ELI JANNEY OF GIRLS AGAINST BOYS
Eli Janney is a musician/producer/engineer originally from Washington DC and now
residing in Brooklyn. He has played bass and keyboards in Girls Against Boys since
1992 and is now the co-musical director and keyboard player in the Late Night with Seth
Meyers house band, entitled the 8G Band. Janney’s upbringing in Washington came at
the same time as the city was in the throes of its punk rock hey day, and as you’ll read,
his employment at the famed Inner Ear Studio gave him a front-row seat to much of the
inner workings within that scene. His subsequent involvement in the New York Citybased
post punk band, Girls Against Boys, allowed Janney another unique perspective:
the post-Nevermind alternative music explosion of the early 1990s. Girls Against Boys
released three acclaimed and successful albums on Touch and Go Records before
departing for DGC for one record and have toured relentlessly with everyone from The
Jesus Lizard, Rage Against The Machine and Garbage...to name but a few. They’re last
release was the 2013 hidden gem, The Ghost List EP, and still play live sporadic
dates...mostly in Europe. chorusVERSEchorus caught up with Eli one fine afternoon to
talk about everything from working in a studio as a teenager, to settling down into a TV
gig in midlife...and all of the fun stuff that came in-between!
chorusVERSEchorus: Before we go back to the beginning, I thought we would start with
the present day: So how did you come to play in the 8G Band?
Eli Janney:Well, I knew Fred Armisen (the 8G band leader and SNL alum) back when
he played drums in Trenchmouth...they opened some shows for Girls Against Boys in
1994. I got a text from him one day when I was in the dentist chair and he basically said
that he was named as the music director for the new Seth Meyers show and he wanted
to put together an indie rock band as the house band. He needed a keyboard player
that knew indie rock, but he also needed a producer because he knew from the very
beginning that he would be gone from the show quite often doing all the other shows
that he does. So, about a year into it they made me the associate music director of the
cVc: Did you collaborate with Fred on who would be in the band?
EJ:Fred had a list of people already, but I just made some suggestions. The biggest
issue was just trying to find a drummer.
cVc: The cool thing though is that you have a rotating cast of all-star drummers coming
on to play. I just saw the episode with Danny Carey (Tool) the other day and he sounded
so excited because he had never been on TV before!
EJ: Yeah, that’s what developed and it’s been so much fun. I get to play with some of
the greatest drummers ever...it’s crazy!
cVc: Has Alexis (Fleisig from GvsB) been hounding you to get him on?
EJ: You know what, my bandmates don’t really care about the show. Johnny’s (Temple)
the only one who has come to see it, and that’s only because one of his writers was on
cVc: So Girls Against Boys played a couple of shows recently in Brooklyn and then at
Riot Fest...how did those go?
EJ: The shows were great. Well, we first got asked to play the Sound On Sound Festival
in Austin, in November and we thought we better play a warmup show in New York first.
Then we got asked to play Riot Fest in Chicago, and we had to say to yes to that, so we
played at Baby’s Alright in Brooklyn as a warmup for that.
cVc: What material did you practice for the shows? Is it mostly Venus Luxure stuff?
EJ: I mean, I like to play all the great songs, but it mostly consisted of House of GvsB
stuff, plus some rarities too.
cVc: Such as?
EJ:“Bughouse”, “Life In Pink” and “Distracted (Revs)”.
cVc: Now that we have the present out of the way, lets go back to the beginning. When
Girls Against Boys started in Washington you were still working at Inner Ear Studios at
the time, right? Was it your brother that introduced you to Don (Zientara: Inner Ear
EJ: Yeah, I was. My brother was living at Dischord House at the time and he and Ian
(MacKaye of Fugazi) were good friends. They were recording all the time and I was
interested in recording and so Don eventually became my mentor and was so nice
about explaining all the basics of engineering to me. Fast forward a couple of years and
I’m going to George Washington University and I tried to get an internship at Inner Ear,
but GW didn’t have an audio production class that they could give me credit for...so Don
just said: “Why don’t you just work here then?” So I ended up working there.
cVc: Is this when you meet the guys in Soulside (which would later become GvsB)?
EJ:No, I knew those guys way before that. I knew those guys back in high school.
cVc: So, presumedly, at some point Soulside breaks up and then you guys start GvsB
and then are you already in New York at this point?
EJ: Well, in 1992 all the guys in Soulside were already living in New York and when the
band broke up, Scott called me up and said why don’t you move up here and we can do
Girls Against Boys. It’s kind of crazy talking it about it now, but it reminds me of the
burning desire we had to have a band. We wanted to make it happen...make records
and go on tour!
cVc: How did you guys end up on Touch and Go?
EJ: I think if I remember correctly, Corey (Rusk: Touch and Go Records founder) came
to see us play in DC and he really liked us.
cVc: It’s surprising, given the fact that you guys came from DC and having friendships
with the Dischord folks, that Girls Against Boys wasn’t a Dischord band. Was there ever
a point when you guys were going to put your stuff out on Dischord?
EJ: No, because we were already living in New York. Touch and Go was very active
from 1992 through 1999 and we were very active. We were touring a lot and we were
recording every eighteen months...it was kind of a crazy time. Also, at that time Touch
and Go was looking to expand and they were putting a lot of money towards the
band...it was the perfect place for us to be at the time.
cVc: I can remember you guys coming to town with The Jesus Lizard in 1994, you had
just played Lollapalooza that summer and our local music media ran stories on you and
how the majors were heavily courting you. What do you remember about those days?
EJ: Well then it got really crazy! After Nevermind came out I think the majors just kind of
lost their minds...everyone was trying to find the next Nirvana. It was funny because the
more you said no, the more interest there was. There certainly was a fever pitch around
us at that point and we told Corey that we’re probably gonna sign to a major for our next
record. He said fine, “As long as I get that third record!” We had agreed originally with
Corey that Touch and Go would release three records, so we released House of GvsB
on Touch and Go and then we signed with Geffen.
cVc: You mentioned Nirvana, and I always love to ask artists of that era if they had any
dealings or crossed paths with Nirvana...so do Girls Against Boys have any Nirvana
stories to tell?
EJ: Well I knew Dave (Grohl) from DC. Dave played drums with Scream and I recorded
Scream’s last album...so there’s that connection and plus I had known of him for awhile
before that. He was always an amazing drummer, even back then. I saw Nirvana play
and hung out with them a little, but Girls Against Boys never played anywhere with
Nirvana. We did play with Foo Fighters though...as they were starting out.
cVc: Talking about Dave and also your days at Inner Ear; did you have a chance to
catch his Sonic Highways series?
EJ: I did and I thought it was great. You know Dave operates in this weird zone where
it’s not just rock music, but it’s pop music, you know? He does what he wants at this
point and I think it’s really great that he loves and respects music enough to do these
projects. It’s so great that he wants to educate people about what it’s like to make music
in some of these great places that are still around making great records. I haven’t talked
to Dave in at least fifteen years, but I feel that it wouldn’t take much of anything to pick
up right where we left off.
You know, the big studio scene here in New York was destroyed over the last decade or
so. The only remaining rock studios in Manhattan are Electric Lady and Avatar, which is
holding on by a thread. Everything has moved to Brooklyn, which makes sense because
of real estate prices, but everything has downsized too. All the studios there are very
customized and reflect the taste of their owners and they all have very different vibes.
People love making music, people NEED to make music and they will always find a way
to do that.
cVc: Venus Luxure No.1 Baby came out in 1993 and I haven’t stopped listening to it
ever since. It seems to have had a lasting impact on other fans of my vintage too...does
it for you? How do you reflect on that album?
EJ:You know, we went on tour after we put out our first record (Tropic of Scorpio) and it
was really tough. It’s really difficult when nobody knows who you are and nobody gives
a shit...but it forces you to put on a better show...it forces you to become a better
musician. We wrote a bunch of those songs while we were on the road and then we
went into the studio and we really worked them...we had really honed our craft by being
on the road for the first time! I’m really proud of those songs and it really amazes me
how they’ve managed to stay fresh for so long.
cVc: After Venus comes out, you have two more acclaimed Touch and Go releases
before you finally make the jump to Geffen. Freak*on*ica comes out in 1998 and I think
it’s fair to say that it was met with dissatisfaction from the indie rock hipsters at the
time...how do you look back on that record?
EJ: You know, I think people were just mad that it wasn’t Venus Luxure part 2! It’s so
funny to say now, but at the time people were mad that we signed to a major. That’s
such a quaint concept now...I mean, can you imagine a band today having any sort of
angst about signing a record deal with a major label? That just doesn’t happen! The
value of music is so small now, that bands are forced to do whatever they can just to
survive. We survived as a touring band for five records and ten years and that just
doesn’t happen at that level anymore. We actually made money on record sales in
between touring...that hasn’t happened since the late nineties.
We went out on tour for that record on Geffen with Garbage and about half-way through,
the big merger happened with Universal and all of the sudden there was no one
answering the phone at Geffen...literally! You would call the main number and it would
just ring endlessly! So that was our major label career! We got moved to Interscope, but
by that time Korn and Limp Bizkit had taken over and that’s what Interscope was
making all their money on that year and they weren’t interested in a post-hardcore,
noise rock band from New York anymore!
cVc: So what was the morale of the band like at that point? Were you trying to secure
another deal, or was it more a case of “hey, maybe it’s time to try something else?”
EJ: Well, for me personally, I was ready to do something else. I just had a kid, I had
gotten married and frankly, I was exhausted. We had been a full-time band for ten years
non-stop and I was tired of it.
cVc: Alright, last question Eli: when is Girls Against Boys going to make there way back
up to Toronto?
EJ:Yeah, it’s been a long time! We use to go up there every year and play Lee’s, but
now with my TV show, I’m just so busy. I hope we do though.