When Jake Simmons gets home from his day job at a family-owned scrapyard, the Kalamazoo-based blue-collar rocker goes down to his basement, plugs in and continues to work. The dim basement is where he labors over his signature brand of Springsteen-spirited Americana songs, and his time in the cellar has paid off. His new Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts LP, “No Better,” is testament to his diligence — the disc is hooky and sonically ambitious.
But this likely comes as no surprise to Kalamazoo-area scenesters. With the self-awareness of the Hold Steady and oomph of The Clash, Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts has been a West Michigan fixture since its 2010 genesis. Vocalist/guitarist Simmons, along with Matt Blasco (guitar), Ben Bojanich (bass), and drummer Ian Cooper, play simple rock‘n’roll and honest roots songs. They make it look easy, but trust me, it’s not. Weeding out the frills and bullshit is harder than it appears. It no doubt takes countless hours of honing in the basement. Simmons, 27, chatted with Revue about the album and what he’s up to.
You’re releasing your new record this month.How many are under your belt now?
This is the third Little Ghosts record, the second full length. I’d say it’s much more focused than the others. We put a lot more time into this one and approached the whole process of writing and recording it a little differently.
Did anything specific fuel your inspiration on the disc?
General early-to-mid-twenties stuff. That type of nonsense. You spend a lot of time f*****g up and getting frustrated with yourself and everyone else. Then you decide, hopefully, to fix it. Make the best of it. I think that’s the gist of the record.
Where do you usually get your best songwriting ideas?
At work. It’s funny that the best ideas seem to come to me when I have absolutely no way or time to work on them.
After listening to your new record, can you pick a favorite track?
“Take Me with You” and “Little Dagger, Little Sweetness” are definitely two of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. I have a hard time with love songs. They just always seem boring to me and I don’t think “Take Me with You” is just another boring bullshit love song. It hits me hard every time I sing it. “Little Dagger” took a long time to write. I had the music for quite a while but the lyrics just weren’t happening. Then a good friend passed away, it was a lot to deal with over a long period of time. All the words just kind of spilled out after that.
Aside from songwriting, what is Jake Simmons usually up to?
I work and watch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies with my girlfriend and our cats, like any good American.
You’ve spent a lot of time touring. What are the best and worst parts of it?
We’ve toured out east and down south a lot. In the last few years, we’ve gone as far as Boston, Nashville and Minneapolis. This summer, we’re hitting most of the country. So, that’s exciting and incredibly intimidating. Exciting because we’re going to see new things and meet new people and all that jazz. Intimidating because spending most of your day driving a 20-year-old van with four to seven relatively unwashed dudes for two months likely can have its drawbacks.
West Michigan has a lot of music venues. Which are you digging the most?
Over the last five years, we’ve had a ton of fun playing the various basements in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and all over the state. We’ve met a lot of great people. As far as venues, Shakespeare’s is always a ton of fun. We love Mulligan’s. Pyramid Scheme is the Pyramid Scheme. Even when we’re not playing, it’s just a great place to be. Black River Tavern in South Haven has been amazing to us over the past few years. And we love Louie’s Trophy House.
Do you find yourself listening to more new or older bands these days?
I’ve always been into The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Replacements, Otis Redding, Hank Williams and plenty of other stuff. In the last few years I’ve gotten into The Hold Steady, Deer Tick and Kevin Devine. I’ve definitely taken in more new music in the last few years than ever before. The Internet has made it way too easy to find good music. There’s really no excuse to listen to bad music anymore.
What’s next for the band?
We’re going to play a lot this year. Then, this winter, start working on the next record. We’ve got a lot of stuff written and we can’t wait to record it.