the fall of 2021, and has yielded praise from fellow post-punk acts, music writers, and DJs at places like KCRW and the BBC. Jagged Baptist Club shakes listeners awake while making them feel like they are in a dream with heavy, industrial instrumentals and lyrics that would seem nonsensical had they not crafted such a clear world for their music to live in. Luckily, you can witness this all for yourself at Merry-Go-Round Magazine’s first live event in three years. Jagged Baptist Club is headlining the May 7th show at Permanent Records Roadhouse, and they will certainly be bringing some crazy energy.

I noticed looking at your guys’ website the bands that you cited as your influences: Public Image Ltd, Birthday Party, and Division of Laura Lee. Those are all bands that are kind of known for their live performances being especially intense. Do they influence both the music and what Jagged Baptist Club is live?

Blake Stokes: Yeah, I think they’re kind of one and the same, you know. It’s all a whole thing. You know, certainly something like Division of Laura Lee sonic-wise and how they do chord progressions—I’ve loved them since, shit, I don’t know, high school. Like, 2002 is when I first found out about them and I’ve stuck with them. They’re awesome. So, that only gets into the music. Something like Public Image Ltd, in terms of the music, is just sort of the lack of boundaries, the fearlessness, and sort of what that band could sound like from record to record. And then, yeah, both those bands and Birthday Party and other bands like that certainly are what I would like when I would see a live show, right? It’s that immediacy, intensity, but also acknowledgment of and integration with the audience. I think they all kind of do that.

Is that genre kind of, like, garage rock, post-punk’y, stuff, something you’ve always been into?

BS: I grew up in Texas, but all my favorite music is primarily from England, a little bit of Sweden, a little bit of Australia. There’s probably—you know, gun to my head—probably about 10 American bands that I legitimately really, really like. It’s probably an exaggeration, but that’s always just kind of been my favorite stuff.

I’m curious what bands from Sweden you’re talking about?

BS: Oh shit. Okay. So, The Hives, Division of Laura Lee, Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Shout Out Louds, fucking Sahara Hot Nights, The Sounds are good. Fuckin’, the Hellacopters? Yeah, all that stuff.

I’ll have to check out some of those I haven’t heard of.

BS: Check out Mando Diao. Mando Diao are kind of like the Swedish Libertines. They’re awesome. Really good five-album run in the 2000s. The thing about Swedish music is that the education, the culture over there is bilingual, English and Swedish. So it translates really, really easily. It’s, you know, another common language over there. So it works really well in terms of American rock in the English language, and you know The Hives sort of broke that barrier up in the early 2000s. And then everybody went over to sign any Swedish band with guitars for about 10 years. And, you know, I found most of them.

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Besides those influences, what got you guys into playing music?

CJ Ramsey: I just grew up around musicians. My parents are musicians, all their friends were musicians. So, you know, growing up, that’s just what I was around. And, so, I started playing guitar at six or seven and it’s just the thing that made the most sense to me to do. And then playing with these guys the last few years, it’s just been really, really fun.

BS: For me, I got into that stuff ‘cause I was the right age at the right time. I’m 37. So, the first Strokes record came out when I was a junior in high school, and I always loved music. My favorite band of all time is Smashing Pumpkins and my second favorite is Oasis. But you know, I wasn’t old enough to be in on the ground floor with those, you know what I mean? And The Strokes and all of the subsequent decade of awesome bands that came out afterward were the first generation of bands that sort of felt like mine. And, and that’s how I found something like, you know, Division of Laura Lee, the Hives, or Libertines. 

But what I like to do, and sort of what my brain does, is I’d read an interview with one of those bands and they would cite that they liked this band, or they were influenced by that band, and I would go find that band. That’s how I found out about Guided By Voices and the Velvet Underground and stuff.

And so slowly I just sort of started absorbing everything and I would go to, when they existed, the Borders [Bookstore] near my high school in Houston. I would just read all the imported music magazines and stuff. So in terms of what made me want to start playing music, I just love it. I never had any training playing an instrument. I was a singer in a band forever, and I haven’t… I’m a child actor, you know. I have a fucking theater degree, so, that’s my background, but I just fucking loved it and I thought “I could probably do this.” And my guitar lesson was 30 seconds long. It was “put a finger here, move two over and one down. You’re done.” And, and that was it. So, you know, having [CJ] and the band with us is really, really helpful because he’s so well-versed and so knowledgeable about all that stuff where it’s, you know, I’m like, I’m on this dot [on a fret], but, but you know, I bring a different kind of vibe to it in terms of just that passion and that there’s sort of giant, nebulous knowledge of stuff too. So I just, I just started doing it because I wanted to do it, because I love to do it. Yeah, you don’t need to know that much. You just need to have taste. You need taste, not ability.

I mean, something you said earlier about Mando Diao having a good run and kind of changing throughout their five albums—is that something that you guys are trying to bring into your work? Are you trying to evolve and keep changing? Because I feel like I notice a difference between REPTILE SUPER SHOW and TEMPTATION DEATH HOUSE going from more punky to post-punk’y.

BS: It’s not calculated, right? I’m not coming in and saying, “we’ve got, gotta write this type of song” or anything like that, but it is just sort of naturally what’s happening; when we pushed ourselves on REPTILE SUPER SHOW, you have a song like the last one on that record, “Tender Cactus,” which is, I think, close to nine minutes long, it’s got different movements and it’s got saxophone in it, we pulled it off and it didn’t suck and we were like “well, shit, okay, we’ve moved where that boundary is for what we’re capable of doing… cool, let’s just keep pushing and we’ll end up in some great big stuff.” I mean, there’s stuff that is experimental and doesn’t necessarily make the record. But I think we’re trying to strike a balance, which I think is a healthy balance, of not limiting ourselves in terms of like, “we gotta stay with this sound or we gotta do this.” It’s not insincere. It’s not calculated, but also having some sort of connective thread through it, instead of, you know, “hey, there’s no genre—we can do this song and that song.” That’s a little too all over the place. And what’s been really helpful, especially on TEMPTATION DEATH HOUSE versus REPTILE SUPER SHOW, is I think there are eight songs on the last record, and six of them were completely collaborative in terms of the writing of it. And that’s a new thing as well, which is great.

I’d love to know more about your process of writing together.  I read something about “Chop X8” being inspired by Jason Statham movies and I was like, “what does that even mean?” How did that come up for you guys?

BS: That is one of the two that I kind of did by myself. I’d do the demos on my cell phone, and then they’d flesh them out and other parts came back into play. “Chop X8” started off as a different song that was just way longer and the kernel of the idea of this song was good. And we recorded that longer version. It just wasn’t working, and that’s in the vault somewhere. We’ll save that for a box set. 

CJ: But, it just wasn’t working and we kind of gave up on it, but I knew it was really good. And in terms of that quote, there’s a couple of things I said, I said the CRANK movies, and I said The Vines, and I said Maroon 5. And, like, none of that is actually a piss-take. So, the song wasn’t working and I was like, “let me just try and fucking have fun with this, cut this fucking song in half from about four and a half minutes to like two and a half minutes—let’s just have fun and let’s just fucking get wild with it.” I don’t know if you’ve seen the CRANK movies, but they’re fucking crazy, and it’s so overboard and so over-the-top. And I said, “Take that energy and put that fucking ‘anything goes’ into it.” ‘Cause the lyrics originally to the song were a little more self-serious, and we were trying to do a Nick Cave thing—it just fucking wasn’t working. So I was like, “let me not overthink this shit. First idea is the best idea. Think stupid. Think over-the-top.”

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And I love The Vines, and they have a lot of really fucking, just full-on short songs. And that’s how it started informing the lyrics and stuff like that. And the fucking name of the song is just the word “chop” eight times, which is just the chorus. It’s as, you know, as dumb as you can get. And then the Maroon 5  thing, no one fucking ever had asked me about so I’m really happy you mentioned that actually. At my day job, when I would go to the bathroom, they would play this years ago. I think it’s “Maps” is the Maroon 5 song where the verse, or maybe it’s just the chorus—I don’t know what the words are—but it was just one melody with the same repeated vowel sound. That’s pretty stupid, too. So, let me see if I can do that in the verses on this song, follow that kind of cadence. Like, as I did “Acid in my belly / Sting inside my throat,” that’s fucking me doing the Maroon 5 move, which also fed into the “first idea, best idea, keep it fucking stupid.” And yeah, that’s full bore. That’s completely sincere: Maroon 5, CRANK, and The Vines. The Vines covering Maroon 5 on the set of CRANK. There you go.

I love that. You’re describing your evolution as, like, doing something stupider, but really, it’s not. It’s developing.

CJ: We could go as simple as we wanted.

BS: Stupid doesn’t mean bad, right? Stupid can be fun sometimes, you know? I like some Mӧtley Crüe songs and they’re kind of fucking stupid, but there’s nothing wrong with stupid.  Stupid is not bad, you know. Stupid is just stupid and that’s fine.

What are you guys working on right now? Are you writing new stuff?

CJ: That’s going to be coming out soon-ish.

BS: Yeah, we’re working on a lot of stuff. We’re in a really interesting spot where we have six new songs done. We put one of them to the setlist now and we’ll play that on May 7th—we might play two new ones on May 7th, I’m trying to figure that out. But we’ve written this stuff. We’re talking to people about who we want to record. At the same time, we’re also trying to plan a tour to get over to Ireland and the UK by the end of the year, because we were working with a label out of Ireland called Blow Torch. It’s awesome. And outside of the California area, our music does the best over there. We work really hard and usually there’s probably two or three other things in the process. Oh, there’s another thing in the process, too—there’s a remix record. That’s getting close to getting finished, too. So, that’ll be the first thing. That’ll be out this year.


Yeah. I’ll give you the scoop—what it is is we asked a bunch of people that we respect and admire to remix the song “Temptation Death House.” So it’s going to be a record of the same song reimagined, remixed, redone by, you know, a bunch of different people. We’re kind of finalizing the tracklist now, but that’ll be out at least digitally, hopefully by the end of the summer. That’d be my guess. Maybe vinyl pressing for that. And the new new stuff from us, just like a new song from us, maybe by the end of the year. If not the beginning of next. Just depending.

Yeah I thought I saw something on Twitter. Like, a video of you guys playing at a—I forget what bar, but playing something that I thought was new.

CJ: So that was the video for a Resident show from a few gigs ago. That’s when we debuted “Wired to the Floor,” which is our new one that we’re working on. That’s been in our setlist since that show. So, that’ll definitely be happening on May 7th, as well as… We’re gonna cook up another one to hopefully put in there. We’re working on it this week.

It’s funny, you said something about how you guys do well in the UK. I think that’s really cool that you were influenced by music from the UK, and now you’re doing well over there.

BS: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be the worst? If I was so influenced by UK stuff and we sounded like it, and you know, it was hard making it here in LA because of that and then we got over to England and they’re like, “this sucks?” I don’t know where we would go. We’ve gotten that a lot. When we first started, people were surprised we were from LA. Like, we don’t sound like LA, blah, blah, blah. And we get New York or we get UK a lot. So, I mean, it’s always been a dream of mine to go over there and play. And now that it looks like it might actually happen. It’s pretty fucking remarkable.

And it’s also a smarter way I think of going about promoting yourself. The idea of getting events and just doing house shows and little bar shows and whatever you can across the whole United States is just not feasible, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The idea of going and playing a place that you’ve never been before, like if we were, like 20, okay, cool. But it’s just, it’s fun for the experience, but it’s not a great way, in my opinion, to build an audience. If you don’t already have a footprint there, like we do in Ireland in the UK, or if you can’t go back there two months later, like us in San Diego or San Francisco or whatever, it’s kind of hard to really build momentum. It’s a strategy that sort of naturally kind of presents itself to us and makes a lot of sense for us.

I mean, you saying that you don’t sound LA is interesting, because I think of you guys as, like, a very Los Angeles band just because I feel like you’re always playing around here. And you’re, like, LA radio sweethearts.

CJ: LA radio sweethearts is my favorite way to describe us now.

BS: I think you’re right. I think with this record, it started to change and I think there’s a bunch of reasons for that. I think that the KCRW support’s been huge in terms of framing. I think KXLU, they’ve always been behind us since the first record and it’s really helpful playing alongside other stuff and having it be, yeah, you’re right… I think what I was talking about more is just sort of literally how we sound. That kind of punk or more aggressive music in LA, sounds very much like, you know, West Coast hardcore from the ‘80s and stuff like that, which is cool. It was just not what we do. But I think thankfully because we’ve just been playing a fuck ton and get, you know, played on the radio and stuff, people have just started to naturally accept that we were part of the city which is great.

Do you guys have a favorite performance you’ve done in LA, or not in LA?

CJ: The past two Resident gigs have been awesome.

BS: They’ve been really, really good. Those were good. We did School Night at Bardot. Was that in the fall? That was in November. That was a really cool one, because like… you’re familiar with School Night? They don’t typically have people like us at School Night. It’s, you know, singer-songwriter or more pop or R&B. And I didn’t know how it would go or what the reception would be. I mean, everyone who worked on it was absolutely lovely with us and everyone treated us really, really well. But you know, the three acts that went on before us were… one was really poppy. He had done some stuff with Macklemore and that’s what he was doing. And then we had two people, literally with just an acoustic guitar, beautiful voices, really good performance and stuff. You know, this is a lot of Swiss cheese to have for Chinese food. 

And when we went up there, the place was rammed. There were our people in there, but there were a whole lot of people that were just like there because they heard about it or were here to check us out or whatever it might be. And we did the kind of fucking normal show that we do. The wild kind of—I mean, you’ve seen it. We did that show. And it went really, really well. And that, to me, was just a really nice indication that School Night draws music fans, right? People go to that thing just to go to it. And to be embraced by that in a way that, you know, didn’t have any sort of spin or curve of like “we’re industry people, how are you going to do?” They were just there to see a show regardless of the genre and the sound or whatever. And we did our show and they loved it. That was really affirming. That was really, really great. That was a good one.

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Something that I noticed when I saw you guys… I saw three of your residency shows because it was, you know, fun. And something really cool about it was, like, by the third time, a lot of the people there I had seen at either the first or second show. So, you know, there were repeat offenders. Like that’s how fun it was. And I think that was something that really stuck with me. I think you guys are great live, so I’m excited for the show.

BS: Yeah, we’re thrilled, too. We were happy about the review CJ Simonson wrote, the other CJ. I was really, really impressed by it and then he came out to the Resident show the other night and what I loved about it is he knew his stuff. He had that same nerdy, encyclopedic knowledge. He was hitting the right, not only was it references that I was happy with and I was proud of, but he knew the references to begin with, and I said, “Oh shit. Okay, cool. He gets it.” So I was really impressed by that. So, I think that show’s going to be good. We’re going to try and refresh the setlist a little bit and add some things.

One last question: I know how you came up with the band name—I read that it was from a dream—but TEMPTATION DEATH HOUSE. Where did that come from?

BS: Okay. Yeah, that’s a good story. Before CJ joined us, myself, Morgan, and Josh were in a band called Test, T-E-S-T. And that’s like the shittiest band name in the world. Not because it’s a bad name, but it’s impossible to find, right? And we were like, “we gotta change the name.” This is around the time that the guy who was playing bass at the time was leaving and CJ was joining and we were working on REPTILE SUPER SHOW, and it was all becoming kind of a new thing, a new band. And someone, I won’t throw them under the bus, but someone in our camp suggested instead of Test, we should be called Tempt. Which has almost the same exact problem. It was a shocking suggestion to me, but that word kind of stuck.

And then, without throwing anyone else under the bus, someone in my life referred to their house as a death house, because it always made them sick. And so the way my brain works is that those two alphabet soup things were floating around. They kind of bumped into each other. And I said, “Oh, Temptation Death House. Pretty fucking cool.” I don’t know. I don’t need to know what it means. It’s about what you think it means and what it means to me. 

And that’s one of the things that even with “Chop X8” or “Drill Zone,” they’re weird titles. Like, “Master Pyramid,” that doesn’t appear in the song at all. I really love this thing about The Stooges—I heard Eddie talking about The Stooges and one of the things that was really important to them early on was kind of creating their own world, right? Their own slang terms and their own… like, people have asked me what a “cigarette crusher” is and what “temptation death house means.” I don’t know. It’s whatever it is. It sounded cool. It kinda does mean something to me as well, but, you know, it’s taking that creativity beyond just “hey, we’ve written these songs, we got this picture for the artwork and here we are,” while also inventing new words or combinations or phrases and stuff like that. It’s just a lot of grounds that have been covered in popular music over the last a hundred years. So, like, “baby, I love you,” I feel like we’ve covered that. And no disrespect to someone writing that, but saying “master fucking pyramid,” which is from an episode of ANCIENT ALIENS, by the way, these little phrases will just hit my ear the right way. 

Yeah, so “Temptation Death House” was someone, won’t say who, suggesting we should be called Tempt and someone else referring to their house that they thought was giving them fibromyalgia as a death house. So there you go.

That is the best outcome of an answer I could have expected. Well, I’m excited to be there for this upcoming show and really looking forward to this upcoming show and looking forward to the remix record. 

BS: Yeah, it’s going to be cool. We have about half of it done, half of it back, maybe more than that. It’s fucking cool. Like, there’s some like real, like New York deep house kind of fucking remixes and shit. It’s really great. I’m very excited about all of it.

You can check out TEMPTATION DEATH HOUSE over on Bandcamp, and see Jagged Baptist Club play on May 7th at Permanent Records Roadhouse

Devin Castaño
Devin Castaño is the former music director for KXLU and a current Los Angeles concert attendee. Buy her a drink if you see her around.

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