By Jeff McCord
The Austin band release their expansive debut album, Lay Me Down To Rest
Our choices define our lives, and for the Stacks’ Jake Ames, his have all led to this moment. Having been raised by a Kerville DJ father and, as his drummer/brother Lucas describes, “one of those bedroom guitar players”, there was, first, Jake’s decision to play music at all.
“I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18,” says Jake. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was when he first made the choice to attend his hometown’s famous Folk Festival.
When asked why he took so long, I get an explanation of the differences between ‘townies’ (so-called by the festival goers) and the ‘hippies’(deferential Kerrville slang for the out-of-towners), and how the two camps rarely cross. It’s complicated.
And Jake is no sit-around-the-campfire folkie. When I mention that I hear Texas in his songwriting, I get a raised eyebrow.
Perhaps I detect the Lone Star State buried deep inside Ames’ clean, biting guitar style, all over the Stacks’ just-released, expansive debut album, Lay Me Down To Rest. His influences?
“Tom Verlaine, but then also Dick Dale, Merle Travis, and, of course, Jack White. The first time I heard the White Stripes, I [realized] I don’t have to play a million miles a second for it to be good guitar. It’s learning the other side of the equation, which is tonal sensibilities.”
“For the longest time,” Ames explains, “I did try to run away from a lot of the… especially when I discovered, with the Elevators and the Butthole Surfers, the Hickoids, Daniel Johnston, stuff that you don’t hear about in history books as often as far as Texas music is concerned. I think that that was something that I held on to really tightly. Also, I was listening to bands like Ringo Deathstarr and The Strange Boys and Harlem. Bands that I didn’t know for a minute were from Austin.”
Briefly, at that initial Kerrville Folk Festival visit, Jake had met the Austin-based songwriter, Tyler Jordan. But they wouldn’t cement their friendship until later, when they were thrown in the same beach condo at something called the Island Folk Festival. Though both Tyler and Jake deny this was the reason for Jake eventually deciding to move to Austin (“I got fired from a job in Kerrville”, explains Ames), there’s no doubt the friendship proved fortuitous.
Though neither of them can now recall which came first, they both joined each other’s bands. Tyler would sing and write the songs for Good Looks, while Jake’s project was named the Stacks.
And they would take different approaches to their songwriting.
Ames explains. “Tyler’s songwriting is much more earnest and right there in your face, where you’re clearly understanding what the song’s talking about. I try to go more in the realm, there’s a lot more colorfulness. Leonard Cohen’s a big inspiration, but also Harry Nilsson and of course, Willie Nelson, and Robert Earl Keen. They don’t necessarily translate to the music, but it’s just stuff I listened to a lot when I was younger. But I felt like the songwriting came second. Guitar was first. Songwriting was something that took a long time for me to feel more confident about.”
Ames’ imagery is peppered throughout the wide-open landscapes on Lay Me Down, where a standout is the album’s closer, “The Garden”, a song wrapped up in human drama, religion, and… choices.
The hardest choice now seems to be finding time for the Stacks. It’s a good problem to have. Good Looks’ EP, Bummer Year, released a year ago, has been a big success, and has kept Ames and Jordan occupied.
“Jake and I played 24 shows in March between the two bands and we drove 7000 miles,” says Tyler. “So it was a very busy time.”
Is a Stacks tour in their future? Jake hopes so. “With good luck and the trajectory of Good Looks [it’s difficult] planning much further out. And I’m chronically bad at thinking ahead sometimes. I want to do a tour at some point in between, like a decent amount of gap between the Good Looks tours. So we’re not running ourselves ragged.”
Part of this overlap is due to Good Looks’ delayed start. As most Austinites are aware, one year ago, on the night of the Good Looks record release show, Jake was stuck by a car and critically injured. It was terrifying and put all the band’s tour plans on permanent hold.
“I feel lucky that I don’t remember it, to be honest with you. Because I think it would be maybe a lot harder to…”
Lucas cuts his brother off. “Oh, that’s all right. We all remember.”
“I mean,” says Jake, “that’s the thing. I woke up from that and was like, oh, just another day. Everybody else is, like, freaking out.”
Any lingering effects?
“I still struggle with some things here and there, but I have my vocabulary back. I couldn’t talk right for a while, just didn’t really have much of a filter. The only thing it’s like really still hangs around is I can’t smell still, but that’s about it. And I feel like that’s the worst thing I have to deal with, and I’m okay with that.”
In the meantime, the Stacks are enjoying this rare window of opportunity. They’re thrilled to have their pandemic-delayed album released, and you can catch them in the act this Friday, April 14 at Sagebrush, sharing the stage with A Giant Dog and Pelvis Wrestley.
FOLLOW THE STACKS
Set List: St. Micheal; Dope Demise; Who Am I – new/unreleased song
Album: Lay Me Down to Rest (Feel So Good Records)
Musicians: Jake Ames – guitar; Tyler Jordan – bass; Lucas Ames – drums
Producer: Deidre Gott; Audio Engineer: Rene Chavez; Audio Mix: Rene Chavez; Cameras Patricia Lim; Renee Dominguez; Alyssa Gisselle Olvera Edit: Renee Dominguez Host: Rick McNulty