It's surprising how three minutes of action can reverse nearly a decade of neglect, but that's exactly what a new 7-inch vinyl single did for fabled Chapel Hill band Jennyanykind.
Twin brothers Mark and Michael Holland spent more than a decade chasing the rock 'n' roll dream, but by the end, their connection had begun to fray. Their last album, released in 2003, wasn't a collaboration at all; instead, it compiled two sets of solo material that they slammed together as Jennyanykind because a label came calling.
But in the process of doing the single, the Holland brothers rediscovered their musical kinship with Jennyanykind's original bassist, Tom Royal—especially the joy they have creating together. "Jam Up and Jelly Tight," the Jennyanykind side of the new split single with The Moaners, adopts a swampy blues-rock swerve that represents the next piece of their family's long journey.
"Doing the 7-inch has been great catharsis for all the bitterness," Michael says. "It's funny. We've never written together. The only song we've written together is 'Jam Up and Jelly Tight.' We did pretty good. I think that's just a third leg of Jennyanykind, something that's going to be cool if we can find time to do it."
The Hollands started making music together as Jennyanykind in the early '90s after Mark finished a tour of duty with the U.S. Army. Michael settled in Chapel Hill after leaving film school in California. Their first two albums, 1994's Etc. and 1995's Mythic, explore a shadowy acid pop mien, reminiscent of The Flaming Lips at that time.
The albums were released on the independent label Number Six Records, the imprint essentially run out of the desk drawer of Terry Tolkin, then the vice president of A&R at Elektra Records. He brought them over to Elektra, signing them for 1996's Revelater before he left the label that year. The album signaled the beginnings of a new direction for Jennyanykind, commencing the second leg of the band's musical journey.
"We spent a lot of time on the road and became a rock band," remembers Michael. "The songs became simpler and they reflected our lifestyles of being Americans."
Adds Mark, "Like any American rock band, you're going to start having influences from all over—folk, country, soul, that kind of stuff. It's the first record to branch into that ... and then we started drifting more into pop, not that it would overshadow the rock, which we never would allow."
That move into Americana was ill timed, unfortunately. It came a few years before O Brother, Where Art Thou? transformed legions of would-be rockers into alt-country purveyors, helping to blur the lines between country and mainstream and indie. Suddenly roots music was hip. Not only that, it became a jumping-off point for legions of other bands, from Plants & Animals to Fleet Foxes, who all use similar '60s touchstones as sonic starting points.
Jennyanykind missed the rising tide; by this point, the Hollands had already fallen prey to the frustrations of their roller coaster commercial trajectory and the demands of a touring life.
Each brother took time to grow and evolve on his own, which had previously been difficult to do shackled to a band/ birth-mate. Though the 42-year-old Hollands had already married by the late '90s, it was time to focus on family. Around the time Peas & Collards was released in 2003, both had kids—Michael a son, and Mark his second daughter. They bought houses. Michael renovated a Carrboro millhouse while Mark moved out to the country in Pittsboro. Both also got steady jobs. Royal begged off from touring in 1997; he left town to work for NPR in Boston.
The Hollands soon headed in different directions. Anxious to get out from behind the drums and express himself, Mark focused on Jule Brown. He had already released a couple of well-reviewed albums while still with Jennyanykind; he's released four more Jule Brown discs since 2006. Mark also started Rhythm Force, a rock band tempered with surprising world music influences. Meanwhile, Michael spent more time at home, shying away from electric guitar.
"Mark had a lot of things that he had stored up and wanted to pursue on his own. It just made sense. We'd had enough of each other," says Michael. "I got more into acoustic music. I got tired of screaming over an amp and just was interested in doing something a little different."
But something strange happened during the intervening hiatus—Jennyanykind grew without its members. Perhaps propelled by the newfound interest in Americana, people started listening more and more. "It's more popular now than it was back in the day," reports Michael.
Mark echoes, "The less we play, the more popular we become."
They recently traveled to Nashville to do an interview with the magazine American Songwriter and to record an informal acoustic video session in their studio. While they were there, they met with Roman Candle's publishing agent. The pair of brothers that leads that band, Skip and Logan Matheny, had been talking up the Holland brothers, praise that prompted a meeting with their agent. Things went well, and they left her with around 20 discs of their music. They'll also be headlining a show at the Hopscotch Music Festival in September [Disclosure: The Independent produces the festival]. And they have every hope that "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" is only the start of their newly collaborative process. The track's greasy, grooving rock strut feels like a natural progression from the rootsy soul-blues swagger of 2003's Peas & Collards.
What's more, "Jam Up and Jelly Tight" stems from the admiration that Moaners drummer Laura King had for Jennyanykind. One night, when King was running sound for Mark's Rhythm Force during a show at Nightlight, he mentioned that he and his brother had been kicking around the idea of doing a 7-inch single. She said not only that they should split it with The Moaners but also suggested they raise the money for the record via the Internet crowd-funding site Kickstarter. They generated more than $2,000; it signals a change in how they work together and symbolizes the changes in their lives.
"The 7-inch is a good reference for where we're at," says Michael. "It's different but a similar thing. We just play it and don't think about it much, just do it. We're secure in that, so there's not a lot of talk, second-guessing or wrangling."
"With Peas & Collards, we're kind of getting settled into where we want to be. But I also think that if we did do a full-length, it would sound so different than what we've done till now," Mark adds. "In some ways it's great closure, but it's also like if we wanted to do something more beyond this, we have a nice foundation to do that."
But if nothing more comes out of it than a couple shows and this 7-inch, they will be OK. They're just happy to have come full circle and be able to revisit the joy they and Royal first had with Jennyanykind.
"We have a great bond. We're three guys who went through a journey that was very trying at times and really insane at others. So when we see each other now, we're cracking jokes and giving each other a hard time," Michael says. "It's a great rivalry we've built, and this is great closure too, because of the way the band peaked and there was a long downward slide as far as the public perception."
"If we hadn't had that break after Peas & Collards, we wouldn't be talking to you now," says Mark. "[Making the 7-inch] has been such a pleasant, positive experience that it almost eradicates every bad experience I ever had with Jennyanykind."