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Exclusive Interview: My Jerusalem's Jeff Klein speaks out on SXSW

Austin indie-rockers My Jerusalem have had a hell of a year. After releasing their second album, "Preachers" recorded at producer Jim Eno's Public Hi-Fi studio, they embarked on tours with Psychedelic Furs, Electric Six, played Austin City Limits Music Festival and toured Europe. Founder and lead singer, Jeff Klein was also featured in Forbes Magazine last week after local radio personality and music critic Andy Langer quoted the musician in a Facebook rant on the crass commecialization of South by Southwest (SXSW). The post and subsequent article re-ignited an ongoing debate regarding SXSW. Has the festival become too commercial and lost the original purpose of the festival (to get bands noticed and signed)? Who better to ask than the well-read Klein? Read why Klein might take sponsorship dollars from Slinky, then go see My Jerusalem. My Jerusalem SXSW show details are at the bottom of the page. Don't miss the video of the band at the Do512 Lounge where we first caught them.

Jeff Klein and My Jerusalem
Jeff Klein and My Jerusalem
VK Duvivier
Jeff Klein
Featherweight Clothing

Jeff's comment on Facebook that started the conversation:

It's happening. The festival next to the festival inside the festival across the street from the festival. I hope they make it so the only way you get in is if you were selected for the Apple Itunes festival that day. That way it can complete the big brand Human Centipede it began. Maybe if it was an artist I liked, it wouldnt rub me wrong. Maybe if was a product i supported it wouldn't feel like we are all working in the Red Light District. I get it. I even take part in it and lots of times condone it. Entertainment and Sponsorship can work well together. But there's a subtlety and grace that's missing in this.

People are talking about your comments about SXSW that first appeared in Andy Langer's Facebook rant, then in Forbes Magazine last week. As a musician, how important is SXSW to My Jerusalem? Do you feel the festival's importance is overstated?

It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. There is a networking aspect to SXSW that can be invaluable, though a lot of times that comes more out of the social aspect of the festival than the playing. Not saying that playing isnt helpful, but I dont think bands really get "signed" or "discovered" at SXSW anymore like they used to. Its more about taking advantage of steam thats already been building up. I don't really know where the festivals importance lays anymore in the larger landscape. Most of the industry is trying to get on the guest list to that intimate Kanye/Jay-Z show. And its hard not to walk around and feel overwhelmed by all the branding. Like its one big Nascar Vehicle covered in logos and stickers. But for us, we still get a chance to connect with friends, label, distributor, promoter folks etc. So it still has benefits.

Related: If Doritos offered My Jerusalem $2 million to play a vending machine at Stubb's would the band accept? Why or why not?

That's a tough question. If we were in the position of being offered $2 million dollars by Doritos, that'd mean we make similar income all the time. Which means we wouldn't NEED to do it, so no. I think corporate sponsorship can be great and useful if it makes sense and is done tastefully. Rule #1 being, it's a product you actually endorse. Rule #2 being the terms of the endorsement. This is where i saw fault in the Gaga scenario. The hoops and embarrassment her fans have to go through to attend the show. Things like letting Doritos give you a whacky Doritos haircut for a possible chance to get tickets. It's like telling your fans that the only way to get into your show is to lower their self respect (and of course then post a pic online with a silly hashtag). There could have been a million more ways to involve her fans, the community, or a larger charitable component. She is basically willing to lessen her "brand" by handing her fans over to another brand. And its a processed food chip company. I get Apple. I even get Samsung. But....Doritos. Fuck that. Now if Slinky wants to give us $2 mil, give em my email. I fuckin love Slinkys. #SLINKY #SXSLINKY

Followers of your social feeds often find humorous updates from you, yet your music tends to be dark and the themes explored weighty. How much does humor play a part in making music for you?

Everything needs balance and levity. I was a pretty intense kid growing up. And i had a very complicated childhood, between being somewhat of an outcast and having a very ill parent. I turned to music for refuge and companionship. And a lot of times exploring the darker side of life through song took the weight it had on me off of my shoulders. As i got older i realized sometimes the only way to get through this obstacle course of life is to laugh. Both of them are therapeutic to me. Both my art and my sense of humor, which can also be a bit dark. Though I always hated bands that mix comedy and music. But sarcasm, well that can be a beautiful thing. For as dark as our band can be, we joke around A LOT. It makes touring and being around each other so often much easier.

2013 was a pretty big year for My Jerusalem. The band toured Europe, got invited to ACL Festival and a slew of music publications put the buzzworthy label on the band. What's next for My Jerusalem?

2013 was amazing. We feel really lucky for all of the opportunities we have had. Now, since January, we've been working on writing a lot of new songs. A bunch of the winter was spent holed up in a house on Brighton Beach watching seagulls circle the frozen ocean. It was pretty inspiring. So far I'm really excited about where everything is going. We are hoping to record a new record in the next few months and follow it up with more touring and bringing our music to as many people as we can.

What was the audience reaction like to your live shows in Europe last year? Is the audience response to My Jerusalem overseas much different than stateside?

Every city and country can be different. We had a lot of great support in Eastern Europe and played to some pretty large crowds and on some crazy bills. The European festival crowds are wild. They have no inhibitions and just want to have a great time. It's a great energy to feed off of. Artists and audiences are one big circle. If a crowd gives the artist great energy, the artist can feed that energy back to the crowd.

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you're a big reader. What are you reading now and how much does what you read influence what you write musically?

Books and films are just as inspiring to me as songs. They help fuel creativity. Lately ive had a bit of a short attention span, so ive been reading a lot of short stories and poems. Currently Ive been reading/studying Les Fleurs Du Mal, which translates into The Flowers of Evil. Its a book of poetry by Charles Baudelaire from the 1850s. Mostly it's about excess, decadence and eroticism. I suppose these are themes that one can find in our music as well.

Besides music what professional aspirations do you have? What do you see Jeff Klein doing 10 years from now?

In 10 years from now i hope i'm still creating music and art. I hope to have a body of work I'm proud of and that inspires or helps others. Aside from music, I'd love to try writing non-fiction and screenplays. Be the next Woody Allen meets Charlie Brooker. Most of the time if im not on tour, i'm in a kitchen cooking. I've become quite fond of baking lately. I like rituals, they're important to maintain calmness and serenity. I find this kind of meditation in the kitchen. Maybe someday I could have a restaurant.

Preachers turned out great with Jim Eno producing. Is the band working on a new album? Will/is Eno working with My Jerusalem again?

We love Jim and Jim loves us. Thats a good start. It all depends on scheduling and availability. When Jim isn't producing great albums, he's in one of my favorite bands, Spoon. Theyre putting the finishing touches on their new album so Jim will have a very busy year. But maybe it'll work out. If not this next album, then again in the future. We work too well together not to.

What advice would you give a band coming to Austin for SXSW for the first time?

Hotel lobbies are good for taking breaks. And don't spend all your money, or your parents money coming here with unreachable goals. Have fun. Drink water. For every free beer, drink a glass of water. It's only 2pm and your show isnt until1am. And wear a condom. If you go home with a girl from a show, chances are you aren't her first random musician....that week. And most of all, don't be a douche. We know you're in a band. Almost everyone here is in a band this week. A sense of community can be helpful and fulfilling. So make friends and tip bartenders.

My Jerusalem SXSW schedule:

3/13 official SXSW showcase - Lit Lounge - 12am
3/14 Freebirds Stage at St Vincent De Paul - 6:30p
3/15 Nick Tangborn's Secret Handshake Party - Hole in the Wall - 6:50p

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