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Interview: Jiffy Marx

The lead singer and guitarist of Autogramm talks about the band's newest album: Music That Humans Can Play

The Great White North can be a cold and snowy place, there’s no better way to warm things up than to start a rock and roll band with your pals, even if they are spread near and far throughout the region. Meet Autogramm, a synth driven, power-pop quartet featuring members hailing from Vancouver, Seattle, and Chicago - respectively - who utilized technological advances in remote technology during the pandemic to keep the embers of their musical partnership burning strong. However, they hit the studio together - at the same time - to create their third studio album, Music That Humans Can Play (Stomp/Beluga). Jiffy Marx, the band’s guitarist and lead singer, joins me to discuss it.   

Jiffy and the group go out of their way to acknowledge the bands and musicians who came before them, always providing the proper cred for their sound. However, a quick listen to their latest album thoroughly proves that the group isn’t merely a retread of new wave sounds from yesteryear. No, they’ve taken the sound - spun plenty of their own spin - and created something fresh while tipping their cap to the forefathers (and mothers) of the sound. 

So, join me and Jiffy as we explore the process of putting together the band’s quasi-remote project, take a deep dive into several tracks on the new album, review plans for their upcoming tour of Europe, and - perhaps most importantly, learn where Jiffy Marx got that cool name.  

The album was recorded by Mariessa McLeod and Joshua Wells at Rain City Recorders and The Balloon Factory in Vancouver, and later mixed by Joshua Wells at The Mango Pit in Chicago.

Evan Toth: All right, so Jiffy!

Jiffy Marx: Hey.

ezt: Hey, I like that nickname. I don't want to ruin the mystique here, but where'd you get the nickname Jiffy?

jm: Sorry, Evan, where am I speaking to you from?

ezt: I am in New Jersey.

Jiffy: Okay. A Jiffy marker is a Canadian-made, competitor for Sharpie, like a permanent marker.

ezt: Oh, okay.

Jiffy: I had or still sort of have a band called Jiffy Marker, so it just phonetically made sense for my stage name to be Jiffy Marx. Of course, the Marx's with an X instead of a KS is a Groucho reference. It's a Canadian punk comedy, all of the above, none of the above, but yes, it has a good ring to it. Jiffy, I think, was maybe what my sister called me when I was a baby too, or maybe what I called myself when I was a baby or something along that line.

ezt: Oh, that's interesting. There's a children's book that's been in my family for a long time, it's called Ebbie, E-B-B-I-E, and it's about a kid that loses his front teeth and he can't say his own name, which is Eddie. He says Ebbie.

Jiffy: Oh, well, I also am missing my front teeth, but that has nothing to do with my name [chuckles].

ezt: Thanks for joining me today. We're here to talk about your band's newest release, which is called Music That Humans Can Play by Autogramm. Autogramm (said loudly in German accent).

Jiffy: Check this out. I just-- While I was waiting...

ezt: Every time I say your band name, I want to go, Autogramm (said loudly in German accent...again). Oh, nice. I didn't get a copy.

Jiffy: It came in UPS an hour ago.

ezt: It looks good. I like that pink and blue thing there. Do you know where it was pressed? Do you know anything about it?

Jiffy: You know what? I actually don't. Originally, they were going to be pressed in Canada, but I think it ended up being faster to press them in Europe. This is on a label from Canada called Stomp, but also on a label from Sweden called Beluga. In the end, it just made some logistic sense to have it pressed over in Europe by-- Beluga took care of it and then has shipped us our copies.

ezt: Right. Are you excited about vinyl? Are you a vinyl guy?

Jiffy: I am. I actually have like too many records, so I have to be careful of like, I can be a little choosy of what I take home. I am really happy with how this turned out. I am. I do. Yes. I am a collector. I'm pretty happy with how it looks and I actually haven't even listened to it yet. That will be one of my next things.

ezt: You'll be able to check that out soon. It looks good. Who did the cover art and stuff there?

Jiffy: The cover art is all done by a friend of ours named Jeffrey Lee. He's a real talented

artist. This is sort of an inside joke and people who know us will understand.

ezt: Okay. Jeffrey Lee is the--

Jiffy: I can't really say more than that, Evan, but I do appreciate you asking.

ezt: Oh, well, you've got your Vans there on the back cover. You've got all the rock band detritus there.

Jiffy: Skinny tie, Polaroids, the tequila, the chorus pedal, all the important stuff.

ezt: All the things you need to start a band. You guys are from all over the place. You're Seattle, you're Chicago, you're Vancouver. How did you guys connect and put this thing together?

Jiffy: We started as a solely Vancouver, BC, Canada band. Then basically the pandemic happened right before the release of our second record. We ended up having to cancel the touring on our second record. Our drummer had met someone while on tour in Chicago and then ended up, when the lockdown happened, he ended up moving in with her in Chicago, just so that was the only way they could be together. Then he just ended up staying.

ezt: Interesting. How do you feel the different, the regions, how did you put this thing together? It was remote. How did you put the project together?

Jiffy: Honestly, even when we were all in the same city, we were still using some of these tools like GarageBand to like send demos back and forth. Basically just using the same process, it was just we were emailing them a lot further. If I don't know that-- I don't think that makes a difference, but that's basically how it worked.

ezt: Right. Even if you were nearby living in the same town, you might still be using these technological things anyway.

Jiffy: That's what happened.

ezt: It's like dialing your mom up on Zoom or something. She's only a couple of blocks away, but you're doing it anyway.

Jiffy: Then when we were recording, it was a little more complicated. We had to fly one member in and then we actually gained a new member on this record who is an old friend of ours from Seattle. He drove up for the recording sessions. Yes, it did get a bit more complicated, but as far as like the songwriting process, it didn't really change as much as you might think, just because of modern technology.

ezt: Right. The songwriting process was really through remote, but you did all get together to do the actual recording. You said it was in Seattle, where did you record the record?

Jiffy: No, we actually recorded here. One of our members drove up from, Lars who plays guitar, drove up from Seattle and recorded at a studio here called, I should know this, but I'm going to look on the liner notes-

ezt: Got it. Good thing you have it on the record.

Jiffy: -Rain City Recorders, which is owned by Jesse Gander. The record was produced by Josh Wells and engineered by, what, Mariessa, what is her last name? Actually, I'm going to need some reading glasses. Two seconds.

ezt: Yes, I know. I have to take my glasses off to read things now is what I have to do.

Jiffy: Oh, yes?

ezt: Yes. It's like the reverse problem, but it's just as annoying. [laughs]

Jiffy: Yes. Engineered by Mariessa McLeod, who works at Rain City as well. That's here in Vancouver. That's actually right, pretty close to my house.

ezt: Did you know these guys, the recording personnel here? Were you familiar with this space before you got the--

Jiffy: We never recorded at that space, but the fellow who owns the space has been playing music for as long as all of us have. I actually played in a band with him about 20 years ago. He's more known now as a producer, he's produced a lot of really well-known records and has had the studio in different forms for over 20 years. This particular location was new to us. I don't know how long he's been in there, but he's had studios in Vancouver for over 20 years.

ezt: I was listening to your record and I recall a time in the early 2000s when every band had a really cool squonky keyboard player in the group. It seems to me that that's when vintage synths and keyboards really started to come back into vogue, I should say. It disappeared, that hard rock with the synth thing. I always missed it. Your tracks brought me back to that time a little bit.

Jiffy: Yes, that's definitely what our M.O. is, is bringing back that sound. Yes, just trying to make it work. Trying to stay a little bit punk, but also definitely influenced by some of the more radio influenced new wave of the same, like the late 70s, early 80s.

ezt: Right. Even a little later, it was like, I don't know, it was like a Weezer, Rentals kind of thing. Everybody had somebody on keyboard and then it just disappeared. I don't know what was going on there, but it was cool. There's a really special, magical, thick thing that happens with electric guitars and really cool synth sounds. How do you balance that in the band? Because I think you guys achieve that, some of the songs have some really cool, they don't cancel each other out. I don't think that's an easy thing to do, but I think you achieved it here.

Jiffy: I think simplification, like originally the band was just a three-piece band. I played both guitar and synth parts. It would just have to be, logistically, the parts would have to be fairly simple for me to be able to play the two parts. Not only like live, but I'm also not-- I have no training whatsoever in playing keyboards and I'm not even that good of a guitar player. It's just, it is what it is. It was just a matter of like, what worked and what you can pull off. That's where it comes from, which is, a lot of the music that I like, I think is definitely not overly complicated and not-- it just so happens that also works well for my ability. [laughs]

ezt: I'm surprised to hear you say that because it really comes across as a very nice arrangement. As I said, I don't think it's easy to layer. those instruments necessarily all the time. There are a lot of the similar frequencies, especially when I always want to use the word squonky, especially when those keyboards get squonky enough. It gets into that electric guitar fuzzed-out terrain there. Did it come up in the studio a lot? Were you trying to not cancel out other frequencies or did it come up in mixing at all or anything like that?

Jiffy: I would say that's definitely part of the songwriting as well as production process, but falls I wouldn't say 100%, but 75 to 90% on the shoulders of The Silo who's the wizard of the band. He's the drummer, but he also is actually trained and competent synth and keyboard player, so he handles a lot of the arrangement. We all write songs, but he does handle maybe more of the arrangement side of things.

If I think exactly what you're talking about, we've all been playing music probably about for the same amount of time, but he's classically trained and actually he probably has the most professional experience because he does play in quite a few other, has and does play in quite a few other bands.

ezt: That's interesting because I was going to call him out. I was going to say, "Hey, look, every band is as good as their drummer," as they say. I definitely noticed his playing. He's a really nice player.

Jiffy: Yes, he's one of the best. He's the kind of drummer who actually can play far above what he does play, but he's kind of a Ringo in that way that it's like it's what is most complicated or advanced is not necessarily what is most deserving in the song. He has a very good handle on that and thus makes him one of my favorite drummers just for that.

ezt: What did you say his name was? He has a nickname or what did you say?

Jiffy: The Silo.

ezt: The Silo.

Jiffy: I just recently learned that that came from he played in a band once called Jerk With a Bomb, where he played drums standing up, and he thinks that's maybe had something to do with that.

ezt: He was like the silo standing there in the rural Canadian landscape there.

Jiffy: That's correct.

ezt: "Born Losers" has its own video and the whole thing's a bit tongue in cheek and maybe you could tell us about that song and the video that accompanies it a little bit.

Jiffy: Well, we like making these videos. They're always pretty fun. We try to go with a bit of a DIY approach, even that one which we did make with a film, a local photographer, filmmaker who's a friend of ours. We brought him in, but it was actually C.C. our bass player directed it, I guess you might say.

Just like our music, we always have these ideas of referencing some of our favorite moments in music and as well in movies and music videos and whatnot. There's always a little bit of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge things going on in the videos as well as in the music.

ezt: Another one of my favorites is "Why Do We Dance" has a tip of the, as you said, a wink and a nudge to Devo and maybe a little Gary Numan there. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit about just some of your influences, some of which may be obvious, but maybe others that have nothing to really do with the sound of this record.

Jiffy: I would say all four members bring different influences to the band, which is probably what makes it not just a cookie-cutter regurgitation of the kind of stuff that we are influenced by. While we definitely have Devo and Gary Numan influences as well as like The Cars, The Ramones, some of the more, I think, New Romantic era stuff.

I don't know why the first band that comes to mind is Glass Tiger, which is not really a great example, Psychedelic Furs maybe is a better example. That kind of stuff, which I think is totally different from some of the early new wave that's more punky stuff. To me, that era then, which I think at the time was nickname or whatever.

Whoever coined the term new wave was, I think the bands were coming out of playing punk, wanting to do something a little more harmony and melody influence, like a bit more power poppy, which is definitely another one of our influences. Bands like The Nerves, Shoes, that is a whole other genre that I would say we're influenced by but doesn't necessarily-- We don't exactly sound like any of those bands, but definitely a lot of that that goes into it. I think there's a lot of influences, and that's probably what makes the music unique, even though we wear some of our influences on our sleeves.

ezt: I want you to know that while I was listening to your album part of the time, I was, of course, driving around in my car and "Plastic Punks" came on, which features a lot of sound effects of honking horns, which really freaked me out and made me think I was on the verge of a significant car accident several times. I wanted to thank you for that.

Jiffy: That's literally my idea and that was literally what it was supposed to. That was the exact reason why we put those in. That was a practical joke that I'm glad to know it worked.

ezt: You got me.

Jiffy: We got you.

ezt: You definitely got me. I'm listening and I'm like, "is this song about cars or am I," I think it was a secret Gary Numan reference, really.

Jiffy: For sure, yes. I don't know. I can't actually even remember where-- definitely Gary Numan. There was something else that I was using as a reference when I had suggested it to the rest of the band. When I listen to the rough mixes, and I always listen to rough mixes in my car, it gets me still too, so. I don't know, I just think it's funny. I have a really dumb sense of humor.

ezt: No, it is funny. You had me.

Jiffy: That idea like, "Who's honking at me?" Then you're like, "Oh, it's on the song or whatever."

ezt: You had me looking in the rear-view mirror for sure. I like also :Always Gonna Be My Girl." It's a change for the rest of the album and it's refreshing to hear, especially towards the end of the record. Could you tell us a little bit about that tune?

Jiffy: That one was meant to be a lullaby. Both our bass player, C.C. and I both have daughters. Just the idea of having something to sing your kid to sleep. There is not that many cool lullabies, so the idea of writing a cool lullaby was just something that I wanted to try. It was actually a song that we had played with on the recording of our first album, but the bed tracks and the arrangement weren't really working, so we put it on the back burner. Then I brought it back for this one when I had the idea of giving it a bit more of a lullaby vibe, but like still keeping, I don't know, a bit of a dark new wave, early punk thing too.

ezt: It's got a girl group thing happening there. There's another song, I'm not remembering the title, but it almost had-- it's cool you change from that synthy electronic feel, and then it gets a little almost rock and-- There's a definite rock and roll thing there happening from maybe the 60s, something reminded me of The Byrds and then this one was a girl group, a Ronettes thing almost. I think it's cool that you put it in towards the end of the record. It was a nice refresher.

Jiffy: Well, and of course the girl groups were a huge influence on The Ramones, who, of course, are a huge influence on us as are the girl groups in that same way. Like I said, I mean that the power pop, the 70s power pop specifically, but the power pop and even going back further to like The Kinks and The Beatles, and The Byrds as you mentioned, the harmonies in those songs are definitely something that we try to bring in to our stuff. You're definitely nailing where the ideas are coming from.

ezt: I'm catching the scent. You brought up 70s power pop a little bit, could you tell me some of your favorite things, maybe something that people wouldn't expect or something maybe a little off the beaten track? You mentioned, of course, The Nerves. I'm a big fan of The Nerves and I interviewed Peter Case and Paul Collins. Only two of The Nerves, of course, we lost the third Nerve this year.

Jiffy: Not too long ago, right?

ezt: Yes, earlier this year. You said you got a lot of records, what are some of your favorite 70s power pop things going on?

Jiffy: Definitely, I would say The Nerves, well, the Paul Collins' Beat record I love, that one's huge. A big one for Autogramm, actually, just because it was, I don't know, maybe you might say had sentimental value was when we first had the idea to start this band I was visiting C.C., our bass player, in Germany. He had been living in Germany for about 10 years and I'd picked up a copy of the first 20/20 record and I played him the song "Yellow Pills", which I still think is like, I don't know, it's-- I think it's one of the greatest examples of that era of music and certainly something that I still think of when I'm writing music for this band.

ezt: I don't even know what that is. I'll have to check that out.

Jiffy: Yes, it's amazing. The Records, do you know that band?

ezt: Yes, I have them back here.

Jiffy: The first Records' record is another amazing one. There's like a hit off that, which is "Starry Eyes", but it's not the Rocky Erickson "Starry Eyes". It's the Records "Starry Eyes".

ezt: Right.

Jiffy: What else? I can definitely go on. Are you familiar with the Vancouver band, the Pointed Sticks?

ezt: No, I don't know the Pointed Sticks from Vancouver.

Jiffy: Yes, just since you're not, anyone in Vancouver would certainly know the reference, but since I am talking to someone and hopefully other people from outside of Vancouver, I wanted to give them a shout out. They're considered more of a first wave punk band in Vancouver, but they're definitely, they certainly, I think, consider themselves a power pop band as much as a punk band. They did write a song called "Power Pop Santa". I have to assume that they also consider themselves power pop.

ezt: There you go. If since the holidays are coming up, people should search for "Power Pop Santa" in their-- whatever they're using to stream their music.

Jiffy: That's right.

ezt: That'll help them get through the season. How about you? Do you have a favorite track on the album that you really enjoyed working on or writing?

Jiffy: I'm always one that don't like to pick favorites.

ezt: Yes, I know, it's tough.

Jiffy: Yes. I don't know. I look forward to, well, the funny thing is because we don't all live in the same city, or country for that matter, we haven't yet played these songs live. We're in less than a month, this coming month, December, we have three shows and we're going to be practicing and playing some of the songs. I think I may have a better or have a different impression of them, post playing them live, as opposed to just sort of the writing recording.

I think for writing recording, I don't know, maybe that the lullaby that you mentioned just because it was, it was a song that I rewrote, that we've sort of rearranged. That was interesting, just process wise.

ezt: You mentioned you guys are going to be doing some dates. What's next for the group here? You've got this, the brand-new album out and it's available now and I guess people can order it wherever they like, but what's the next, the dates or whatever's-- what's coming up down the pike?

Jiffy: We have three Pacific Northwest shows in December. I think it's the 14th, 15th and 16th of December, and it's Vancouver, Seattle, Portland. Then we will be going to Europe in March for two weeks, mostly Germany, but I believe we have one or two shows in the Netherlands, one or two shows in France, and one or two shows in Belgium. Just check our Instagram to get the details on that.

ezt: The Instagram is the place to go it's at?

Jiffy: Autogramm Band. December 14th, Red Gate, Vancouver, December 15th, Belltown Yacht Club, Seattle, and December 16th, High Water Mark in Portland.

ezt: Everybody can keep their eyes on the Autogramm Band Instagram account for the European dates, which are coming up. That's early next year, did you say?

Jiffy: That's in March and I actually just found those dates on our Bandcamp page.

ezt: Bandcamp. Okay.

Jiffy: Yes, keep your eyes on either of those. I think they usually all sync up, and like I said, I'm not very tech savvy, but my understanding is you post the dates in one place and they just show up in another.

ezt: They figure it out.

Jiffy: They should be up.

ezt: The internet gnomes figure it out somehow.

Jiffy: Right. Those internet gnomes have it figured out.

ezt: They do. Jiffy, it was a real pleasure talking to you today and it's a really fun record and I wish you the best of luck with it and good luck with the US dates and it's very exciting to be going to Europe and good luck doing those shows.

Jiffy: Thank you very much, Evan. Thanks for your time.

Jiffy Marx - vocals, synths, guitars

The Silo - vocals, drums, synths, guitars

CC Voltage - vocals, bass, guitars

Lars Von Seattle - guitars and vocals

All songs AUTOGRAMM Except *Written by Autogramm and Rich Jones

Produced by Autogramm and Joshua Wells

Recorded by Mariessa McLeod and Joshua Wells at Rain City Recorders and The Balloon Factory, Vancouver

Mixed by Joshua Wells at The Mango Pit, Chicago

Art + design by Autogramm and Jeffry Lee


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