Features Interviews

Engine Roar: In Conversation with June of 44’s Jeff Mueller

We speak to the June of 44 leader ahead of the band’s first U.K. show in 23 years.

Some bands have that undeniable ability to get under your skin. We all have these bands in our lives, and from the first note of Have A Safe Trip, Dear, it was evident that June of 44 were a band that would forever occupy the bloodstream and be ingrained in the mind.

Preceding June of 44, Jeff Mueller, alongside Jason Noble (RIP), Tara Jane O’Neil, and Kevin Coultas combined as the unhinged trail-blazing unit, Rodan. Releasing their 1994 debut, the haphazard ball of fury in Rusty, it remains as one of the shining beacons of the post-hardcore pantheon.

Following the release of Rusty, Rodan called it a day, and with the dust barely settled, Mueller, with Fred Erskine (Hoover, The Crownhate Ruin, The Sorts), Sean Meadows (The Sonora Pine, Lungfish, HiM), and Doug Scharin (Codeine, Rex, HiM, Enablers, Mice Parade) formed June of 44.

While combing the similar terrains of Slint and (for obvious reasons) Rodan, in truth these were merely cosmetic similarities. June of 44 created their own ungodly hurricane, with minding bending surges annexed by the Mueller’s ghostly lustre.

One of the shiniest jewels from the crown of the Louisville underground scene, perhaps June of 44’s greatest boon was their steadfast line-up, which, to this day, remains unchanged.

Such consistency paved the wave for the band to produce meticulously crafted, yet impulsive music, starting with the roaring hellstorm and era-defining 1995 debut, Engine Takes To Water. And the rage continued with 1996 releases, Tropics and Meridians and The Anatomy of Sharks EP.

The multi-dimensional majesty of Four Great Points followed in 1998, with the outer-world sonic excursions of Anahata arriving 12 months later prior to the band calling time.

June of 44 were practitioners of the quiet/loud dynamic, but not by design. To these ears it was effortless. Organic. Sound weaponry at its most potent, delivered with a subversive heart and an unfaltering gaze, with Mueller’s pervasive, abstract lyricism, Meadows’ fire-ball riffs, Erskin’s thumping bass lines and Sharin’s fizz-bang cannon ball shots from behind the kit. The latter undoubtedly one of the finest percussionists of his generation, from the syncopated rhythms of Codeine to the blood and thunder of Enablers, June of 44 seemingly the counter-weight for his free-jazz-inspired militant blasts.

As Mueller continued into the early noughties as the driving force of the beyond post-rock collective, Shipping News (formed in 1996 in tandem with June of 44), 2018 saw June of 44 pick up where they left off 19 years prior.

The band welcomed in 2019 with a series of shows, including a memorable set at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound (taking the stage shortly after Liverpool Football Club had secured their sixth European Cup). It was a night that will never be forgotten.

“That was a pretty beautiful night for us, too,” admits Mueller, speaking to us over Zoom back in February from his print shop in New Haven, Connecticut.

“The last time I played Primavera was with Shipping News in 2008. It was a completely different festival. I think maybe there were only three or four stages for Primavera in Barcelona in 2008. There was no Miley Cyrus or Neil Young or any of that type of bigger music that has fully integrated and been infused into the festival now: though, we did play against Public Enemy!

“Returning in 2019, I was really surprised at how Parc Del Forum had made such a big shift, the whole geography of it, and the way the architecture of it had changed. And then the expansiveness of it all, it just had grown so much that it felt almost like two different things all together. Two totally different experiences, it was so terrific to be able to play that festival on both occasions.”

Following their successful run of shows, last year the band released Revisionist: Adaptations &Future Histories in the Time of Love and Survival: an album mainly consisting of re-workings from Anahata. In truth, it reignited the fires lit all those years ago, reaffirming one thing: June of 44 are back.

Prior to their first U.K. tour in 23 years, which includes an appearance at Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival in July, Mueller talks to us about June of 44’s past, present, and what the future holds.

Beyond the Clouds: In Conversation with Good Night & Good Morning’s Ryan Brewer

Sun 13: So Supersonic isn’t that far away now…

JM: “It was 2019 when we first heard from Lisa at Supersonic about playing, and of course we wanted to, but with the pandemic, everything kind of kept getting shoved back. The reality of the matter is that all of our 2020 plans got rolled into 2021, and then we started developing 2021 plans as well, so then they got piggybacked with our 2020 plans. Now that we’ve made it to 2022, we’re pretty busy – which is sweet. Supersonic is something that we’ve been really looking forward to playing, hoping that they would ask us and keep us in line for when they were actually able to do the festival again. We’re looking forward to it.”

S13: What are you early memories of June of 44?

JM: “Several, really. The energy… it’s kind of a cerebral memory, I should say, is that none of us… I think the freedom and the lack of big responsibility in terms of family and life in general, just feeling like we could step away from whatever it was that we had happening in our hometowns and with our own personal lives, it wasn’t even a question. It was like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to jump ship from everything for a full month, live in New York City and kick out as much as we possibly can, record, and make a record… just see what happens’.

“There was a certain lack of fearlessness… or a certain fearlessness, I should say, that made it an incredibly compelling period in time. It was really inspiring to just not have that feeling of apprehension or need to try to cover all your bases – it was just get in a car and go, you know? That’s something that I remember.

“And I remember being broke, having no money or really any interest in money in general. I’m a little less broke now, fortunately, though, money has never been a major motivator. But having the drive and motivation to continue, certainly out of the ashes of a band that had just broken up…”

S13: Rodan?

JM: “Yeah. Our last show was, I think, September 23 or September 24 of 1994. And then two months later, June of 44 got started in Brooklyn, or in New York, so it was a really fast period of time, and everything seemed pretty accelerated. I remember eating a lot of dried potatoes, just add water potatoes. There was a place called The Sunrise, a dark diner that was just under the JMZ train in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that you could get a breakfast. It was two eggs, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee for 99 cents. That was pretty much what we ate every day for three weeks… that, and powdered mashed potatoes.”

Polvo: a buyer’s guide and look into the bipolar world of the underground touchstone

S13: About the New York trip. Is that where you met James Murphy? Because he was involved in Engine Takes To Water, right?

JM: “Yeah. Our friend, Michael Galinsky, maybe in 1992, I think it was the first show that we played in New York City, and he helped set up a party for us that was at James Murphy’s loft space on Avenue A above the old Pyramid Club. That’s when I first met James. He was playing drums in a band called Pony. And then later, when June of 44 was about to get started, he had just opened a recording studio in the Dumbo neighbourhood of Brooklyn called Plantain Recording House, and that’s sort of how that whole relationship was cultivated and how it got started.”

S13: Back to the Rodan days. I can’t really think of another scene where the cultural landscape was so rich and, to this day, continues to be a crucial reference point. Just how important was Louisville to what you were doing at the time?

JM: “I went to college for two years, but in terms of music there wasn’t much else for me other than Louisville until I was maybe 22 or 23 when I first started really travelling. It’s one of those places, there’s several cities… I’m sure the UK has it as well. I would say Birmingham is a place that’s sort of like that, in fact, with the rich heritage of music that comes from Birmingham or Manchester; not comparing Louisville to those places by any stretch, but our Louisville scene was so tight-knit and there wasn’t much around it. People weren’t travelling with music as much. So everything that happened in Louisville at that time was sort of for itself, you would just basically be trying to show your friends what you were doing or support your friends. So there was a sort of like, not nepotism, but a very strong family energy and you just wanted everything to work and to be good. In terms of how that permeates and saturates my current music tastes and how I approach music, you are what you eat. It’s still in there, for sure.”

June of 44 (photo credit: image provided by the artist)

S13: In the space that June of 44 occupied, particularly with your lyrics, there is an abstract quality. Do you find that any of the songs have changed meaning from the time you wrote them?

JM: “That’s a really good question. One of the biggest assignments for myself when June of 44 started again in 2018 was to try to find myself back in the headspace that a lot of those lyrics were written, as far back as 1995. Some of those words may have been written even a bit further back in 1992, and then found their way into a song in maybe ’96 or ’97. But it was really important to me to try to go back into that headspace so that I could perform those songs with a little bit more honesty, if that makes sense? I didn’t want them to fall flat, because my mind wasn’t really into it, and I was just going through the motions.

“It was a complicated place, but I don’t think that… in most instances, the abstract nature of those lyrics that you mentioned, it’s still sort of universal as far as the way that I process things and the way that I think about things. So outside the personal connection to those songs were maybe written about some situation or a story that was integral to my life at that time. Those were the more complicated ones to kind of get back. The ones that are more abstract and more about the condition of the environment or the condition of the world or politics and unrest, those narratives are still super present and are absolutely part of today’s reality, I think.”

S13: I guess that feeds into my next question regarding Revisionist: Adaptations & Future Histories In The Time Of Love And Survival. How was that experience looking back and breathing new life into past recordings?

JM: “A little heavy and pretty tricky in some ways, and a beautiful experience all the same. Most of the songs are on – actually all those songs you’re probably aware – were adaptations of existing material that we never really felt was complete or finished. So in a sense, that record is more of a purge for us, and I love it for that reason. Getting into the session, any session, just the nature of recording can be complicated and present unexpected difficulties – there were variables out of any of our control that made the process more intense and constrained than it needed to be, but in terms of revisiting those songs, it was it was absolutely 100 percent a positive experience.”

S13: I remember reading somewhere that you weren’t happy with the final outcome of Anahata?

JM: “I think ‘unhappy’ is maybe a little bit strong. I think we felt like the recordings for Anahata were incomplete.”

S13: I’d argue now that is probably one of the records that’s really stood the test of time…

JM: (Laughs) “That makes me really happy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you know, so that makes me really happy to hear you say that.”

S13: It’s funny with time, but it’s very different to your other three albums.

JM: “Sure. I feel like that’s why I’m always careful to not overly criticise it, because I think once you put a record out, someone’s attachment to it becomes proprietary to that person’s experience with it. So I would never say that it’s a bad record, or it’s not something that I’m proud of. I think collectively, we all felt like we could have made better versions of those songs, and whether that’s a success or a failure with the Revisionist record, that’s up to whoever it is that’s listening to it. But I’m really happy to hear you say that. I’ll tell the other three guys that you feel that way. That’ll make them happy.”

(Both laugh)

S13: I remember listening to Have A Safe Trip, Dear for the first time. Id say its the one of the finest opening tracks to a debut album that I can remember. Do you remember writing that one?

JM: “Nice! Parts of it. The chord shapes and the guitar parts? I don’t really remember that. I remember writing the song with the band, because that was one of the first if not the first song that we tried to play as a four-piece. When Sean and I met for the first time in Brooklyn to start working on guitar parts, that was one of the first songs that he and I worked on together. And then when Fred and Doug collected with us just a week later, I believe that was the first song that we’d written together as a band.

“So I remember that being fully cathartic and a very powerful feeling to be able to kind of play this really abstract… in my mind’s eye those parts now when I listen to them, they’re very unusual. They’re not the easiest songs for other musicians to sink themselves into, but Doug and Fred are so fast, they’re such gifted musicians, they had no problem with it at all. I remember feeling like, ‘Okay, we’ve got something here’. Similar to the last song on Engine Takes To Water, Sink Is Busted.

“I bring up Sink Is Busted because they’re interchangeable in the timeline – if it wasn’t Have A Safe Trip, Dear, then the first song we’d written together would have likely been Sink Is Busted. As far as June of 44 is concerned, those two are some of my favourite songs that we’ve written – our two first songs.”

S13: How important was Bob Weston to the bands journey?

JM: “He’s still important to the journey. Even though he didn’t work directly on that Revisionist record He’s re-mastered all of our records over the course of the past five or 10 years. Maybe five or so years ago, he stopped recording bands. He is not a recording engineer so much anymore, he’s now an excellent mastering engineer. Back in the day, when we reached out to him to record the three records that came after Engine Takes To Water, he recorded Tropics and Meridians, he recorded the EP [The Anatomy of Sharks] which was recorded during the same session as Tropics, and recorded Four Great Points and Anahata.

“When we made those records with him, one of the things that was most attractive to us about Bob, I think, is he did a really good job of capturing the way that we sounded live. For better or worse, he was really good at capturing the way all of the instruments sounded, and that was really important to him as an engineer. It was equally important to us as the band to produce ourselves rather than having somebody tweak our sound so much that we can’t reproduce it live. Bob was really good at that.

“In fact, when we were mixing with Bob, one of the things that stands out in my memory was that he would get a mix of one of our songs and we would always go into the control room to listen to the mix that he came up with, and we would say, ‘Maybe we want to tweak this, or maybe we want to move this around just a little bit’. And then eventually, all of us would put our hands on the console and we’d be moving all the faders around and messing with sounds and we’d get it to a different place completely, and be like, ‘You know, maybe it sounded better before we even touched it. Maybe it sounded better when we first came in. Why’d we mess with it? Hey, Bob, can you get it back to where it was?’

“The thing is, if you change the frequency on a snare drum, it can affect the way the guitar sounds. Or if you change the frequency on the kick drum, it can affect the way the bass sounds. So with Bob, he just had a really good ear for making sure that everything sounded balanced and in harmony with itself. So yes, his imprint is all over our music.”

All Souls Day: The Burning Universe of Unwound

S13: Between Rodan, June of 44 and later with Shipping News, did your approach change in any way?

JM: “In Rodan, I felt like I didn’t really know how to play guitar. (laughs) I still don’t really feel like I know 100 percent how to play guitar ultimately. In terms of technical accuracies and proficiency, I feel like I’m able to kind of hack my way through songs, but in Rodan it was very, like, ‘If we can get through the song, that’s the most important thing. If I can play the parts for the song, that’s crucial’.

“In terms of writing, there is no overt organisation to it. Everything just sort of got shoved together as best as it could. I would imagine if I can say if there’s been any type of organic shift or any type of evolution in my guitar playing or songwriting, it’s just that I’ve tried to kind of have things make a little bit more sense as I’ve progressed.

“More so now, because June of 44 took a long hiatus, I’d worked with Shipping News throughout the early 2000s, all the way through to 2009. My songwriting in Shipping News definitely changed quite a bit from the beginning of to the end. I guess it’s happening, that trajectory or that shift has definitely been applied to the way that I approach my songwriting in general, and with June of 44, now. Not really how/if it will work, but, it’s all I got.”

S13: How do you feel your own sense of identity influences your creativity as a songwriter?

JM: “I think all of it. As far as harbouring responsibility, I feel like my identity is, I’m all in with the things that I contribute to the band and contribute to music.”

S13: And have your challenge songwriting challenges changed from the early days until now?

JM: “In some ways, it’s gotten easier. In some ways, it’s gotten harder, because one thing that I don’t lack right now is… there’s a lot of different things to offer as far as new song ideas are concerned. So generally speaking, I want to make sure that the things that I bring to June of 44 today are things that those guys would hopefully be interested in playing. So in that sense, once we settle in on a rehearsal period, and we’re working on a new song, like, you can kind of get a sense if something’s working or if it’s not pretty quickly, or you can get a sense of someone’s energy… if they’re into the new idea or not.

“So in that sense, the hard part is when I might be really excited about something, and then the rest of the guys don’t really sink their teeth into it. Though, in terms of a collaboration, that’s what it’s all about, it’s a compromise. To think everyone is going to love everything you do is fantasy, it’s unrealistic. You can hope that the people you work with will like most of what you present. It gets tricky and untenable when too much gets cut.

“In terms of playing, technically speaking, in terms of challenges, I feel like it’s gotten easier because we’re all perhaps a little less uptight than maybe we were in the ’90s when we were all ramped up to 11 and jacked on adrenalin. A lot more things just feel more fluid. And kids, we all have kids.”

June of 44 (photo credit: via the artist's Bandcamp page)

S13: I don’t know how active you are in terms of listening to new music these days, but a lot of UK bands at the moment seem to have really adopted the template of Slint, June of 44 and post-hardcore of 90s.

JM: “Really?”

S13: Yeah, a lot of younger bands. I mean, its a twofold scenario where an influential band like yourselves, Slint and Polvo might think, ‘It’s nice, we’ve influenced a generation’, or the other other side of it is, ‘No, this stuff is absolutely terrible!’

JM: “That’s interesting, you know, because the genres that often gets applied to our music are math rock or post-rock or those sorts of things. But in terms of our band, specifically, and whatever its implications were in terms of future bands going from the ’90s forward, I never really felt like we fit neatly or comfortably into any genre because our music was so all over the place. So then I started to think, well, maybe certain genres were just umbrella terms for bands that are super mixed-up and everything seems kind of ala carte. I did an interview with a London-based writer, Jeanette Leach. She wrote a book called Fearless, about the origins in the history of post-rock. It’s a pretty in-depth look at a bunch of different things. We had a very small part of it.

“I remember talking about our music with her in an interview in 2010 or 2011. She said something similar to what you just said, as far as bands in Britain being somewhat influenced by Polvo or the Louisville music scene and that community as a whole, it caught me off-guard then and it caught me just as off-guard now. (laughs)

“Anytime our music has had some positive impact on someone else, it resonates and means a lot to us. It’s only a good thing to hear, for sure.”

S13: Are you currently work on new material for June of 44?

JM: “Trying to, yeah. The pandemic has definitely twisted things or had twisted things over the course of the past two years in a way that slowed us down. Decidedly, we’ve been able to focus a lot on plans, as far as getting together for when it was safe to be together. When we finished working on the Revisionist record in early 2020, we’d planned to spend much of 2020 working on new music, and then go back into the studio in 2021.

“Sean, Fred and I got together in February to work on a bunch of new ideas – try to get them to a place to where they’d make sense to Doug. It was really, really gratifying and productive… after all, we hadn’t actually worked on true new music since 1999. I’m not sure how much of that stuff will be ready.

“We’re playing three short tours before we get to the UK in July, I’m hoping that, incrementally, we’ll be able to build up at least two or three, maybe four new songs to be able to perform at Supersonic and in London. Though, just being able to play a show to an audience will feel pretty excellent at this point.”

June of 44 2022 UK tour dates:

  • Friday, July 8: 229, London (Tickets)
  • Sunday, July 10: Supersonic Festival, Birmingham (Tickets)

For more visit the June Of 44 Bandcamp page.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

21 replies on “Engine Roar: In Conversation with June of 44’s Jeff Mueller”

Great interview brother, good to hear Mr Mueller is still moving forward, Rodan, Shipping News and June 44, that musical CV is up there and out there.

Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s