When frontman Jerry Joseph and drummer Brad Rosen named their band The Jackmormons, it wasn’t their intention to cause controversy—it just sounded cool.
“Once we had this band name,” says Joseph, “we get to Germany and they think we’re the anti-Christ of Mormons, you know: ‘Jerry Joseph! Will you tell us why you hate the Mormons?!’” Joseph says the last part in a hammed-up German accent before bursting into gravelly laughter. “I spent a lot of time overseas talking about the Mormon Church and I’m a Lebanese Catholic kid from Southern California.”
In the 10 years that Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons have played in and beyond their Portland, Ore., home base, they’ve encountered many such unforeseen hitches. There were the death threats to Joseph for openly opposing the Iraq war, and then his much-publicized heroin addiction and recovery.
But the ongoing obstacle for the Jackmormons has been how they fit into the overall music scene. Joseph’s beginnings included gigs two decades ago at Missoula’s Top Hat with the reggae band Little Women, and though the Jackmormons’ sound is more R.E.M. or U2 than hippie jam band, he’s been fighting that kind of compartmentalization ever since. The band’s most recent album, Mouth Full of Copper, is full of guitar solos and a sound that doesn’t mesh with—and, according to Joseph, has been written off by—the Portland indie rock scene. But the Jackmormons are hardly a “jam” album in the style of Phish or String Cheese Incident because songs like “I Know There’s A Darkness” and the Tom Petty-like “Electra Glide in Blue” make it too dark for such comparisons.
But aside from the difficulty of categorizing their music, perhaps the most offbeat fact is that Mouth Full of Copper was recorded live over three nights at the Irish Times bar in Butte, a town the band visited often while Joseph lived in Bozeman. Now in his mid-40s and recording the Jackmormon’s fifth album, Joseph says that despite certain glitches, he feels lucky to still be making his living playing music.
“I think by the nature of the job you’re sort of allowed an extended adolescence...which I’m gonna milk for every minute that I can.”
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons play The Other Side Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 10 PM. $10.