ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For a century and a half, people have been heading to Seattle to make their fortunes.
Timber. Gold. Some software mogul who got his start in Albuquerque.
The Duke City’s Jenny Invert — that’s a band, not a person — is the latest to go northwest, striking out in March to pursue its dreams.
How’s that working out?
“I’m loving it,” Sam Miller, the band’s leader, said by phone from Caffé Vita in Seattle’s Pioneer Square as he quaffed a beer to take the edge off his overcaffeination. “The music scene seems amazing, and we’re just trying to tap into that a little bit. Right now it’s mostly just going to shows and getting to know the venues, and kind of just getting to know the area, getting oriented, getting our feet on the ground, finding jobs, finding places, which we’ve done pretty successfully so far.”
Jenny Invert, which has existed in its current form only since last November, grew out of Albuquerque favorite Grand Canyon. Miller, who plays piano and guitar, drummer Augustus “Gus” Johnson and multi-instrumentalist David Schripsema were members of that self-proclaimed “party band” that played the local scene for three years.
“We kind of started from the ground up even though we already had established something with Grand Canyon because the sound was so different,” Miller said. “Grand Canyon was a little more raucous, rowdy … I’d like to think that Jenny Invert has some of that intensity and energy, but this was more kind of thrashing around and like ruckus, crazy, party time, and that’s what brought a lot of people.
“A lot of the people who were into it weren’t really receiving Jenny Invert because it was so different. So we started anew with kind of a different fan base and stuff. But a lot of the same people have come around, and our friends have appreciated both projects. We basically re-began. It actually moved pretty quickly, if you consider how short of a career Jenny Invert has had so far.”
Miller, who was born in Eugene, Ore., but grew up here and graduated from Eldorado High School in 2004 — and later from UNM with a degree in philosophy and pre-law, with a minor in fine art — has had a diverse career. He rode on the BMX bike circuit for a while, then switched to mountain bikes, then fixed-gear bikes. He moved to Vancouver, B.C., for a year, where he played in a band called Wintermitts and spent a lot of time learning to play piano.
“I’ve kind of been all over the place in a metaphorical sense, I guess, having different passions and hobbies throughout my life, which have kind of defined me and then I move on to other things,” Miller said. “Music is right now the one that is all-encompassing. I was really into bikes for a long time; I was a BMX rider. I do music now. When I go on tour and meet people and hang out new place and make friends and stories and stuff, I used to do that with bikes. … But I’ve always done music; it’s just been on a back burner up until fairly recently.”
Miller and Johnson, who were local guitar hero Ryan McGarvey’s rhythm section for a while and have played together for years, are the core of Jenny Invert; Schripsema and guitarist Sean Alkire are key players. The latter two are in Albuquerque at the moment while Alkire finishes his art degree at UNM, and both are expected to head to Seattle by June or so. Bassist Aliza Gerstein, who started playing in Jenny Invert only recently, is deciding whether to relocate.
For all the time Miller spent in New Mexico, he has strong ties to the Northwest that have been pulling at him for a while.
“My family is from the Northwest, and this is a return in a sense. … I don’t want to offend Albuquerque or Albuquerqueans, because I really identify with Albuquerque as my hometown. But I feel in a sense more at home here even than I do down there because I have so much family … up in this area, in Seattle and in Oregon. I lived up in Vancouver for a year after finishing college so I made some friends up there and it’s cool to be close to them, and being a day trip away is nice.”
Miller said that although he’ll always love his adopted hometown, he knew it was time to move on.
“Everywhere you go, every night, you know everyone,” he said. “Everyone knows everyone, which is really cool. But it’s kind of hard to break out of the little box that you’ve created for yourself. You start to give them what they want or what they expect from you, so you are defined by your friends. It’s not a bad thing; reinventing yourself and creating something new — being in a new city is really good for that.
“We’re re-establishing ourselves altogether, but we’re keeping the name Jenny Invert, and at this point we’re still selling that CD at shows and promoting that sound. But we’re already working on a new sound and a new album.” (The debut CD is also available via download at http://jennyinvert.bandcamp.com.)
Miller and Johnson played their first formal Seattle gig Tuesday night at the High Dive, a beer ’n’ BBQ joint in the city’s Fremont neighborhood. The whole band is back in Albuquerque briefly for a private event and will play a festival show tonight at Launchpad.
Then it’s back to the Emerald City and the next phase of the band’s career. Miller said the band plans to follow the model of Calexico, the Tucson-based loose musical collective based primarily on a core of a couple guys who have regular and irregular players contribute to projects as is appropriate.
“I’ve seen them perform from guitar, vocals, just as a duo, and I’ve also seen them play with a bunch of people, and the sound changes very dramatically but it’s still Calexico, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “We could play with 10 people or two people and it’s still Jenny Invert.”
Seattle and its wide-open, welcoming music scene should be just the right environment for Jenny Invert in whatever configuration it chooses. Miller says the band is being methodical and realistic as it makes plans.
“Looking at it in the long term, I’d say in the next year it’s really getting established and playing as much as we can,” he said. “We want to get to the point where we shouldn’t play too much here. Really that’s where we want to be. We want to be at the point where we have some draw, we’ve established ourselves. We want to tour a lot, and really in the Northwest it seems there are some really good places to play. So we’re planning on doing some touring in the near future, but really just playing it by ear and letting things happen.
“We’re really into what we’re doing and passionate about it, and it’s going to happen regardless of success. We’re going to work our jobs and survive and we’re also going to make music and record and stuff. We’re hoping to grow and have an audience.”
Miller is an unassuming guy who, for all his artistic sensibilities, is well grounded. He knows what he and his mates are up against in a highly competitive city like Seattle, but Jenny Invert is just going to do its thing and let the musical universe sort it all out.
“I have confidence sometimes, and other times I feel like there’s no way, there’s too many bands, there’s an unreal amount of competition,” Miller said. “It’s so crazy trying to be that band that stands out. Being up here really makes you realize that, how many bands there are out there, how many good bands. My roommate plays in three bands, and I’ve seen them all, and they’re all amazing. And these are just three bands of many, many bands in Seattle.
“Hopefully we can get on the map, and hopefully this will bring out the best in us.”
With Ya Ya Boom, Sad Baby Wolf, Leeches of Lore, Story Ark and A Very Special Lie
WHEN: 8 tonight. Doors open at 7
WHERE: Launchpad, 618 W. Central
HOW MUCH: $5. Tickets at the door (21 and over show)