and the Secret Pockets of Hope and Resistance
OK. Before we get started let’s make this one thing abundantly clear: Josh Hager and Garvy J. are one and the same. Get it? Got it? Good!
As the guitarist in Boston’s genre-bashing sonic pranksters, The Elevator Drops, Garvy J. (a.k.a. Josh Hager) and his mates answered the musical question: What-if-Kiss-were-way-cooler-in-every-possible-way? The E-Drops full-on Kabuki makeup, Dadaist circus show & musical mélange ran squarely against the grain of post-grunge Boston, hell, post-grunge America. They toured with Blur, Pulp, Echo And The Bunnymen and Garbage but in 1999 their ride came to an abrupt halt.
It hadn’t been hopeless, far from it. In fact The Elevator Drops were on the verge of jumping from an apathetic Arista to an eager Warner’s – a sizable publishing deal all but signed. In a treacherous turn of events, the E-Drops’ singer quit the band the night before their crucial Los Angeles Viper Room showcase taking the record and publishing deals with him. Garvy J. & drummer Scott Fitts awoke, broke, in Austin, TX: “Fitts and I were stranded with a van full of gear, no gas and two free 8th row Tom Waits tickets. We scalped the tix, gassed up the van and made it to L.A.”
Here’s the weird part, the stuff you can’t make up: with Josh’s previous band, Backstroke To Cuba, a similar, even crazier incident happened. The night before they were to sign to Sire, their lead singer found “GOD” and quit the band – but not before burning all of Backstroke’s master tapes in a front lawn bonfire!?!
Now, six years after The Backstroke bonfire, a twice-burned Josh vowed that if he ever again had his own band, he’d set it up in such a way he’d need only rely on himself. But, at that moment he had more pressing concerns: Living in the E-Drops’ van since arriving in LA, Josh was essentially homeless.
Luckily, Matt Sharp needed a new guitarist for Weezer offshoot, The Rentals, and fast. Mutual friend Rivers Cuomo recommended Josh. Any Garvy J. was temporarily mothballed. And Josh Hager was soon on his way to the West Coast and Japan as a Rental. Another year-and-a-half in Nashville to record a Sharp solo release and even more touring says Josh; “We toured that record for about two years solid. EVERY state and city in the US and Canada in a mini van. That’s when I picked up the 12-string acoustic.” Having exorcised any remaining Elevator Drops’ demons on the road, it was time Josh got serious about jump-starting his own career.
By then Josh was haunting a loft in the then decrepit Tomahawk building abutting a Mexican bordello. Outside, downtown LA was still quite dodgy. “I decided that if I were going to continue in music, I would have to play all of the instruments, write, record, and sing all of the songs myself and then hire a band. I spent endless hours practicing in that loft by myself.”
Inside his new sanctuary, the former lead guitarist/background vocalist devoted every spare moment in exile readying himself for the role of lead singer, playing every instrument he could get his hands on, and for the first time, fashioning purely Garvy J. songs.
And that where our story really begins…
Songs began to take shape. Arrangements came into focus. All the while, the music and the musician evolved. This new Garvy J. would be a complete transformation from The Elevator Drops’ Garvy J. “I thought I was going to be an ambient artist… till I realized I could sing to it and how powerful the voice can be.” Before he reached that shore, Josh would experience further changes.
In 2003 the gentrification sweeping through downtown Los Angeles came to his door. The Tomahawk Building housing his loft was to be sold. Rather than look for another L.A. abode, Josh moved back East to… New York City. Shorty thereafter Adam Green (Moldy Peaches) hunt for a guitarist on his European tour ended with Josh. Make that two Adam Green European tours. A few years in NYC were more than enough to allow Boston, slowly at first, then more intensely, to exert its unique gravitational pull. Sometimes 3 years in “The City” is more than enough.
No longer in self-imposed exile, Josh poured every spare dime he earned from playing live with Adam Green & Matt Sharp plus producing bands (Matt Sharp, Devo, The Scissor Sister’s Del Marquis solo, etc.) into getting these new Garvy J. sounds on tape. As he had vowed, Josh was writing, singing and playing most of the instruments while producing this new music. It was inevitable he would start putting together a new Boston band that could play his new, evolving sound live.
Scott Dakota came first. Teacher, mentor, sonic shaman, ambient pioneer and founding member of Celtic cultish duo, The Moors, Scott and Josh met years earlier at Boston’s late lamented E.U. Wurlitzer’s. Dakota was forced to cut a lesson short to discover who was out in the showroom playing a seriously twisted version of Hendrix’s “Red House”. It was Josh. Natch.
By this time Josh had not abandoned the ambient angle but instead incorporated elements of it in a much larger overall sound. Now newly a lead vocalist, Josh found ripping leads on that acoustic 12-string a better fit, going for THE SOUND, an occasionally heavily treated or distorted one.
Sometimes you find the player. Sometimes the player finds you. Garvy J.’s switch to 12-string acoustic guitar and Dakota’s non-traditional guitar trip made room for more punch. Josh met axeman extraordinaire Tony Savarino, then Missing Persons’ guitar player, when their tour bus pulled up to the Hager home in the middle of the night. Brother Paul was Missing Persons’ soundman at that time.
Tommy Tulip answered Josh’s “Bass Player Needed” ad. A bit of a mysterious cat but as Josh says, “So solid. He’s the kind of guy you would want with you if you were lost in the woods or something.” Scott Fitts was a natural for the drummer’s slot as he’d been there from the start. Fitts has since given way to top Boston session drummer Steve Kilroy.
The 4-song EP, Will To Live, you hold in your hot little hands is the end result of years of work. Out of necessity, personal vision, pure talent and that now long ago vow, Josh Hager, once again Garvy J., produced & played almost everything on this EP DIY à la Prince, World Party’s Karl Wallinger or Something/Anything-era Todd Rundgren. Layer upon layer of sound. Positively LUSH arrangements. Subtle details revealed only through repeated listenings. Yet Will To Live avoids the trap of overproduction that befalls so many. Its songs linger in the mind long after the last chord fades.
It doesn’t hurt that Josh’s brother, Paul David Hager (Pink, Goo Goo Dolls, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, American Hi-Fi), delivered his trademark dazzling mix.
Here’s Your Handy, Dandy Will To Live Track By Track Listening Companion in 174 words or less:
1. The title track, “Will To Live”, the most basic of human drives, draws from both the large and small: “Global survival, quitting smoking, and a near death experience from drowning that I had.”
2. Garvy J.’s experience “opening” for philosopher/activist Noam Chomsky’s Occupy Boston appearance informs “Celebrate.” It also provided the impetus behind naming the band, “It was just me for so long and I felt kind of like an asshole for not including the band, even though in the beginning they mostly played the parts I had written, in my thoughts. They started to branch out to help create the sound we have now.”
3. A prayer, a meditation, a hopeful meme, there’s no question mark in the musical mantra that is “What If It All Works Out”. Its “Hallelujahs” pay subtle tribute to Josh’s late friend, Jeff Buckley. That’s Josh’s ex-roommate, Joan As Police Woman providing the strings.
4. Closer “Morning Light” is a song born of a new son and a new father’s realization that he must get his act together. Joan As Police Woman again with the strings.
With Will To Live’s essential “pop” consciousness and rich, luxurious sound Garvy J. is again proudly out of step with the majority of Boston’s music scene. Despite this stance Garvy J. received a powerful vote of that scene’s approval, scoring first runner-up in 2012’s edition of the venerable “Boston’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Rumble”.
Garvy J.’s Will To Live was a long time in coming, germinating in cities and towns all over America, Europe and Japan.
What if it all works out…