words: Alex Wexelman
In a droning bass, Jake Lazovick sings, “Letterman is such a funny guy / when you got nothing to do at night.” As the wordsmith for D.C.’s Foozle—which also includes Joanna Smith and Ryan Witt—Lazovick writes anthems for those who have nothing to do at night. The homebodies for whom leaving the house can be a struggle.
The every-day ennui of Jake’s lyrics read like the warning signs in a therapist office pamphlet on depression. That’s not to say that the songs that make up Foozle’s sophomore LP, Romantic Comedies, are depressing, but the lyrics convey that stymied feeling of lost interests and hopelessness associated with low levels of serotonin.
As one of the 13 percent of Americans who take antidepressants, I find it comforting when Jake sings, “every day I’m still trying my best.” It’s a simple enough statement, but one that can feel like a mantra to those struggling just to get out of bed.
Whether Jake suffers from depression, I don’t presume to know. When I spoke to the band earlier this month, there was one question on my list that I never asked. It read, “Throughout the album, the lyrics refer to being lonely, tired, and lazy. Listening to all of the songs it’s easy to draw upon these themes and think they’re all symptoms of depression. Maybe I’m imposing my self into your words, but do you use your songs to address mental illness?”
Jake, Joanna, and Ryan had stopped off near a river while on tour. Joanna’s dog Winston was running around and as one band member spoke with me on the phone, audible laughs from the others evinced a feeling of unease surrounding that question. It didn’t fit naturally into the conversation, which was fun and lighthearted, so I dropped it.
The trio met in high school and speaking with them felt akin to plopping my tray down at their table and silently observing. They have a simpatico built by shared experiences that, no doubt, is palpable as much in conversation as onstage. Below, you can read that conversation—which covers fake band names, John vs. Paul, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—but you should also listen to Romantic Comedies, which is out now on Babe City Records.
Alex: So you guys have been at this since 2010. Could you recap the band’s history up until now?
Jake: We started in high school. I guess like maybe 2009. Joanna and I didn’t really know how to play our instruments yet. I barley knew how to play mine. And I think for that entire first four years of playing together, it was nothing like it is now and it took awhile to evolve as songwriters and mature. It’s really been in the last three or four years that we’ve come into our own
Alex: And so what instrument do you play, Jake?
Jake: I play guitar and sing
Alex: And Joanna?
Joanna: I play bass and I sing
Alex: OK, and how about Ryan?
Ryan: I play drums
Alex: Is there a primary songwriter of the group or do you guys all collaborate?
Jake: I’ve written most of the lyrics but we’re also trying to…that might change on the next album or the next two albums where I’m no longer the primary songwriter. But as far as arrangements go and music and composition, it’s all very collaborative.
Alex: You guys said you started playing music before you even really knew how to play your instruments. What made you want to start playing? It sounds like there was a real drive or urge to play. What inspired that?
Ryan: I always wanted to play the drums but we were all just trying to jam. Jake had a bunch of instruments at his parents’ house and we would just go over there and you know just high school kids hanging out: we would watch movies, eat pizza—the jamming wasn’t always the thing we got together to do like it is now but we would just chill and end up jamming out. I don’t think at first we were like, “yeah, we’re gonna be a band. We’re gonna be a sick band.”
Joanna: Oh I was. I was like that. Ever since middle school I was like, “I’m gonna be in a band. I’m gonna be in a band.” I had a bunch of different fake bands I had in middle school and at one point I even made a zine about my fake band.
Alex: What was the name of your fake band?
Joanna: My fake band was called Bittersweet
Jake: That’s a pretty good name. We all had fake bands before we were actually in this band
Ryan: What was yours, Jake?
Jake: Mine was called The Wonders. I didn’t know until later that that’s the name of the band in That Thing You Do, the Tom Hanks movie, and I was like “I knew it was a good name.” Ryan, what was your fake band?
Ryan: Mine was called Flaming Mel. We didn’t have any instruments so we just used pots and pans.
Alex: So what was the turning point in becoming a real band? How did it transition from all these fake bands into something real?
Ryan: We had these friends from back home [Washington, D.C.] who would play music too and we started our bands at the same time. They’re called The Sea Life and we always played in our friend Jordan’s basement. He would have parties and both of our bands would pay. That’s when we started performing for people.
Alex: Which is your favorite John Lennon song? [On Romantic Comedies’ opener “Letterman” where Jake sings about listening to Lennon].
Jake: I guess the album I was listening to was…was it Plastic Ono Band? Is that what it’s called?
Alex: Yeah that’s what it’s called.
Jake: Do you know what I’m talking about?
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Jake: I remember listening to that a lot in high school when I would paint in my basement. I remember finding out senior year of high school that Paul McCartney and John Lennon had solo years. I haven’t even listened to George Harrison’s yet, but I hear he’s the best.
Alex Are you a John guy or a Paul guy?
Jake: Probably Paul.
Joanna: I’m a Paul girl
Alex: Joanna, why are you a Paul person over a John person?
Joanna: He did an album with his wife. But also I think he’s outrageously talented. They all are, obviously, but I think he has a huge range and he’s also still alive.
Jake: I think Ram is in my top three of any of the albums any of them made. I think it’s really good. Ryan, do you want to pick between John and Paul?
Ryan: Well, if I had to pick, which you know, isn’t realistic—I hate hypotheticals by the way
Jake: Yeah, he hates them
Ryan: But I do appreciate how John had a lot to say in terms of trying to affect the public and affect change instead of just making really good music. In fact, at times it seems like the message was far more important than the actual composition and I really appreciate that.
Joanna: McCartney did a song with Michael Jackson also.
Alex: Two songs with Michael Jackson.
Joanna: Exactly, they were like BFFs. They were really close friends.
Alex: On “Nice Day” you mention doing a little reading. I wanted to know what you guys all have on your nightstand currently.
Jake: I am currently reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and I just finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao [by Junot Díaz] earlier on this trip
Alex: How are you liking Cat’s Cradle?
Jake: It’s good. I’m on page 75 and feeling alive, y’know
Ryan: I’m reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’m really into his writing. And I like reading speeches and essays so I’m reading the full spoken speeches of W.E.D. DuBois.
Joanna: I have a really short attention span, but I also really love to read so I will often read multiple books at the same time. I’m reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and I’m also reading this collection The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015. It’s a bunch of pieces—short stories, essays, some are even comics—and they’re all compiled by these high school students that went to school for creative writing. Then I’m also reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Jake let me borrow it and I’m really into it. He was like, ‘Joanna, I think you’ll really like this because you’re Latina and you’ll probably get it more than I do.’
Alex: What musical genre do you guys most identify with?
Jake: All of them
Ryan: Well identify with and influenced by are different. Influenced by: all of them. Identify with: that’s a tough question.
Jake: I don’t identify with any genre; I’m influenced by all of them.
Alex: I noticed there’s a reoccurring theme of screens and windows. What do those ideas represent to you?
Jake: It’s the idea of looking through something to find something else. A metaphor that leads to an action and is symbolic of much larger things like a television being offering all these different realms the same way a window can.
Alex: Why did you choose to call the album Romantic Comedies?
Jake: A lot of the songs felt like vignettes of almost the same situation, or at least the same thought process, and every song on the album almost has its doppelgänger song that go with the same themes or feel like they were made in the same setting. It feels the same way you watch a bunch of romantic comedies and it’s the same formula being repeated.