Jack Lion
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Jack Lion

Iowa City, Iowa, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | INDIE

Iowa City, Iowa, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Electronic Ambient




"Two Faces of Iowa Electronic Music: Jack Lion With Maids At CSPS – Friday 10/23"

Friday, October 23rd CSPS/Legion Arts will be presenting a show I’m really excited about– two Iowa bands with their roots in electronic music– but both taking it to different places.

The opening band, MAIDS, calls themselves “Midwest Disco” and although the music certainly leans to a clubby disco sound, I’m not sure that “Midwest” adds any discernible spin to their music. Danny Heggen and Mickey Davis make something between Postal Service and Four Tet with the occasional Scissor Sister in for dance floor leanings. Midwestern, certainly, since they’re both from Des Moines but for electronic pop it holds its own against anything spun in a dusky, crowded club outside the rows of corn here.

The headliner Jack Lion is one of my favorite bands out of Iowa in the past few years and I’m VERY excited to be able to see them at CSPS as I think they’ll be able to really take advantage of the beautiful acoustics and general vibe of the attentive and warmly supportive crowds. Jack Lion is a jazz trio of trumpet, bass and drums that fuses electronic and ambient creating some really engaging and immersive soundscapes. They’ve released two EP’s so far “JAC” and “K L” and are working on a third (“ION” presumably). I wrote a review of the JAC EP for Little Village last year comparing it favorably to Kieran Hebden of Four Tet’s side project with jazz drummer Steve Reid. When I listen to Jack Lion, I can’t help but think about the experimental directions Miles Davis took and I’d like to think that he might have taken his music in this same direction.

“Miles Ahead” indeed. - Time To Play B-Sides

"Interview with Justin LeDuc of Jack Lion"

Jack Lion is an electronic jazz trio from Iowa City. Their take on the genre combines Boards of Canada-esque ambient experimentation with each player’s University of Iowa trained jazz background. In addition to the numerous shows they’ve been playing around the state, the band landed a spot on the Mission Creek Music Festival last Spring and a live session with the world-renown Daytrotter studio in Rock Island, IL.

The trio will be playing the Des Moines Music Coalition’s Music University showcase this Saturday at The Basement joined by local hip-hop act, Markaus, and metal heads, Green Death. The all ages showcase will begin at 9:30 PM.

How did you all come to form what is called Jack Lion? How would you describe your sound?

Drew, Brian, and I have been playing together for several years. We all met at the UI jazz department and played in different big bands and small ensembles.

Before Jack Lion, we had an electronic/jazz/rock group called Slip Silo with a guitarist, while Drew and Brian played in an electronic/jazz band called Koplant No. These bands sort of formed the foundation for Jack Lion.

After the guitarist for Slip Silo moved, we had a few more shows that were booked under the Slip Silo moniker, and we decided to play them as a trio, which led us to creating live arrangements of a few of Brian’s electronic tunes. I don’t think Brian ever intended that music to be played by a live band, but we ended up adapting them to the trio format just to get through those gigs.

I’m really glad that worked out that way because who knows if we would have continued to make music together! I sort of describe the sound as electronic/ambient music played by a live group with elements of jazz sprinkled in. Many of the tunes begin with computer tracks, but we build in spaces for improvisation throughout set compositions. It’s a nice balance.

I’ve been listening to Koplant No for the last few years, and Distants has remained on my iPod longer than any other album I have. How formative was the experience of Koplant No for the members of Jack Lion who were involved?

Man, I love that album as well. I am not a member of Koplant, but I have had the opportunity to play a lot of that music as a substitute drummer when Rob Baner couldn’t make some of their gigs. It’s some of my favorite music, period, and Distants is actually stuck in my van’s CD player. I wore that thing out.

Koplant is where Brian really cut his teeth on the production side of things. He does most of the backing track stuff, so we are reaping the rewards of his experience getting accustomed to Logic and Ableton in that band. Since KN does not have a comping instrument, Drew has really stepped up on bass and not only fills out the low end, but often plays complex chords to cover some of that space. He brings that sound to Jack Lion and it really fills things out nicely without rhythmically cluttering the sound.

I’m very curious to hear what you all listen to. What are a few albums or artists you are stuck on lately? Historically, who are some of your favorite artists?

Major influences: Lapalux, Jaga Jazzist, Pat Metheny Group, Miles Davis, Sohn, Bonobo, Koplant No, and many many others of course. It’s hard to think of and list everything.

What is it about Iowa City that keeps you all living and creating there? The culture in the city is a truly unique one because of the University. I’ve heard both sides of the argument of living there, but I am wondering how it is for musicians.

We like living here because it’s pretty central to a lot of bigger cities. A five-hour drive can take you to many great scenes, which makes it ideal for touring. Also, if we were going to try to work part time and play music in a big city, we may not be able to afford the lifestyle. Right now, we all have pretty sweet work situations which allow us alot of flexibility to get out and play shows, and we can actually afford the cost of living. I can’t say that would be the case in a bigger city.

What is the jazz scene like in Iowa City? How influenced are you by the live performances of others?

The jazz scene largely revolves around activities in the UI jazz program. Most of the jazz musicians are either in the school, professors in the department, or past players from the school. It’s a pretty small scene as you would expect. We all sort of play in each other’s groups.

What bands in Iowa have caught your attention?

I may be a little biased, but I play in an indie/classical vocal-driven group called Dagmar, which is a pretty new group worth checking out. The Olympics of course. Dana T has a new record coming out that’s just killer. Brian actually plays trumpet on a couple of songs on that one, and man, it is out of this world. The singer for ControlXOXO just moved away, but man, they have a killer live show.

With any artist, the process is unique. Music is no exception. How does the band go about recording? Are there any new recordings on the way?

This last round of EP’s was recorded partially at Earth Tone Studios in Iowa City with our main man, John Svec. We love working with John. Brian also recorded a lot of the backing tracks through a four-track Tascam tape machine to get that warm sound. He likes to play around with saturating the levels for certain sounds, and this led us to releasing our two current EP’s on cassette tape. We are writing new music now and will be playing a few new proto-tunes at the show on Saturday for the MU showcase.

How important is progression to Jack Lion? With each record, each recording, how do you want the music to grow?

I think we sort of think of ourselves as already being “there” in a sense. We have to be realistic about the kind of music we play: largely instrumental, electronic, jazz. There isn’t a huge market for this kind of music right now, and we all know it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a living being a player. Brian talks about leaving something behind as sort of a legacy to be proud of. Of course we always want to play bigger and bigger shows, but if we get to play a set for 20 people who are really interested in hearing what we have, that’s success to us.

The new music we are writing right now is a little bit more up tempo, a little more driving. We got a lot of response from people who thought our music was “chill.” That was the word we heard a lot, “chill.” We wanted to sort of break out of that a little bit and write some tunes with more aggressive grooves, without losing the ambient aesthetic that is “our sound.”

Tell us about Goldie Records. What is it like working with them? How did you relationship begin with them? I am especially enjoying their Midnight At The Campfire compilation.

Man, Goldie Records is putting out some really forward-thinking music right now. They are releasing a lot of artistic, instrumental hip-hop and electronic music; I don’t know, it’s sort of hard to describe. You know it when you hear it. Goldie is mainly a tape label, but they have put out some vinyl as well.

I’m really digging the Taiwanese Slipper Mafia tape right now by Ashwood Shepard. Emmett Kai, who makes music under the moniker Blap Deli, and Andy Hollander, who released tapes through Goldie as Karavelo and Ashwood Shepard, run the label and they are great to work with. We have really benefited from having them get behind our music. A lot of times if I want new music, I just get on their Bandcamp page and I’m always impressed with what they are putting out.

From what I know, you all have extensive musical backgrounds. What is your musical philosophy? Where do you try to take music? Where would you like to see more musicians and bands striving towards?

Yes, we all studied at the UI jazz department and continue to play in multiple groups. With Slip Silo, we wanted to make music that was a little bit more hook-oriented and crowd-pleasing. When we regrouped as Jack Lion, we sat down at our first rehearsal and said, “We are making music for us, music that we want to listen to.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing. We are finding more success doing that I think.

For our live shows, we strive for audience immersion. Our sets are mostly seamless, with improvised/ambient interludes between tunes that leaves very little silent space. Drew is also a visual artist and creates visuals that we project behind us during our sets, which gives the audience even more of an opportunity to sort of lose themselves in the show.

Aside from music, what do you guys do for a living? What about for leisure? How do these things help your music?

Brian is a software engineer. Drew is a graphic designer. I am a social worker. We all work part time so we have more opportunities to play music. Our individual work situations could not have aligned more perfectly for Jack Lion. I’m so grateful. Spare time usually involves beer. And video games. And bikes.

Who or what influences the music of Jack Lion the most?

Simply our own desires to create. We want to make music that we proudly look back on twenty years from now and say, “Man, we really did well on this.” Being a full time player is really hard. I’m not sure that’s what any of us want to do, unless we could do it with this band. Even then it would be a struggle, especially when we start having families. We just want to seize this time of our lives. - dsmshows

"Jack Lion, Abbey & The Sawyers at The Basement, June 12"

My all-time favorite jazz album is Miles Davis’ final studio release, Doo-Bop. Posthumously released in the early 90’s, it is Davis’ attempt to reconcile the language of jazz — the language he had spent his whole life learning and building — with the new-fangled language of the streets, hip-hop.

It’s an incredible piece of work, allegedly inspired by hot summers spent in his New York apartment while the sounds of the city sidewalks floated in through his open window, and to me it signifies a the passing of a torch.

It feels like Davis is giving hip-hop his blessing to become the new frontier of musical experimentation and the voice of a new generation of people. Like Jazz was for nearly 50 years in the last century, hip-hop, for better or worse, has come to define our generation: to become the common language in which everyone is at least a little conversant.

What I love most about the possibly apocryphal story of Miles Davis sitting in some sweaty apartment composing music to accompany to the sounds of the street is that I could picture that in my mind while listening to the album even before I heard that story.

I was not yet a toddler when Doo-Bop was released, but my overactive imagination has provided me with a compelling nostalgia-tinged mental image of what the heyday of early 90’s hip-hop music have felt like.

Just the idea of being able to turn on any radio and be able to hear Chuck D and Q-Tip spitting truth is dangerously intoxicating, and Miles Davis’ Doo-Bop, even more so than A Nation of Millions or The Low End Theory, makes that mental image feel tangible and authentic.

The week of the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, I spent most of my time wandering around either drinking or recovering from a hangover, with my earbuds blasting Chance the Rapper and Ramblin Jack Elliott, wordlessly passing fellow strangers who were equally entombed by their earbuds.

When I found myself at whichever show Jack Lion played (the details escape me at the moment) I was not in any way prepared for what I was about to witness. Those three dudes up on stage, crowded over to one side of the stage by the gear of the bands they were opening for, managed to convey something vital, spiritual, and generationally-specific in a way that I didn’t imagine was possible.

In the same way that Miles Davis’ final work captures my imagination’s sensory concept of an early-90’s New York street corner, Jack Lion’s set captured my perception’s sensory concept of the present day Iowa City street corner; the sounds and the smells and the sights all distilled into one unified piece of musical craft.

While Doo-Bop conveys a sense of community, the unifying power of a centralized media landscape dominated by radio, Jack Lion concern themselves with the alienating influence of cultural diffusion and segmentation via the Internet, the lonely reality of walking from your dorm to class and back wedged in between two minuscule earbuds. Necessarily, there is an existential sadness to Jack Lion’s music, but the more I listen to it the more I begin to discern a message of hope.

As much as it gives voice to the solitary confinement one can land in when you find yourself on the wrong side of a black mirror, it speaks to the universality of that condition. It reminds us that those fellow strangers we wordlessly pass by while entombed in our earbuds are just as entombed as we are.

Furthermore, it suggests that if we try strive to remember this, they may just cease to be fellow strangers and become, simply, fellows. Brothers and sisters trying just as hard as we are to find meaning and fulfillment in a world that is not necessarily inclined to make that an easy task.

If Doo-Bop is an approximation of what it sounded like to sit in a New York City apartment while the sounds of the city drifted up, every car driving by and every boombox parked on a stoop playing the right songs at the right moment, then Jack Lion’s music is the approximation of what it would sound like if you walked down S. Dubuque Street and every person you passed had their earbuds turned out, broadcasting their inner soundtrack out into the world at the same time in a glorious cacophony of symbiotic humanity. - dsmshows

"Justin LeDuc of Jack Lion talks Java, Jaga, jazz, and all things Jack"

Iowa City ambient/electronic/experimental jazz trio Jack Lion is a band on the rise. Jack Lion has performed at a number of festivals, been featured on Iowa Public Radio's "Java Blend", recorded a Daytrotter session, and released two EPs--all in the last two years. Drummer Justin LeDuc recently took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Examiner about the how the band got its name, how they keep things fresh on stage, and what their future holds.
Iowa City electronic/experimental jazz trio Jack Lion.
Scott Dye for Jack Lion (used with permission)

Examiner: Tell the readers the story behind how the three of you came together as a band and where the name Jack Lion came from.

LeDuc: Drew, Brian, and I have been playing together on and off in different groups for nearly a decade. We met in the University of Iowa Jazz Department and worked together in big bands and small combos. Drew and Brian have played in a band called Koplant No for several years, and the three of us played in another group called Slip Silo that included a guitarist. When the fourth member of Slip Silo moved to the Bay Area in 2013, the three of us decided to stick it out and finish the shows we already had booked for that year. Over the course of playing these shows, we started to incorporate some of Brian's original electronic pieces to fill time and discovered that we really liked the sound of playing these tunes with a live band. We got together later that year to rehearse and decided that we wanted to keep making music together under a new project name with the vision being that we would make music that we really wanted to hear. In Slip Silo, there was always a bit of a back and forth between being somewhat commercial while simultaneously indulging our desire to play more exploratory music. With Jack Lion, we are really focused on what we want to hear. That means the music is really honest, and I think people like that. The name comes from a trip the three of us took to visit the guitarist from Slip Silo. We got a cab on Halloween, and our driver was one of the most entertaining, genuine people we've ever met. Since he had a cool name, we decided to call this group something similar to that name.

Examiner: Describe a Jack Lion performance for those that have never experienced the band live.

LeDuc: We typically play about 45 to 50 sets with almost no breaks. We've gotten very good at connecting songs to each other by creating improvised, ambient interludes and by knowing our set lists well. This may seem like a minor point, but this creates an opportunity for the listener to be more deeply engrossed in the music. Jack Lion has played a few shows where people are chatting at the bar at the beginning of the set and by the middle to end of the set the room is either mostly or even totally silent. I think the connectivity of the set plays a big part in creating that experience. Musically, our shows tend to be very dynamic. We aren't super chill all the time, nor are we blasting your ear drums all the time; there's a healthy balance. There's also a good balance between scripted parts of songs that are played the same every time and improvisation. We all have a background in jazz, so we definitely create spaces in our songs that allow us to interact and improvise off of each other. At the end of some of the songs, Brian (trumpet/computer) will create a loop spontaneously and feed it to my headphones, and we compose a new tune over that section. This practice keeps things really interesting for us because we never know what kind of loop we're going to get. Finally, Drew is a graphic designer and has been making a piece of digital art every day for over three years now (hence the name for his project--Everydays). He has animated some of his favorites and projects them behind us while we play, which adds a nice visual dimension to the show, also contributing to that immersion experience mentioned earlier.

Examiner: You just released your second EP in January. Talk a little about The K L EP and how your music has evolved since your first release in July of 2014.

LeDuc: We were really happy to work with Goldie Records out of San Francisco on this EP. If you haven't checked out Goldie, they are releasing some really great electronic music. The K L EP differs from our first, JAC EP, in that it's a lot more electronic and less improvisational. The EP features three remixes of our song "Way Down" by artists connected to the Goldie label. The other major difference is that Drew sings on two of the original tracks, while the first EP is instrumental. It's really different for me to be a part of a release like this because my acoustic drums only appear on one track ("Snapdragon"). Contrast that with the live show where I'm playing quite a bit.

Examiner: When you aren’t working on your own music who do you listen to?

LeDuc: Our favorite artists include Jaga Jazzist, Lapalux, Bonobo, Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Sohn, and Jon Hopkins,

Examiner: You were featured on Iowa Public Radio’s “Java Blend” awhile back. What was that experience like for the band?

LeDuc: We love playing on that program. Ben Kieffer is an inquisitive host, and the recording quality/sound was impressive to me. The Java House is a pretty small venue with a low ceiling, so we really had to adjust to the room. Playing smaller venues is tough because you have to communicate your energy and excitement for the music without blasting your audience. We are pretty used to playing smaller rooms thankfully, and I think that's part of what makes us a good band. You have to be able to play well under any conditions, and I think we achieved that.

Examiner: What is next for Jack Lion?

LeDuc: We have a few more shows in June to finish. Then, the three of us will be traveling to Strasbourg, France to play with Koplant No at the World Saxophone Congress in July. Saxophonist Joel Vanderheyden and drummer Rob Baner are the other members of that group, along with Drew and Brian, but Rob can't make the trip this year, so I get to sub. After that, we are taking a break until October or November to write some new music and, hopefully, record again in the winter.

You can catch Jack Lion in action on June 12 at the Des Moines Social Club. The all ages rooftop show will kick off at 7 p.m. and will also feature a performance by Des Moines indie folk/rock band Abbie & the Sawyers. Admission is $5. You can check out Jack Lion performing "Snapdragon" in the video above. To learn more about the band, go to the band's official website, Facebook page, and Twitter page. - examiner.com

"Joe Goes To Mission Creek: Part Three"


I walk upstairs to the second floor stage. I take a spot along the sides of the hall, where there is a convenient, wall-long table I can use a flat surface for writing. Jack Lion’s playing first, and I love their ambient electronic jazz. I would rate their performances as some of my favorites in the local circuit. They’re a three piece, and their songs travel very far with just bass, trumpet, synthesizer, and drums. Jack Lion step on without fanfare and the drummer, Justin, an energetic, restless fella whose paradiddles have charmed me before, goes headfirst into the first song as Drew the bassist plays some keys while Brian on trumpet puckers up and layers his horn’s long notes in echo. Brian’s an interesting trumpet player. Most trumpet playing I’ve heard is upfront and loud with a flurry of notes, but Brian plays long, brooding notes that shift the moods of a song. It works very well in their dynamic. Brain’s trumpet Drew’s bass work like the air around Justin’s detailed, eager drumming. Haven’t really seen anything like it. It’s as if they’re flirting, perhaps teasing with chaos.

The next song Jack Lion plays begins with intermittent noise, perhaps field recordings of what sounds like a gutter emptying rainwater onto the pavement in a downpour. It’s chopped up into something danceable, and the band plays around the watery sounds like glass around an aquarium and keep this liquid song under control.

The transition between songs could be compositions on their own, in fact, for all I know, they are. I’m writing in darkness again, and I can tell deciphering my nonlinear scribbles will be extra difficult. I’m not writing from the trenches at the Somme, but it’s still pretty damn tough to transcribe the experience. Suddenly, Drew takes his hands off the bass guitar and sings some echoed words into the microphone. Until tonight, I had known them as primarily instrumental, or at least without human voice, and now, obviously, they’re doing something different and upending my expectations of them. Drew’s words are chopped up in a live sample and looped into something upbeat and catchy. Drew focuses on his bass playing and the band proceeds to work around the garbled recording of his voice. I compared playing the modular synthesizer to watching someone troubleshoot a VCR at a desk, but when Jack Lion plays, it is watching scientists testing different ideas in a lab. There must be science to this music. A word comes to mind, “orbital.” I wonder how much they’re thinking during their set. It sounds so natural, but I can see them counting to themselves and gazing at each other for cues. - KRUI Radio

"Jack Lion: The K L EP"

Colorful trance-like experimentations blur between the sharp timbres of brass instruments bellowing out and the soft, underwater-esque auras of electronica. That is a single sentence to try and define what you can expect to hear on Jack Lion‘s The K L EP. To blend jazz in music nowadays is welcomed, but can become overused and almost cliche. Not so for Jack Lion. The Iowa City musicians perfectly balance the unpredictability of free form jazz (see the opener, “Snapdragon”) with the energy and brilliance of old-school downtempo (as heard on “Birds”). While the hip-hop element on this project is minimal (save for “Way Down [C Y G N Remix]”), the electronica vibe is strong and for that, we feel you should listen. For extra convincing, you can grab a sweet cassette of The K L EP via Bandcamp if you’re into that sort of thing. - Hip Hop Speakeasy

"An Interview with Jack Lion"

There are two defining experiences that, I believe, beatmakers and bands share with one another when creating a piece of music. The first is the "aha moment" which emerges as the track in progress finally 'clicks'. It's the feeling of discovering a loop, sequence, riff, or chorus that ties the song together giving it a cohesive structure.

The second is the feeling of being fully immersed in the process of developing a song. In psychology this phenomena is known as being in a "state of flow". Time vanishes and 100% of the artists attention is focused on the task at hand.

But there is something else that bands get the pleasure of experiencing that may be absent from the lone beatmaker: chemistry. Much like language is a form of communication, music is no different. Members of a band have the ability to speak to one another in real time and create an instrumental dialogue as they experiment and perform with rhythms, chord progressions and lyrics. Instrumental language informs chemistry, and for Jack Lion, each member is fluent.

Hailing from Iowa City, Jack Lion is a 3 piece electronic jazz ensemble with a style reminiscent of the Ninja Tune roster from the early 2000's (think Jaga Jazzist and Cinematic Orchestra). With off-beat rhythms, beautifully lush instrumental harmonies, and a sound that spans a wide array of genres, their compositions exude a complex sonic architecture born from symbiotic musical chemistry.

The band consists of Brian Lewis-Smith (trumpet, keys), Drew Morton (bass, synth), and Justin Leduc (drums, samples). The members met in College and have been making music together since 2013.

With a breadth of influences such as Miles Davis, The Yellowjackets, Lapalux and Bjork, their sound encompasses an incredible range of musical diversity. From traditional jazz to more modern down-tempo beats, the experience of listening to a Jack Lion album is akin to watching fireworks on the 4th of July - awe inspiring, energetic, but most of all, spontaneous and unpredictable.

We sat down with each of the members of Jack Lion and had them shed some light on their history, their process for creating music, and what's in store for the group in 2015.

Their new album "The KL EP" comes out January 20th on Goldie Records.

What's going on in your lives right now outside of music?

Drew: I have some freelance graphic design projects as well as a part-time graphic design job that have been getting busier with the holiday season. It actually gets me excited for working on music. Once the holidays are over, I have so much more time to devote to personal creative endeavors, which I really look forward to.

Justin: I work overnights at a group home for people with disabilities so I have more time in the day to practice my instrument and conduct business for Jack Lion.

Brian: We all have our "real" jobs doing various things. I write software for a large corporation. Unfortunately, work takes up a good chunk of my time right now.

What does a typical day look like for you guys during the week? How do you like to unwind?

Brian: I usually ride my bike into work around 9, leave at 5-6. These days I'll go to the gym after leaving the office, come home and cook/eat, practice the trumpet, work on some music (writing, producing, mixing), watch Jon Stewart, drink a beer maybe. That's about it. My lifestyle will be changing up a bit in the coming months if everything goes according to plan. I want to focus more of my energy on creating music for this group.

Drew: I try to wake up early -- between 6 and 7 -- and have some time to myself to read, listen to music, drink coffee, etc. It's also handy, though, to use that time to work on projects that seem to be falling behind. Then I try to be to my part-time job by 9. I take care of what needs to be done there, then I come home and try to prepare some sort of dinner for me and my girlfriend. After that it varies between more freelance and personal design/animation projects. I do wander on to Netflix from time to time or play some video games... mainly Skyrim and Journey (by That Game Company).

Justin: Typically, I wake up at the group home and work for a couple of hours, come home to check email, meditate, do yoga/workout, practice drumset, work on Jack Lion business, and read. Then it's off to the group home for my next overnight. I usually watch alot of the Daily Show or Colbert to unwind.

Aside from music, do you have any particular hobbies or interests?

Justin: Meditation and yoga are big for me right now. I just got back from a 5 day retreat at a Zen monastery in Northern Iowa, which was a really eye-opening and sobering experience. I am looking forward to getting back there very soon.

Drew: I really enjoy trying to make animations and exploring different looks and effects. Often times they're just abstract...but I feel that I learn a lot from doing it. I have a personal project where I create some visual image everyday. They're my "everydays". I create them mostly in After Effects, so they're all pretty much ready to animate. I'm actually coming up on 1000 days here early next year. That has played a huge role in the visuals with this band.

Brian: Food. I love to cook. It's another creative outlet for me. I spend a lot of time just goofing off with my girlfriend too. And I have two awesome cats that I am very interested in.

Where did you guys meet? How did you end up forming the band?

Brian: We all met in college. The band officially formed in November of 2013.

Justin: See the band bio for more information: http://www.jacklionsound.com/biography/

How did you guys get into music in general? How about making your own music?

Drew: I grew up in a musical family. I took three years of piano lessons from my Mom and my Dad was my elementary school band director. I wanted to play the trumpet in order to play in a jazz band. He told me I didn't have the right embouchure for it. I think he just didn't want a trumpet player in the house. It worked out for the best, because he then gave me his old electric bass so I could still play in jazz band. Bass eventually took over and has pretty much been the reason for where I am and what I do today. Thanks, Dad! There have been a couple of my tracks that have made it into the Jack Lion repertoire. I have a SoundCloud littered with mostly ideas and short tracks. That is something I look forward to getting back into soon.

Justin: My dad is a drummer and toured with a band in college. I used to fall asleep listening to him practice in the basement at night, and eventually I asked him to teach me how to play. My dad is really into jazz/fusion groups like the Yellowjackets, Return to Forever, etc. so I grew up listening and playing along to mostly instrumental music. I was home schooled kindergarten through my senior year of high school, so I had a lot of time to practice because my schooling worked more efficiently than a public school class room. As for making my own music, I don't actually do any writing. I have always relied on playing with creative composers, although I do make arrangement suggestions and general critiques.

Brian: I started on trumpet in 5th grade. I got more into playing drums shortly after that. Then focused on trumpet in high school and college. The trumpet is a very difficult instrument for me physically. A lot of monotonous practicing is necessary. Making my own music is a nice response to that because it's a much more open ended, mysterious process. Anything goes.

Who were the first bands or artists who really inspired you to make music? Do you compare your music to other artists?

Drew: I took an early liking to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I soon started listening to a lot of Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, and Victor Wooten. They all heavily influenced me -- and it's stuck with me -- but then I saw Ben Allison play at a small club in Iowa City and it completely changed the way I played upright bass and even wrote music. Simplify. I don't usually compare my music to other artists...but I can usually think of a specific artist or song that inspired the direction or sound of a song.

Brian: I always think back to this Miles Davis/Gil Evans record called "Sketches of Spain." It was hugely inspiring for me. I'm inspired by music that somehow connects to me on a more subconscious level. That and it helps if there's something about it I don't understand. Something to study and learn from. Jaga Jazzist was a hugely inspirational band. Tortoise, Bjork, John Hollenbeck, and Ambrose Akinmusire are some others. I could go on and on. A few years back I discovered Lapalux and his music just blew me away. The Many Faces Out of Focus EP is probably in my top 5. I don't really compare the music of Jack Lion to other artists. I love trying to steal things from other artists, but I'm also pretty bad at it, so it ends up sounding quite different I think.

Justin: For me, the Yellowjackets, particularly when Will Kennedy was their drummer, was THE band of my childhood. I spent hours playing along with that group. I also spent many hours listening and playing along with Kansas, Rush, Dave Matthews Band, Mutemath, and other jazz groups. Jack Lion's music sounds like Jaga Jazzist meets Lapalux meets Miles Davis. They say never to use the term "unique" when describing your music so as to avoid being hackneyed, but in this case, I think the term really applies (and lots of other people who have heard our stuff have said so).

Tell me about your process for making songs... What tools do you use? How do you come up with your musical arrangements and create a cohesive piece of music?

Brian: The process can vary quite a bit. Sometimes an entire song can come out of a short sample. Other times I'll sit at the keyboard and try to figure out some nice sounding chords and build other elements around it. The tools used are usually pretty constant. Our live instruments, our voices, synthesizers, effects pedals, iPhones, cassette tape recorder, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Garage Band. Arrangements are the trickiest part for me. I think getting 20-30 seconds of content that sounds nice is easy, but turning that into something interesting for 3-4 minutes is the hard part. Sometimes the band will use rehearsal time to figure out arrangements but usually it's all written out or recorded beforehand.

Justin: See Brian's answer. I add post-hoc critiques and drum grooves.

How is your process different from others, or is it more or less the same?

Brian: Well, our music, especially when played live, has more of a jazz element and there are improvised solos involved. And our music features the trumpet. I do think these elements of the music influence the process and in that way it's probably different. But other than that, our process probably doesn't differ that much. My guess is that many artists lack a well defined process that takes place on every song.

In your opinion, what makes a track good?

Brian: Tough question. I've always tried to understand why I like the music I do and I still struggle with it. Good melody, harmony, groove, and production. Also, honesty.

Justin: Energy. That's a really intangible thing, but you and everyone else KNOWS when a track is connecting with you and when it isn't.

Do you guys have any solo projects or make any music on your own?

Drew: I have a few songs of my own on SoundCloud...but I wouldn't be surprised if they made their way into a Jack Lion performance down the line. They're just waiting for the right time. As for music on my own, I do play bass with a few other groups. Some are regular while some are fill-in for hire. Very often it seems everyone needs a bass player.

Brian: Actually, a lot of the music that has been released as Jack Lion are tracks that I worked on individually before Jack Lion even existed. But I have been more focused on Jack Lion as of late. Solo projects for me aren't that interesting right now. I have a band with some momentum so I like putting my energy there. There's another band I play in every once in awhile with Drew. It's called Koplant No.

Justin: Drew and I have another jazz/fusion group called Laranja, and I play with an indie/folk/classical group called Dagmar.

Tell me about your latest tour…Will you be on the road again in the near future?

Brian: The tour was great! We met so many great people and played in some wonderful venues for the first time. The Root Note in La Crosse, Wisconsin was a highlight for us. We had to drive 3+ hours in a snowstorm to get there though. Overall the tour was a really nice time. I think our live set started to really come together towards the end of the tour. We started taking more chances and doing new things and that's very exciting. We're planning more touring in the spring of 2015.

Justin: This last tour was wonderful for us. It was the first time ever touring for Brian and I, and the second time for Drew, so it's still an exciting process. Our goal was to go out, make some contacts, shake some hands, play some shows at venues we really liked, and I think we accomplished that. We had the opportunity to play some really awesome venues where our music is a good fit and where we can build a following. The goal is to build relationships with those venues and their owners so our brand is associated with theirs.

What can we expect from Jack Lion in the near future? (projects, albums, collaborations?)

Brian: We've got a new EP coming out soon. On it are some remixes from some of our favorite artists. We worked on a music video with a couple of Iowa City filmmakers, Jon Graf and Lev Cantoral. They do amazing work and we are excited to get that one out there. That and we're going to get back to working on brand new music. Some other projects are still in the idea phase but 2015 should be an exciting year for this group.

Justin: More touring, more EPs, more visuals at our shows, and above all, more interesting, honest music.

What is the perfect ending to the Jack Lion musical story?

Brian: I want this band to be an effective way for the three of us to document our existence while we are together. Ultimately, regardless of how long the band stays together, if we can leave behind some music that we are all proud of, that's the perfect ending to me.

Justin: I would honestly play in this group til I dropped dead. So I would say dying on my drum throne, preferably on a live late night TV show, would be perfect. - Charlie Cedar Music Blog

"It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2014"


Jack Lion – JAC EP Another record I can listen to any time– it’s a great immersive headphones record for me– jazzy trumpet, bass and drums fused with electronics. Kind of like if Miles Davis met up with Four Tet. The band admits that one of its influences is the Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist, with which it shares some similarities. - It's Time to Play B-Sides Music Blog

"New Local Band Jack Lion Inspires Atmospheric Chill"

You may recognize some of Iowa City-based Jack Lion's members from another local band, Slip Silo. But, it's not just their name that has changed.

Jack Lion’s members unearth the early ’00s interest in connections between jazz and electronic music and refashion it for this current era. Striking a balance between jazz composition, down-tempo break-beats, and hazy atmospherics they have made their mark as one of Iowa City’s headiest and most adventurous bands.

In this episode of IPR Studio One's "Java Blend," with Ben Kieffer find out more about Jack Lion's unique blend of music and the cab ride that gave them their name. - Iowa Public Radio

"Album Review: Jack Lion — JAC EP"

It seemed that after Slip Silo vocalist and guitarist Matt Logan split the Midwest and his band to take an opportunity on the West Coast, the remainder of the band was rudderless. In a March 2013 interview with Little Village he said that he hoped they’d be able to continue on the mission of connecting and tapping into a “transcendent and universal creativity source” without him.

In that same interview Logan said that he hoped the remaining trio would keep the band name, and, for a while, they did. After meeting a cab driver with a big personality and joie de vivre, the band decided to rename themselves in tribute to him.

A particularly transcendent performance at the Trumpet Blossom helped the trio gain their bearings. “This is it,” said trumpeter and producer Brian Lewis Smith in an official statement. “This is our passion.”

On their latest release JAC EP, the trio creates music that has roots in Slip Silo, but is distilled and refined to an ambient electronic sound with some live instrumentation — notably the trumpet work of Smith which carries the melody line in most of the songs.

This fusion of live jazz instrumentation and electronic samples and keyboards reminds me a lot of Kieran Hebden of Four Tet’s side project with jazz drummer Steve Reid. I found myself initially trying to figure out what was actually played and what was samples, but my attention was soon drawn away and I was left to enjoy the album’s mixture of the subtle textures.

“So It Goes” carries a looped tick-tock beat with bits of percussion flowing in and out which make it difficult to tell what is played by drummer Justin Leduc and what is sampled. The muted trumpet darts like a fish in a bubbling brook of keyboards at times echoing the melody of the keyboards and other times taking its own line.

“Bowlingsmith” opens with a trumpet playing a taps-like melody while the beat and synths march along. The counterpoint of the keyboard pacing soon picks up, forcing the listener to focus on the widening vistas of the deliberately extended notes of the trumpet.

The band says they are developing the improvisational aspects of their music — “the universal creativity source,” if you will — but, it isn’t the atonal squonking that free jazz is sometimes known for. There are distinct song structures and melody that the listener can follow which result in a very satisfying soundtrack. - Little Village Magazine


Released January, 2015 on Goldie Records:

Self-released July, 2014:



"After we stepped off stage at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe, the room went dead silent as people were soaking in the music. We knew that we had to pursue this," says drummer Justin LeDuc of Jack Lion. "The three of us have played in bands for over a decade, but this is special. Playing that show was like becoming who I'm supposed to be." The electronic, jazz-inspired music of Jack Lion had energized the crowd. "People were coming up to us afterwards and telling us that we should quit our jobs to play in this band, that we were the best band they had heard in Iowa City, that it was one of the best shows they had ever seen!" recalls trumpeter and producer Brian Lewis Smith. "This is it. This is our passion."

After the departure of the guitarist from their band Slip Silo, remaining members LeDuc and Smith, along with bassist/vocalist Drew Morton, limped along under the  former name until they took a band trip to the West coast in October of 2013. On Halloween, the three musicians clambered into a cab driven by  someone they won’t soon forget. “ The driver was a major character, " explains Morton. "He had us laughing in the first ten seconds of the ride. He was a great storyteller, a genuine person, and expressed joy in his work. We thought that someone who left such a remarkable impression in such a short time deserved to be emulated through our music. So we came up with a name inspired by his and hold him as a symbol of what we want to sound like: truly free. I would love to find him some day and show him our music!"

Drawing on their formal jazz training and years of experience in the Iowa City music scene, the band is crafting a sound that is primarily ambient/electronic but influenced by improvised music. "I like to sample things onstage, and the band often improvises around the samples to create new sections of the song on the fly," explains Smith. "This gives the audience something unique every night and creates an interesting challenge for us."

Jack Lion’s latest recorded work, the K L EP, follows the successful release of their debut, the JAC EP, which was featured on the Play B-Sides Blog’s top 20 albums of 2014. The new EP was released by Goldie Records in San Francisco; it features four original songs written by Smith and Morton, and three remixes of “Way Down”  by Ashwood Shephard, Bläp Dëli, and C Y G N, all artists associated with the Goldie label. “With a breadth of influences such as Miles Davis, ... Lapalux and Bjork,” writes one reviewer for the Charlie Cedar music blog. “Their sound encompasses an incredible range of musical diversity. From traditional jazz to more modern down-tempo beats, the experience of listening to a Jack Lion album is akin to watching fireworks on the 4th of July - awe inspiring, energetic, but most of all, spontaneous and unpredictable.” Other notable accomplishments by Jack Lion include recording a Daytrotter session, performing at the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City in both 2014 and 2015, recording a performance on IPR’s Java Blend program, playing at Dubuquefest 2015, and opening the Camp Euforia festival in 2015.

Jack Lion is Brian Lewis Smith on trumpet, keyboard, and production, Drew Morton on bass, keyboard, and vocals, and Justin LeDuc on drumset and SPDS.

Band Members