Interview with The Von Bondies: Free From Limitations

Von BondiesAt a time when thousands of bands were busting their guts to strike up contracts with record companies, the Von Bondies couldn’t have tried harder to break away from the label that signed them. Just to be clear, these Detroit rockers weren’t simply picked up by any run-of-the-mill indie record company. Instead, the band’s dedication was put to the ultimate test as they endured a three-year-long struggle to split from one of the industry’s biggest players, Sire Records. Without delving too deeply into the details of how their five-year relationship finally came to a close, lead singer and guitarist Jason Stollsteimer says the label had a different view—and understanding—of the Von Bondies’ music. And this was reason enough to want out.

“We are still very good friends with most people at Warner Brothers but one person at Sire said our new record didn’t sound emo enough. And I said ‘Well, that’s because it’s not,’” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with emo but we’re not an emo band. I said I wanted to be off the label and it took us three years to get off it. In that time we were paying for lawyers, paying for everything—to record, music videos, everything. There was no money being thrown at us and there still isn’t.”

In the face of going up against an industry giant, The Von Bondies persevered. And based on the quality of the tunes on their most recent delivery, Love, Hate And Then There’s You, the band’s fight was well worth it. Released through Majordomo Records, their new album unveils a sexier, edgier and more digestible side to the group than on their previous work. Leaving the garage rock of their first two albums, Lack Of Communication (2001) and Pawn Shoppe Heart (2004), behind to pick up a distinct pop-rock flavor, the band’s new songs are catchy, melodic and more daring than their earlier offerings.

Speaking on his cell on the way back from Windsor, Canada, where Stollsteimer was doing radio interviews with drummer Don Blum and bassist Leann Banks, he says working without boundaries and limitations made a huge difference to the music they’ve served up. “For the first time, we’re being ourselves. There’s nobody saying, ‘That song shouldn’t be on this record, or maybe that song should be first.’ We did everything. It was our first time of not being told what to do—and that’s really important,” he says. “We all feel that we’ve come into our own and because we came from such a strong music background of a city—like Detroit, Michigan—our music now doesn’t sound like we’re from one specific place. It just sounds like us now.”

With tracks that perfectly suit small pub settings right up to arena-size venues, The Von Bondies’ new material has a youthful feel while distinctly showing the maturity and development the group has experienced over the last four years.

“We’ve got a better sense of humor about everything and we are having more fun. This is the first record in eight years where we’re basically paying for everything, so it’s all on us. And it’s up to us whether or not people actually get a chance to listen to it. We took it more seriously, but also we realized there was no red tape to stop us from doing what we really wanted to do. And for the first time in a long time, I actually had something to say. I said exactly how I felt and hopefully some people can relate to it.”

While their new record clearly shows the benefits of creating music the band truly believes in, the idea of splitting from a major in such an incredibly competitive market—whatever the reason—can be quite a tough concept to swallow. But after almost a decade in the industry, Stollsteimer has picked up plenty of valuable lessons. The very confident and assertive 30-year-old explains that finding another deal is a less daunting process when you’ve been around the traps and already have well-established fan bases.

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