The JoJax are a strange conundrum. A trombone-fronted heavy jam band with a jazzbo lead guitarist, the band are known as much for what they don’t do—practice, write songs, record proper albums—as for what they do. And if the two-year-old outfit suddenly started doing all of those things… well, their essential Jojax-ness might come into question.
“The not writing songs thing—none of us really have any aspirations to take the band anywhere other than where we are right now,” says rhythm guitarist and chief riffmeister Jake Lonas. “And that’s playing at our hometown bar and having a good time. If we did start writing songs, it wouldn’t sound like the JoJax anymore.”
Some bands are planned from the outset; others just happen. The JoJax fall squarely into the latter camp. It was July of 2011 when Lonas, drummer Andy Cosby and bassist Daniel Dunlap first lugged amps and snares over to Cosby’s parents’ home for a pool party. Lonas tells that 30 minutes after their jam session began, “everyone was out of the pool, inside, watching us play. About three weeks later, Brandon [Chancey, Oodles manager] got us a show at the Pub, and that was that.”
At that Pub show, trombone-slinging doorman John Colquitt—also a member of Grandpa’s Stash—decided the band needed a lead voice, and joined for a second set. A year later, the band asked in-demand local axeman Jonathan Keeney—of Baseball and Ga-na-si-ta, to name just two—to sit in. “It just melded,” Lonas says. “That’s how it’s been for every member we’ve ever had. We asked them to sit in, and they just kept coming back.”
That spirit of make-it-up-as-we-go-along exploration extends to JoJax’s performance mode, as well. With no songs, or rehearsals, the band literally turn every show into a run-on improvisation. Although Lonas cedes that with time, there has been some fine-tuning to the process. “We still jam, but we have our little riffs now that we jam on,” he says. “We have a couple things up our sleeves that we’re going to jam on; we just don’t know when and we don’t know how. For instance, we’ve got this little reggae thing we do every show, but it’s different every time. The only thing that’s the same is the chord progression.”
Still, there’s a massive uncertainty in knowing when to hit that key change, or slow the tempo, or adapt to a bandmate’s unexpected solo flight. “It’s very difficult, what we do,” Lonas says. “That’s why we picked the people we picked to be in this band. In the beginning, we rotated a lot, had a lot of people sit in. Sometimes it would work and sometimes not. But when it’s just us, we know each other well enough to read each other. We know each other well enough to know what we’re going to do onstage.”
But The JoJax might yet do a record—a live one, possibly recorded at the New Year’s Eve show for 2013/2014 at Preservation Pub. “Because that’s our environment, really,” Lonas says. “Onstage, we like to have a whole lot of fun. And people who see us seem to have a whole lot of fun. It’s loud; it’s obnoxious, but everybody always seems to dig it.”
Which begs the question: then why not take The JoJax a step further, record and tour and write songs and “go all the way”? And again, Lonas’ answer makes perfect sense. “Because we all have day jobs. We all have other bands. We all have girlfriends. We all have lives that wouldn’t fit in with this band. And if we aspired to all that, it wouldn’t be the same ragtag bunch of Knoxville boys with crappy guitars making a bunch of noise. It wouldn’t be the same.”
The JoJax will play the Preservation Pub Smokeasy Saturday, Nov. 9, on a bill also featuring Pan. Show starts at 10 p.m.