During a yearlong break from Panic, Schools has been a busy man. He just returned from a tour with Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and he plans to record an album with the band, J Mascis & The Fog, in the fall.
"I've been calling it a sabbatical because I've been working I've been doing research," he says. Schools' research also has included a power pop band in Athens called Acetate and a second album by his electronica project Slang, for release in August.
Schools returns to town July 16 to play the Canal Club with Stockholm Syndrome. He and singer/songwriter/guitarist Jerry Joseph formed the group after Schools produced Joseph's 2002 album with the Jackmormons.
"Jerry was living at the house here with me in Athens and we just realized that we have a good chemistry together," Schools says. Stockholm Syndrome refers to the psychological condition that develops when a hostage becomes emotionally attached to his captor.
"Depending on the situation, either of the roles is filled by either of us," Schools says. "When I'm in the control room and he's in the vocal booth, I'm the captor and he's my hostage, and he is identifying with my needs. Wandering around Berlin at 3 in the morning [during their Europe tour], the shoe was on the other foot."
So the two, whom Joseph compares with Abbott and Costello, went to Europe to play little nightclubs and write songs, while Schools worked on his harmony singing and Joseph worked on his acoustic guitar playing. Next they put together a band, adding a guitar player, keyboardist and drummer.
In January the band went to record an album at the legendary Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where acts as different as AC/DC, Talking Heads and Grace Jones did some of their most distinctive work. The whole band returned to Europe this spring to play 20 dates and have now begun a lengthy summer tour of the United States.
Joseph says he feels almost out of his league in the band, despite his close to nine years of experience leading his Jackmormons. But he enjoys trying to keep up with the group. Joseph leads the songwriting and says he hopes his craft, which previously and most famously explored themes of addiction, has aged gracefully with him. The album has several political songs, an area the well-traveled Joseph says he has started to explore again.
"When I was younger, hanging out in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas, politics were really black and white for me," Joseph says. "It was easier to write. It's easier to be in Rage Against the Machine when you're 24 than it is to be when you're in your 40s because politics get a little grayer." Joseph says in the '80s he always felt like he was preaching to the converted. Everyone thought Mandela should be freed, he says.
"Now I think things are very different, just because you have a tie-dye and a bag full of acid and you're at a hippie concert, odds are you're still voting for Bush. So I kind of feel now that maybe there is a chance to say something or make people think differently for a few minutes. But at the same time it's a rock band."
The group carries a straight-ahead rock sound, anchored by Joseph's gravelly, almost Bruce Springsteen-sounding vocals. The occasional use of a mandolin or pedal steel lends a rootsy vibe. While the album, "Holy Happy Hour," released June 29, doesn't take many risks, the potential is there and the live show may prove the band has learned to own the material.
Joseph and Schools say that while they're not leaving their primary bands, they hope Stockholm Syndrome will have some longevity.
"I see this as being not a side project but a long-term project," Schools says. "I don't have anyone trying to make me stay at home, other than my dogs. I love playing and the year is long. If I ever should get burned out on the road, I'll certainly make that known, but I really like where my life is right now. I like the balance of traveling and I like the balance of all the different kinds of music." SStockholm Syndrome performs July 16 at Canal Club. Col. Bruce Hampton and the Codetalkers opens the show at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at www.thecanalclub.com, by calling (800) 594-8499 or at Plan 9, Metro Sound & Music Co. or Richmond Music.
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