All Time Awesome Record: Andrew Jackson Jihad - People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the WorldPhil Collins - September 11, 2017
We all have records that mean a lot to us individually, records that forever changed the course of our own personal music-listening experiences. There are those records, and then there is a small subset of those records which three people can sit down and agree upon, without reservation, that these records fall into this Earth-shattering category. This category is the All Time Awesome Record. In the spirit of Decibel magazine's Hall of Fame feature, Change the Rotation occasionally spotlights one record that isn't just good, isn't just a record that one of us thinks is important, but is a record we can all agree had a huge impact on us personally and on the music scene at large.
Andrew Jackson Jihad's People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World is the second record we have honored with this distinction. We named Against Me!'s Reinventing Axl Rose an All Time Awesome Record in 2015. We don't take these things lightly, so we don't do them terribly often. We wanted to get this one done in time to coincide with the album's 10th anniversary. AJJ play an early and late anniversary show at Subterranean tonight, both with Ogikubo Station. AJJ will play the record in full, as an acoustic two-piece, which is the way they toured for a long time before going full band electric. We talked about this transition at length back in 2014. However you feel about new school AJJ, I think we can all agree it is pretty awesome that they are celebrating this All Time Awesome Record with an acoustic tour.
Talking about the record today we have regular contributor Steve O. Check out Random Records With Steve O, where he reviews new records, old records and whatever strikes his fancy. We also have Danny Brawlins on hand from Don't Panic Records & Distro. Don't Panic put out an excellent 7-inch from local punks Fitness recently, as well as Holy Shit, the new Davey Dynamite record. Look for some exciting stuff from them later this year! We here at Change the Rotation are working together with Don't Panic and Friskie Morris & Friends to put on All Hands on Deck, a micro music festival at Cobra Lounge on October 13 and 14. The World/Inferno Friendship Society, Davey Dynamite & The Salt Creek Duo, Fitness, The Bigger Empty, The Cell Phones and more are playing the fest. Both days are all ages and all proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood of Illinois. See the full lineup and links to get your tickets here. Without further ado, let's talk about People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World.
Why does this record deserve to be an All Time Awesome Record (ATAR)?
Steve O: Along with Ghost Mice, Andrew Jackson Jihad are probably one of the most influential and important folk punk bands for a ton of people. And while Candy Cigarettes & Cap Guns was technically their first record, it’s the epically titled (and Vonnegut inspired) People That Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World that is most widely known. I remember seeing so many people cover songs from this record, which is a great sign of how universal an impact it had. If there were bands doing the ‘sad songs sung happily’ before, none of them did it as well as Andrew Jackson Jihad.
Danny: This album, along with Reinventing Axl Rose, which we reviewed last time, is another perfect example of folk punk. It’s a weird genre and sometimes it’s hard to explain to people. So when you have genre-defining albums like People Who Can Eat People, it makes it a little easier to talk about.
Phil: I’m really interested in what this record ultimately says about people. It is so dark in places but finishes on an incredibly positive note. This record also harkens back to the acoustic era of this band, a time I think we all have some nostalgia for, even those of us who are into their more recent full band material. Yet, there are so many instruments fleshing out People Who Can Eat People. I think we all agree that this is the band’s best work and a cornerstone of the folk punk genre.
Steve O: That People Who Can Eat People… turns 10 this year and every song on here I still consider incredible just proves how timeless these songs are. “No more racism / no more discrimination / no more fat dumb fucks keeping people out of our nation” from “No More Tears” is just as relevant now, if not more so, than it was 10 years ago. Which is a good segue to say that Sean Bonnette is a fantastic lyricist. Unbelievably creative, every song is packed with memorable lines and brilliant metaphors, revolving around topics such as dealing with anxiety and being kind to humanity. The alliterations at the beginning of “A Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit” is unmatched; I can’t recall ever hearing anything else like that.
Phil: This album harnesses the power of concise, powerful lyricism. It’s short on time but deep on meaning. Each song paints a picture and you might notice something different about it each time you take it in.
Danny: This is also an exemplary lo-fi and folk album. I think when you write an album that can be considered a classic in multiple genres ten years later, it deserves to be an All Time Awesome Record!
Do you remember the 1st time you heard this band/record? What makes it so memorable?
Steve O: I do actually remember the first time I heard this. It was spring 2008, I believe. I had seen the record on Interpunk, and without listening to a song decided to order it. I liked the album cover, and it came with a free button, that’s still on my hat to this day, so I took a chance.
Danny: I remember listening to this album in Steveo’s car in 2007 or 2008 or maybe 2009? Who knows… Apparently it was new back then. I didn’t even realize that until the 10 year anniversary tour popped up. I thought it was much older back then and I thought it came out more recently now. I guess that’s what makes it a great record! It sounds like it could have come out 20 years ago… 10 years ago… yesterday… Who knows, maybe it’ll come out tomorrow!
Phil: Danny and Steve O introduced me to this band. People Who Can Eat People was their new album at the time so it must have been 2007 or 2008. I remember the three of us going to see them at Beat Kitchen. I only really knew “People II” and maybe a few other songs at the time. They were playing third on a five band bill. I hadn’t heard anyone else mention Andrew Jackson Jihad, so I didn’t really know how many people would be there. It was packed, everyone was yelling the words to the songs, and not many people were enthusiastic about the other bands playing that night. People were there for Andrew Jackson Jihad. I believe that was the night I bought People Who Can Eat People on vinyl and the rest is history.
Steve O: I remember putting the CD on and sitting with the lyrics looking out the window, watching it rain, and following along. I remember not liking Sean’s voice right away. It’s kind of nasally and unique and didn’t hit me immediately. Now I think it matches this music absolutely perfectly. It’s upright bass and acoustic guitar, with a bunch of guests, but it’s music rooted on that acoustic guitar/upright bass duo with Sean’s voice, that’s so simple, but so exceptionally well executed. It’s that simplicity, as well as the lyrical brilliance that makes it so memorable. It not like there’s a million things going on, so it’s really easy to get melodies stuck in your head. And while there’s a lot of lines packed into every song, they’re very memorable. You tend to learn them pretty quick. And goddamn for a record that sounds so happy is this thing dark.
What is your favorite song(s) and why?
Phil: It’s hard to beat “Brave as a Noun.” When that quick guitar strumming hits at the beginning, something goes off in my brain. It’s like a switch flipping. The lyrics are striking. The way it flows right into “Survival Song” is brilliant. I love it when a record has that kind of payoff for listening to the songs in order as a cohesive work.
Danny: The first three tracks are probably my three favorite AJJ songs of all time. They capture the essence of the band; fast awkwardly worded songs that still manage to make you want to sing your heart out along with them. They fly through them so quick that it sounds as if they’re playing it live. Which I think might actually be the case.
Steve O: “People II: The Reckoning.” It was my favorite upon first listen and that’s still true today. Have you ever heard more uplifting music that has lines like: “There’s a bad man in everyone / no matter who we are / there’s a rapist and a nazi living in our tiny hearts”? The play on “Mrs. Robinson” in that song is brilliant, and really highlights the lyrical flexibility and ingenuity that Sean has in writing these songs.
Danny: “No More Tears,” “People II” and “Personal Space Invader” are also high points of the album for me. Shit, that’s over half the album right there. Half the album is a high point. The other half is still really really good. Enough said.
Phil: There is nothing better than seeing this band live with a crowd of people shouting all the words to “Brave as a Noun” or “People II.”
Steve O: Other favorites are “No More Tears,” which is both uplifting musically and lyrically, “Personal Space Invader” (anything that references Vonnegut so blatantly gets a big plus from me), and “Brave As A Noun,” which makes an immediate connection to anyone who has ever had issues with anxiety, and just reminds you how relatable this record and Sean’s lyrics are.
AJJ live at Beat Kitchen in 2010. This is show two of the two days in a row Steve O and I mention later on (spoiler alert!)
What is your favorite line(s) from the record and why?
Phil: This might be the toughest question for this record because the lyrics are so good throughout. “No more bad times/No more bummers/No more SUVs and no more Hummers” from “No More Tears” is a great line. It’s simple and straightforward but it’s real. It’s kind of a funny line but it addresses something that is actually a legitimate issue in our society.
Steve O: “Personal Space Invader” has probably the most important lines on the whole record, gleaned and paraphrased from Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. “Welcome to this world have as much fun as you would like while helping others have as much fun as you’re having. / Be kind to those you love, and be kind to those you don’t, but for God’s sake, you gotta be kind. And respectful, because we’re all one soul, be the best fucking human that you can be.” Can’t be said any better. The fact that the music gets so much more uplifting during this part of the song is just perfect.
Phil: The closing line from “People I” is really meaningful. “People are my religion because I believe in them/People are my enemies and people are my friends/I have faith in my fellow man and I only hope that he has faith in me.” This last song on the record has a more directly positive, optimistic message that really changes the tenor of the album for me. It adds even more depth to the record.
Steve O: “Brave As A Noun,” is an illuminating look at anxiety. There’s a lot of great lines there, but I love the closing: “In this life we lead / we could conquer everything / if we could just get the brave to get out of bed in the morning.” So damn true. Album opener “Rejoice” gives a similar, pessimistic/optimistic look at life, that’s actually a really good mantra. “Rejoice despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds. / Rejoice because you’re trying your best.”
Danny: Can I just use this section to talk about some of the weird shit going on in the background of this album? Just about every song starts off with “go.” Which is the dude hitting record on what I imagine to be a tape deck. There’s coughing in ‘People II.’ “Sounds like shit” at the end of ‘Personal Space Invaders.’ I still get really excited any time I hear the three notes pressed, possibly by accident, and the sound checking banjo strum at the beginning of ‘Rejoice’ because I know the awesomeness to follow. This is what makes this album sound honest and unique and this is part of the reason why I love it.
Do you have a memorable experience involving some element of the record?
Steve O: I remember when I first showed Andrew Jackson Jihad to Danny he referred to them as Amish punk. And then, the first time we were going to see them live, we stopped at the oasis on 90 and there was a coach bus full of Amish. We joked that they were all going to the show.
Phil: After seeing the band live that first time at Beat Kitchen before I knew the record very well, I saw them so many times between that show and the time Knife Man came out two albums later. I particularly remember two sets of shows during those years. We drove out to Elgin to see them play and then saw them again the next day in Chicago. I believe this was a Sunday and Monday night. I was so deliriously tired at the second show but it was all worth it. The other set of shows was a two-fer: an early and late show in the same night at Beat Kitchen. Can’t Maintain may have been out by this time but I associate all those shows with the shouting of words from all those songs off People Who Can Eat People.
Danny: This album brings back hundreds of memories from the past ten years as I listen to it. Some of them so brief I can’t even grasp long enough to remember what it was. I think the most vivid memory I have is that of listening to it for the first time in Steveo’s car. I just remember thinking “I can’t wait to memorize all the words.” He burned me a copy soon after and I think it took less than a week to get em all down haha.
Have you seen the band live? Does that strengthen the case for ATAR induction?
Steve O: Probably about a dozen times, at least. I’ve seen them play two days in a row and twice in the same night before. There was a period of probably four to five years where I went to every Andrew Jackson Jihad show in Chicago. And yes, it definitely strengthens the case, because they were fantastic live. I wrote on here before how much I prefer the Sean Bonnette /Ben Gallaty acoustic guitar/upright bass duo, and that probably has a lot to do with how enjoyable those shows were.
Phil: I have seen this band live many times. Danny, Steve O, and I watched along with everyone else as they metamorphosed from the years of shows as an acoustic duo to a full-band electric setup. I thoroughly enjoy seeing them play both ways, but I do think it is a really cool thing they are doing with this People Who Can Eat People 10 year anniversary tour. They often take a portion of their set to play acoustic but it has been years since they have come through town for a full set as an acoustic duo. I see this as the band recognizing how much everyone loves this record and how important that era was for their music.
Danny: I’ve been lucky enough to have seen this band many times in many different ways, shapes and forms. I’ve seen them play these songs acoustic and electric. I think that really strengthens the induction. You can listen to this album back and forth and memorize it front to back and they still manage to find a way to make it new.
Steve O: The first time I saw them was at the Beat Kitchen, and that was the first time I’d ever been there. I remember seeing them play two sets in one night there; we all went up from DeKalb for that. We saw them play in Elgin and Danny and me are literally right in front of them, within arm’s reach. That show was fantastic, such a tiny place and so much energy; everyone was screaming along. I remember one time at the Beat Kitchen a stage diver jumped into the crowd and right into my friend Baron’s arms. Like there was no way he couldn’t catch him. It just seemed like a somewhat odd thing, but the crowds were always so into the set. Everyone would always sing along at the top of their lungs with every word, it was such an incredible experience. And seeing a bunch of songs that ended up on Can’t Maintain and Knife Man before those records came out was really cool. I had heard them enough that they were familiar songs by the time those records were out.
AJJ live at Mad Maggies in Elgin in 2010. Steve O and Danny are clearly visible throughout this video, or the backs of their heads are anyway.
What kind of impact has the band/record had on your life?
Danny: It made me want to learn to play banjo haha. And I did kinda! Not very well but kinda! That’s pretty cool. If the Ramones made thousands of kids wanna pick up the guitar, AJJ made hundreds wanna pick up the banjo.
Phil: This record turned me onto folk punk. I am fairly certain I had not heard much of the genre before listening to this album. I could go on and on about all the bands I got into as a result of getting into folk punk. People Who Can Eat People had a tangible effect on the trajectory of my punk listening history. If you were to map it out on a timeline, this would definitely be one of the bold points on there along with War on Errorism, Burn Piano Island, Burn and Everything Goes Numb.
Steve O: I feel like I connected with so many friends during the DeKalb days because of this band. Every time they played was a chance to hang out with a bunch of friends. Basically all my friends I know because of music, so it’s fun to share a band like this with so many people. I remember seeing them open for Frank Turner, who is equally awesome live, and that was the first time I saw him live, so they unwittingly got me super in to Frank Turner. There was a period where I listened to a lot more folk punk than I do now, and I think Andrew Jackson Jihad were a prime reason for that.
Why would you recommend this record to someone?
Steve O: Well if you listen to folk punk and haven’t heard this record, it’s an absolute must for the genre; it’s as essential to it as any other record.
Danny: Because everyone has 25 minutes to set aside to listen to one of the greatest albums of the past ten years.
Phil: I have often recommended this band to people and I would always recommend starting with this record.
Steve O: If you only thought sad songs could sound somber and melancholy, this record will change your mind. Andrew Jackson Jihad have the ‘sad songs sung happily’ thing perfected, and it’s pretty special to hear so expertly executed as it is on People Who Can Eat People…. It’s actually a dark record (see “Bad Bad Things”), but it can sound so cheery at the same time. Think lyrics similar to funeral doom, but the exact opposite musically.
Phil: It’s a fun album to listen to, but it is so much more than that. It was unlike anything I had heard at the time. It holds up well after countless playbacks. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years and I’m glad the band is taking the time to recognize it on this tour.
Steve O: Lyrically it’s brilliant and virtually every song on here has some lines that are equally meaningful and hilarious. It’s even got the quintessential whoas (“Bells &Whistles”). It’s totally relatable, even with the hyperbole. It’s a fun and energetic record. They’ve just crafted a classic record full of impactful lyrics on catchy songs. Give it a couple spins and you’ll probably be hooked.