It’s been two decades since The Jenny Thing released what was to be their third and final album.
Matt Easton, co-founder and frontman of electro-rock group Berkeley, says he never anticipated a fourth.
“I’m actually really surprised we made a record,” says the Oakland native, who lives in the Berkeley Hills. “I was very comfortable that there wasn’t a fourth Jenny Thing album, in fact, if you’d asked me 10 years ago.”
But once he and guitarist Shyam Rao started experimenting with new tracks for the first time in over 15 years, they saw so much potential that they kept going until they created a suitable album.
“American Canyon,” the eight-track LP, released on June 18, reunites with the quartet – which formed at the University of California, Berkeley in 1991, along with Rao, Easton and Easton’s childhood friends, bassist Ehren Becker and drummer Michael Phillips – back on his heaviest and most philosophical subject to date.
Opening on the deceptively pop “Paper Angel”, the album quickly takes a darker turn, drawing on retro ’80s synths, minimal guitars, distorted beats and heart-wrenching vocals to tell the story. ‘a successful soldier, who, after losing a decisive battle in the title song, must find a way out intact and find redemption.
Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges’ reporting on the war in Afghanistan and America’s growing nationalism during Donald Trump’s presidency, the anti-war album ultimately deals with the desire to cling to l love, even in the midst of destruction and chaos.
Jenny Thing’s musical ambitions were much lower when the group formed three decades ago. Its members just wanted to create music inspired by their idols, like The Cure, The Smiths, and New Order, and mostly wrote songs about love and relationships. Like most young groups, they also wanted to ‘succeed’.
The name doesn’t have a particularly deep meaning, according to Easton. It came to them when they were walking Telegraph Avenue, hearing stories about various Jennys that the guys were having “things” with. The group began to joke that all the straight guys had been involved with a woman named Jenny.
“I’ve heard all these stuff from Jenny and it just tickled my bone,” Easton says. “It was universal and also, it rhymes with everything.”
The group landed concerts in dormitories, student houses and clubs nearby. In 1993, her first semi-acoustic pop album “Me” was released; it was the best-selling independent album of the year on Rasputin Records in Berkeley.
“These are 19-year-olds who try to sound like the Smiths and end up sounding like Toad the Wet Sprocket,” Easton says.
Tighter and more refined after years of gigs, the group’s guitar follow-up, 1995’s “Closer and Closer to Less”, achieved nationwide distribution. Suddenly, The Jenny Thing was on college radio and asking to tour colleges and concert halls across California.
The group opened for the Gin Blossoms and Juliana Hatfield, performed on the main stage at the 25th San Francisco Pride, and even landed a “Star Search” round in 1994, thanks to talent scouts visiting Rasputin’s looking for an indie Bay. Area group to present.
“We knew it was weird, especially because we were from Berkeley, that it was so different for the band in a van trying to be genuine to go play ‘Star Search’,” says Easton. “But we thought it was hilarious and we kind of just kept going.”
The response, however, was inconsequential, earning the band a mention on the online bulletin board, a tiny bit of editing money, and the opportunity to meet former MTV VJ Martha Quinn, who inspired the song. “Martha” on the group’s third album, post-1999. post-punk “Nowhere Near You”.
Easton has a few theories as to why the group was unsuccessful.
Maybe that’s because he was creating 80s inspired rock when musical tastes turned grunge.
“Also, I don’t know if the industry was warm to Asians in indie rock back then,” Easton says.
After The Jenny Thing broke up, Easton went solo. In 2000, he self-released “Love Ambition Demo”, which he calls “adult-contemporary post-rock”.
Between musical projects, like the rest of his former bandmates, he started working during the day. Today, he heads the technology group of a transport company.
But after reuniting with his old bandmates for “American Canyon”, he’s eager to continue making “urgent, emotional music” with them. A fifth album is definitely on the horizon for The Jenny Thing.
“Being established, fitting in and being respected was what we were looking for at 25,” says Easton. “Of course, we continue to want people to listen and find our music relevant. But in the end, I realize that just doing new things is the whole point. It was always the thing for me then, but I didn’t know it. The height of success is the record we have right now. “