Interview: Jake La Botz

Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

“It was 1991. I had just moved back to Chicago, and I was driving back from West Virgina in a 1959 Chevy Apache pickup, and I was living in the back of it,” reminisces modern vintage rock n’ roller Jake La Botz, as he recalls how me met friend, producer, and Hi-Style Records founder Jimmy Sutton. In fact, I quickly learned that it wouldn’t really be an authentic Jake La Botz story without such an introduction, as La Botz has lived at least 100 lives already.

His formative years spent in Chicago, La Botz frequented Detroit, where his mother lived, and often stayed with his grandparents in San Diego. “When I got big enough to steal a car, I started going out that way as often as I could,” he explains. “I wanted to be adventurous like my heroes in books I’d read and the blues musicians I’d listen to. My grandpa had been a hobo during The Depression, and I wanted to see the world like he did, using whatever means were available at the time. I wasn’t ever a hobo though, I’m probably too lazy for that. I wish it was a part of my story, I’d probably sound about twenty percent cooler,” he laughs. “I liked to get out of Chicago in the winter. I’d try to find work where the weather was better in my teens and 20s for months out of the year—hanging rain gutters, working in factories, things like that. I busked and played gigs for a while to try to make money too.” As a youngster, La Botz had found an emotional connection to music, and discovered it was the way he could express himself best. “I got really into the hardcore punk scene in Chicago, and was in a band there. It was some of the most fun I’d had in my whole life,” he says. “It’s how I learned to play music, if you can call it music.”

La Botz became a drifter, and found himself in trouble in more ways than one. “I was floating around, I was a heroin junkie; I went pretty far downhill, and wound up in Los Angeles as a dope fiend living in a hotel,” he recalls, though he continued to play music. “I was able to make a little money playing the blues. I used to hang out and play with these old blues guys in Chicago, and they taught me a lot. I really connected with them, and I felt that they really cared about me,” he continues. “I went to LA to escape Chicago and my drug addiction, but it turned out they had drugs there too! I was in the gutter, but I finally got help.” In the midst of getting clean, La Botz fell into acting, and rekindled a passion he had developed as a kid. “I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid; I bought a second-hand suit at Salvation Army and got a job as a theater usher so I could see plays for free,” he recalls. “I wanted to be near the action, and the magic, the mythology and the storytelling, that creativity. I crashed a movie premiere, which is something everyone in LA has to do at some point, and I met Steve Buscemi; I invited him to a gig, and he actually came out, such a cool dude.” Buscemi began to frequent La Botz’ shows, and the two struck up a friendship; before long, Buscemi was set to direct a film, and wrote in a role for La Botz.

Now living in Nashville, La Botz is set to release his new record, Sunnyside, produced by Jimmy Sutton and released via Hi-Style Records, on May 12th. A listen to Sunnyside is like taking a wild ride on a reverb-y time machine, evoking images of pompadoured greasers wearing white t-shirts with packs of smokes rolled up in their sleeves, but the subjects and lyrics are timeless—covering everything from freedom and self-discovery to the tongue-in-cheek ribbing of people who preach the power of positive thinking, and use it to circumvent reality. He’s got this really artistic way of working with space that’s so unique,” he says of mastermind Sutton. “He helped me define my sound more and figure out how to express what I‘m trying to say. He’s really good at that.”

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