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Alec Hanley Bemis prepares to print new ‘Jaboni’
Q&A with the Yale Herald during my "boola-boola" years
By Chinnie Ding
Jaboni Youth is an indie-rock review published and mostly written by Alec Bemis, BK ’98. The next issue, #6, is due out soon; meanwhile, you can check out Issues #5 for $3 and #4 by contacting Alec at P.O. Box 200069, or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Yale Herald: Where did the name “Jaboni Youth” come from?
Alec Bemis: One day, when I went to a friend’s house, we were late in meeting his dad for dinner. His dad was a really old man, 70 or 80 years old, and when he pulled up he said, “You stupid jabonis.” I guess it was slang for dummy back in his day. So the combination of Jaboni Youth just meant stupid kids — it didn’t really mean much, although I’ve developed sort of a manifesto out of the whole thing.
YH: When did you start the project?
AB: I started it on my year-off before I came here. The first three issues, which came out between the summers of ’93 and ’94, were basically cut-and-paste affairs, done on my mom’s photocopier at school when she was an art teacher. The next one I paid for out of my own pocket, and more recently I’ve started relying on advertisers.
YH: How have you been getting Jaboni Youth out into the public?
AB: For the first issues, I sent copies to magazines, which would then review me and get people to write in and order; starting with this I began going through Tower Records, which has a pretty extensive zine distribution system. There are also a lot of small record distributors, like Ajax in Chicago and Revolver in San Francisco, places that take 100 copies and those that take five. At this point I mostly go through distributors and mail order.
YH: How do you see the “indie scene” here? Is there such a thing at Yale?
AB: It’s kind of dire. I don’t think there’s too much of an audience here. Part of it might be that places like Cambridge or Boston, Providence, and even Princeton, believe it or not, have a lot of local high school kids and non-collegiate types who infiltrate the collegiate scene and make it more interesting.
YH: Do you see any way to improve this?
AB: Well, there is a steady stream of things going on: the show I put together this weekend (in the BK Common Room) drew over 100 people, and it was great. I expect that the Tune Inn will get better, too, with a liquor license. New Haven is already amazing for ska and hardcore, and there are a few local bands that get some coverage outside this area. What would improve the scene here would be if we could get money from the powers that be in the Yale administration to do smaller shows at Yale. They’ve paid something like $50,000 to get a band for the Spring Fling, but they won’t give, say, $1,000 a semester to get five bands on an indie level.
YH: How have things changed post-Nirvana?
AB: When I came here as a freshman, the seniors just had no idea of what “alternative rock” was, whereas the freshmen had a kind of nascent notion. Now that I’m a senior, looking at the incoming classes, every year there are a few more kids with orange hair, or who wear leather regularly, or have odd piercings, so things have changed to a certain extent. But whether that’s a real change in general receptivity to new music and culture, or just a fashion thing, I’m not sure.
YH: What will your new issue be like?
AB: This time I’m doing an edition of 3,000, some of which I’ll be giving away on campus. It’s more for a general readership; I [rant a little] about stupidity and the naivete of youth as something to be defended and there are various essays. This is probably going to be my last issue in this format. I’m sort of straying from indie rock; I’m still interested in it, but I’m not interested in putting out a whole magazine about it.
YH: Where are your musical tastes drifting?
AB: I’m a believer that you should constantly be searching for the most out-there, the weirdest thing in every genre. These days my tastes are getting obscure to the point that I can just exclude a lot. I listen to a lot of electronica now. It’s completely embarrassing, but there’s amazing stuff there that could be said to be the new “indie rock”.
YH: What are you thinking of doing next?
AB: I might be helping some friends of mine start an indie record label. I want also to write a little bit for myself — I’m trying to see how horrible I am at fiction — and to photograph. And right now there’s my Senior Essay, a major undertaking. I want to have a year just to reassess, to see where I’m going. Something like Jaboni Youth can’t really be put into a genre, which is another reason I want to wait before I do anything in the future. I want to come to a point where what I release is really coherent and has a mission; the thing itself has to know what it’s doing.