A Personal History of WV Punk: 'You Could Do Anything, No Matter How Weird'

Jun 5, 2017

"All-ages punk music scenes were my gateway into this whole thing."

From West Virginia Public Broadcasting and A Change of Tune, this is 30 Days of #WVmusic, the interview series celebrating the folks who make the West Virginia music scene wild and wonderful.  

And today's interview is with a noisy lo-fi one-man European-touring machine who hails from Morgantown, West Virginia. This… is J. Marinelli.

J. Marinelli’s latest release is Stray Volts. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Connect with A Change of Tune on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds.

J. Marinelli
Credit Courtesy of the artist

Interview Highlights

On his musical beginnings:

What I do essentially is write songs and perform them using foot percussion, basically an up-ended drum set that consists of a high hat, snare drum, and bass drum I play with my feet. I play guitar and sing on top of that. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where playing music and being creative was encouraged. I started playing drums in a couple of bands and switched over to guitar. Over the years, I’ve switched back between the two, and then I did them at the same time.

Before I got into the punk stuff, I was in the marching band. As far back as 6th grade, I started playing the snare drum in the school band. The first show I saw when I was 13 was The Go-Gos with A Flock of Seagulls opening in Morgantown. I saw other bands like that, poppish/new wave bands. I guess I’ve always been more exploratory than most listeners. The steps from The Go-Gos to the Sex Pistols and the Clash aren’t that far.

On being inspired by Morgantown producer/rocker Mark Poole:

The first band I saw him in was The Larries, which was in the mid-80s. 63 Eyes grew out of that band. Those first shows were really amazing, watching them form and becoming friends with them… Mark and Todd Burge, especially. My interaction with him as a recording engineer wasn’t even with my band, it was my sisters band, a riot grrl king of thing. They recorded a 7-inch in his kitchen on a four-track cassette recorder. I was amazed at the sound he got out of that four-track. I think that might have been what first pointed me toward recording and keeping things lo-fi. Lo-fi doesn’t necessarily mean crappy; it can sound good if you do it right. 

On moving to Lexington, Kentucky, from Morgantown, West Virginia:

My wife got accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Kentucky, but it turned out to be a good move. I felt like I was stagnating in West Virginia, working like three jobs, and I still couldn’t make rent. And I’m talking good jobs, like teaching jobs [laughing]. It’s the reality of living in West Virginia. I was doing my best to be active as a musician, but I couldn’t because I had no time. At the time, the cost of living was cheaper in Lexington than it was in Morgantown, so it was a huge bonus.

J. Marinelli performing in Huntington's Ritter Park in 2016.
Credit Courtesy of the artist

If there weren’t all these cool people doing things in West Virginia, I probably wouldn’t come as often as I do. Like the scene in Huntington, which is super active and super supportive. And Mark [Poole] up in Morgantown. Kin Ship Goods has become a community center. I’ll always go back to West Virginia. There might be a conscious or gut feeling to that.

On the significance of DIY communities/venues:

A lot of the West Virginia music scene centers around bars. And that’s the case to a lesser degree in Lexington, where it’s centered around breweries… which is God-awful. It’s important to get away from the whole alcohol thing. Like alcohol is fine, and I imbibe one in a while, but I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all. It’s closely connected to music to a degree I’m not personally comfortable, and I like the idea of getting away from that. It’s not like I refuse to play in bars; I’ll pretty much play about anywhere and have a good attitude about it, but it’s good to change the dialog.

The crowds are a bit different too. In a DIY sort-of pop-up space, people are there more for the music than anything else.

Cover art for 'Stray Volts,' designed by Charleston's Kin Ship Goods.
Credit Courtesy of the artist

On his latest release Stray Volts:

I wouldn’t say there’s a theme going on around it, but when I was writing some of the songs in early 2016, it was about the then-upcoming election. The title refers to being distracted by everything around you and being unable to focus. Most of them focus around this idea of being overloaded with information and unable to focus on your own life and evolving.

I recorded it in the way that I usually do, at home on a four-track cassette recorder. I still use that; I’ve yet to evolve past that stage.

Show poster from J. Marinelli's European tour.
Credit Courtesy of the artist

On touring Europe:

Before I went over there for the first time in 2014, I had never been there before. I heard that audiences were just enraptured by you, and I wanted to check it out. My buddy who does some of my booking over there was in town and played a show with Tyler Childers, and I think the next day I talked to him about it. So I worked with him and with the first tour, I flew into Vienna, Austria, went to France, Germany, all completely awesome. I had a day off in Paris; that couldn’t possibly be bad [laughing].

One of the shows I’ve played, maybe the best show I’ve ever played, was in Rosenheim, Germany. Before I even set up, there were people in line to buy merchandise and records and stuff. My wife was doing merch and was like, “He hasn’t even played yet, you don’t know… he could suck, and you’ll regret it.” And they were like, “No, we buy now,” and it turned into an insane gig. Audiences are fun, and you get set up in a cool hostel. The shows pay very well. To a degree, people do that in the U.S., but even more so there… plus you get to go and visit castles.

Music featured in this #WVmusic chat:

J. Marinelli- “Stray Volts”

J. Marinelli- “Madison Girls”

J. Marinelli- “The Common Come-On”

Support for 30 Days of #WVmusic is provided by Kin Ship Goods, proud supporter of DIY music and the arts. Locally shipped worldwide at kinshipgoods.com.